• Before: Nice electric face paint!
  • After: Want more guys at this party? No problem!

The funky face stripe is one of the least crazy things about the queen coris. With all the mistaken identity baby-snatching, tank-busting, wardrobe changes and love affairs you could fill a whole series of car-crash TV. So naturally, we know hardly anything about it, and I struggled to find many sites at all that didn’t refer to it as a “product”.

Tired of being something it’s not

Also known as a formosa wrasse, the queen coris is the second-choice for fish hobbyists who can’t get their hands on a clown wrasse (Coris gaimard).

Otherwise known as the yellowtail coris. Image by Rickard Zerpe.

Since they look extremely similar during their high-school years, with blazing orange and white stripe-blotches (reminiscent of another famous reef fish), they are sometimes captured and sold as such, hence the mistaken-identity baby-snatching.

Fortunately the parents are neither monogamous nor stick around. Could you imagine the paternity suits?

But when it reaches its adult form, the queen coris might do some snatching of its own.

All’s fair in love and war?

Its vibrant colours certainly shout “there’s a party on the sea bed and everyone’s invited!”, but even if only the females saw it, a harem male could still have a fight on his hands. Why? Imagine you’re a hunky male with a group of sexy girlfriends, and then one of them turns into an even hunkier male and starts stealing them all. That would be quite annoying, and entirely unexpected if you’re weren’t a wrasse.

Wrasses are usually “protogynous hermaphrodites”, meaning they are born female, but like the unfortunate dinos in Jurassic Park, can change into males if the dating pool dries up. The odds are good that the queen coris gets up to such antics – although we don’t know much about it – and it would be even odder if it didn’t, given how the rest of its genus rolls. Or swims. Speaking of which, this is another surprise.

Some impressive pecs

The queen coris moves like a thick, slow ribbon, and has thin pectoral fins that it occasionally bats, or flits rapidly like it’s incredibly anxious or delighted about something. These are in fact its main form of propulsion – it only uses its caudal, or tail fin, for the odd speed boost. If all else fails, it stashes itself deep in the sand to escape danger, or to simply snooze the night away. Captive-bred coris have been seen experiencing rapid-eye movement too, so who knows if they’re dreaming about even crazier patterns? In short, don’t underestimate it. Especially if you keep it as a pet.

Rampaging royal

When your favourite food is hard-shelled crustaceans and other sea creatures, you’re not going to have a bite like a baby’s kiss. Those delicate lips conceal two sharp fangs, and other fish – even other members of its species – would do well to remember that, as well as any aesthetically pleasing rock or coral tank displays. Despite its innocent demeanour, the queen coris can be very aggressive, even towards the lid of its tank: several sites I visited warned about keeping it covered, because it’s a known “jumper”.

Honestly, I don’t know what else this fish needs to do to get more attention from researchers. Maybe, after scratching the surface, we’re just too scared to delve deeper?


Latin: Coris formosa

What? Pretty tropical wrasse fish with sweet electric face paint.

Where? The Indian Ocean, primarily off the coast of southeast Africa, south of the Arabian Peninsula, and Sri Lanka, in reef or rocky areas up to 50 metres / 164 feet deep.

How big? Up to 60cm / 1.9 feet long.

Endangered? While it is captured for the pet trade, there are enough of it to qualify as Least Concern.

Probable motto: Look, if my stripe and behaviour won’t convince you I’m crazy, I guess nothing will.


They look cool. Do they need my help at all?

Nope, there seem to be plenty of them happily flitting about in their home range, and although they are quite popular as pets, the aquarium trade doesn’t seem to be harming their numbers.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

Alderton, David. 2019. “Encyclopedia of Aquarium and & Pond Fish“. Penguin Random House.

Craig, M.T. 2010. “Coris formosaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2010: e.T187664A8594629.

Field, Richard. 2013. “Reef fishes of Oman“. Richard & Mary Field.

Formosa wrasse“. No date. Blue Zoo Aquatics.

Gender-bending fish“. No date. Understanding Evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Hixon, M.A. 2009. “Coral reef fishes“, in Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences. Elsevier.

Jonna, R. Jamil. No date. “Labridae“. Animal Diversity Web.

King, Dennis, and Fraser, Valda. 2014. “The reef guide: fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates“. Struik Nature.

Pascualita, Sa-a. No date. “Coris formosa, queen coris“. Fishbase.

Pollard, D. and Liu, M. 2010. “Coris gaimardThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2010: e.T187436A8534848

Sutton, Alan. 2018. “Queen wrasse – facts and photographs“. Seaunseen.

Featured image credit: “Queen coris (Coris formosa)”, by Brian Gratwicke.