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Fish #179 Cuckoo Wrasse Labrus mixtus ~ Mark Loosemore
Dugital art 20 x 30 cm
The name cuckoo wrasse comes from the Cornish fishermen who associated the blue markings with bluebell flowers. In the Cornish language, a bluebell is 'bleujenn an gog', literally 'the cuckoo flower'. Cuckoo Wrasse are native to the Eastern Atlantic from Norway to Senegal and are therefore frequently encountered around the British Isles. These fish live in deeper water than some other wrasse, usually from 10 metres down to 30 metres. That is not to say, however, that they do not come into shallower waters. They are commonly found amongst sea fans and branching sponges on rocky shorelines. The males and females are very different in colouring. The males are bright blue with long patches of orange and yellow along the body. Unlike this illustration of a male Cuckoo Wrasse the female is bright orange with black and white stripes above the tail. The male can reach sixteen inches while the females are slightly smaller achieving twelve inches overall. Wrasses are highly territorial fish with a single male courting several females. When the male dies the dominant female changes sex and becomes the next male! As the female changes sex she also changes colour and patterning to that of the male!
Anecdote from the artist:
I grew up in Dorset during the fifties only a few miles from the coastal resort of Weymouth. In those days, before my family owned a car and when rail fares were still affordable, I spent many happy hours fishing from the Stone Pier which juts out into Weymouth Bay. My aim or should I say, hope, was to catch mackerel which would have been taken home for the table. Unfortunately those silver and blue rapiers did not frequent the waters adjoining the pier. The occasional mullet and Sea Bream and a never ending supply of Ballan and Cuckoo Wrasse were the most frequent visitors to the rods of amateur anglers. While I now know that adult Cuckoo Wrasse are a food fish, at the time I did not. Fortunately for the many juvenile specimens on my hook they were always returned to the sea. I meanwhile returned home after another day spent in the seemingly endless sunshine of childhood.
Fish #179 Cuckoo Wrasse Labrus mixtus ~ Sue Locking
Acrylic 23 x 31 cm
Fish #179 Cuckoo Wrasse Labrus mixtus ~ Sue Locking
Oil 40 x 51 cm
Without doubt, Labrus Mixtas, the Cuckoo Wrasse, (previously known as Labrus Bimaculatus), is Britain's most colourful and magnificent fish.
This vibrantly-coloured fish was renamed by Cornish Fishermen, who associated the bright blue markings with bluebell flowers, the Cornish name for these being 'bluejenn an gog' (a cuckoo flower).
Members of this wrasse family are slim-line with a narrow head; have scaly bodies (the scales are moderate in size, and rather smaller than the pupil diameter of the eye); two parasitic isopods (probably Anilocra frontalis); long dorsal fins, and robust, flattened, strong teeth, both in the jaws (for biting and rasping) and on the pharyngeal bones in the throat (for gripping and crushing). This enables them to mainly feed on barnacles, other crustaceans and molluscs, but they also consume small fish and worms. The thick, protruding lips, made up of 7-9 folds, gave rise to the name Labrus, from the Latin, 'Labrum' for lip, rim, or edge. Weighing a maximum of 2 pounds (0.907 kilograms), the male reaches between 35-40cm (14-16 inches) in length, the female up to 30cm (12 inches), and the average life span is around 20 years.
The magnificently coloured male has a royal blue head with bright electric blue bands and blotches along its flank, 2-3 darker blue spots and a black stripe interspersed with white near the dorsal fins. The rest of his body is vermillion, as are the fins, which also have brilliant iridescent blue markings at the tips, and the tail fin also has blue markings at the base. The female is duller in colour, usually rose-pink/orange coloured, with two or three dark spots behind the dorsal fin, and no bands or blotches along the body. Younger males do not have the dorsal spots, are similar in colour to the females, and can often be found in pairs.
The male colouration changes during the breeding season, becoming even brighter and sporting a white patch on his head, whilst his head turns from blue to orange so as to attract as many females as possible. There is distinct pairing during breeding, and between May-June, being oviparous, the female lays around 1,000 eggs in a dish-shaped nest made of algae built by the male on the seabed, which the male then guards until the eggs hatch in about 1-2 weeks. The young live in the open water until the autumn, when they then settle near the seabed. Although being sexually dimorphic, when young, all cuckoo wrasse have the female's pink/orange/red colouring, but when they reach between 7-13 years of age, because they are also protogynous hermaphrodites, they can then change gender and colour; similarly, if the dominant male dies, one of the larger females changes gender; sex reversal is completed within about seven months, and this new male then takes control of the harem.
Existing in around 30 countries, having been found as far north as Sweden, as far south as Senegal, The Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, as far east as Turkey, and most westerly as Ireland , it inhabits the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, the North Sea, the western Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Preferring to live at depths between 40 and 80m (130-260ft), it can live in as little as 2m (6.6ft) in warmer waters, and as deep as 200m (9656.2ft), but is most often found amongst algae in rocky shores in spring and summer, and at depths of around 15m (49ft) during winter.
Listed by the I.U.C.N (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as being of 'least concern', it is both encouraging and exciting that this little gem of a fish is likely to be around us for a very long time. An important food source; in addition to being a 'game' fish, it is a very popular addition to public aquaria, where its bewitching beauty astounds visitors, and makes it the most memorable of the wrasse family.
Without doubt, this is a very fascinating, complex, and exquisite fish, and who would have ever guessed that such a resplendently-hued fish, (which ilk one would normally associate with tropical oceans or coral reefs), was right here in British waters? Wow!!
Sue Locking was educated at Great Carlton C of E Primary School and Louth Grammar School, where her Art teacher, Miss Dean, put her in for her O' Level Art exam in her Fourth Year, a year earlier than usual, and, having been given her first set of oil paints for her 10th birthday, it seems that both her parents and her Art Teacher must have thought she had some talent! However, work life interfered, and it was not until after she retired in late 2012 that she re-kindled that talent and started to paint again. Sue has a great love of colour, as is demonstrated by virtually every one of her paintings, which is why acrylic paints are her favourite medium, as the colours are so vibrant.
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