Colorful body, beak-like palet
Color(s): Varies wildly
Behavior: Diurnal, travels in schools. Some species wrap themselves in a mucous cocoon at night. Sometimes females change their gender to male.
Preferred Habitat: Tropical coral reefs
Range: Found in reefs across the world
Diet: Algae, coral
Lifespan: Up to seven years in the wild
There are between sixty to eighty species of Parrotfish. They come in all different colors, including blue, red, yellow, brown, gray and others. Their colors are so wildly different that sometimes males, females and juveniles of the same species look totally different! The largest species of parrotfish is the humphead parrotfish, which can grow to about four feet long. The smallest species is the green parrotfish, which grows to about half a foot long.
Parrotfish are omnivores. Their preferred food is algae that grows on rocks and coral. Using their powerful beaks, parrotfish snap up the algae along with coral or rock. The materials are all ground up with their molars in their throats, creating a fine white sand. The sand is then deposited in their poop as the fish swim by. This piling of sediment is responsible for creating as much as 85% of reef sand, which helps to form islands. Parrotfish actually contribute to the very formation of islands! This goes to show that humans are not the only animals with the capability of manipulating whole environments.
Some species of parrotfish use special organs in their heads to wrap themselves in cocoons of mucus at night. Scientists think that they do this to protect themselves from predators. Like many species of fish, parrotfish lay eggs. Young females will lay eggs and males will fertilize them. Many females, however, will spontaneously change from female to male after laying eggs. It is thought that males are scarce when the eggs are laid, and thus the parrotfish switch genders to ensure that the eggs will be fertilized.
Parrotfish as a whole are not currently evaluated by the IUCN. However, some species of parrotfish have been threatened due to overfishing. In addition, parrotfish are intimately tied to corals, and coral reefs are dying due to pollution and warming waters. Parrotfish help to keep reefs healthy by curbing algae growth, and they support island formation with the sand that they generate. Some species of parrotfish are also threatened due to the destruction of mangrove trees, which help to clean the ocean. Without parrotfish, reef ecosystems would be further stressed, and beautiful sandy beaches would become less common. The process of island formation in the ocean would also be greatly affected without parrotfish to drive it forward.
Fortunately, the battle to save coral reefs is not a lost one. There is still time to preserve the reefs, and the parrotfish that call them home!
To learn more about parrotfish and the corals they inhabit, check out these awesome links:
National Geographic, To
Save Coral Reefs, Start With ParrotfishThis article
highlights the realities of declining reefs, and how protecting parrotfish
is critical to helping them.
Scientific American, Parrot
Fish Poop Makes Beautiful Beaches.A brief video explaining
how parrotfish create whole islands
with their poop.
ARKive, Rainbow Parrotfish
PageLearn about the Rainbow Parrotfish, the largest herbivorous
fish in the Atlantic!
NOAA Coral Reef Conservation
Program, Home PageA campaign through the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, dedicated to preserving coral reefs
through education and research.
Coral Reef Alliance, Home
PageAnother organization working to protect and preserve corals,
operating in Hawaii, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico and Fiji.
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