Harlequin Tuskfish: A Charming, Colorful Wrasse for the Semi-Boisterous Community

Harlequin Tuskfish (Choerodon fasciatus)

Harlequin Tuskfish (Choerodon fasciatus)

Among the members of the vast Labridae family—the wrasses—are myriad gorgeous species. Some, owing to factors such as enormous adult size or extremely finicky feeding behavior, make poor choices for aquarium keeping. Others make very desirable aquarium candidates, staying relatively manageable in size and generally adapting well to captive conditions and menu items. Included in the latter group is the harlequin tuskfish (Choerodon fasciatus), a real eye-catcher from the Western Pacific.

Physical attributes

Being rather robust-bodied, C. fasciatus departs somewhat from the “typical” labrid morphology—what I like to call the “banana-with-fins body plan”—but it’s all wrasse nonetheless. This species reaches about 10 inches in maximum length. Alternating vertical orange-red and white bands with blue-tinged margins (to varying degrees) give the harlequin tusk a distinct tiger-striped look. Perhaps most interesting is this species’ dentition—it sports four protruding, tusk-like front teeth (hence the common name) that actually take on blue coloration as the specimen matures.

Feeding

In nature, the harlequin tuskfish feeds primarily on motile benthic invertebrates—crustaceans, mollusks, worms, etc. In the aquarium environment, it will accept (and should be offered) a wide variety of meaty food items of marine origin, such as chopped shrimp, clams, squid, and fish; mysid shrimp; appropriately sized frozen commercial formulas for carnivores; etc. Several small feedings spaced throughout the day are preferable to one heavy feeding.

Tank size and aquascaping

Tusks don’t demand a great deal of swimming space given their respectable adult size. Still, I wouldn’t recommend a tank any smaller than around 100 gallons for a specimen. Make sure your setup includes a good amount of rockwork arranged to provide decent-sized caves and hidey holes for the tusk to refuge in—especially while it’s getting accustomed to its new home. C. fasciatus doesn’t bury itself at night like many wrasses do, so you don’t need to worry about providing a deep sand bed.

Tankmates

C. fasciatus sports four protruding, tusk-like front teeth (hence the common name)

C. fasciatus sports four protruding, tusk-like front teeth (hence the common name)

Despite its toothy appearance, C. fasciatus is not especially belligerent. Peaceful to semi-aggressive would be a fairly good descriptor for this species. Examples of appropriate fish tankmates would include other modest-sized, relatively peaceful wrasses, tangs, angelfishes, and triggers. As always, though, be sure to research the aggressiveness of any species you’re contemplating combining with the tusk and observe the rules for proper order of introduction.

Avoid keeping a tusk with any fish small enough to be swallowed. Also, conspecifics kept in the same aquarium will squabble, so keeping one tusk to a tank is advised.

A tusk in the reef?

As far as reef systems are concerned, adding a tusk might not be the best idea unless the tank is quite large. C. fasciatus won’t pick at or eat sessile invertebrates, but it’s still a decent-sized species that can add significantly to a system’s bioload through its feeding and waste production. Thus, the bigger issue in keeping this species in a reef system is maintaining water quality. Also, any motile crustaceans or mollusks in the system would be vulnerable to predation.

Origin matters

Worth noting when purchasing this species is the fact that the point of collection can make a big difference with respect to the specimen’s long-term survival. Specimens of Australian origin have a much better track record of captive survival than those collected in the Philippines and Indonesia. Of course, Oz-collected specimens also tend to come with a higher price tag, but it’s certainly better to pay a little more for a specimen that’s likely to live than to pay a “bargain price” for one that may be doomed.

Photo Credit: Pinke & fugm10

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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.

Comments

  1. Kenny Jenkins says:

    When was in Indonesia in 2011, I was surprise there were quite a number of Australians involved in the export of the marine fish there. As far as I know, many of the large exporters are engaging in breeding and protecting the species as opposed to old methods of using chemicals to stun the fish in a small area.

    It is no surprise that those in Australia would say locally caught fishes are better than the Indonesian fish.
    Generally they have been claiming their Australian products are better than anyone over decades. If not, how they going to sell? I am British and we too do the same marketing.

    By the way, my Harlequin Tusk (Indonesia sourced) is still swimming in my 14 month old 5ftx2ftx2ft tank and active as ever.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      These are some very interesting insights, Kenny. Thanks for sharing them. Also glad to hear your tusk is doing well! Such a neat fish!

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