Parrotfish have a compelling charm due to the dynamic changing colors. But it has accumulated this unique name from the structure of its teeth, resembling the beak of the bird parrot.

This fish with a beak is a group of over eighty recognized species in the family. Each species has its significant identification and little similarity in appearance, which can be analyzed from several parrotfish images and theories available for study purposes.

It is popular for many such amazing facts like shades, food habits, habitats, breeding, and even its excretion or poop style.

We have made individual analyses on each of these types, and decided to bring a detailed study on the facts and lifestyle of major parrotfish species.

Some Interesting Facts About Parrotfish

Before moving on to discuss the unique features of various genres of this fish, let us first read some important facts that make it so special.

General Characteristics

Common Facts
Common name Parrotfish
Family Scaridae
Major habitat Indo-pacific region
Dwelling place Coral reefs
Max Size 1.3m
Min Size 0.3m
Largest species Green humphead parrotfish
Food habits Herbivorous, corals, and small insects
Marine importance Highly beneficial for Great Barrier Reef
  • Teeth Stronger Like Metal: The parrotfish has incredible silver tooth energy in its mouth. To be precise, the parrotfish teeth are as hard as iron metal, because this fish has the capacity to chew coral reefs and crush them into the sand.
    Some divers have also heard the sound of metal clicking when some parrotfish crunches the coral reefs in search of algae growth.
    Few large species may have approximately 15 rows of 1000 teeth in a joint beak structure formation.
  • Coral Feeders: Parrotfish are proficient at grazing over corals, and though it is a hard surface, the fish uses its powerful teeth to scratch at a faster pace.
    Almost all the species of this family have a closely mounted jawline, thus making it easier for them to seek algal growth in the dead coral.
  • Sand or Parrotfish Poop: Many of these species, while they eat, are observed to excrete a large amount of waste, which colloquially goes by parrotfish sand.
    The fact is that these fish while scraping on the reef surface, also consume some amounts of corals (some species do it in large quantities).
    The coral particles are crushed in their stomach and excreted out in the form of poop. It appears as fine sand particles, and analytics have deduced it to be approximately 8-10 kgs (20 lbs) in a month.
  • Actual Number of Species: The males look entirely different from the females, which confused the experts in recording the total number of parrotfish species to be 350.
    Later they came to the conclusion that the subdivision of these species is about a quarter of this number.
  • Mucus Cocoon: Some of these species often secure themselves in the night time by creating a transparent shell produced from mucus spitted from the glands in the gills.
    It quickly alarms them beforehand when a predator tries to attack. It protects from small bugs while controlling the body odor to hide from attackers.
  • Gender Interchangeability: A fascinating feature of the parrotfish is their ability to swap gender from female to male anytime from birth to death.
    Their character is that of a protogynous hermaphrodite, where the born females turn into males as they mature. Marbled parrotfish is the only exception in this case.
  • Color Formation: The parrotfish displays multiple colors throughout its lifecycle that ranges from red, brown, and grey, with bright green, blue, orange, pink, and yellow spots.
    The juveniles differ from young, while adults form a new shade with aging. The males have completely different skin shades from the females.
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Popular Categories of Parrotfish

These fish belong to the Scaridae family. It is sub-categorized into Scarinae or the sub-family of wrasses, a Labridae. The parrotfish is still under the evolutionary stage. But different groups of researchers have separate arguments of keeping them in polygenetic or monogenetic groups.

The researchers have discovered more than 80 species to date. They have divided them into two sub-families of Scarinae and Sparisomatinae. Out of these, the genus Scarus holds a maximum number of species, i.e., 53.

It is hard to put all the names in this article, but we will discuss the most popular types of parrotfish that are suitable for aquariums or good to eat.

1. Blue Parrot Fish

Scientific name Scarus Coeruleus
Common name Blue Parrotfish
Origin Western Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea)
Color Blue with yellow spots on the head
Max. size 1.2m
Avg. weight 9.1kg
Diet Omnivore
Average lifespan 8 years

How to Recognize Them:

The blue parrotfish is the only species in the family to be born with shiny and attractive blue shades on its body with bright yellow patches on the head. The yellow color goes away in adulthood.

They have large mouth sizes with pharyngeal teeth to comfortably munch on algae and break corals into the sand. Their average length is between 1ft to 2.5ft and can increase up to 3.9ft.

Fact: Blue parrotfish are also called professional sand-suckers.

Where are They Found:

These blue saltwater fish are easily seen around the Bermuda region in the Caribbean-sea, scrapping over corals not deeper than 3m – 25m. They also live in neighbouring parts like the Bahamas, or the eastern coast of the USA (Maryland towards Brazil, except the Gulf of Mexico.

The composed environment around the coral reefs is shrinking, which has left the fish’s life in danger. However, the IUCN has not declared it as a rare species.

What do They Eat:

Their staple diet consists of smaller organisms found in algae growth over coral reefs, and their hard-fused teeth help rip it off from the rocky substances.

As they intake hard particles, it soon gets grinded into the sand and excreted. The fish mostly stays around the corals in search of food.

When and How do They Reproduce:

There is no specific spawning season for blue parrotfish, although summer is their favorite time for reproduction.

These species get along in a group to interact, and at that time, female species lay eggs. These eggs fall to the bottom, usually on the coral beds, and hatchlings come out in about 25-30 hours.

Is Blue Parrotfish Good to Eat:

The fish is not popular as seafood because it has ciguatoxin or causes ciguatera poisoning. It is a prominent disease caused by eating reef dwellers and the patient suffers from diarrhea, vomiting, numbness, and much more for some days. It is the crucial reason behind not putting blue parrotfish on sale for human consumption.

2. Rainbow Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Guacamaia
Common name Rainbow Parrotfish
Origin Wide Region of Western Atlantic Ocean
Color Greenish-brown
Max. size 1.2m
Avg. weight 20kg
Diet Detritivore
Average lifespan 16 years
Image Credit: Flickr

How do They Appear:

This species assumes a larger size than others in the family, with a maximum length reaching close to 4ft and weighing approx. 20kgs. Its skin color appears as a mix of deep green and brown shade. Both males and females display almost similar colors.

Their fins are orangish in color with blue margins, and blueish green dental plates with a green tongue that reaches the dorsal and anal fins.

Where do They Live:

The rainbow parrotfish has a large territory of habitation in the Atlantic Ocean across the southeastern coast of the USA and north of South America.

They live near the Bermudas and South of Florida towards the Bahamas, that includes Trinidad, Tobago, etc., as well as the region between the Caribbean and Venezuela.

The divers frequently locate them around the shallow region of corals, mangroves, and sea grass between 3m-25m.

Fact: It uses sunlight to locate its cave and stay safe at night.

Their Food Habits:

These species are mostly termed as detritivores as they love to consume micro-organisms, organic matter, meiofauna, seaweed, bacteria, and sponges or benthic algae. They mostly roam around mangroves in search of bacterial colonies for feeding.

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Fact: They mostly stay in groups while searching for food, as it protects them from predators.

How do They Breed:

Researchers consider their reproductive behavior highly complicated. The juvenile rainbow parrotfish turn to mature males and females in the second phase.

There is one male fish in its terminal phase, which attains vibrant colors to lead the harem group of females for mating, while putting away other males.

The terminal males generally are the ones that transform from female to male in a manner that replacing the earlier dominant fish.

The new male disguises the members to enter the harem and releases more gametes than the terminal at the peak of spawning to create more chances of fertilizing the females.

Can Humans Eat Them:

These fish are not suitable for human consumption due to toxic elements in their diet. This species suffered from excess fishing for aquarium purposes a few decades ago.

It made them vulnerable to extinction, but fortunately the current data launched by IUCN considers it a Near Threatened species.

3. Humphead Parrotfish

Scientific name Bolbometopon Muricatum
Common name Bumphead Parrotfish, Buffalo Parrotfish, Giant Parrotfish, Double-headed Parrotfish
Origin Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Red Sea
Color Greyish-green
Max. size 1.3m
Avg. weight 46kg
Diet Herbivore
Average lifespan 40 years

How do They Look:

It is an exclusive monotypic species that has earned the respect of being the largest in the family with a maximum length reaching close to 4.3ft.

The green humphead parrotfish has a straight head with scales all over the body except the front head, which is pinkish or light green in color. There are hardly any differences between males and females.

Juveniles are grey in color with white spots that turn to deep green throughout as they mature. After adulthood, their ball-shaped forehead appears with partially visible teeth covered with lips.

Where are They Found:

This species of parrotfish is found in the vast marine region covering both the Indian ocean and Pacific ocean. They are seen from the Red Sea in Africa to Samoa Island across Australia and from Yaeyama island of Japan towards the Great Barrier in the south.

The young ones, after hatching, stay in the lagoons or seagrass and slide out as they mature into seaward corals to the depth of 30m.

Fact: The humphead parrotfish species tend to stay in groups, and hide away in closed spaces like caves or drowned ships at night.

What do They Eat:

These species are herbivores by nature and despite having sharp teeth, they only feed on algal growth over coral reefs. Some of them also consume live corals and benthic algae.

A fully mature bumphead parrotfish can intake almost 5000kgs of coral carbonate per annum, leadingd to the bioerosion of reefs in the region. They often bump their head onto the coral reefs while feeding.

Reproduction:

Unlike others from the family, these are gonochoric in nature, i.e., males and females are born separately. But secondary males can turn into primary males or females of the group.

The humphead parrotfish grows slowly to attain maturity or eligibility for reproduction. Males mature between 5-7 years, while females between years. 9-11 years.

Once a couple is ready, it can perform reproductive activities throughout the year, usually before the full moon. They make use of reef corners, or a channel mouth for courtship, and spawn in the morning time.

The eggs can be seen in the shallow regions under the plants, which work as a protector. Here the hatchlings come out and stay for 12-14 months before moving out to the reefs.

Is This Parrotfish Edible:

The humphead is befitting for eating. But it has reached a stage close to extinction due to over-fishing in some parts. A report by NOAA/NMFS keeps it under the threatened category, but there is insufficient data to prove it is in danger.

4. Princess Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Taeniopterus
Common name Princess parrotfish
Origin The Caribbean Sea, western Atlantic Ocean
Color Females- white & orange, Males- blue & yellow
Max. size 25cm
Avg. weight 3kgs
Diet Herbivore
Average lifespan 8 years

What do They Look Like:

These are small fish, 8-10 inches in length, and possess similar characteristics to other parrotfish. The males are usually in light blue color with a mix of yellow shade, while females are bright white with an orange mix.

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Where are They Found:

Princess parrotfish are normally found in the low-depth regions of saltwater. They usually stay under the lighted coral region, around the Northern Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.

What do They Feed on:

Their main course consists of algae and polyps of coral reefs. They have a unique jaw design that is embedded with the teeth to enable scratching calcareous structures for food.

Fact: These species graze algae from the top, which creates space for the growth of new coral shoots, and thus they are considered vital for reef recovery.

What is Their Reproduction Behavior:

The reproduction cycle of princess parrotfish is similar to other scarus species (rainbow), although they prefer spawning in the summers in low-light zones.

Is This Parrotfish Good to Eat:

These are not very problematic for human consumption, and that is why overfishing has caused a decrease in its population in many areas.

5. Stoplight Parrotfish

Scientific name Sparisoma Viride
Common name Stoplight parrotfish
Origin Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico
Color From brown-red to deep green
Max. size 64cm
Avg. weight 1.6Kgs
Diet Algae, dead corals
Average lifespan 7 years

Their Appearance:

These are one of the ray-finned fish, and have the ability to transform gender from female to male. Mostly their color changes during transformation to the terminal stage from the brown and red stomach to green skin with yellow spots on the tail.

Where do They Live:

They are mostly found in the Caribbean sea and Gulf of Mexico, along with Florida, Bermuda, and Brazil. These species prefer to dwell around macroalgae Dictyota and branching corals (hump or finger corals).

Fact: A survey on stoplight parrotfish found that the ones prefer living onshore corals had a lifespan of four years, whereas the ones over offshore were longer, healthier, and lived for eight years.

Feeding Habits:

Their favorite food is algae and dead coral, but apart from that, they also seek large sparse turfs, which grow on carbonate stones covered with endolithic algae. But they do not consume living corals and crustose corallines.

Fact: They may also dive 50m in search of food, and this strategy is often termed as search and nip.”

Reproduction:

Their reproductivity is much the same as that of other protogynous hermaphrodites. They spawn all season in a group of 1-14 potential partners, and the male with higher testosterone levels leads the territory.

6. Queen Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Vetula
Common name Blownose, blue chub, Blueman, moon tail, okra peji, slimy head, and joblin crow parrot
Origin Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico
Color From reddish-brown to bluish-green
Max. size 61cm
Avg. weight 9Kgs
Diet Algal turfs, sponges
Average lifespan 5 years

Their young ones are reddish-brown with white lines on the flanks and are mostly females. The ones transforming into males display a bluish-green shade with blue and yellow spots near the mouth.

These are mostly found around the eastern coast between North and South America at a depth of 25m. They comfortably hide in mucus and crevices from predators and are even declared the least concern species by IUCN.

Queen parrotfish are fond of algal turfs on corals, sponges, and smaller organisms. During reproduction, the females follow the males to circle around and spawn in the sea.

7. Midnight Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Coelestinus
Common name Midnight Parrotfish
Origin Caribbean Sea
Color Blue
Max. size 77cm
Avg. weight 7Kgs
Diet Herbivore
Average lifespan 5 years

They are prominently observed between Maryland, the US, and Brazil in the depth of 3m-80m of the Caribbean sea. From birth till death, irrespective of gender, they all have deep blue shades with unique light blue prints on each fish.

The midnight parrotfish are seen schooling with the blue tang fish as they easily mix with the blue color of the group and seek protection. 16-17 parrotfish can join a group of 50-400 blue tangs, and together, they ditch the damselfish tosnatch the algae growth.

Fact: The midnight parrotfish school with about 30 different fish species for food from damselfish territory.

8. Quoyi Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Quoyi
Common name Quoy’s, greenblotch parrotfish
Origin Western Pacific Ocean
Color Green and purple
Max. size 40cm
Avg. weight 5Kgs
Diet Algae
Average lifespan 4 years

These species have large lips to cover the dental plates, with a dark green mustache. Its skin has a soft shading of purple, green, and blue, with some pink spots.

Quoyi parrotfish stay around corals and seaward across the Indo-west Pacific region in groups or singly. These are oviparous species to form distinct pairs and feed over algae.

9. Bullethead Parrotfish

Scientific name Chlorurus Sordidus
Common name Daisy parrotfish, bullethead parrotfish
Origin Red sea, Indian ocean
Color Dark brown or light grey
Max. size 40cm
Avg. weight 4Kgs
Diet Benthic algae
Average lifespan 4 years

The bullethead parrotfish has a round mouth. The juveniles are either dark brown or light grey and mature to develop irregular spots with a dark-centred area on the caudal peduncle.

It is declared as least concern and is found in large amounts across the Red sea in the eastern Indian ocean. The young ones travel long distances in groups around the corals, and seaward.

10. Emerald Parrotfish

Scientific name Nicholsina Usta
Common name Emerald parrotfish
Origin Western Atlantic ocean
Color Olive green with bluish-white
Max. size 30cm
Avg. weight 3Kgs
Diet Reef and algae
Average lifespan 6 years

The emerald parrotfish are mostly located around New Jersey, the USA, and the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. They have a long stretched body with a pointed snout, while teeth do not merge completely to form dental plates.

It is a multi-color fish with an olive green back, a bluish-white stomach, a yellow area below the mouth, and two reddish bands on the cheek and edges.

11. Blue Lip Parrotfish

Scientific name Cryptotomus Roseus
Common name Blue lip parrotfish
Origin Western Atlantic Ocean: Bermuda, Southern Florida, Bahamas to Brazil
Color Olive back with pink dots, and salmon stripes
Max. size 13cm
Avg. weight 1.5Kgs
Diet Seagrasses
Average lifespan 7 Years

12. Redband Parrotfish

Scientific name Sparisoma Aurofrenatum
Common name Gutong, black parrot, blisterside
Origin Western Atlantic Ocean: Bermuda, Florida, Bahamas to Central America and Brazil
Color Bluish-green and reddish
Max. size 28cm
Avg. weight 6Kgs
Diet Algae and polyps
Average lifespan 5 years

13 .Red lip Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Rubroviolaceus
Common name Ember parrotfish
Origin Indian and Pacific Ocean; Japan, Eastern Africa, and Hawaiian Island
Color Greenish-blue
Max. size 70cm
Avg. weight 11Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 20 years

14. Violet Lined Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Globiceps
Common name Globehead, speckled, roundhead parrotfish
Origin Indo-Pacific region; Eastern Africa to southern Great Barrier Reef
Color Green with salmon pink bands
Max. size 45cm
Avg. weight 0.5Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 10 years

15. Knobsnout Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Ovifrons
Common name Knobsnout parrotfish
Origin North-western Pacific Ocean; Japan to Taiwan
Color Blue with brown, red, white, or black spots
Max. size 78cm
Avg. weight 7Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 5 years

16. Stripped Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Iseri
Common name Stripped parrotfish
Origin Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico
Color Blueish-green and orange with pink head
Max. size 38cm
Avg. weight 5Kgs
Diet Plants
Average lifespan 7 years

17. Singapore Parrotfish

Scientific name Scarus Prasiognathos
Common name Singapore parrotfish
Origin Eastern Indian Ocean, Western Pacific Ocean
Color Green
Max. size 70cm
Avg. weight 8Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 8 years

18. Steephead Parrotfish

Scientific name Chlorurus Microrhinos
Common name Blunthead or steephead parrotfish
Origin East Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean
Color Greenish-blue with blue patches
Max. size 70cm
Avg. weight 5.4Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 6 years

19. Bicolor Parrotfish

Scientific name Citoscarus Bicolor
Common name Bicolor or bumphead parrotfish
Origin Western Indian Ocean, Red Sea
Color Greenish-blue with blue patches
Max. size 50cm
Avg. weight 2.4Kgs
Diet Benthic Algae
Average lifespan 7 years

Final Words: Are Parrotfish Edible or Good for Aquariums

Parrotfish are highly popular among aqua-hobbyists. Their alluring skin shades, dramatic color changeability, and recognition as a fish with a beak, which can break down hard corals into sand particles in the form of poop, is a timeless attraction.

Some of these species are close to extinction and thus rarely found in aquarium stores, but this never disheartens parrotfish lovers, as they get many more options to buy.

There are few parrotfish recipes that keep trending over social media, food pages and cooking websites.

However, researchers recommend cautiously choosing a dish. They have found that few parrotfish species are poisonous or ciguatoxin, and thus consuming them may create trouble.

About the Author

Shelby Crosby

Shelby is a passionate fishkeeper who has been writing about fish for over 5 years. She is a pro aquarist and holds a BSc Honors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. She creates her own beautiful aquarium layouts and loves to share her knowledge of tropical fish with other hobbyists.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

  • BSc Honors in Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 (University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Completed her undergraduate thesis on the effects of zoochlorella supplementation on the growth and health of fish.

Writing Experience

Miss Crosby is a Freelance blogger; many of her articles are posted online on various blogs. She has also written a few short articles for "Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine" in the past. She is a regular contributor to FishParenting.com. Her education, first-hand experience with fishkeeping, and in-depth knowledge in aquaculture make her one of the most competent writers in the industry.

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