Parrotfish belong to the family Scaridae. At least 80 species have been identified, and all of the world’s oceans are known to hold some species of parrotfish around tropical reefs. They can live up to 7 years and grow to be anywhere between 1 to 4 feet in length. They are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means they start off as female and change into males later in life. Depending on the species, the color patterns also differ between males and females, and sometimes even between juvenile and adult stages. Certain species of parrotfish will secrete a mucus from an organ on their head at night, covering themselves in a cocoon. This may to be to shield their scent from predators.
Generally possessing large scales, an elongated body and blunt head, they’ve been discovered in many shapes, colors and sizes. One of their most prominent features is their teeth that have fused together around their jaw, creating a birdlike beak. This beak is useful for grazing, scrapping algae and coral from the reefs. These fish also have a set of grinding teeth in their throats that shred the coral to get the algae-filled polyps inside. A lot of the sand in the areas parrotfish are found are composed of ground-up, undigested coral excrements.
Parrotfish are edible, but not a highly sought after food source compared to some sportfish. This is a good thing because parrotfish may very well be an essential keystone species among coral reefs. Many coral reefs such as in Australia and the Caribbean’s are prone to suffer from algae and seaweed overgrowth. This phenomenon is boosted by human activity such as agricultural run-off. Fertilizer washing off into these bodies of water encourages growth of the local vegetation, and unchecked growth can inevitably overtake these reefs and suffocate them. Reefs that suffer this kind of damage have a very difficult time recovering. Not only are Parrotfish some of the most prominent grazers on these reefs, capable of consuming the excess algae and seaweed, but in some places they are the only grazers. Removal of these parrotfish could spell trouble for many coral restoration projects.