A number of the 500-odd species of wrasses are sought-after by aquarists because of their dazzling colors. Almost every hue on the color wheel is represented in the family Labridae. One genus that is especially gifted when it comes to pigmentation is the genus Halichoeres. Halichoeres, which is currently one of the largest genera with more than 80 fish species, includes some truly spectacular labrids, many of which can be encountered in the aquarium trade. One that is more commonly seen is the Christmas wrasse or ornate wrasse (Halichoeres ornatissimus). “Wearing” an attractive combination of bright-green-and-reddish-pink attire, a healthy specimen in the home aquarium can be a real showstopper.
Difficulty: The Christmas wrasse is not difficult to keep as long as it is housed in fairly peaceful living conditions and the aquarium includes a sandbed that is at least 2 inches in depth. The Christmas wrasse should be fed at least once a day. It may get along with less frequent feedings in an aquarium that has some live microcrustaceans on which it can dine at its leisure, but unless the tank is very large or is connected to a productive refugium, H. ornatissimus will usually wipe-out amphipod and copepod populations fairly rapidly. Feed it a varied diet that includes frozen preparations for marine carnivores, mysid shrimp, fish eggs and flake food.
Physical description: An adult H. ornatissimus is pink to red overall with a green spot on each scale and green lines and spots on its tail. The juvenile and female fish have two spots on their dorsal fins. It reaches a maximum length of around 6 inches.
Range: The Christmas wrasse is known from the western Pacific (e.g., Philippines south to the Great Barrier Reef) east to the Hawaiian Islands. It is found among rich-coral growth, but it also frequents the bases of lagoon patch reefs and reef faces, where it forages among rubble and sand. It is a shallow-water wrasse, having been reported from a depth of 12 to 50 feet.
Compatibility: The Christmas wrasse is not an aggressive fish, usually minding its own business. On rare occasions it may pester new fish added to a smaller aquarium where it resides, but this is the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, Halichoeres ornatissimus is sometimes chastened by dottybacks, damsels, pygmy angelfish and bossy labrids (e.g., Pseudocheilinus and Thalassoma wrasses). If picked on, a Christmas wrasse will hide continually and gradually perish.
Aquarium conditions: While H. ornatissimus can be kept in aquariums as small as 30 gallons, this fish will do best if provided with more living space (55 gallons or larger). The Christmas wrasse should be provided with a sandbed at least 2 inches in depth that it can bury in when threatened or at night. Acceptable water parameters for a Christmas wrasse is a pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: When first added to the aquarium, the Christmas wrasse is likely to dive under the sand and stay there for a while. You should refrain from digging the wrasse out. If you have not seen your wrasse after several days, you may gently rake your hands under the substrate until it pops out. If the Christmas wrasse immediately buries again, leave it alone. Sometimes these fish suffer from having a messed up biological clock. Because the time where they were originally collected may be quite different from the day-night cycle you keep in your aquarium, they may pop out of the sand when you have the lights off and sleep when they are on. Most individuals will finally get over their jet lag and adjust to the new time period. The Christmas wrasse may jump out of an uncovered tank, but it does so less frequently than some other wrasses (e.g., fairy wrasses).
Breeding: The Christmas wrasse has not spawned in the home aquarium.