A gnathiid species (Crustacea: Isopoda; one of the most common ectoparasites of coral reef fishes) from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, was allowed to choose among fishes from three different families to feed on (using two species of fishes per family). Gnathiids showed a strong preference for labrids, rarely feeding on pomacentrids or apogonids. In a separate experiment, gnathiid host preference did not vary among three labrid fish species. Gnathiids that fed on labrids had higher survival than those that fed on apogonids. Male gnathiids that fed on labrids also moulted to the adult stage more quickly. This suggests that host specialization and local adaptation might be occurring between these ectoparasites and their host fishes at the host fish family level.