Napoleon Complex: A good thing

The Napoleon Wrasse, or the Humphead Wrasse, is one of those lovely gems of the ocean.  Indigenous to the Indo Pacific, the Napoleon is perhaps the largest reef fish, a pretty shade of green with a delicate blue pattern, and a hump on the head that resembles Napoleon’s hat.


Napoleon’s can be born male or female, but for some reason, some females become males after reaching sexual maturity.  Here is a good word for you: they are protogynous hermaphrodites.  Break that word down: Proto (first, or earliest form) and Gynous (female). Now you will remember it for bar trivia later.  This is a pretty impressive feat:

“After wrasses become adults, they are called initial phase males or females.  Those that were born male will always remain as an initial phase male and will never have a chance to be a dominant male.  Some of the adult females will change into males.  These males and the remaining females are also called initial phase wrasses.  But some of the larger females will become supermales.  This most often happens when a supermale dies.  The supermale is larger than all the other males and has distinct colors and patterns on its skin.  This coloration attracts the females to the supermale.  Sex change in wrasses ensures there will always be a male to reproduce with all the females. ” -Shedd Aquarium

Basically, some lady wrasses are so good at what they do, that they decide to become the head honcho and switch teams (who needs gender roles anyway, right?)

When one supermale wrasse is asking a lady to a movie or whatever, his colors will actually get brighter and more beautiful.

melbourne aquarium: a breeding male wrasse.
melbourne aquarium: a breeding male wrasse. no ladies around yet

I really like Napoleon Wrasses.  They are brightly colored, big (up to 7.5 feet!), easy to spot and social to divers (in protected water).  I haven’t had the pleasure of diving with one in the wild, but the Aquarium has recently acquired what appears to be a lady in changing, and s/he is now on exhibit.  Before the napoleon went on display, s/he was in a holding cell, where s/he would come up to the glass and display their beautiful pattern, showing first one side, and then they other.  Like humans,  wrasse has large eyes that can track your movement, which gives one the impression of being in the company of an intelligent and observant alien.

They have really big lips, which are really good for kissing at midnight, but also, really good at eating spiny sea creatures (like crown of thrones sea star, which are poisonous).  Also, they can do a kind of Alien type move and force their jaws out past their snout, to pull fish out of crevices.  This, for some reason, reminds me of the image of a pig digging for truffles. 🙂

strike a pose! often Napoleons flirt at the surface.
strike a pose! often Napoleons flirt at the surface.

Napoleon Wrasse are not endangered, but they are threatened.  Their flesh can go for $90/lb in some places, which is…gross.  The thought of eating such a charasmatic and interestingly intricate fish sounds disgusting.  Like eating Tibby, or my neighbor’s dog Rex.  Which I guess some people are ok with, but to preserve the amazing diversity of species in the world, I believe we need to leave the Napoleons on the reef, where they will continue eating their crazy diet, and rolling their big bulbous eyes at passing divers, to the delight of all who see them.

in wonder of the sea,


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