Cuckoo wrasse (Labrus mixtus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



A slim-line wrasse with a narrow long head and a pointed snout. The colouration of Labrus mixtus is different between the sexes and very variable. The female is rose-pink to orange-red in colour with 2-3 dark spots interspersed with white on the rear dorsal and adjacent tail fin. Young males are similar in colour to the female but lack the dorsal spots. Older males have dark blue heads with brilliant blue lines and blotches that extend along the flanks. The rest of the body and the fins are bright orange and the fins also have bright blue markings. Males can reach up to 35 cm in length and the females are generally slightly smaller.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Labrus mixtus can be found in rocky areas around most of the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

Global distribution

East Atlantic, ranging from Norway south to Senegal, Azores, Madeira and the Mediterranean.


Over rocks and hard ground, and in the algal zone, between 2 - 200 m but mainly between 20 - 80 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Male up to 35 cm in length, female up to 30 cm.
  • Functional males have a blue striped head and back, the rest of the body and fins are orange.
  • Females and non-functional males are rose-pink or orange-red.
  • Females have black and white blotches on back.
  • Elongate body with dorsal fin uniform in height.
  • The mouth is large with lips made up of 7 -9 folds.
  • Scales are moderate in size and rather smaller than the pupil diameter of the eye.

Additional information

The goldsinny wrasse, Ctenolabrus rupestris, is similar to the female cuckoo wrasse but lacks the three dark spots at the base of the dorsal fin and has a dark spot at the base of the tail fin.

Listed by


  1. Dipper, F., 2001. British sea fishes (2nd edn). Teddington: Underwater World Publications Ltd.

  2. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  4. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

  5. Muus, B.J. & Dahlstrom, P., 1974. Collins guide to the sea fishes of Britain and North-Western Europe. Wm Collins Sons & Co. Ltd: London.

  6. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.

  7. Whitehead, P.J.P., Bauchot, M.-L., Hureau, J.-C., Nielson, J. & Tortonese, E. 1986. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Vol. I, II & III. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).


  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Fenwick, 2018. Aphotomarine. Occurrence dataset Accessed via on 2018-10-01

  3. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. IOW Natural History & Archaeological Society Marine Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  4. Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre, 2017. Fish: Records for Kent.. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  5. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2018. Isle of Man historical wildlife records 1990 to 1994. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  6. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  7. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  8. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-07-21


This review can be cited as:

Gregory, P. 2003. Labrus mixtus Cuckoo wrasse. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 21-07-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 23/05/2003