information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



Body deep and compressed sideways with a single long dorsal fin. Maximum length 25 cm but usually less than 15 cm. Colour highly variable and depends on background and age of individual. Females and juveniles tend to be brown or greenish-brown, males are typically more brightly coloured. Both sexes have lines on the head and gill covers which are brown and pale blue in the female, bright green or blue in the male. All corkwing wrasse have a black spot in the middle of the tail stalk and a comma shaped spot behind the eye.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed on British coasts but most frequent in the south and west.

Global distribution

From Norway to Morocco, the Azores, Mediterranean and Adriatic.


On rocky shores amongst seaweed and in lower shore pools, extending sublittorally to depths of up to 50 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Body length 15 cm, maximum length 25 cm.
  • Black spot in the middle of the tail stalk.
  • Comma shaped spot behind eye.
  • Lines on head and gill cover.
  • Single long dorsal fin with 14-17 spines anteriorly and 8-10 rays posteriorly.
  • Anal fin with 3 spines and 8-11 rays.
  • Lateral line with 31-37 large scales.
  • Mouth small, teeth in a single row on each jaw.
  • Pre-operculum distinctly serrated.

Additional information

Males build an elaborate nest of seaweed in either rock crevices or amongst seaweed or seagrasses in sediment areas. The nests are a ball or mound with an entrance hole, which the males aggressively guard. The distinctive tail spot and mark behind the eye may fade in captive individuals.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

Search on:


  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. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017

  5. 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.


This review can be cited as:

Skewes, M. 2008. Symphodus melops Corkwing wrasse. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 19-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 29/04/2008