Dragon Wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus) Profile

Dragon Wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus) Information

Adult Dragon or Rockmover Wrasse. Photo © Keoki Stender

In the wild the Dragon Wrasse can normally be found on or near sand channels which it cruises looking for food. The sand is also a source of refuge for this and most other wrasses.  When it feels threatened, both the adult and juvenile Dragon Wrasse will dive into the sand and wiggle their way to safety. It is amazing how far this wrasse can travel under the sand in a short amount of time.

Scientific Name:

Novaculichthys taeniourus (Lacepede, 1801), but may also be found listed as Hemipteronotus taeniourus.

Thought to be a different species because its juvenile phase appearance, this fish when young was at one time described under the name Novaculichtys bifer (Lay & Bennet, 1839). The juvenile (called a "reindeer") has a burgundy body with white markings. The fins are also notable in their appearance, especially the first two dorsal spines that form the "antlers" of the reindeer.

Other Common Names:

Juveniles - Reindeer Wrasse

Adults - Rockmover Wrasse, Rock Mover Wrasse.


Extends from Hawai'i southward to central Polynesia, westward through Micronesia and Melanesia, through the East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa.

Average Size:

To almost 12 inches.

Characteristics and Compatibility:

  • Juveniles are suitable for a community tank at first, but as they grow they become very aggressive. Individuals should be kept singly, and large specimens housed with other larger aggressive or predatory species.
  • Named a Rockmover Wrasse because it is notorious for turning over and moving rocks and corals around to look for food. This can cause damage to desirable organisms, and rock formations to become unstable, which may result in toppling rocks to damage the tank's structure.
  • Buries in the sand to sleep at night and for protection when frightened or harassed. It also will dive into cracks, crevices and holes in the live rock.
  • It will eat hermit crabs, snails and marine worms including bristle worm in an aquarium.

Diet and Feeding:

  • Carnivore that possesses two prominent canine teeth in the front of each jaw that are used for feeding on its favorite prey -- small fishes, all types of desirable crustaceans and motile invertebrates, which includes serpent and brittle starfishes, bad bristle as well as beneficial worms, shrimps, hermit crabs, crabs, and snails.
  • Should be fed a hardy diet of suitably bite-sized pieces of meaty foods that includes fresh or frozen seafoods, silversides, live or frozen brine and mysid shrimp, live grass or ghost shrimp, live black worms, and flake food. Smaller Dragon Wrasses can be fed chopped up pieces of meaty fares as well as Mysis Shrimp.
  • Recommended Feedings - 3 times a day.


A fish that is constantly on the move it needs to be provided with plenty of room to move around, and a two to four inch bed of soft sand to bury in. Do not use crushed coral or large grain sand for a substrate as this can damage the fish.

Suggested Minimum Tank Size:

100 gallons. The substrate should be of small grain sand. Since the Dragon Wrasse has a tendency to bury itself in the sand, larger grain sand or crushed coral can cause cuts or abrasions on the fish's skin which leaves an opening for bacteria to enter the fish and cause a bacterial infection which can be difficult to treat and cure.

The tank should have a tight fitting lid as the Dragon Wrasse has a tendency to jump out of tanks, especially when it is startled.

Reef Tank Suitability:

Not recommended.

Common Ailments:

Prone to developing internal bacterial infection associated with the bladder due to poor substrate environment.

Tiny juveniles typically do not fare well in captivity. It is not unusual for them to waste away and starve to death due to the lack of accepting food, and thus not taking in the high caloric diet they require to survive. It is best to obtain a sub-adult specimen of more than two inches in size, and one that is already eating well to help avoid problems with starvation.

Guide Fish Care Rating:

Juveniles - 3 Stars

Sub-Adults and Adults - 2 Stars