Parrot fish

Update of post from March 11, 2014

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Parrot fish are very colorful, medium-sized fish living in tropical waters around the world. Their name comes from their fused teeth which resemble a parrot’s beak. You can see the beak-like mouth in the picture above. These beautiful fish come in all colors, including pink, blue, orange, green, brown, purple, pink, red, and yellow!

Parrot fish are actually a family of fish and not a species. In fact, there are over ninety known species of these fish! The different species vary in size, color, shape, and where they live.

I’m not sure what species the fish shown at the top is, but the two shown below are the bicolor parrot fish and bridled parrot fish respectively. If you look closely, you will see that the fins on those two are slightly different from each other. The bridled parrotfish also doesn’t have as rounded of a face.

Surprisingly, markings are not consistent. Even in the same species, one individual may be mostly blue with some green, and another may be part orange, part pink, and part light blue! The colors of individuals even change throughout their lifetime!

Size

As you might expect, with so many species, parrot fish have a wide range of sizes. Some species only grow to be about seven inches (18 cm) long, while others can be up to four feet (1.2 m)! Most species are towards the middle or smaller end of this range. The largest individuals will reach up to 44 pounds (20 kg) in weight!

Diet

These fish eat something that very few other animals eat. This thing, which is actually an animal, is coral. Surprisingly, the coral doesn’t actually benefit the parrot fish much. It has very little nutritional value. Instead, what these fish survive on is the algae in and on the coral. Their hard, beak-like mouth helps them grind the coral.

You may wonder what happens to all the coral the parrot fish eat but can’t digest. Once the coral is ground up by the fish’s beak, it passes through its digestive system mostly unchanged. When it exits the creature’s body, it is a grainy substance that we call sand. That’s right, most of the sand in the parrot fish’s range, including the white sand beaches of Hawaii, is actually ground up, undigested coral!

Habitat and range

From the information in the last section, you might be able to figure out a little bit about this creature’s habitat and range. They live in a lot of tropical oceans and seas, such as the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Their favorite habitat is coral reefs. Not only do these provide good hiding places, but they also give them the food they need. They are found as deep as about 80 feet (25 m).

Status, threats, and protection

Different species of parrot fish have different statuses on the IUCN Redlist. Many of them are Least Concern, but some are as rare as Near Threatened. Most of their predators are other fish, namely sharks. They will also be preyed on by moray eels, but that is less common.

Parrot fish are also threatened by habitat destruction and pollution. In many parts of the world they are considered a delicacy, and in Polynesia it was once considered a royal food, and was served only to the king!

The main protection these fish have applies only when they are sleeping. Every night, these fish will use a special organ on their head to excrete mucus. This mucus envelopes their whole body in a sort of cocoon. Scientists think the mucus masks the fish’s scent so predators can’t find it.

Reproduction

Parrot fish have one of the most complex reproduction processes of all fish. As with almost all fish, parrot fish spawn to reproduce. For these fish, it normally occurs in shallow waters, which provide more of a protection for the eggs than if they were released in the deep sea.

After they hatch, the young float near the surface as plankton. Not much is known about their development, but their color changes dramatically as they mature. Some scientists have even mistaken different ages of parrot fish for different species!

These fish are extemely bizzare in that some species never give birth to males. In these species, the female babies form into groups. The leader of the group will then genetically change into a male and mate with the females. When that male dies, another female will take his place. Not all species do this, and even some individuals in species who do give birth to males may also undergo this change.

In general, parrot fish do not usually live longer than five years. For larger species, they can live as long as 20 years.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Parrot fish – Wikipedia user: Nhobgood
  • Bicolor Parrot fish – Richard Ling
  • Bridled Parrot fish – Ewa Barska
  • Mystery animal – Wikipedia user: tuurio and wallie
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