The cleaner wrasses (genus Labroides) are obligate parasite pickers – that is, all of their foraging is done from the bodies of other fish. Not only do they ingest crustacean parasites that infect their clients, they also graze on the nutrient-rich slime and even pluck off the occasional scale of the fish that seek out their services. It has long been thought (at least in North American circles) that all of the cleaner wrasses are difficult to keep in home aquaria and thus should be avoided at all costs. While there are members of the genus that are very difficult to keep alive (e.g., Labroides phthirophagus, the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse), there are others that may fare well in a captive fish community. The bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) is the best candidate for the home aquarium.
Difficulty: The bluestreak cleaner wrasse will do well in the home aquarium that contains plenty of other fish for it to graze from (that is, feed on their slime). The problem with this fish is that it can be an aggressive cleaner that will chase its fish tankmates about trying to engage in inspection and “cleaning.” You can typically complement the bluestreak cleaner wrasse’s slime diet with added fish foods, such as frozen fish eggs, mysid shrimp and Cyclop-eeze (the latter is good for smaller individuals).
Physical description: The bluestreak cleaner wrasse is white overall with a black line that expands as it runs down its body. There are several color variations. Some Fijian bluestreak cleaner wrasse specimens have an area of orangish yellow on the rear of their bodies. There are five species in this genus. Two of these are not uncommon in the aquarium hobby. The breastspot cleaner wrasse (L. pectoralis) has a black spot at the base of each pectoral fin. The adult bicolor cleaner wrasse (L. bicolor) is dark anteriorly and creamy white on the posterior portion of the body. While these two species can be kept successfully in home aquaria, they tend to be more challenging to keep than L. dimidiatus.
Range: Labroides dimidiatus is found throughout the Indo-Pacific, except in the Hawaiian Islands where it is replaced by L. phthirophagus. Labroides dimidiatus is usually found on coral reefs at a wide range of depths (from less than 3 to at least 130 feet). The juvenile bluestreak cleaner wrasses are often found under overhangs, while adult bluestreak cleaner wrasses tend to set-up cleaning stations at more conspicuous sites, such as on reef promontories. The bluestreak cleaner wrasse is haremic, with male bluestreak cleaner wrasses living in home ranges that contain two to up to 12 female bluestreak cleaner wrasses.
Compatibility: The bluestreak cleaner wrasse needs to be kept with a large community of fish tankmates because it requires fish to graze off of. Most fish tankmates will willingly allow the bluestreak cleaner wrasse to inspect and remove some body slime. If the bluestreak cleaner wrasse gets a little too “enthusiastic” in its cleaning, the client may turn on the cleaner and chase it about the aquarium or at least try to get away from it. In a smaller aquarium, a fish may be harried by the bluestreak cleaner wrasse to the point that it becomes stressed. (For example, I had a bluestreak cleaner wrasse in a holding aquarium with several bannerfish, Heniochus acuminatus, and I had to remove it because it chased the Heniochus around incessantly and was causing them harm.)
Fish species that are particularly prone to be stressed out by overzealous bluestreak cleaner wrasses are boxfish, pufferfish and porcupinefish. These fish are relatively poor swimmers that have a difficult time avoiding bluestreak cleaner wrasses. Only one juvenile bluestreak cleaner wrasse should be kept per aquarium (youngsters are very territorial). Adult bluestreak cleaner wrasses can be kept together if you can acquire a male-female pair. Thus, keeping one bluestreak cleaner wrasse per aquarium is a better bet because two are going to pester tankmates more than a single individual.
While bluestreak cleaner wrasses are often impervious to most predators in the wild, lizardfish, trumpetfish, frogfish, scorpionfish, groupers, snappers and hawkfish have been known to eat them in captivity.
Aquarium conditions: The bluestreak cleaner wrasse can be housed in aquariums as small as 20 gallons, but the ideal Labroides aquarium is an aquarium of 135 gallons or more that contains a larger fish community. If the aquarium is too small, fish tankmates will have greater difficulty avoiding the Labroides if they don’t want to be cleaned. Acceptable water parameters for the bluestreak cleaner wrasse are a pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Breeding: There is at least one report of the bluestreak cleaner wrasse spawning in the home aquarium. There was no success in raising the larvae, however. The bluestreak cleaner wrasse is a protogynous hermaphrodite. Sexual maturity is usually reached in 12 months. Sex change from female to male typically happens just before the bluestreak cleaner wrasse turns 3 years old, but it can take place in as little as a year in the right social context (when no larger males are around).