Creature Feature – Parrotfish


They get their name because they appear to have a parrot beak where their teeth are arranged in a tightly packed mosaic on the external surface of the jaw bones.

Family: Scaridae but now generally thought to be a subfamily of wrasse
Life span: up to 7 years
Size: 1-4 feet
Group: School
80 different species
Types local to Florida: redband, stoplight (rainbow), blue, midnight, striped, princess,striped, yellowtail, greenblotch and queen.

The gorgeous parrotfish we find along the shores and reefs of Florida comes in many shapes, genders amd colors which may change throughout it’s life. I find them fascinating to watch. I love the midnights and blues when we see them. Redband and queen are very common shore diving. They are highly social and the male likes to keep his rather large harem of female beauties to himself making them highly territorial.

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Parrotfish are commonly found on reefs loaded with algae they feed on. They are mainly thought to be herbivore but some species like the green humphead parrotfish eat coral polyps. Schools of parrotfish graze over a reef much like a herd of cattle over a grassy field. They help to keep the algae from taking over the coral. They may also be found in seagrass beds and rocky shores. These thick-bodied fish have stout jaws composed of fused teeth for nibbling tough seaweeds or gnaw away coralline algae and live coral. The algae is extracted from coral chunks that are ripped from the reef by their powerful jaws. Bony plates within the throat pulverize the mix into fine sand which eventually passes through the digestive tract to be deposited back on the reef. Much of the sand in the parrot fish’s range is actually the ground-up, undigested coral they excrete. Because of this, they play a vital part in the bioerosion of our reefs. This bioerosion helps create sand found on our great beaches. Parrotfish are known to return to the same area to release their waste products, forming hills of white sand. Parrotfish may produce as much as one ton of coral sand per acre of reef each year. This explains all the sand bursts we see coming out of its back end all the time!

Hermaphrodite alert!
Parrotfish have a crazy gender bender identity issue. Most of the species start as females and are accompanied by a series of changes in color termed polychromatism. They can change over and over again throughout their lives and when they do so the color does too. This makes them hard to classify. Stoplight parrotfish may develop directly to males (i.e., they do not start as females). These directly developing males have different mating patterns than the ones who change. Sometimes an adult breeding male called the supermale leads these schools. Supermales are typically sex-reversed females and are strongly territorial and habitually drive other males away from their areas.

In most of the species the initial phase is a rather boring red, brown or grey. Once the sex change occur, they get their groove on and become much more vibrant with vivid green or blue with bright pink or yellow patches. Some parrotfish can even change colors to mimic others to blend in. In most parrotfish species, juveniles have a different color pattern from adults. Juveniles of some tropical species can alter their color temporarily to mimic other species. Parrotfish are generally social and may be found in schools of around 40 individuals.

Parrotfish spawn little eggs that become plankton and float on the seas until they settle in the coral until they hatch. So I wonder, can mom or dad eat some of their young while ripping apart the coral for algae?

They also swim using the pectoral fins and start life as females which are generally gray, red, or brown. Large fish may eventually switch gender and assume a color pattern that includes some blue, green or yellow.

Some species like the Queen parrotfish put on their jammies (pajamas) before they lay their heads down to sleep secrete mucus from their mouths to form a protective cocoon that envelops the fish helping to hide its scent from potential predators. It may also be an early warning system against moray eels. Snappers, jacks and other carnivorous fishes feed on the stoplight parrotfish.

They may also have another mucous substance over their skin that may have antioxidant properties that may serve to repair bodily damage, or serve to repel parasites, in addition to being a fabulous suntan lotion providing protection from UV light.

About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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