Parrot Fish Scaridae – Everything You Need To Know
Parrot Fish are part of the marine species which are generally found in the tropical and shallow subtropical oceans all over the world. These fish reportedly have either eighty to ninety-five species in total and their largest species are found in the Indo-Pacific. They are found in the rocky coasts, coral reefs as well as in the seagrass beds and play an important role in bioerosion.
With their birdlike beak, they are able to clean up and scrape the reefs, helping to curtail the overgrowth of algae in the reefs. They are elongated with a blunt head and are deep bodied and are often found in very bright colors.
- Common name: Parrot fish
- Scientific Name: Scaridae
- Group name: School
- Food / Diet: Omnivores
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Range: Tropical waters throughout the world
- Habitat: Coral reefs
- Incubation: Oviparous (egg laying), pelagic spawners
- Size: 1 – 4 feet
- Average lifespan: Up to 7 years
The Parrot Fish is named for their dentition which is quite different from the other types of fish and they include other labrids also. They have many teeth which are arranged in a manner which is tightly packed mosaic which is on the external surface of the jaw bone of the fish, thus giving them a parrot-like beak through which they are able to rasp algae from the rocky substrates and from coral (which causes bioerosion). The maximum size of the fish usually varies between the fish; however, the majority of the species are around 30-50 cm (12-20 in) in length.
There are however some species which may have the length that reaches around 1 m (3 ft 3in) and in fact, the green hump head parrot fish may reach up to the length of 1.3 m (around 4ft and 3 inches). The smallest of the species is the blue lip parrot fish which has the maximum of 13 cm (5.1 inches) of size.
The parrot fish have a great fashion sense!
It is because of them which make scuba diving so wonderful and colourful. Each of the species has a varying colour scheme and they change their ‘outfits’ as they get older. They usually have a different colour pattern as they become form babies to adolescents to adults.
The parrot fish are generally herbivores, which means they feed mostly on the epileptic algae. The diet of the parrot fish is the coral diet which consists of the algae that are extracted through the chunks of the coral which is ripped from the reef.
The coral is pulverized with the grinding teeth in the throats of the fish in order to get the algae-filled polyps inside. Most of the sand in the range of the parrot fish is generally ground up and the undigested coral which they excrete.
The parrot fish spends a majority of their day nibbling which means they end up cleaning the reef. This is very important as most of the reefs in the Caribbean (as well as across the tropics) have become full of algae since there are not enough of the parrot fish or other herbivores which can clean it up. After the parrot fish is eating all day, they end up pooping fine white sand and a lot of it!
Each of the parrot fish is able to produce about 320 kg (700 pounds) of sand every year. The teeth of the parrot fish grow continuously which also replaces the material which is worn away by the process of feeding.
Sex and Coloring
They can change the sex repeatedly throughout their lives and the patterns and the colours of the fish, through which they are classified also varies, between all species and genders whether it is the females or the males and even the young fish. In a nutshell, the parrot fish is quite open to sexual orientations and they are quite proof that heterosexual monogamy is not the status quo of nature.
Parrot fishes of most of the tropical species form large schools when they are feeding and these are grouped by the size. The harems of several female parrot fish are presided over by one single male which is quite common in most of the species and the males usually defend their position from any external challenge.
They release small eggs in the water which ends up becoming the plankton and these eggs float freely in the water and settle in the coral until they are ready to hatch. These fish as mentioned earlier change their sex as they get older but the largest fish is a male, which is also, unfortunately, the most targeted fish. This means, fishing the target which is the biggest male fish makes it difficult for them to reproduce and grow.
These are like the nighttime pyjamas for the fish. There is a distinct quality of the parrot fish; every night a particular species of the parrot fish envelopes themselves in a type of a cocoon which is transparent looking and is made up of a mucous which is secreted through one of their organs that is found in their heads.
The queen secretes a mucus cocoon before going to sleep and some of the species excrete the mucus from their mouths which forms a protective cocoon that envelope the fish. The scientists think that the cocoon is able to mask their scent, which makes it difficult for the night time predators, such as the moray eels to find them.
The skin of the parrot fish is covered in another type of a mucous that may also contain some antioxidant properties which may also be helpful in repelling parasites, or in the repairing of bodily damage and also in providing protection from UV light rays.
Population and Food
Parrot fish can be called as the close relative of the wrasse and are abundantly found around the tropical reefs in almost all of the oceans around the world. The total identified species are about 80 and they all range in their sizes from less than 1 feet to about 4 feet in length.
Parrot fish as food is rarely consumed in the USA while it may be considered as a delicacy in many other parts of the world. For example, in Polynesia, it is served raw and used to be considered as royal food which was to be eaten by the King only.
The Parrot fish used to be considered as a family level taxon, Scaridae. Even though the evolutionary and the phylogenetic analysis of these fish are still going on they are now being accepted as a clade in the tribe of the Chiellini and are popularly known as scarine labrids.
Certain authorities maintain the Parrot fish as a family level taxon which results in the Labridae to not be monophyletic. However, as per the world register of the marine species, their group is split into two subfamilies which are:
- genus Bolbometopon Smith – 1 species
- genus Cetoscarus Smith – 2 species
- genus Chlorurus Swainson 1839 – 18 species
- genus Hipposcarus Smith – 2 species
- genus Scarus Forsskål – 53 species
- genus Calotomus Gilbert – 5 species
- genus Cryptotomus Cope – 1 species
- genus Leptoscarus Swainson – 1 species
- genus Nicholsina Fowler – 2 species
- genus Sparisoma Swainson – 15 species
There is a commercial fishery that exists for some of the tropical species which are larger in size, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The protection of parrot fish is seen as a way of protecting the Caribbean coral reefs from being overgrown with sponges or seaweed. Even though they are found in a variety of distinct colours, their feeling behaviour makes them unsuitable for the marine aquariums.
According to the latest research, the Parrot fish have been found to be highly important for the Great Barrier Reef as the Parrot fish is the only fish species that perform the task of cleaning and scraping the coral reefs on a regular basis.
Protection of the Parrot Fish
The number of the parrot fish are however being depleted and the algae levels have become really high due to which they can’t be fished sustainably at the moment anywhere in the Caribbean. These sand pooping, algae eating fish needs to be left in the ocean and when these fish are left on their own to chomp away, they do a brilliant job at it.
As per the latest reports, the places where the Parrot Fish was found in abundance in the 1980s are the places where the reefs in the ocean are healthy now. The local government of Barbuda has passed a law which protects the parrot fish and makes it illegal to either buy or sell or catch or even have the parrot fish in your possession. Moreover, about 33% of the coastal area is now being protected by the marine reserves and they have prohibited the use of nets on the reefs.