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Harlequin Tuskfish

Is the Harlequin tuskfish safe for a reef aquarium?

By Jeremy Gosnell |

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Q. I have a 125-gallon aquarium and have always wanted to keep a Harlequin tuskfish. I have heard that the Harlequin tuskfish is from the wrasse family, is that true? Also, is the Harlequin tuskfish safe for a reef aquarium, or will it eat corals and fish?
M. Drake

Click image to enlarge
Harlequin tuskfish are part of the wrasse family
Harlequin tuskfish by Tony Terceira.
A. Whoever told you that the Harlequin tuskfish (Lienardella fasciata) is a wrasse was right. While the Harlequin tuskfish may not look like some of the smaller wrasses, (i.e. flasher wrasses or sixline wrasses) it most certainly is a wrasse. The wrasse family is truly dynamic. It is home to fish as small as a sixline wrasse, (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia) and as large as a Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) which can grow up to 10 feet in length. When you think about the variation of species within the wrasse family it is rather overwhelming.

The Harlequin tuskfish isn’t nearly as “reef safe” as many of the other wrasse species. First, Harlequin tuskfish get rather large – maxing out at around 10 inches. Even in a reef aquarium as large as yours they will leave a footprint where dissolved nutrients are concerned. Second, they didn’t get the nickname “tusk-fish” for nothing. The unique, blue tusk-like teeth they sport certainly aren’t for eating algae. Those are certified invertebrate crunchers. That said, I wouldn’t be worried about a Harlequin tuskfish doing a whole lot to damage corals. (An interesting fact about these fish is that not only are their “tusks” blue but their bones are as well.)

Invertebrates would be on the menu, and would more than likely be your shrimp, crabs and even snails. Small fish, even wrasses, would also be on the menu. So overall I think a Harlequin tuskfish could be a major risk if you currently keep a fully stocked reef aquarium.

You do have to remember that all fish are individuals. I know many aquarists who have Harlequin tuskfish in their reef aquariums and have not had any problems. I once kept a Harlequin tuskfish in my reef aquarium for several years. In my experience cleaner shrimp and other invertebrates that had been established in the reef aquarium before the Harlequin tuskfish came along were safe – though any new additions were quickly gobbled up. While I would like to be able to guarantee some safety for your preexisting invertebrates; in reality your experience could be much different from mine.

Another problem Harlequin tuskfish pose in reef aquariums is their diet. Harlequin tuskfish require a varied diet with live feeder shrimp being a popular fish food item. I have found in reef environments that live fish foods can be difficult to feed and have an overall negative impact on water quality. Live fish which are fed as fish food can introduce disease into the reef aquarium.

I know the beauty and unique behaviors of the Harlequin tuskfish make them highly desirable in the reef aquarium. Sadly, their unique diet and size compiled with their appetite and eating habits make them overall unsuited for the reef aquarium. That said, if you are an adventurous reefkeeper like myself then you may still be lured into keeping a Harlequin tuskfish in your reef aquarium and perhaps it will yield fair results.

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Reader Comments

John Sweeney    International

4/2/2016 7:04:24 AM

I am living in London and had 3 Harlequin Tusks before at seperate times. 2 of them were from Australia and the other from Indonesia. I found them to have their own personality. But they all loved to feed on any shellfish and snails. They need a large space to swim to and fro. Mine was a 200 gallon tank.
There is a myth that Australian Harlequin Tusk are more hardier because in my case it was the Indonesian Harlequin Tusk that lived longer! I fed them oysters, clams, krill and pellets from Ocean Nutrition and Spectrum. I think it is one of the most active fish with vivid stripes I ever had.

Michael Lee    International

6/23/2015 7:17:16 PM

I had mine since September 2013. It is from Indonesia not the Australian one. I feed Hikari and Ocean Nutrition fish foods. Occasionally it will have slight whitish spots but it goes away.

Swimming actively and curious when your hands are inside the tank is what the Harlequin Tusk is all about. I also believe to clear up stony pieces and remove any cowries inside the tank.

I had an Aussie Harlequin Tusk (more costly than Indonesian sp) in 2011 but that did not survive beyond 5 months. It had a bit of whitish spots but that went away. In the end I think it may have accidentally ate some coral stone.

Jane    Phoenix, AZ

7/10/2013 8:22:45 PM

Great picture!

Jane    Phoenix, AZ

7/10/2013 8:20:39 PM

Didn't help me find out about it when it is in the wild

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