1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wrasse

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WRASSE, a name given to the fishes of the family Labridae generally, and more especially to certain members of the family. They are very abundant in the tropical zone, less so in the temperate, and disappear altogether in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Their body is generally compressed, like that of a carp, covered with smooth (cycloid) scales; they possess one dorsal fin only, the anterior portion of which consists of numerous spines. Many wrasses are readily recognized by their thick lips, the inside of which is sometimes curiously folded, a peculiarity which has given to them the German name of “lip-fishes.” The dentition of their jaws consists of strong conical teeth, of which some in front, and often one at the hinder end of the upper jaw, are larger than the others. But the principal organs with which they crush shellfish, crustaceans and other hard substances are the solid and strongly-toothed pharyngeal bones, of which the lower are coalesced into a single flat triangular plate. All wrasses are surface fishes, and rocky parts of the coast overgrown with seaweed are their favourite haunts in the temperate, and coral-reefs in the tropical seas. Some 450 species of wrasses (including parrot-wrasses) are known, chiefly from the tropics.

Lips of Labrus festivus

Of the British wrasses the ballan wrasse (Labrus maculatus) and the striped or red or cook wrasse (Labrus mixtus) are the most common. Both belong to the genus Labrus, in which the teeth stand in a single series, and which nas a smooth edge of the praeoperculum and only three spines in the anal fin. The ballan wrasse is the larger, attaining to a length of 18 in., and, it is said, to a weight of 8 lb; its colours are singularly variegated, green or brownish, with red and blue lines and spots; the dorsal spines are twenty in number. The cook wrasse offers an instance of well-marked secondary sexual difference — the male being ornamented with blue streaks or a blackish band along the side of the body, whilst the female has two or three large black spots across the back of the tail. This species possesses only from sixteen to eighteen spines in the dorsal fin. The goldsinny or corkwing (Crenilabrus melops) is much more frequent on the S. coasts of England and Ireland than farther N., and rarely exceeds a length of 10 in. As in other wrasses, its colours are beautiful, but variable; but it may be readily distinguished from the two preceding species by the toothed edge of the praeoperculum. The three other British wrasses are much scarcer and more local, viz. Jago's goldsinny (Ctenolabrus rupestris), with a large black spot on the anterior dorsal spines and another on the base of the upper caudal rays; Acantholabrus palloni, which is so rarely captured that it lacks a vernacular name, but may be easily recognized by its five anal spines and by the teeth in the jaws forming a band; and the rock-cook (Centrolabrus exoletus), which also has five anal spines, but has the jaws armed with a single series of teeth.

On the Atlantic coasts of the N. states of the United States the wrasses are represented by the genus Tautoga. The only species of this genus, known by the names of tautog or blackfish, is much esteemed as food. It is caught in great numbers, and generally sold of a weight of about 2 lb.