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

Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta)

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



Labrus bergylta is a heavy bodied wrasse with a broad head, small mouth and thick lips. The colouration of this wrasse is variable but there are no external differences between the sexes. The body, head and fins are often brownish red or reddish with numerous small white spots but can be greenish with white spots or irregular large vertical dark stripes. Young Labrus bergylta are often bright emerald green. Labrus bergylta can grow up to 50 cm long but is rarely over 30 cm in length.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Common off all British and Irish coasts.

Global distribution

Labrus bergylta has been recorded in the eastern Atlantic from Norway to Morocco.


Labrus bergylta is found in inshore waters amongst weed covered rocks or in lower shore pools. It is also found in the algal zone on rocky coasts from 5-30 m

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Heavy bodied wrasse.
  • Variable colouration; reddish, brownish red, greenish with white spots or irregular vertical stripes.
  • Young fish bright emerald green.
  • No external differences between sexes.
  • Maximum length 50 cm but usually about 30 cm.

Additional information


Listed by

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. FishBase, 2000. FishBase. A global information system on fishes. [On-line], 2001-05-03

  2. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

  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).


This review can be cited as:

Ager, O.E.D. 2008. Labrus bergylta Ballan 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 17-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/09/2008