Stoplight Parrotfish

Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma viride

The Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma viride, whose common Spanish name is loro brilloso, is a species in the Parrotfish or Scaridae Family, known collectively as loros and pericos in Mexico. They get their common name from a yellow spot near the pectoral fin which is found only in terminal phase (TP) males. Globally, there are fifteen species in the genus Sparisoma, six of which are found in Mexican waters, all in the Atlantic.

The Stoplight Parrotfish are large fish with oblong elongated moderately-compressed robust bodies. Their head is bluntly rounded. They vary greatly in color depending on their phase. Juveniles have a dark red-brown body with three rows of white spots running the length of the body; their bellies are paler in color and their truncated caudal fin features a white bar. In the Initial Phase (IP) both females and males are mottled red-brown, often mixed with white scales on the upper two-thirds of the body, and are bright red ventrally. They have horizontal rows of five pale spots on their sides; their anal and pectoral fins are bright red; their emarginated caudal fin is white transitioning to red-brown; and their dorsal fin is reddish-brown. Males in the terminal phase (TP) are green with diagonal orange bands on the upper half of their head. Their caudal fin has an orange crescent or lunate shaped indentation. They have yellow spots near the top of their gill cover and another at the base of their caudal fin. They have traditional parrot-like teeth used for crushing skeletal coral materials. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 9 rays and their dorsal fin has 9 spines and 10 rays. They have 17 to 21 gill rakers and their body is covered with large scales.

The Stoplight Parrotfish are found in coral reef environments at depths up to 165 feet. They favor Branched Finger Coral, Porites porites, which provides shelter, protection, and a food source. Juveniles are found in seagrass beds. They reach a maximum of 61 cm (24 inches) in length and 1.6 kg (3.5 pounds) in weight; they are common at 30 cm (12 inches) to 46 cm (l8 inches). Fish that are longer than 18.0 cm (7.0 inches) are normally TP males. Population densities are greater offshore than inshore which is attributed to fishing pressures. They are diurnal and forage on benthic algae, corals, and seagrass. They are important bioeroders with each individual being capable of returning as much as one ton of sand to the environment per year. IP individuals can be either males or females, however, they are primarily males. Females eventually transition to males at mid-life and when population numbers are low. They are hermaphrodites and live in harems with a dominant male. Eggs are released in shallow waters and the juveniles move to shallow reef environments. They live as solitary individuals or in small groups and are known to exhibit aggressive behavior. They sleep at night within rock structure on the bottom. They are preyed upon by jacks, moray eels, and snappers. They are a rare poorly studied species and very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.

The Stoplight Parrotfish are widespread in the western Atlantic and throughout the Caribbean Sea. In Mexican waters they are limited to waters of the eastern and western boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Spotlight Parrotfish cannot easily be confused with any other species due to its unique coloration.

The Stoplight Parrotfish are not considered an important food fish throughout the Caribbean. They are known to contain Cigua Toxin. Current assessments indicate that their populations are stable and therefore not subject to overfishing. They are a favorite of divers allowing a close approach and then a hasty and spectacular departure. They are also a highly prized species for public aquariums.

Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma aurofrenatum, initial phase (IP) female. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 12.7 cm (5.0 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.

Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma aurofrenatum, initial phase (IP) female. Fish caught off the Channel 5 Bridge (MM 71.4), Florida Keys, Florida, December 2015. Length: 25.5 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Stoplight Parrotfish, Sparisoma viride, initial phase (IP) female transitioning to a terminal phase (TP) male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, August 2014. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.