Cuckoo wrasse

Male cuckoo wrasse

Male cuckoo wrasse ©David Stephens

Cuckoo wrasse

Scientific name: Labrus mixtus
One of the most colourful fish in UK seas, the cuckoo wrasse looks like it belongs in the tropics. Don't be fooled though, it's very much a native species.

Species information


Length: Up to 35cm

Conservation status

Listed as of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

When to see

January to December


There are 4 types of wrasse common in UK seas, all of which are found in rocky areas around our coasts. They feed predominantly on molluscs, including limpets and mussels, and crustaceans, but will also eat small fish if the opportunity arises. They have powerful teeth and jaws which can be used to crush through shells! Cuckoo wrasse are highly colourful fish but males and females look very different. The slightly smaller female cuckoo wrasse is an orangey-pink colour with distinct black and white blotches on her back. The male has electric blue markings on his head and back with orange fins.

How to identify

Cuckoo wrasse are a large, slender fish. Their colourful markings make them unmistakeable. The female is orangey-pink with black and white spots on her back and the male has electric blue markings on his head and back. Ballan wrasse are also large, but duller in colour, with brownish-red and green mottled markings. The corkwing wrasse is smaller with wavy green-blue and gold markings and a distinctive black spot on the wrist of its tail. The goldsinny wrasse is much smaller and a pale reddish-brown with a distinctive black spot on its tail.


Found around all UK coasts, uncommon in the Southern North Sea.

Did you know?

Cuckoo wrasse start life as females! They are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they can change to males when there is a need. There is normally a single dominant male on the reef and if he dies, the most senior female will change sex and become the top male!

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, scientists, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.