During spring, the cuckoo wrasse is a hyperactive lady killer. Even divers can be chased when this colourful fish is ready for gathering his harem.

When browsing through an encyclopedia of fishes in Norway, it is not the most colourful experience. They are mainly camouflage coloured according to their habitat. No rules without exception, and the wrasses are one of them. We find 6 different spices of wrasses in the Norwegian waters, and the male cuckoo wrasse (Labrus mixtus) is the king with his beautiful patterns of blue and orange.

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During winter time, the sea appears lifeless at first glance. The wrasses prefer deep waters and rest in cracks and caves to preserve their energy. When the temperature starts to rise in April, the wrasses move shallower and their activity level increases. The male cuckoo wrasse builds a nest and starts to gather his harem. The tactic is simple; chase all males away and chase all females towards the nest while wiggling his body to impress. Even divers will be confronted by this hyperactive fish. He quickly approaches and eyeball you. When he finds out that you are one ugly wrasse and represents no competition among the ladies, he continues with his tasks.

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Diver approaching the female cockoo wrasse

The male cuckoo wrasse change appearance when it is ready for mating. A bright spot appears on the top of his head, and the overall colours are stronger and brighter.

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An interesting phenomenon is that the female cuckoo wrasse in red and black colours has the ability to change sex. The females in the harem is ranked in a hierarchy. If the male dies or disappear, the highest ranked female will transfer into a male and inherit the harem. The transition takes time and divers can encounter cuckoo wrasses with the head of male, and the tail of a female.

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Make sure to be diving during spring time to encounter all the wrasse action. The cuckoo wrasse can be found as far south as Senegal in Africa and further north in Europe, including the Mediterranean. In Scandinavia it can be found from the west coast of Sweden and north until Trøndelag in Norway.