Cheilinus Undulatus (Humphead Wrasse)

Cheilinus undulatus

Last updated on July 12th, 2022 at 11:53 am

You’ve probably never heard of Cheilinus undulatus, or its common name, the humphead wrasse, napoleonfish, maori, napoleon wrasse, or just wrasse. That’s because this fish hasn’t been on the public’s radar for long. The humphead wrasse has only been imported to the United States within the last few years, and it hasn’t yet fully made its way into stores across the country.

When you hear the name ‘Cheilinus undulatus’, perhaps the word wrasse isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but most people are familiar with what wrasses look like.

Humphead wrasse is also called cheilinus undulatus, and they belong to the Family Labridae (or wrasse) and the Order Perciformes (or fishes). These fish can reach nearly 6 feet (2 metres) in length and weigh over 30 pounds, making them one of the largest species of coral reef fish. Learn more about this species in this guide to understand its habitat, tank requirements, diet, and much more.

Origin and description

Cheilinus undulatus

Cheilinus undulatus is a member of the Labridae family, also referred to as wrasses. The humphead wrasse is found in shallow coral reef environments of Indonesia, Australia, and New Guinea. This fish can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft) long and weigh 10 pounds! Despite its large size, it is considered harmless to humans.

However, if provoked or scared, it will defend itself by opening its giant mouth wide open and showing off its sharp teeth. Its diet consists mainly of mollusks and crustaceans such as crabs, prawns, shrimp, clams, and snails. Humphead wrasses have an interesting reproductive system because they undergo internal fertilization via their oral cavity—the male inserts his gonopodium inside her cloaca then sperm passes through her cloaca into her ovaries.

Unfortunately, most of them are not good parents; they abandon their eggs after they’re fertilized to seek out another mate.

Wrasse species profile

Cheilinus undulatus

The Cheilinus undulatus is a beautiful large species of fish that you can enjoy in your home aquarium. These are typically not considered beginner’s fish because they have very specific needs and live in difficult environments. You need to make sure your aquarium has plenty of rocks and places for hiding, as well as food specifically designed for them, if you want them to stay happy and healthy.

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In addition, these fishes can grow up to 6 feet long and their tank needs to be large enough to accommodate them. With all these needs taken care of, however, you will be rewarded with a colorful addition that will add color and mystery to your tank for years!

Humphead wrasse scientific name

The humphead wrasse scientific name is Cheilinus undulatus

Cheilinus undulatus common name

The common names of the Cheilinus undulatus are Humphead wrasse, napoleonfish, maori, napoleon wrasse, or just wrasse.


The humphead wrasse is most commonly found in rocky, coral reefs in tropical and subtropical oceans. This species of fish lives in large schools and feeds mainly on benthic crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, cephalopods, and other fishes. The diets of juvenile humpheads change with age as their teeth are continually growing to ensure a constant diet for these omnivores.

Napoleon wrasse size

Cheilinus undulatus are usually about 1.5 meters (5 ft) long, but there have been reports of them growing to a size of 2.5 meters (7 ft) in captivity and in the wild. Males tend to be larger than females, which is typical of many fish species. The world record for largest Cheilinus undulatus is around 70 inches long and weighing 35 pounds! Amazing!

Humphead wrasse tank size

A juvenile humphead wrasse should have a tank of at least 250 gallons. One adult male in a reef aquarium can require as much as 500 to 600 gallons with good water flow, although, larger aquarium size may be required depending on the length of your fish. The larger aquariums are necessary because they spend most of their time in mid-water. As long as they have plenty of places to hide and sleep, they will show off their best colors!

Cheilinus undulatus tank set up

The Humphead Wrasse can be housed in a 500 gallon or larger aquarium. These fish will consume smaller fish, so it is advisable to keep them with tank mates too large to fit in their mouths. Provide a large amount of rock work and live rock as they will spend most of their time there hiding from light and eating.

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They are relatively easy to feed and eat most prepared foods as well as frozen brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, krill, squid, and clam. When keeping with other species of cleaner wrasse, make sure that some cleaning stations are available for them because Humpheads will not clean your other fish.

The optimum water temperature should be 75 – 78 degrees and pH should read 8.1 – 8.4 on a scale of 0 – 14. Keep ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels at zero as these fish are very sensitive to poor water quality even when kept in pristine conditions otherwise.

Humphead wrasse tank mates

With its large size and territorial nature, Cheilinus undulatus (humphead wrasse) should not be kept with any other fish in an aquarium. Due to its territorial nature, it may pick on smaller fish. However, if it is provided with enough shelter and hiding places that offer plenty of space for a retreat from other tank mates, some species such as sharks can be kept together.

Some other fish that can live with humphead wrasse are porcupine puffers, mandarin fish, parrotfish, lionfish, and large butterfly fish. It should not be kept with yellow tangs, surgeonfish, or clownfish as it may nip at their fins.


Cheilinus undulatus

Cheilinus undulates are one of many saltwater species that have been successfully bred in captivity. In order to make it easier on you, however, we recommend taking your wrasse to a professional breeder. The optimum water temperature for breeding is between 23 and 28 degrees Celsius.

Water chemistry should be monitored closely throughout reproduction; any fluctuation can result in egg death or birth defects. Once mating occurs, females lay from 100 to 500 eggs before they die; males guard the nest until hatching occurs in about seven days. After two weeks, at about two millimeters long—and large enough to be seen by predators—the fry will leave their nest and become free-swimming fish.

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We recommend feeding commercial feed or crushed seafood pellets immediately after hatching.

Are humphead wrasse aggressive or peaceful?

Cheilinus undulatus is generally peaceful toward humans. They will sometimes bite in self-defense if they feel threatened or startled. As with any fish, introducing one Cheilinus undulatus to an established tank will take some time, but generally, they get along well with other species as long as their space is respected. They are known to school together and hunt for food in groups as well.

Cheilinus undulatus care

Cheilinus undulatus

The humphead wrasse requires a minimum of a 500-gallon tank, with at least 60 gallons per inch fish. They need strong filtration and high water flow. A substrate of fine sand is beneficial to remove waste and will help keep them free from fungal infections. The ambient temperature should be kept at 78°F – 82°F. They require a diet rich in meaty foods like live clams, snails, crabs, and brine shrimp.

Humphead wrasse diet

Because they are omnivorous they require a diet rich in meaty foods like live clams, snails, crabs, and brine shrimp. A diet composed of small crustaceans and other invertebrates, including shrimp, krill, crab, and plankton, can also be fed to them. Also, they enjoy eating sponges. The larger they are, though, the less likely they are to feed on sponge material as well.

Water parameters

Cheilinus undulatus

In order to maintain a healthy aquarium environment, Cheilinus undulatus requires stable and hard water parameters. A pH between 8.0 – 8.5 is optimal and kh/gh must remain below 9dKH/12dGH. We have found that our 200-gallon reef aquarium runs well with 3 dKH and 6dGH. We also keep specific gravity around 1.023 sg or less.

Humphead wrasse lifespan

The lifespan of Cheilinus undulatus can vary greatly, from 10 to 30 years in captivity. Males generally live longer than females because their immune systems are weaker, leading to higher mortality rates among female humphead wrasses.

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Parasites and diseases

Although they are generally healthy, humphead wrasses can fall victim to many of the same diseases and parasites as other marine species. Some common problems include black spot disease and Cryptocaryon irritans (marine Ich), as well as flatworms, monogeneans, and nematodes.

To avoid these ailments, proper quarantine procedures should be observed for any new fish added to your tank. As with all marine fish, stress reduction is key in preventing disease.


Humphead wrasses inhabit tropical coral reefs in shallow water and are preyed upon by sharks, eels, moray eels, barracuda, and grouper. The humphead wrasse is considered to be one of nature’s most beautiful creatures. It is also known as an aggressive fish that will attack divers if they are not careful. Its sharp teeth can easily cut through a wetsuit or even a fingernail. This species has been observed consuming other reef fish whole!

Do Cheilinus undulatus make great pets?

Yes, but only in a tank designed specifically for them. They need a tank that is 500 gallons or larger. Be sure to provide plenty of hiding places since these fish are mildly aggressive and will pick on almost any other species of fish.