The wrasse family boasts such interesting species as the lunar, sixline and leopard wrasses, but the Laboute’s fairy wrasse is one of the most desirable wrasses. It is beautiful and unique, but it is relatively scarce in the trade.
Range: The Laboute’s wrasse has a small range, and it is most abundant in eastern Australia and nearby island areas. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse’s limited range and importation contribute to its correspondingly high price.
Tank size: At a maximum size of about 5 inches, the Laboute’s fairy wrasse is able to comfortably live in a 3-foot-long aquarium; something on the order of 40 gallons should be sufficient. However, the Laboute’s fairy wrasse generally uses as much space as it is given, swimming through rockwork, as well as in the water column. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse has a unique swimming style, and one of the pleasures of keeping a Laboute’s fairy wrasse is watching its comical fin-flapping style as it cruises around the aquarium. With this in mind, an ideal aquarium size is probably more on the order of 4 to 6 feet long.
Feeding: The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is a voracious feeder and will accept food quickly after acclimation. Along with fish flake food and pellets, feed Cirrhilabrus laboutei a good selection of frozen fish foods. Occasionally, a Laboute’s fairy wrasse may eat consistently without gaining weight, and this may be a sign of illness. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is prone to internal parasites, and an important step in the quarantine process is to deworm the Laboute’s fairy wrasse with medications, such as praziquantel and metronidazole. These can be administered orally in foods and together will eliminate most internal ailments.
Compatibility: The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is a great choice for a community aquarium because it is generally not aggressive toward other popular community fish, such as clownfish and tangs, as long as an appropriate stocking order is followed. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse’s temperament is largely based on its relative size in the community. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse will fight with other wrasses, and will usually pick on new fish that are smaller than it is, leaving the bigger and more intimidating fish alone. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse should be added to the aquarium last if it’s going to be the biggest fish. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is safe with corals and most invertebrates, though it can harass shrimp and crabs.
The Laboute’s fairy wrasse can be quite territorial around other wrasses, but it is possible to keep it with other wrasse species. If you are attempting this, introduce all of the wrasses simultaneously. There’s almost always some time in which the pecking order must become established, and the wrasses may fight while asserting dominance. This could last a few minutes, or it could go on for a few weeks or more. It is likely to stress out one or both of the wrasse species being housed together, and the fish aren’t always guaranteed to survive. Mix wrasse species with caution.
Sexing and breeding: In the wild, the Laboute’s fairy wrasse lives in groups of one male and several subordinate females. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is hermaphroditic; in other words, when juveniles or females are mixed in the absence of a male, they can also form pairs. A juvenile Laboute’s fairy wrasses starts life as a female, and it changes to male by achieving dominance within the social hierarchy. Wrasses have complex social dynamics, and it is not always possible to predict how they will interact, so creating pairs is much less risky than attempting harems. A male Laboute’s fairy wrasse is larger and more brightly colored, while the female and juveniles have a similar pattern but with less intense coloration. This is particularly evident in the body-length yellow stripe.
The female Laboute’s fairy wrasse is often submissive and is more likely to be bullied by other wrasses, but with time it can make the transition to male and develop more bold patterns. The Laboute’s fairy wrasse is a pelagic spawner (it spawns in the water column), and the larvae have a long planktonic stage. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to raise in many respects, and it is unlikely that any of these wrasses will be commercially bred even in the near future. While some Cirrhilabrus fairy wrasses have spawned in home aquaria, the Laboute’s fairy wrasse is not reported to have done so.
Other precautions: Like most wrasses, the Laboute’s fairy wrasse is an accomplished jumper. In most aquariums, it is only a matter of time before a wrasse gets startled and bolts for the surface. Glass tops or sheets of plastic “egg crate” lighting panel are popular as covers, but they may cut down on oxygenation or light. The best solution is to use a tall canopy on the aquarium and to enclose the back with egg crate panel or plastic canvas.