Labrids are small to large, colourful, carnivorous fishes that are extremely varied in body shape and habitats.

Eastern Blue Groper at Kurnell
Eastern Blue Groper at Kurnell - A male Eastern Blue Groper at a depth of 6m, Kurnell, New South Wales, 1999. Image: Tim Hochgrebe
© Tim Hochgrebe

They live primarily on reefs, but some species are strongly associated with vegetation or open sand bottoms. Sex reversal is the norm, and most species have two or three sex-related colour or body forms. Labrids are the second-most speciose Australian fish family. In Australian waters, 175 species of labrids in 44 genera are known (Gomon, 1994; Randall et al., 1997; Hoese et al., in press) of which about 80 species in 31 genera are temperate. Most species swim primarily using the pectoral fins (labriform swimming), and specialised dentition is a characteristic of the family. All Australian labrids, so far as is known, spawn small (0.6-1.1 mm diameter) pelagic eggs. Development is direct. The only apparent specialisations to larval life are the preopercular spines of one tropical taxon, the elongate or early-forming dorsal-fin elements of a very few taxa, and the narrow eyes and choroid tissue of some others.

Meristic characters of labrid genera of temperate Australia

  Dorsal Anal Pectoral Pelvic Caudal Vertebrae
Cheilinus IX-X,8-11 III,8-9 12 I,5 7+6 9+14=23
Cirrhilabrus XI-XII,8-10 III,8-10 14-16 I,5 13 9+16=25
Oxycheilinus IX,10 III,8 12 I,5 7+6 9+14=23
Pteragogus IX-XI,9-12 III,8-10 12-15 I,5 7+7 9+16=25
Achoerodus XI, 10-11 III, 10-11 16-18 I, 5 7+7 28
Bodianus XII,9-11 III,11-13 15-18 I,5 (7-8)+7 11+17=28
Choerodon XII-XIII,7-8 III,9-10 15-19 I,5 7+7 (10-11)+(16-17)=27
Anampses IX,11-13 III,10-13 13-14 I,5 7+7 9+16=25
Austrolabrus IX, 11 III, 10 13 I, 5 7+7 9+16=25
Cheilio IX,12-13 III,11-12 12 I,5 7+7 9+16=25
Coris IX,12 III,12 13-15 I,5 (7-8)+7 (9-10)+(15-16)=25
Dotalabrus IX, 11 III, 10 12 I,5 14  
Eupetrichthys IX, 12 III, 10 13 I, 5 7+7 9+10=25
Halichoeres IX-X,11-14 III,10-13 12-15 I,5 7+7 (9-10)+(15-16)=25
Hemigymnus IX,11 III,11 14 I,5 13 10+15=25
Hologymnosus IX,12 III,12 13 I,5 14 9+16=25
Leptojulis IX,11-12 III,10-12 12-13 I,5 14 9+ 16=25
Macropharyngodon IX,11-12 III,11-13 12-13 I,5 7+7 9+16=25
Notolabrus IX,11 III, 10 14 I, 5 14 9+16=25
Ophthalmolepis IX, 12-13 III, 13 13 I, 5 14 26
Pictilabrus IX, 11 III, 10 13 I, 5 14 9+16=25
Pseudocoris IX,12 III,12-13 15 I,5 - -
Pseudolabrus IX,10-11 III,10-11 12-14 I,5 8+7 9+16=25
Pseudojuloides IX,11-12 III,11-12 12-13 I,5 14 (9-10)+(15-16)=25
Stethojulis IX,10-12 III,10-12 12-15 I,5 7+7 10-15=25
Suezichthys IX,11 III,10 13-14 I,5 (7-8)+7 9+16=25
Thalassoma VIII,12-14 III,10-12 14-17 I,5 7+7 (9-10)+(15-16)=25
Labroides IX,10-12 III,9-11 13 I,5 14 10+15=25
Cymolutes VIII-X,12-15 III,11-13 11-13 I,5 14 9+17=26
Novaculichthys IX,12-14 III,12-14 12-13 I,5 14 9+16=25
Xyrichthys IX,12 III,12-14 12-13 I,5 7+7 9+16=25

Note: under caudal rays, a format of X+X indicates principal rays, whereas a single number indicates branched rays plus 2.

Main characters of labrid larvae

  • 23-28 myomeres
  • Body laterally compressed with a deep caudal peduncle
  • Gut is initially straight but coils (usually by flexion), and is slightly rugose
  • Dorsal-fin count VIII-XIII, 7-15
  • Principal caudal rays 13-15 (7+6, 7+7 or 8+7)
  • Small mouth
  • Eyes round, squarish, or ovoid
  • No head spination
  • Very little pigment
  • Most species lack scales prior to settlement
  • Larger larvae are distinguished by the long-based dorsal fin and counts of all fins

References to labrid larvae

Relatively few developmental series of labrid larvae have been published, Spartá, (1956); Fahay, (1983); Richards and Leis, (1984); Kojima, (1988); Richards, (1990); Watson, (1996); Leis and Rennis, (2000); Leis and Hay (2004), and references therein.

Families with similar larvae

  • Scaridae - 25 myomeres; usually have a series of melanophores on the ventral edge of the tail; narrow or roundish eyes; slightly rugose gut coils late in development; 7+6 caudal-fin rays; D IX, 10.
  • Pseudochromidae subfamilies Pseudochrominae and Pseudoplesiopinae - 26-29 myomeres; mouth of moderate size; small preopercular spines; round eyes; variable pigment; gut seldom rugose; generally 9+8 caudal-fin rays; D I-III, 20-79.
  • Callanthiidae - 24 myomeres; moderate to strong head spination; a coiled, compact gut; round eyes; variable pigment; moderate to large mouth; 9+8 caudal-fin rays; D X-XI, 9-12.
  • Serranidae subfamily Grammistinae - 24-28 myomeres; moderate to strong head spination; an early-forming dorsal-fin spine; large mouth; round eyes; 9+8 caudal-fin rays; DVI-VIII, 11-25.
  • Cirrhitidae – 26 myomeres; no head spination; non-rugose gut that coils late, if at all; distinctive, heavy pigmentation; a barbel on the lower jaw is often present; round eyes; 8+7 caudal-fin rays; DX, 11-17; AIII, 6-7.
  • Odacidae - 31-54 myomeres; moderate mouth; prominent angle of lower jaw; round eyes; long non-rugose gut that coils late, if at all; 11-14 caudal-fin rays; at least 14 spines in the dorsal fin.
  • Myctophidae – elongate; narrow to round eyes; rugose gut; at least 30 myomeres; lack spines in the fins; 10+9 caudal-fin rays.

Note: families in bold text are dealt with in Neira et al., 1998.


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