Clown Wrasse

Clown Wrasse, Halichoeres maculipinna

The Clown Wrasse, Halichoeres maculipinna, whose common Spanish name is doncella payaso, is a species in the family Labridae, the Wrasses, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. Globally, there are seventy species in the genus Halichoeres, ninteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Clown Wrasses have elongated compressed bodies with a depth that is 23 to 27% of standard length. Juveniles have a dark brown stripe along the top of their back followed by a thin yellow line and a broad black stripe that runs from the top of their mouth through the eye to the top of their caudal fin base. They are white ventrally. Females (Initial Phase) have a yellowish-green head with red lines radiating from their eyes, a red stripe that runs through their mouth to the gill covers, a greenish to brown upper body that transitions to white ventrally, a wide black spot on their dorsal spines, and reddish fins with yellow bars. Males (Terminal Phase) have a head that is green on top and yellow below with red lines radiating from their eyes, several red stripes running from the mouth to the gill covers, a black to olive upper back with a broad yellow stripe underneath that transitions to white ventrally, a large black blotch mid-side above their anus, and an elongated black blotch on their dorsal spines. Their anal and dorsal fins are green with red stripes and their caudal fin has central red stripes with red upper and lower margins. They have small beady eyes and a protrusible mouth with thick lips that opens in the front with three pairs of canine teeth (one on top and two on the bottom). Their anal fin has three spines and eleven rays; their caudal fin is rounded; and their dorsal fin is without a notch and has nine spines and eleven rays. Their lateral line is continuous and abruptly bent down under the dorsal fin. They have thirteen to fifteen gill rakers and are covered with scales.

The Clown Wrasses are coastal residents found within rocky shores and reefs adjacent to sandy bottoms at depths up to 80 feet. They reach a maximum length of 15.0 cm (5.9 inches). They are normally solitary and wary. They feed diurnally on small crustaceans, sea urchins, mollusks, and brittle stars. They feed and spawn in different locations. They are protogynous hermaphrodites with females being able to transform into fully functional males at mid-life. This transition occurs when the fish reach about 10.9 cm (4.3 inches) in length. Males are highly territorial and maintain harems that consist of several females with fertilization occurring externally and pelagic eggs developing rapidly. They are a small shallow-water species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Clown Wrasse are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Clown Wrasse is fairly easy to identify due to its coloration and band pattern along its back. It is fairly similar in body structure to the Bluehead, Thalassoma bifasciatum (two wide blue bars just behind the gill covers) and the Wrasse Blenny, Hemiemblemaria simula (broad black stripe running through eye and extending to mid-body).

The Clown Wrasses are too small to be of interest to most and normally a “catch-and-release”.

Clown Wrasse, Halichoeres maculipinna, initial phase (IP), female transitioning to a terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, June 2015. Length: 9.8 cm (3.9 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.

Clown Wrasse, Halichoeres maculipinna, terminal phase (TP), male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, April 2017. Length: 10.2 cm (4.0 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.