wrasse (răs) [key], common name for a member of the large family Labridae, brilliantly colored fishes found among rocks and kelp in tropical seas. Wrasses, related to the parrotfishes, feed on mollusks and are equipped with shell-crushing teeth in both the mouth and throat. The lips are fleshy, and some wrasses are able to extend the mouth and jaws forward to engulf their prey. Well known on the N Atlantic coast are the cunners (about 1 ft/30 cm long), which are useful scavengers. The tautog, or blackfish, an important food fish of the S New England coast, is a sluggish fish that hibernates in cold weather. Southern wrasses, found off the West Indies and Florida coasts, include the hogfish, a large, showy red fish with a piglike snout, and the puddingwife. The California redfish, or Pacific sheepshead, is a large wrasse reaching up to 3 ft (91 cm) and 30 lb (13.5 kg) and most abundant S of Monterey. The female is a dull red and the male is boldly patterned in crimson and black. The flesh of wrasses is sometimes poisonous to human consumers. Most wrasses belong to the genus Labrus. Wrasses are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Labridae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology