Every once in a while I gather together my images of this impressive fish and share them with you, for the very simplest of reasons. Just look at it! Is it not an amazing animal?
Napoleon Wrasses are one of the largest bony fish, and the largest wrasse of course, and when I shot these images of this curious specimen charging towards me I was reminded of just how huge they can be. Fully mature males can reach two meters in length, though in my experience, the fish I meet are in the one to one and a half range, but still, that’s a big fish.
Napoleons (Cheilinus undulatus) are typically hard to approach. They are extensively hunted and classed as endangered by the IUCN, though in areas where they receive protection and become accustomed to divers, they can be quite friendly, as you can see. Either that or they expect food, a practice not recommended these days.
Like many Labrids they change significantly over their lifespan. Youngsters are non-descript and camouflaged and resemble juvenile parrotfish in some ways. I haven’t yet managed to get a decent shot of a real juvenile, though the image above shows a youngish specimen that is starting to grow its characteristic head bump and adopt more of a greenish-blue color.
Typically, Napoleons are seen on reef drop-offs and may well spend time at greater depths hunting for crustaceans and molluscs over sandy substrates. Those powerful jaws make light work of tough prey.
Getting close to Napoleons is hard and getting a good image can take dive after dive.
So often, these shots are taken just at the moment the fish turns and speeds away, and without appearing to be particularly fast, they easily outpace divers.
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