Parrotfish Family Photos and Information – Scaridae

The Parrotfish Family – Scaridae

Bumphead Parrotfish, Scarus perrico, a representative member of the Parrotfish or Scaridae Family.

The fish of the Parrotfish or Scaridae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as loros or Pericos. There are approximately ninety global species in this family, which inhabit relatively shallow tropical waters and are most abundant in the Indio-Pacific region. Parrotfish have either a curved pointed head or a blunt squared off head. They are named for their teeth, which are found on both jaws and are fused to form a parrot-like beak. They also have grinding plates known as pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouth. They are considered herbivores, eating marine algae, but also eat all types of corals. Parrotfish play a large role as bioeroders; they grind up corals and excrete tremendous amounts of sand as the final waste product. One Parrotfish can produce as much as 90 kg (200 pounds) of sand per annum. Parrotfish range in size from about six inches for the smaller species to up to three or four feet for the larger species.

Parrotfish are one of the most difficult fish to identify because the males and females have multiple color combinations and a vast array of color phases as they mature. They have elongated slender to oval bodies, a single dorsal fin with nine slender spines and ten rays. Their bodies are covered with large smooth scales. Male Parrotfish display very vivid shades of dark or light bright yellows, pinks, reds, greens, blues, and turquoises, whereas females feature very drab, dull-colored shades of reds, browns, and olive greens. In general, the juveniles color patterns differ from those of the adults. When there is an inadequate number of males, females will change into males. During these sex changes, fish will have both female and male color patterns, contributing to their identification challenges.

Parrotfish utilize some of the most complex and unusual reproduction systems known to fish, being sequential hermaphrodites. They change sex from female to male at mid-life. Males can be either primary (born male) or secondary (females that have undergone sex change). All individuals proceed through three distinct phases, marked by color differences:

  1. Juveniles (sexually immature)
  2. Initial phase (IP), which can include sexually mature males or females
  3. Terminal phase (TP), which includes only mature males

Terminal phase males usually dominate reproductive activity through a harem-based social system. The size of the spawning groups range from a dozen to several hundred individuals. They aggressively defend small territories during spawning. Parrotfish are broadcast spawners, releasing high numbers of planktonic eggs, which are pelagic and widely distributed by tidal currents; the eggs eventually settle into coral until hatching. Adults do not interact with their offspring.

Parrotfish are strongly diurnal (only active during daylight). They form and travel in large groups. Many bury themselves in the sand or seek crevices to hide in at night where they produce a foul-smelling mucous bag to deter predators while they sleep. They are preyed upon by Moray Eels and Sharks, specifically by the Lemon Shark. Parrotfish date to the early Oligocene Period, 30 million years ago.

Parrotfish have a minor aquarium trade due to their colorful appearance but are difficult to maintain because their normal diet consists almost totally of corals, which is not recommended in aquarium settings. There is a minor global commercial fishery for Parrotfish, which includes Mexico, where they are sold by most of the major grocery stores. Most fish are taken with nets and a few by spearfishermen; they are virtually impossible to catch via hook and line. They are deemed an esteemed food fish due to their white meat. The demise of the Parrotfish due to overfishing is of major global concern causing coral reefs to be overrun by seaweeds.

Sixteen members of the Parrotfish or Scaridae Family, nine from the Atlantic and seven from the Pacific, are currently included in this website:

Azure Parrotfish, Scarus compressus
Bicolor Parrotfish, Scarus rubroviolaceus
Blue Parrotfish, Scarus coeruleus
Bluechin Parrotfish, Scarus ghobban
Bumphead Parrotfish, Scarus perrico
Loosetooth Parrotfish, Nicholsina denticulata
Midnight Parrotfish, Scarus coelestinus
Princess Parrotfish, Scarus taeniopterus
Rainbow Parrotfish, Scarus guacamaia
Redband Parrotfish, Sparisoma aurofrenatum
Redtail Parrotfish, Sparisoma chrysopferum
Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma viride
Striped Parrotfish, Scarus iseri
Yellowtail Parrotfish, Sparisoma rubripinne

Many scientific individuals include the Parrotfish from the Scaridae Family as members of a subfamily of the Labridae Family. Others believe that the Scaridae Family is a standalone separate family. Not wanting to enter this controversy and based on a coin toss, I have separated the two, thus a Wrasse or Labridae Family section is included in a different location on this website and features six Wrasses from the Atlantic and 16 Wrasses from Mexican waters of the Pacific.