Parrotfish are beautiful, colorful fish found in all of the world’s oceans. The largest concentration of these fish is in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, meaning you have the chance to see them off the coast of Africa all the way East through the Hawaiian Islands. These fish like to spend most of their time swimming along shallower reefs or in seagrass beds. Of the 90 species of parrotfish out there, most of them only reach sizes of 12-20in long. One species however, the humphead parrotfish can get up to lengths of 4ft! The parrotfish earns it name from its teeth, which are fused together to form a parrot –like beak that is easily seen on the fish. A unique form of protection the parrotfish has is its mucus cocoon it secretes before bed. The parrotfish secrete the mucus around its body before it goes to sleep, this is believed to mask its scent from predators and act as an early warning sign if any predators get too close to it.
One of the most bizarre characteristics of the parrotfish is its ability to spontaneously change sex. Most species of parrotfish have this ability and some of them will change gender as they mature or if environmental circumstances put stress on their school. In some parrotfish species, all individuals will start out as a female which is referred to as the “initial stage”; as they grow and mature parrotfish of these species will then enter their “terminal phase” where they change into a male. Parrotfish will also change gender if their school is predominated by one gender. For example, if the sole dominant male of the group dies and there are only females remaining, one of the females will change and become the new dominant male of the school. This ability ensures the species ability to reproduce and survive in the tough ocean environment.
Parrotfish are typically easy to spot because of their rich, bright colors. These colors vary from species to species and change when the fish changes its gender as well. In the initial female phase, the parrotfish will have a dull red, gray, or brown coloration; once they are in the male “terminal phase” their colors can be vivid blue, purple, green, yellow or even pink. In most species, juvenile parrotfish have completely different coloration than the adults and can also change their colors to mimic other species as a form of protection. Having these vivid colorations makes the parrotfish standout among the many species of fish living along the reefs and perfect for spotting on snorkeling trips!