Humphead Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus Rüppell 1835

Other Names: Blue-tooth Groper, Double-headed Maori Wrasse, Double-headed Parrot-fish, Giant Maori Wrasse, Giant Wrasse, Hump-headed Maori Wrasse, Hump-headed Wrasse, Maori Wrasse, Napoleon Maori-wrasse, Napoleon Wrasse

A Humphead Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus, on Norman Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Source: Andrew J. Green / Reef Life Survey. License: CC by Attribution


This enormous wrasse is the largest species in the family Labridae. Adults can be recognised by their huge size, prominent hump on the forehead and thick rubbery lips. Juveniles have a pair of dark wavy lines extending from behind the eye, an elongate dark marking on the body scales and a yellow margin to the caudal fin.

Although widespread on coral reefs in the Indo-west-central Pacific, Humphead Maori Wrasse are uncommon throughout their range. They are a highly valued and luxury food fish and are actively sought for the live reef fish trade in many parts of their range. The species is very susceptible to fishing pressure, and as a result, it is CITES-listed and is considered Endangered by the IUCN. 

Images and video footage at ARKive

Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations

IUCN Cheilinus undulatus

Cite this page as:
Cheilinus undulatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 May 2024,

Humphead Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus Rüppell 1835

More Info


Offshore reefs of Western Australia, Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, and the northern Great Barrier Reef and reefs in the Coral Sea to southern Queensland; also Elizabeth & Middleton Reefs, Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical Indo-west-central Pacific, from the Red Sea and east Africa, to the central Pacific.

Inhabits offshore reefs in depths to 100 m.


Dorsal fin IX, 10; Anal fin III, 8

Adults develop a prominent bulbous hump on the forehead and thick lips.


Juveniles are pale greenish to greyish with an elongate dark mark on each scale, two dark wavy lines extending from the rear of the eye and a yellow margin to the caudal fin.


Carnivore - feeds mostly on crustaceans, molluscs, fishes and echinoderms.


A long-lived protogynous hermaphrodite that changes sex from female to male during its life cycle. Individuals mature at about 6 years of age, and some females become males at about 9 years of age. 

Individuals form small to medium-sized spawning aggregations, usually on outer reefs. Humphead Maori Wrasse can live for up to 30 years.


Although historically fished commercially in northern Australia, Humphead Maori Wrasse have been protected under State legislation in Western Australia since 1998, and in Queensland since 2003.

This highly prized food fish has been heavily exploited for the live reef fish trade through its core range in southeastern Asia (Sadovy et al. 2003).


  • IUCN Red List : Endangered
  • This highly prized food fish has been heavily-exploited for the live reef fish trade througout SE Asia.
  • Etymology

    The species name undulatus is from Latin, meaning "wavy" or "waved".

    Species Citation

    Cheilinus undulatus Rüppell, 1835, Fische des Rothen Meeres: 20. Type locality: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Red Sea.


    Australian Faunal Directory

    Humphead Maori Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus Rüppell 1835


    Allen, G.R. 1993. Fishes of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 44: 67-91

    Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls.

    Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

    Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 1-21.

    Allen, G.R. & Steene, R.C. 1979. The Fishes of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Aust. Natl. Parks Wldlf. Ser. Spec. Publ. 2. Canberra : Australian Government Publishing Service 81 pp. 15 pls.

    Allen, G.R. & Steene, R.C. 1988. Fishes of Christmas Island Indian Ocean. Christmas Island : Christmas Island Natural History Association 197 pp.

    Allen, G.R., Steene, R.C.& Orchard, M. 2007. Fishes of Christmas Island. Christmas Island : Christmas Island Natural History Association 2 edn, 284 pp.

    Choat, J.H. & Bellwood, D.R. 1994. Wrasses and parrotfishes. pp. 211-215. In J.R. Paxton & Eschmeyer, W.N. (eds.) Encyclopedia of fishes. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.

    Choat, J.H., Davies, C.R., Ackerman, J.L. & Mapstone, B.D. 2006. Age structure and growth in a large teleost, Cheilinus undulatus, with a review of size distribution in labrid fishes. Marine Ecology Progress Series 318: 237–246.

    Choat, J.H., van Herwerden, L., Robbins, W.D., Hobbs, J.P. & Ayling, A.M. 2006. A report on the ecological surveys undertaken at Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs, February 2006. Report by James Cook University to the Department of the Environment and Heritage. 65 pp.

    CITES Workshop Report on the Trade of Cheilinus undulatus (Humphead Wrasse / Napoleon Wrasse) & CITES implementation. 3-4 June 2010, Bali, Indonesia. pdf

    Colin, P.R. 2010. Aggregation and spawning behaviour of the humphead wrasse Cheilinus undulatus (Pisces: Labridae): general aspects of spawning behaviour. Journal of Fish Biology 76: 987-1007.

    Donaldson, T.J. 1995. Courtship and spawning of nine species of wrasses (Labridae) from the western Pacific. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 42: 311-319.

    Donaldson,T.J. & Sadovy, Y. 2001. Threatened fishes of the world: Cheilinus undulatus Rüppell, 1835 (Labridae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 62: 428.

    Gill, A.C. & Reader, S.E. 1992. Fishes In: Reef Biology. A survey of Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, South Pacific, by the Australian Museum. Kowari 3: 90-92. ANPWS, Canberra.

    Grant, E.M. 1975. Guide to Fishes. Brisbane : Queensland Government, Co-ordinator General’s Department 640 pp.

    Grant, E.M. 1991. Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : EM Grant Pty Ltd 480 pp.

    Hanel, R., M.W. Westneat & C. Sturmbauer, 2002. Phylogenetic relationships, evolution of broodcare behavior, and geographic speciation in the wrasse Tribe Labrini. J. Molec. Evol. 55: 776-789.

    Hobbs, J-P.A., Newman, S.J., Mitsopoulos, G.E.A., Travers, M.J., Skepper, C.L., Gilligan, J.J., Allen, G.R., Choat, H.J. & Ayling, A.M. 2014. Checklist and new records of Christmas Island fishes: the influence of isolation, biogeography and habitat availability on species abundance and community composition. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 30: 184–202 

    Hobbs, J-P.A., Newman, S .J., Mitsopoulos, G.E.A., Travers, M.J., Skepper, C.L., Gilligan, J.J., Allen, G.R., Choat, H.J. & Ayling, A.M. 2014. Fishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands: new records, community composition and biogeographic significance. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 30: 203–219 

    Hoey, A.S., Pratchett, M.S., Johansen, J. & Hoey, J. 2014. Marine ecological survey of Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, Lord Howe Commonwealth Marine Reserve. Final report produced for the Department of the Environment. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville QLD. pp. 101 [available from]

    IUCN Red List. Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

    Johannes, R.E. & Squire, L. 1988. Spawning aggregations of coral trout and Maori wrasse in the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Report to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1992. Tropical Reef-Fishes of the Western Pacific, Indonesia and Adjacent Waters. Jakarta : PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama 314 pp. pls.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2002. Fairy & Rainbow Wrasses and their Relatives. Chorleywood, U.K. : TMC Publishing 207 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2010. Labridae fishes: wrasses. Seaford, Victoria, Australia : Aquatic Photographics 398 pp.

    Lee, C. & Y. Sadovy, 1998. A taste for live fish: Hong Kong's live reef fish market. Naga ICLARM Q. 21(2): 38-42.

    Marshall, T.C. 1964. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coastal Waters of Queensland. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 566 pp. 136 pls.

    Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs.

    Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs.

    Randall, J.E., Head, S.M. & Sanders, A.P.L. 1978. Food habits of the giant humphead wrasse Cheilinus undulatus (Labridae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 3: 235-238.

    Roughley, T.C. 1957. Fish and Fisheries of Australia. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 341 pp.

    Rüppell, W.P.E. 1835. Neue Wirbelthiere zu der Fauna von Abyssinien gehörig. Fische des Rothen Meeres. Frankfurt Vol. 1 pp. 1–28 pls 1–7.

    Russell, B.C. 1983. Annotated checklist of the coral reef fishes in the Capricorn-Bunker group, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Special Publication Series 1: 1-184 figs 1-2 

    Russell, B. (Grouper & Wrasse Specialist Group). 2004. Cheilinus undulatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T4592A11023949. Downloaded on 14 February 2018.

    Russell, B.C., Larson, H.K., Hutchins, J.B. & Allen, G.R. 2005. Reef fishes of the Sahul Shelf. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory Supplement 1 2005: 83-105

    Sadovy, Y. 2001. The humphead wrasse, a conservation challenge. Species 36: 5-6.

    Sadovy, Y. 2005. Trouble on the reef: the imperative for managing vulnerable and valuable fisheries. Fish and Fisheries 6: 167-185.

    Sadovy, Y., Donaldson, T.J., Graham, T.R., McGilvray, F., Muldoon, G.J., Phillips, M.J., Rimmer, M.A., Smith, A. & Yeeting, B. 2003. While Stocks Last: The Live Reef Food Fish Trade. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

    Sadovy, Y. & Liu, M. 2008. Functional hermaphroditism in teleosts. Fish and Fisheries 9: 1–43.

    Sadovy, Y., Kulbicki, M., Labrosse, P., Letourneur, Y., Lokani, P. & Donaldson, T.J. 2003. The humphead wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus: synopsis of a threatened and poorly known giant coral reef fish. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 13(3): 327–364.

    Sadovy, Y., Punt, A.E., Cheung, W., Vasconcellos, M., Suharti, S. & Mapstone, B.D. 2007. Stock assessment approach for the Napoleon fish, Cheilinus undulatus, in Indonesia. A tool for quota-setting for data-poor fisheries under CITES Appendix II non-detriment finding requirements. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 1023.

    Sadovy de Mitcheson, Y., Liu, M. & Suharti, S. 2010. Gonadal development in a giant threatened reef fish, the humphead wrasse Cheilinus undulatus, and its relationship to international trade. Journal of Fish Biology 77: 706–718. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2010.02714.x

    Westneat, M.W. 2001. Labridae. pp. 3381-3467 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381-4218.

    Yearsley, G.K., Last, P.R. & Ward, R.D. (eds) 1999. Australian Seafood Handbook. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 460 pp.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37384038


    Conservation:IUCN Endangered; CITES listed

    Depth:2-100 m

    Fishing:Fished commercially

    Habitat:Reef associated

    Max Size:230 cm TL; 190 kg

    Species Image Gallery

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map