Corkwing wrasse

Corkwing wrasse

Corkwing wrasse by Paul Naylor

Corkwing wrasse

Scientific name: Symphodus melops
One of the most striking and beautiful reef species found in the UK!

Species information


Up to 25cm long, but usually much smaller

Conservation status

Thought to be common, although wild wrasse are caught around the UK in large numbers for deployment as lice cleaners in Scottish salmon farms.

When to see

Breeding males are visible in their resplendent colouration during spring and early summer


Corkwing wrasse are one of the most striking and iconic rocky reef species found in the UK. The males are incredibly decorated and carry out complex nest building behaviour. Devoted males spend weeks building fascinating nests in rocky crevices during spring and early summer, using their mouths to collect up to 10 different species of seaweed!

How to identify

Superb turquoise stripes on the cheeks, a dark blotch in the shape of a comma behind each eye, and a dark spot in the middle of the tail stem distinguishes this species from other wrasse. The males are incredibly vibrant during mating season they are a bluey-green colour mixed with orange and pink. Females are usually a duller, pale brown, with blotches still visible.


Common in Europe, the Mediterranean and Adriatic

Did you know?

So called ‘sneaker’ males will dull themselves down, in order to trick the original male ‘nest guarder’ into thinking they are female. Once permitted entry to the nest, the ‘sneaker’ will fertilise as many eggs as possible, leaving the nest guarder high and dry!

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