Five Species of Parrotfish All Ocean Lovers Should Know

With more than 80 known species, parrotfish are pretty phenomenal

Parrotfish are serious showstoppers—just like their land-dwelling namesakes, they come in a range of bright, bold colors. Their beauty is as equally notable as their importance to our ocean: Parrotfish are essential to the survival of coral habitats as they feed on algae that could otherwise suffocate the reefs.

There are so many fascinating facts about parrotfish, including their trademark “beaks” that are formed with incredibly strong teeth and jaws to make it easier to chomp on coral all day. Dive into just a few of our favorite facts about these captivatingly colorful creatures.

There are more than 80 known species of parrotfish, so asking me to pick my favorite species is like asking me to choose a favorite child. Okay, maybe it’s not that extreme … but it is a tough choice. While we value and appreciate the entire Scaridae family and all the wonder it brings to our ocean, here are five parrotfish species all ocean lovers should know.

Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum)

Bumphead parrotfish typically inhabit waters in the Eastern Pacific, from the Gulf of California to Peru, including the Galapagos Islands. If you ever spot a bumphead parrotfish in the wild, you might think you’re seeing an alien! While bumphead parrotfish do look somewhat ferocious due to their large bumps (hence the name) and sheer size, they are passive and only interested in munching on coral. These enormous fish can grow up to four feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds—not only are they the largest parrotfish species, but they are also some of the largest of all reef fish. The protrusions from their foreheads serve a few purposes. In addition to using their bumps to scrape algae off coral reefs or break apart large chunks of coral for consumption, some male bumphead parrotfish will also go toe-to-toe—or rather bump-to-bump—with other bumpheads to establish dominance and claim their territory. Watch this incredible behavior in action (toward the middle of the page).

Daisy Parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus)

Typically found in the Pacific and Indian oceans, daisy parrotfish (also known as Pacific daisy parrotfish or bullethead parrotfish) are among the most widespread parrotfish species. When daisy parrotfish are in their female phase, or “initial phase,” they often have a white beak with a dark reddish-brown coloration over the rest of their bodies with a black spot on their fins. As they transition to their male phase, or “terminal phase,” daisy parrotfish can range from bright green to olive-colored bodies with purple and blue lines around their scales, purple stomachs and bright blue tails. Before heading to bed at night, daisy parrotfish secrete slime-like bubbles and create a protective sack to envelop their entire bodies. This gelatinous sleeping bag protects them from predators while the daisy parrotfish sleep.

Midnight Parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus)

Much like their name suggests, midnight parrotfish have a deep blue and black base color with bright blue unscaled heads and a blue stripe, or bar, that extends between their eyes. They even have blue-green teeth. In contrast to the Taylor Swift album inspired by her sleepless nights, midnight parrotfish are awake and hunt during the day and sleep at night. They are native to tropical waters in the West Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, stretching from the Bahamas to Brazil. Like many parrotfish species, midnight parrotfish can change their gender from female to male. But unlike many others, when this transition happens, their colors remain the same. Midnight parrotfish are large and can reach up to 30 inches in length and weigh more than 15 pounds.

Rainbow Parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia)

You might be thinking, “Aren’t all parrotfish ‘rainbow parrotfish’ with all their spectacular colors and patterns?” While the range of marvelous markings amongst all parrotfish species does resemble a rainbow, the rainbow parrotfish is, in fact, a species of its own. Rainbow parrotfish are very large and can reach nearly four feet in length and weigh up to 44 pounds. Similar to its even larger cousin the bumphead parrotfish, the rainbow parrotfish is the largest herbivorous reef fish in the Caribbean and Atlantic. Typically found in warm waters in the West Atlantic Ocean, from Florida to Argentina, rainbow parrotfish have green-blue beaks with bright orange bodies and tails and green-blue scales.

Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride)

Stoplight parrotfish are found in tropical waters, including the Bahamas, Bermuda, southern Florida and the Caribbean Sea. They can reach about 22 inches in length and can weigh up to three-and-a-half pounds. Typically, when stoplight parrotfish change their gender from female to male, they experience a drastic color change. In their female phase, stoplight parrotfish have scales that are reddish-brown with scattered white dots on their sides, and their stomachs are red, resembling a stoplight. Once they transition to males, their tales become yellow while their bodies take on another stoplight color and—you guessed it—become green. They also have bright pink-orange lines running from their heads, giving the appearance of streamers. Some males, however, prefer their female-identified colors and are known as “female-mimic males.”

While there are more than 80 known species of parrotfish, one thing they all have in common is their reliance on coral reefs. Sadly, vital coral reefs across our ocean are under threat as they face the impacts of overuse, ocean acidification and rising water temperatures caused by climate change. That’s why Ocean Conservancy is working at all levels of government, on both sides of the aisle, to protect our ocean for generations to come. Take one minute to add your name and safeguard the parrotfish’s habitat—it’s time for the United States to deliver on our global commitments to address the climate crisis before it’s too late.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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