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10 Parrotfish Facts, 20 Photos, and the 14 Caribbean Species

If we’re going to talk about parrotfish facts, we’d say that it’s a marine animal where everything that is scaly about it is also beautiful. They display shades of green and blue, adorned with accents of red and yellow, in color combinations that may seem quite strange. But who cares, as they can change them! (Not all of them, just some species).

So, if you come across one while diving, you might drop your regulator in astonishment at seeing such a colored bunch devouring a piece of the reef.

As a funny parrotfish fact, I’ll tell you that they produce the sand you see around the reefs (I’ll tell you how later).

I don’t know if you’re aware, but parrotfish are avid coral activists, involved in the recovery process of coral reefs. To be honest, many facts about the parrotfish are ignored. Or rather, they were ignored because after reading this article, you’ll know them all.

Take a look at the table of contents.

parrotfish facts principal - pez loro

1. Basic Parrotfish Facts

1.1. Parrot Fish Scientific Name

Today we are going to delve into the fascinating world of a colorful marine creature, so get ready to discover amazing and fun facts about the parrotfish!

First off, let’s talk about its name. The family Scaridae, or parrotfish, is commonly known as “peces loro” in Spanish. Did you know that its name comes from the Greek word “skairos,” which means “to jump”? And it’s not without reason, as these fish have an impressive ability to jump and strike with their tails.

In ancient times, according to the wise Aristotle and Pliny the Elder in their work “Naturalis Historia,” it was believed that this peculiar fish chewed on seaweed and marine plants (they were not far off). Moreover, some people claimed that it had its own voice and that it was impossible to catch them at night (the latter was a fabrication).


1.2. Where Do Parrotfish Live

There are approximately 90 different species of parrotfish swimming in shallow tropical waters around the world.

After diving in the Caribbean and seeing so many different species of parrotfish here, it may be hard to believe the following fact about parrotfish. The truth is that the majority of them are found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

These fish make their homes on rocky coasts, seagrass meadows, and, above all, in colorful coral reefs.

A coral reef for a parrotfish is like a dinner theater for a human. It turns out that many species love to gather near the corals to enjoy a feast—a buffet with delicious bites. Additionally, they also congregate in these areas to reproduce.


1.3. Parrotfish Body Facts

There are incredibly curious data about the parrotfish, such as the fact that they come in all possible sizes! Some species, like the famous rainbow parrotfish, can grow up to 4 feet/1.2 meters in length. However, there are also much smaller parrotfish, like the adorable green-spotted parrotfish, which only measures about 7 inches/18 centimeters.

On the other hand, parrotfish are like an underwater explosion of colors: their bodies are covered in scales and their colors are vibrant. Shades of green and blue prevail, but you will also find splashes of purple and yellow. Some color combinations are so strange and striking that they seem like they are taken from a psychedelic dream. Speaking of psychedelia, some species of parrotfish can change color at will! They are capable of blending in with their surroundings, adopting different patterns to go unnoticed, impressing divers with their “style,” or driving ichthyologists (scientists who study fish) crazy.

The truth is that identifying parrotfish can be quite a challenge. Why? Well, because they drastically change their shape, color, and markings as they go through different stages of development:

  • First, there is the juvenile phase, where they are like shy and discreet little fish.
  • Then comes the initial phase, where they begin to show their first flashes of bright colors.
  • And finally, they become the Hollywood stars of the oceans when they reach the terminal phase, the longest and most colorful of all.

Some even have additional intermediate color phases between the three main ones. It’s madness!


1.4. Parrot Fish Food or The Coral Eating Fish

Another fascinating fact about parrotfish is related to their diet. You may come across articles stating that parrotfish are vegetarian. However, the truth is that they are microphagous.

It is true that they bite, grind, and ingest algae and coral, but what few people actually know is that they consume both because they contain cyanobacteria and other autotrophic microorganisms that are rich in proteins (Clements et al., 2017)
It turns out they have a very peculiar technique for feeding: they nibble on the surface of corals and rocks. This type of feeding is known as “grazing.”

Their secret lies in their beak-like teeth and special plates located at the back of their throat, right in the pharynx. These underwater gourmets are practically eating all the time. They spend 90% of their day taking bites of algae and corals. They are truly tireless devourers!

So, the next time you see parrotfish in action, pay close attention to how they enjoy their feast.

parrotfish facts PICO - pez loro

1.5. Parrotfish Predators

Among the main predators of parrotfish are moray eels, sharks, and groupers. The list of animals that find parrotfish delicious extends to snappers and a range of larger reef fish.


1.6. Are Parrotfish Endangered?

A recent study conducted for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species found that 86% of parrotfish populations have a low risk of extinction worldwide. GREAT!

However, there are regions where parrotfish are highly threatened. We are specifically talking about the Coral Triangle. Where is that? It encompasses a large part of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

What seems clear is that parrotfish thrive in healthy coral reef ecosystems. Therefore, they face the same threats that affect corals. I’m talking about things like climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and diseases. If reefs are threatened, so are parrotfish.

Fortunately for Caribbean diving enthusiasts, parrotfish have been protected in the Gulf of Mexico since October 10, 2018.


1.7. Parrot Fish Adaptations

A unique fact about parrotfish is that they can change their gender! Yes, you heard that right! Although in most parrotfish species a mix of females and males are born, females can change their gender if necessary.

It’s important to note that parrotfish have an external mating style. Females deposit their eggs in the water, and males must release their sperm near them to fertilize them. If there are few males, the gender change in females prevents population reduction.

Some species have solitary individuals, but others live in large groups of around 40 members with a complex social structure. These groups generally consist of a harem of females led by a single male. Sometimes, this dominant male is referred to as a “supermale” or “terminal male”. When the supermale dies, one of the females from his harem takes his place and changes gender to become a new leader.

There are males who don’t have their own harem and seek their opportunity. Sometimes they sneak into the group and try to mate with one of the females or simply release their sperm around a spawning pair, hoping to fertilize some eggs.

parrotfish facts - adorno pez loro 2

2. Other Funny Facts About the Parrot Fish

2.1. Parrot Fish Mucus Bubble

Every night, some parrotfish sleep surrounded by mucus! (The transparent mucus comes from the glands they have behind their gills). Scientists believe that these bubbles act as resting sarcophagi, protecting the fish from blood-sucking parasites and fearsome predators such as moray eels and sharks.


2.2. Is Sand Parrotfish Poop?

Yes, believe it or not, these fish have the power to turn their food into heavenly beaches! They graze on large amounts of coral to obtain a little bit of food. The coral goes through a digestive process and is finally… expelled as excrement, which turns out to be the white sand we know!

Parrotfish constantly release clouds of tiny coral particles. Each adult can generate around 20-40 kg/44-88lb of sand per year, which is a significant contribution to the formation of tropical beaches!

It is estimated that in the Maldives, parrotfish are responsible for 85% of the production of new sand.


2.3. Parrotfish Teeth, Why People Call Them the Fish with Beak?

Another fact about the parrotfish is that it has around 1,000 tiny teeth arranged in about 15 rows. These rows of teeth are constantly regenerated. However, here’s the extraordinary part: each tooth is fused together with the others as if they were glued. Furthermore, they are surrounded by bone, forming a super-strong beak that is crucial to their way of feeding.

According to scientists, no other biomineral is stronger than the teeth of parrotfish in their beak! The fact is that they can withstand pressures of up to 530 tons. To give you an idea, a fully loaded Boeing 747 doesn’t exceed 400 tons.


2.4. Are Parrotfish Important Coral Reef Keepers?

According to a study conducted by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, populations of parrotfish increased between two and eight times in severely bleached areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the Chagos Archipelago. Not only that, but they were also approximately 20% larger than those living in healthy reefs.

The researchers believe that by feeding on cyanobacteria and microalgae (scrapings) from dead corals, parrotfish contribute to their recovery.

The study concludes that coral and parrotfish have a feedback loop, balancing each other. As the reef recovers, the number of parrotfish decreases, and vice versa when the reef is damaged.

parrotfish facts - MOCUS COCOON - peces loro

3. 14 Caribbean Parrotfish

In the Mexican Caribbean, there are 14 species of parrotfish. You can see their photos below. If you would like us to provide specific information about these parrotfish, please leave a comment on the Facebook thread.

Blue Parrotfish

Blue Parrot Fish pez loro azul (2)

Rainbow Parrotfish

Rainbow Parrotfish pez loro arcoiris

Stoplight Parrotfish

Stoplight Parrotfish pez loro semáforo

Princess Parrotfish

Princess Parrotfish Pez loro princesa

Spotted Parrotfish

Spotted Parrotfish Pez loro moteado

Queen Parrotfish

Queen Parrotfish Pez loro reina

Midnight Parrotfish

Midnight Parrotfish Pez loro de medianoche

Striped Parrotfish

Striped Parrotfish pez loro rayado

Redband Parrotfish

Redband Parrotfish pez Pez loro de banda roja

Redtail Parrotfish

Redtail Parrotfish pez loro de cola roja

Yellowtail Parrotfish

Yellowtail Parrotfish pez loro de cola amarilla

Greenblotch Parrotfish

Greenblotch parrotfish El jabón o pez loro de lunar verde

Bucktooth Parrotfish

Bucktooth Parrotfish pez loro de dientes prominentes

Bluelip Parrotfish

Bluelip Parrotfish pez loro de labio azul