Parrotfish species identification guide

Parrotfish, a key to coral reef survival

Scaridae (parrotfish) are emblematic to coral reefs. About 90 species populate tropical and subtropical areas on the Planet. They are characterized by a long body and a mouth that is more a “beak” strong enough to break coral.

Parrotfish play a crucial part in the reef ecosystem: they are herbivorous and ceaselessly graze algae and polyps on the seabed, hence cleaning the reef up and helping it regenerate.

Difference between initial and terminal phase of parrotfish
Example of the difference of coloration between the initial phase (in the foreground) and terminal phase (in the background) of the bluebarred parrotfish. Photographed in Rabida Island, Galápagos.

The smallest adult parrotfish are about 30 cm long when the biggest (the impressive green humphead parrotfish) can be more than 1m long. Male parrotfish are generally much bigger and more colored than the females.

Some parrotfish are amongst the brightest tropical fish with their turquoise coat. Those creatures are easy to observe with basic snorkel gear as they abound in numerous spots, even in shallow water.

A flamboyant and easy-to-spot fish

Parrotfish are sometimes hard to distinguish between them since dozens of species show very similar colors. Most species also proceed through different phases (with different coloration) during their life, generally starting as juveniles, then as females or secondary males (known as the initial phase) and then some individuals changing to primary males (the terminal phase).

Green humphead parrotifsh
The green humphead parrotifsh is the largest known parrotfish species. Here, encountered in Rawa Island, Malaysia.

The Indo-Pacific area hosts the best diversity of species, some of them having very large distribution areas.

For example, the bluebarred parrotfish abounds in shallow waters from Eastern Africa to the Galápagos Islands. 14 parrotfish species can be spotted in the Caribbean, including the stoplight parrotfish, more common in lagoons, or the much rarer midnight parrotfish with its dark blue scales.

The Mediterranean parrotfish notably lives along the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean basin, but it remains hard to spot when snorkeling.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic parrotfish

Indian & Pacific Oceans parrotfish

Eastern Pacific parrotfish

Mediterranean & Eastern Atlantic parrotfish

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