Symphodus melops (=Crenilabrus)

Extract from the original message by Jane Lilley
Sender: Peter Lilley <>
Original Message Subject Heading:  Wrasse (Labridae)
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 15:17:00 +0100
British Marine Wildlife Forum (commenced 1 August 2000)
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I have only seen Corkwing wrasse in shallow water among algae, or nesting only just below the main algal base. So some link between colour and the presence of algae would make sense. They seem to vary a good deal in the detail of colour and pattern, but whether these are fixed in the individual fish I have no way of knowing. The 'characteristic' spot on the tail-stalk is usually indistinct or invisible when I see them. I've read that they can superimpose dark vertical bars over the body at night or when caught in a net, but I have never seen this.


1)  Symphodus melops (=Crenilabrus) are more consistent in coloration than the Ballan Wrasse, Labrus bergylta.

2)  The black spot is definitive. I do NOT accept Symphodus bailloni as a good species!  The blue crescent near the gills is always present in adult fish in breeding coloration.

3)  Rockpoolers can easily get confused because when this fish is caught in a prawn net (often) the black spot is obscured. There are photographs of the same fish in swimming livery and asleep at night on:


These are aquarium photographs and one year old fish. Adults in the wild are more colourful, especially in breeding livery.
There is an excellent photograph of this fish on page 21 of:
by Linda Pitkin
Salamander Books Ltd 1997
ISBN 0-86101-973-3
There are probably other much better photographs than mine, but mine are included to show the difference between the appearance of the fish swimming and sleeping.

4) I would be interested in the distribution of this fish, and prevalence, on the east coast of England and Scotland. They are common in the English Channel. Bathymetric distribution would be interesting as well.

5) In captivity, agonistic behaviour, "fighting to the death" can be observed. In the MBA journal, Geoff Potts published a paper on this in the wild.

6) Phycological bionomics notes: I put some Fucus serratus in the tank with a 2 year old fish that had grown up in captivity from a juvenile so see if it developed a better colour amongst the algae. It did, but not to the full extent of the wild fish. Interestingly (just a little bit interesting) it tended to adopt the sleeping livery with vertical blackish barring and the black spot obscured and without the distinct horizontal stripes for more than 70% of the time. Without the weed, the horizontal stripes and black spot are clear.

Because I did not know how to keep Fucus serratus, this weed died off as expected, to replace by lush growths of Cladophora for one year (I think this is an annual).

At about 2 or 3 years old, this fish becomes a thorough nuisance in aquaria, attacking just about everything. The Goldsinny Wrasse, Centrolabrus rupestris, is less aggressive.

The Mediterranean Green-eyed Wrasse, Symphodus ocellatus can be readily distinguished from the Corkwing, by its brightly coloured gill covers. There are several other very similar Symphodus species in the Mediterranean.


Andy Horton
British Marine Life Study Society


After an exceptionally mild and damp autumn, young Corkwing Wrasse were caught on the shore at the Mumbles (Swansea) by Jim Hall and on Isle the Wight (east) by Luke Richards. Usually, they would have swam to deeper water, although they are occasionally found intertidally off Cornwall throughout the winter.