Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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Humphead wrasse

I would be asked the same question about our larger humphead wrasse almost daily while working in our open ocean exhibit. It was always phrased in one of two ways: “What is that big ugly fish with the bump on its head?” or “What is that beautiful fish with the bump on its head?”¬†

Personally, I’m in the latter camp. It’s a remarkable animal. The humphead, or Napoleon, or Maori wrasse is the largest of the family, with adult males reaching about six feet in length and weighing more than 400 lbs – and if its size wasn’t enough, its bright greens and blues and even purples make it impossible to ignore. I love to lean in close when ours is by the acrylic window to get a good look at those intricate markings along the sides that look like an inaccessible maze. On the forehead is – surprise! – a big hump that grows along with it, and it has big, attention-grabbing lips. This fish seems to demand attention, but it’s actually quite shy.

It’s also an endangered species; habitat loss and years of exploitation are just two man-made factors that, combined with its slow reproduction rate, have led to a decline of at least 50% in the last thirty years. ¬†More data is urgently needed in order to understand the scale of these threats and to form effective conservation measures ensuring its survival.

I feel like a grey sketch of the humphead wrasse does it little justice. I’ll find time to paint one in full colour at some point, and hopefully get more people to appreciate its rather unconventional beauty.