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wrasse

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 (which are included in the wrasse family by some authorities), 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 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 sometimes causes ciguatera poisoning in humans. Wrasses are classified in the phylum Chordata , subphylum Vertebrata, class Actinopterygii, order Perciformes, family Labridae.

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

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