Parrotfish are a group of colorful, tropical fishes native to shallow seas. These fish are named for their bird-like beaks, which are used to feed on coral polyps and algae. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
Description of the Parrotfish
There are approximately 95 different species of parrotfish. They are normally quite colorful fish, and can be commonly seen in blues or greens, with accents of pink, purple, yellow, red, and every shade in between. Most species of of this fish range from 12 – 20 in. in length, but they can be anywhere from 5 inches long to well over 4 feet!
Parrotfish are an incredibly unique group of animals, even in comparison to their closest relatives. They have multiple traits that are interesting, strange, and even downright amazing.
- Fish with a “Beak” – These fish have an incredibly distinct dental structure. This fish’s “beak” is actually made up of numerous small teeth packed closely together to form a beak-like structure. They use this tough beak to scrape algae from rocks and coral when feeding.
- Sneaky Sleeper –These fish use a unique method to prepare for bed at night. After a long day of foraging, many species will create a mucous cocoon before going to sleep. They spit mucous from their mouths, and spread it around their bodies. Scientists believe that this mucous helps mask the scent of the fish from predators.
- Coral Care – While some species of this fish feed on coral polyps, all of them feed on algae. Too much algae and seaweed growth on corals can cause the reefs to die off, and this growth is exacerbated by climate change and pollution. Researchers actually believe that these fish are incredibly important for the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. These are the only species that scrape and clean the surface of the reef.
- Sandman – When eating coral polyps and scraping algae from the surface of coral, these fish consume the coral rock. What goes in must come out! This coral rock is digested as much as possible, and comes out the other end of the fish as sand. A single fish can produce 200 lbs. of sand every year!
Habitat of the Parrotfish
Parrotfish prefer living in shallow seas, because coral grows best in areas with lots of light. They can be found in both tropical and subtropical habitats. Their favorite ecosystems are coral reefs, but they also live among seagrass beds and rocky coastlines.
Various species of this fish can be found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. These fish are found commonly in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. The highest species variety is found in the Indo-Pacific ocean regions.
Most parrotfish are herbivores, which means they feed on plant matter. Algae, particularly species that grow on rocks, make up the bulk of this fish’s diet. They will also feed on plankton and other small invertebrates. Some species feed on coral polyps as well, but no species has a diet consisting of over 50% coral consumption. For more information on Parrotfish, click here!