I know I’ve written about a lot of weird looking fish, but the Asian sheepshead wrasse is a strong contender for the number one strange-looking fish. With a great bulbous chin and an amazing forehead, these fish definitely make you look twice. Unfortunately, not a lot is known about this marvellous species, but they are too bizarre not to write about.

Asian sheepshead wrasses occur in the waters around Asia, particularly around Japan, Korea, and south China. They prefer cooler waters to warmer ones, and Hong  Kong is likely the species’ southern limit. Sheepshead wrasses live in and around rocky reefs.

Look how beautiful they are… Image by ふうけ, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These guys are some of the largest known wrasses; they can reach lengths of a meter, and weigh up to 14.7 kg. Young wrasses are remarkably different from the adults, being bright orange in colour and lacking the beautifying facial adornments of adults.

The only observation of mating behaviour in an Asian sheepshead wrasse occurred in an aquarium, where the largest male fish chased away all the other males, and then proceeded to mate with the female at the surface. They are assumed to be long lived and reach sexual maturity late, like other species of wrasse. A closely related species, the California sheepshead wrasse, is a sequential hermaphrodite, changing sex from female to male as they mature. We don’t know whether the Asian wrasses experience similar sexual development, but it’s an interesting possibility.

The lack of information on such a strange fish is sad, and also quite worrying. Fish that are slow to mature are often vulnerable to over fishing, but we have so little data on the Asian wrasse we have no idea how stable the population is. So I hope we go do some research on the Asian sheepshead wrasse, and figure out what this fish is all about!

Cover image by Totti, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit