If you’re a long-time reader of the FantaSEA Aquarium blog, you’re probably aware of our love for wrasses like the Melanurus wrasse and six line wrasse. Today, let’s put another one of these fascinating aquarium fish in the spotlight: the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, scientifically known as Labroides dimidiatus.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about bluestreak cleaner wrasse care and keeping one in your home aquarium.
|Name (Common, Scientific)
|Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
|Minimum tank size
|Minimum group size
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse description & natural habitat
The bluestreak cleaner wrasse’s common name gives a lot away: this species does indeed sport the brightest of blues. A black horizontal band runs across the side from the nose to the tail, where it widens, although the exact width of this band varies based on the subspecies.
One of the smaller wrasses, bluestreaks can reach a maximum size of around 5.5”, although most never attain this length.
This wrasse is not sexually dimorphic, meaning there are no visual differences between males and females. To make things even more confusing, they can change sexes: the species lives in harems, with the largest female turning male if the dominant male dies.
If multiple males end up in one harem, one of them will turn back to being female.
Did you know? Researches have found the bluestreak’s blue streak may be more important than you’d expect. Larger, predatory fish actually use this horizontal line to identify cleaner fish and will refrain from eating them. Their small size is also an indication of their cleaner status.
Labroides dimidiatus has a wide natural range and can be found pretty much across the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea all the way to the Western Pacific islands.
In its natural habitat, this fish inhabits coral reefs down to 130ft. Noting that it’s locally common, the IUCN Red List has marked it as a species of Least Concern for now.
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse aquarium
The bluestreak cleaner wrasse is generally not considered to be a species suitable for beginning aquarists, although this has more to do with their dietary requirements than the aquarium itself.
Tank size is their only real requirement: although they don’t grow too large, it’s a good idea to provide a sizeable tank. This is an active fish that likes plenty of swimming room as well as lots of tankmates, which is just not possible in a small aquarium. We’d recommend 110 gallons as a minimum, but this is definitely a case of ‘the bigger, the better’.
Normal reef water parameters (see table) work fine for the bluestreak cleaner wrasse. It’s actually a relatively hardy fish. Just provide some hiding places as well as a soft substrate for it to burrow in and your wrasse should be content.
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse compatibility
This is not an aggressive or territorial species, nor does it have much to fear from other fish due to its talent for cleaning. Even most larger, predatory species will mostly leave it alone. The only issue is other wrasses, including if you combine two male bluestreak cleaner wrasses. They tend to get territorial with species that look too much like themselves.
If you’d like to keep multiple bluestreak cleaner wrasses, that’s an option, although keep in mind that it already tends to be difficult enough to keep one of them well-fed.
If you do decide to go for it, a pair or harem is the best option. Don’t worry if you can’t find a male: as we’ve explained, similar to clownfish, the dominant female will turn into a male if one is lacking.
Bluestreak cleaner wrasses are considered reef-safe and will leave your corals alone.
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse diet
Okay, so what are these difficulties with feeding that we’ve been alluding to? Well, this species isn’t called a ‘cleaner wrasse’ for nothing.
Both in the wild and in the aquarium, a bluestreak cleaner wrasse will set up a cleaning station, which will be visited by an array of other fish species.
As we’ve mentioned, its horizontal body stripe and small size advertise the bluestreak cleaner wrasse’s cleaning abilities. And if that wasn’t enough, they also have another trick up their sleeve: a funky advertising dance.
These wrasses set up “cleaning stations”, usually run by a harem of females with a dominant male in charge (according to studies on sex differences in bluestreak cleaner wrasses, the male’s territory might include multiple such cleaning stations). It can also be run by a mated pair.
At the station, the clients receive a full cleaning, being relieved of anything from parasites to dead scales. In some cases, the wrasses even cheekily try pecking at the client’s protective mucus layer rather than cleaning it!
The wrasses are not afraid to get up close and personal while doing their cleaning work, often swimming straight into the mouths of predatory species like moray eels to pick off any tasty bits they can find.
Did you know? There is a species of blenny, Aspidontus taeniatus, known as the “false cleaner”. It imitates bluestreak cleaner wrasses, but once a client approaches, it takes a quick bite out of them rather than ridding them of parasites!
In the aquarium
All of the above is pretty cool if you ask us, but it does tend to cause issues in the aquarium. The bluestreak cleaner wrasse’s diet is so specific that it’s extremely hard and sometimes even impossible to get them to eat any ‘normal’ aquarium fish foods.
This causes them to have to rely on the bits they can pick off their tankmates, but since that’s often just not enough, many of these wrasses sadly tend to starve to death within a few weeks or months.
So what can you do? Well, although buying a bluestreak cleaner wrasse that accepts commercial fish foods at the aquarium store isn’t a guarantee that it will also accept them at home, it’s a start.
You can try offering small quantities of meaty foods like vitamin-enriched (thawed) frozen or live foods, as well as chopped small shrimp and squid.
Tip: If this description has led you to decide against purchasing a bluestreak cleaner wrasse, why not check out some cool cleaner shrimp instead?
Breeding the bluestreak cleaner wrasse
If you have multiple bluestreak cleaner wrasses and have managed to get them to eat, healthy specimens are likely to spawn (after all, they’ll always manage to pair up, as at least one will turn into a male or female if one is lacking!).
It’s all rather straightforward: the male performs a little dance, the female lays her eggs, and then the male fertilizes them. If there are multiple females present, he’ll also mate with the others.
The eggs float and are carried away by the current. They hatch after around 24 hours, with the exact time depending on the water temperature.
Now, if you’d like to raise the fry, things become very complicated. This species has been raised successfully in commercial hatcheries, but it’s only quite recently that aquaculturists managed to do it! Unfortunately, we haven’t heard of any hobbyists having success with it so far.
Some aquarium fish, including the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, are not suitable for the beginning aquarist. That’s where we come in!
FantaSEA Aquariums is here to design, build and maintain your aquarium, offering advice and making sure your fish and corals do well in the long run. You can contact us here with your ideas.
Sources & further reading
Fujisawa, M., Sakai, Y., & Kuwamura, T. (2018). Aggressive mimicry of the cleaner wrasse by Aspidontus taeniatus functions mainly for small blennies. Ethology, 124(6), 432-439.
Grutter, A. S., & Bshary, R. (2003). Cleaner wrasse prefer client mucus: support for partner control mechanisms in cleaning interactions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 270(suppl_2), S242-S244.
Horton, S. (2011). Factors affecting advertising in Indonesian adult and juvenile bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus). Bioscience Horizons, 4(1), 90-98.
Leu et al. (2022). Natural spawning, early development and first successful hatchery production of the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus (Valenciennes, 1839), with application of an inorganic fertilization method in larviculture. Aquaculture, 553, 738056.
Stummer, L. E., Weller, J. A., Johnson, M. L., & Côté, I. M. (2004). Size and stripes: how fish clients recognize cleaners. Animal Behaviour, 68(1), 145-150.
Triki, Z., & Bshary, R. (2021). Sex differences in the cognitive abilities of a sex-changing fish species Labroides dimidiatus. Royal Society Open Science, 8(7), 210239.