Six Line Wrasse: Occasional Cleaner, Constant Delight

If you’ve wondered whether you can combine form and function into one fish, odds are you’ve come across the six line wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia) in your searches.

This saltwater species brings vibrant colors AND practical cleaning skills to any reef tank.

They get their name from the six horizontal orange stripes down their bodies, breaking up the bluish-purple background.

Two of the “lines” even cut through their vibrant red eyes – another key feature of this saltwater fish.

Pseudocheilinus hexataenia also known as six line wrasse swimming in a reef tank

And with such a strong color palette, they attract attention – from predators. So you’ll find a black ocellus (eyespot) trimmed in blue in front of their tails.

The “false eye” is designed to confuse larger fish as to which end is the tasty head, giving the wrasse time to escape.

Six lines are popular additions in saltwater aquariums for both their color and the activity they bring. But they’re not the easiest fish to manage.

You’ll want to have plenty of experience under your belt before you consider bringing one home – even if they are handy for pest control.

Because while they’re attractive and participate in cleaning stations, they’re not easy to keep fed.

And unless you have the proper equipment to maintain their preferred dietary needs, you could find yourself with an attractive but starving, six line wrasse!

At a Glance

  • Tank Size: 20-30 gallons (76-114 l)
  • School Size: can get housed alone; schools require larger tanks
  • Temperature: 70-80F (21-26.7C)
  • pH:8.1-8.4
  • Hardness: 8-12 dH
  • Specific Gravity: 1.020-1.025
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: < 10 ppm
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Size: 3-4 inches (7.6-10 cm)

In the Wild

Pseudocheilinus hexataenia also known as six line wrasse swimming in coral reef in the Sea

Six line wrasses inhabit the central and western parts of the Indo-Pacific region.

You’ll find them throughout the Red Sea and all over the Great Barrier Reef.

They’re also familiar sights around the northwestern part of Australia, especially the state of New South Wales.

They prefer the coastal margins of reefs, rarely going deeper than 65 feet (20 m).

Due to their prominent appearance (and delicious taste – according to predators), they stick close to the coral branches of the reef as a means of protection.

Snorkelers and divers often spot six lines swimming in schools over the reefs, foraging among the corals.

They DO establish territories, and they aren’t afraid to chase out other fish. This goes double for other wrasses (something you’ll need to keep in mind).

Size: Double Your Investment

Most fish stores stock six line wrasses as juveniles. At that size, they’re not more than 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in length.

However, they double that size as adults, finishing around 3-4 inches (7.6-10 cm). And the males are the larger of the two.


Despite their small size (and popularity – as snacks for other fish and for marine aquariums), six line wrasses do well in the lifespan department.

The records show they live for 5-10 years. Of course, that depends on your ability to meet their exacting care needs.


Most aquarists choose to bring a six line wrasse into their saltwater aquarium for one of two reasons: pest control or cleaning.

The fact that they have dramatic colors? That’s a bonus to the equation. And there’s nothing wrong with that decision – provided you have reasonable expectations.

Because while six lines WILL perform both functions, they aren’t always tops at either.

And with individual fish preferences? You may or may not get the results you’re looking for.

Six line wrasses are grazers on live rock. And in their foraging habits, they’re known to tackle common aquarium pests, such as bristle worms, flatworms, and pyramid snails.

Some six lines accomplish pest control with voracious appetites. But others? It’s half-hearted.

The same goes for that cleaning. Six lines ARE cleaner fish.

They remove parasites (such as marine ich) from other fish in the tank. They work similarly to cleaner shrimp.

It’s a service they perform in the wild. But in captivity? It isn’t a guarantee your six line wrasse will follow suit.

They ARE active fish, though. And meeting their metabolic needs means you’ll get to see them foraging around the tank throughout the day.

As long as you provide enough room for everyone, you shouldn’t have any problems.

However, they’re considered semi-aggressive. And they WILL bully and harass other wrasses.

The behavior gets worse the tighter space gets. As such, you may want to consider keeping a single six line wrasse (it WILL do fine housed alone).

If you keep a school, you have better chances at observing their nightly ritual.

Six line wrasses spin mucus cocoons to sleep. The cocoon masks their scent, protecting them while they sleep. And it’s unique to the Pseudocheilinus genus.

Tank Setup

Reef tank full of corals, peppermint shrimp and six line wrasse

As six line wrasses don’t get terribly large, you don’t need to spring for a massive reef tank – in theory.

However, you need to consider multiple aspects of their care before you make that purchase. Because space impacts several facets of their maintenance.

If you only plan to have a single six line wrasse, you can get away with smaller 20-30-gallon (76-114 l) tanks.

But if you’re aiming for a school (or you have designs that feature additional wrasse species), you need a minimum of 100 gallons (379 l).

You should also consider having a refugium attached to your tank.

The refugium will keep your six lines supplied with the microfauna they prefer for food. And, depending on how many fish you stock, that can mean a significant sump tank size.

Regardless of tank size, you need a sturdy cover for your tank.

While they can have a bullying streak, six lines startle easy. (They ARE prey species, after all)

And when they panic, they go into flight mode – literally. Without a lid, you’ll end up with a striped fish on the floor.

Water Conditions

As a tropical species, six line wrasses prefer their water conditions to fall within the usual parameters you expect for a saltwater aquarium.

You have a little more wiggle room with their temperature, but you want to keep it around 70-80F (21-26.7C).

Otherwise, expect to maintain your reef tank within the narrow range of water conditions: pH 8.1-8.4, a specific gravity of 1.020-1.025, and hardness of 8-12 dH.

And if you’re concerned about your water quality? Consider adding a protein skimmer to the mix.

Decorating the Six Line Tank

One of the best things to include in your marine tank when adding a six line wrasse is live rock.

Pseudocheilinus hexataenia commonly known as six line wrasse swimming near live rock in a saltwater aquarium

The structure provides the perfect background for those bold stripes, encourages exploration of the tank, serves as grazing territory, and represents a handy hideout.

With your live rock, you can create plenty of overhangs, crevices, and caves that your six lines can retreat into when they feel nervous.

It’ll also give them the perfect place to spin their cocoons at night.

And since live rock usually brings unwanted hitchhikers, your wrasses will happily go to work, chasing down parasites and pests you might not want running rampant in your tank.

They’ll have a handy source of food – in addition to your refugium.

You can also use live sand to help achieve some of the same results.

Pseudocheilinus hexataenia commonly known as six line wrasse swimming in a decorated saltwater aquarium with live rock and live sand

But the sand won’t provide the refuge the rock structures will. Six lines don’t bury themselves.

It’s an excellent idea to provide an additional source of nourishment, but don’t neglect the rock they need.

Six Line Wrasses in Communities

Six line wrasses have earned their semi-aggressive temperaments. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave them out of your community plans.

You just need to think through tank mates carefully – and choose your order for arrival.

Tank Mates

Six line wrasses are reef-safe species. This means you can add them in among corals (both SPS and LPS) and sea anemones without a problem.

In all of their grazing, they’re careful not to damage the polyps.

And they get along okay with plenty of other fish that behave in a like manner.

You just want to pair up size and temperament. So you can easily match them up with any of the following fish:

  • Angelfish
  • Butterflyfish
  • Goatfish
  • Pufferfish
  • Squirrelfish
  • Tangs.

When you choose to add six lines to a reef tank, make sure they’re the last species added.

This prevents them from setting up territory and harassing all of the fish you add afterward. It’ll promote the best behavior.

Incompatible Species

Unfortunately, wrasse species, in general, don’t get along. So you don’t want to try combining wrasses together.

They end up fighting with one another, creating stress and strife throughout the tank. This goes double for shyer species, such as the fairies, flashers, and leopards.

You also don’t want to run the risk of starvation by pairing a six line wrasse with another copepod eater.

Supplying enough food for ONE of these specialized species is difficult enough. Attempting to keep multiple groups fed is tricky. So don’t combine six lines with:

  • Mandarin gobies
  • Pipefish
  • Seahorses.

You also want to avoid common predators that enjoy the occasional six line for dinner. That mucus cocoon can only do so much.

So keep groupers, lionfish, and scorpionfish in a separate tank if you want to have them around.

On the flip side, you also want to prevent predation BY your six line wrasse. While they prefer copepods, they enjoy crustaceans, in general.

And if you have smaller saltwater shrimp in your tank? They may end up snatched up. (Cleaners, corals, and marbles are usually large enough to stay safe)

Food and Diet

Six line wrasses are, officially, carnivores. But they specialize in that menu, targeting microfauna.

Specifically, they prefer amphipods, copepods, and isopods. Those are the tiny crustaceans they hunt for on live rock.

Of course, they’re happy to feed on parasites, too. But you can’t expect your tank to supply enough pests to keep your six lines fed. (At least, hopefully not)

And even live rock may not offer enough feeding material for these active fish.

This is where aquarists can run into trouble. And having that refugium to step into the gap is helpful.

It’ll provide the extra meaty material these striped fish need, especially as they require food 2-3 times a day!

You CAN train them to accept commercial flakes, pellets, and tablets, but it takes work.

And if you “ask” your six line wrasse? It would much rather have meaty protein.

They prefer to have mysis or brine shrimp – even if it’s frozen instead of live.

Breeding Six Line Wrasses: Pipe Dream

With six line wrasses providing pest control and cleaning services, it’s tempting to want to set up a breeding operation.

And it seems like it shouldn’t be too tricky. You can’t house more than one wrasse species together.

But a school of six lines? That’s doable with enough space.

Unfortunately, no one has yet to breed six line wrasses in captivity successfully.

In the wild, they release eggs and sperm to develop in the water column. And no one’s had any success with duplicating the pattern in a home aquarium.

Male or Female?

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to tell your six lines apart, though. (Who knows? Maybe someone will perfect the technique down the road)

That, at least, is a simple process. While not as sexually dimorphic as some saltwater fish, there’s still enough difference.

Male six lines are larger than their female counterparts.

And when the spawning season approaches, their colors turn more intense than usual.

This makes them more appealing to the females in their designated territories.

Health and Diseases

As long as you maintain your marine tank at top health, you shouldn’t notice any particular problems with your six line wrasses.

They can develop the usual illnesses of any saltwater fish, but they aren’t prone to any specific diseases.

The biggest issue comes with transport. They’re easily stressed when moved – something that occurs when they’re shipped and again when you move them from quarantine tank to your display tank.

You’ll want to make sure you take your acclimation process slowly.

Six Line Wrasses: Are They For You?

Even though six line wrasses are only available wild-caught, they’re not terribly expensive.

You can find them in fish stores or on the internet from $20-$40. The larger (and, thus, more mature) the fish, the higher the cost.

Because of the stress of shipping, you’ll want to speak with your merchant ahead of time.

Many six lines die in transport. And you may not receive reimbursement if your fish passes away. Make sure you discuss the acclimation process from the plane to the holding facility.

And once you have your fish in quarantine? Keep things as calm as possible.

Stress will interfere with your fish deciding to eat. And if they’re upset AND starving, you’ll run into problems with illness.

Occasional Cleaner, Constant Delight

Six line wrasses often help control pests in a saltwater aquarium, such as bristleworms and pyramid snails.

They may even set up cleaning stations for the other fish in your tank. It’s just not a guarantee for either situation.

But they’ll ALWAYS look stunning in their stripes!

So you have six line wrasses? Do they clean your other fish?

Have you used them for pest control?

Share your questions and stories with us here!