Tripletail Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus trilobatus Lacépède 1801

Other Names: Maori Wrasse, Trilobed Maori Wrasse, Triple-tail Maori, Triple-tail Maori-wrasse, Tripletail Wrasse, Trippletail Maori Wrasse

A Tripletail Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus trilobatus, at the Murion Islands, Western Australia, November 2019. Source: Glen Whisson / License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial

A mottled greenish-brown wrasse with four broad dark bars along the side, mottled purple and red markings, a curved vertical red line on the body scales forming narrow vertical lines along the side, and numerous small red spots and lines on the head. The caudal fin has a pale to reddish margin, and three lobes on tail in large males. Juveniles have 3-4 dark midlateral spots and more prominent dark bars along the side.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2021, Cheilinus trilobatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 Jun 2024,

Tripletail Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus trilobatus Lacépède 1801

More Info


Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia, to Kingscliff, New South Wales, including offshore reefs of north Western Australia and Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, and reefs in the Coral Sea;  also Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, and the Lord Howe Province in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical, Indo-west-central Pacific: East Africa, South Africa, Socotra, Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar and Mascarenes east to Wake Atoll and Gambier Islands, north to southern Japan, south to Australia, New Caledonia and the Austral Islands.
Inhabits coral lagoons, coastal reef-flats, seaward reefs, and shallow reef margins with high coral cover. Juveniles are secretive and occur on algal reefs, often around stinging hydrozoans.


Dorsal fin IX, 10: Anal fin III, 8; Pectoral fins 12 (uppermost 2 rays unbranched); Lateral line (pored scales) 22-23.
Body moderately deep, depth 2.3-2.6 times in SL; dorsal profile of head convex; anterior tip of snout forming an acute angle; jaws prominent, 2 strong canines anteriorly in each jaw; no enlarged tooth in rear of upper jaw. 
Lateral line interrupted below posterior portion of dorsal-fin base; scales reaching well onto bases of dorsal and anal fins; scales in front of dorsal fin extending forward to above centre of eye; cheek and opercle scaled; lower jaw without scales.
Pelvic fins long, reaching anus in small fish, well beyond in adults; centre of caudal fin rounded in adults, with the upper and lower rays forming elongate lobes giving the fin a trilobed appearance; 


Body colour variable, ranging from green to brown with mottled purple and red markings; 4 vertical dark bars on body that are often indistinct on large individuals; head with numerous small red spots; red lines radiating from anterior and posterior of eye; scales on sides each with a vertical, slightly curved red line; dorsal, anal, and pectoral fins yellow or green with distal red streaks; caudal fin green with a red posterior margin; juveniles with 3-4 dark spots midlaterally on sides and more prominent dark bars.


Feeds mostly on hard-shelled benthic invertebrates, including sea urchins, molluscs, and crustaceans, and occasionally on small fishes.


Taken in multi-species fisheries in parts of its range, and is occasionally collected for the aquarium trade.


The species is able to rapidly change colour.


The specific name trilobatus is from the Latin tri- (= three) and lobatus (= lobed) in reference to the caudal fin which has a rounded central part and protruding upper and lower lobes.

Species Citation

Cheilinus trilobatus Lacépède 1801, Histoire Naturelle des Poissons Vol. 3: 529, 537, pl. 31(3). Type locality: Madagascar.


Bray, D.J. 2021


Atlas of Living Australia

Tripletail Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus trilobatus Lacépède 1801


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37384044


Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:1-30 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:45 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map