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These large, colorful reef fish have been reported up to 7 feet, but normally average about 2 feet long. They are protogynous hermaphrodites, so sometimes a female will become a male, and turn from a female’s rusty red-orange colors to a male’s bright blue-green colors. Older males will have a more prominent hump on their foreheads than younger fish. They live in and around reefs, eating marine invertebrates including some poisonous prey.
Traditionally the flesh of this fish has been highly regarded for human consumption; it is often found alive in the fish markets of Hong Kong fetching prices up to $100 US per kilogram. Eating this fish has resulted in cases of ciguatera poisoning. The humphead wrasse is a species commonly exhibited in public aquarium facilities and is considered of importance to eco-tourism in areas frequented by divers. This has resulted in the promotion of conservation due to the high tourism value of protecting this species.
This member of the Labridae family inhabits steep outer reef slops, channel slopes, and lagoon reefs to depths of 330 feet (100 m). It is usually solitary however it may be observed in male-female pairs or in social groups of one male, two-seven smaller adults, and several juveniles. Occupying limited home ranges, the adults swim across the reefs during the day, resting at night in caves and under coral ledges. Juveniles select branching hard and soft corals and seagrass beds at settlement. They are often observed among the thickets of living staghorn coorals (Acropora spp.) and on deeper reef flats.