Profile of the Parrotfish Family Scaridae and Scarus

Coral Reef With Parrotfish

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The parrotfish family has about 80 species that inhabit tropical waters around the World. Parrotfishes get their names from the fact that the teeth of both jaws are fused to form a parrot-like beak. They also have grinding plates known as pharyngeal teeth located in the back of the mouth. These are used for grinding materials taken into the mouth.

  • Scientific names: (Callyodon- tidae, Sparisomidae, and Scraichthyidae)

Feeding Habits

They are considered herbivores, eating marine algae, but they eat all types of corals at the same time. Parrotfish play a significant role in the destruction of our reefs as they bite off and grind up the corals. They can excrete tremendous amounts of digested coral, which comes out as sand. This is where a lot of our ocean sand comes from.

Getting the parrotfish to eat in captivity can be difficult because their diet consists of so much coral. We find they will eat Nori and shrimp, but it's not an easy task to get them to do so. In Martin Moe's book The Marine Aquarium Handbook; Beginner to Breeder, he has a recipe for The Plaster Mix. It can be used for almost any type of fish, but it is particularly suitable for parrotfishes. The hard plaster food mix allows the parrotfish to bite into something hard and firm, which is how they are used to eating.

Socialization and Gender

It is not a reef safe fish to have, but it gets along well with almost any other marine fishes. They travel in groups in the wild and will generally get along with other species of the same kind. They range in size from the smaller species of about six inches to the more abundant species of up to two or three feet.

Parrotfish can be one of the most challenging fish to identify. Because the males and females have so many different color combinations and a vast array of color phases that each species goes through in various stages of their lives, it is hard to figure out which one you have. The colors on male parrotfishes are very vivid shades of dark or light bright yellows, pinks, reds, greens, blues, and turquoises. The females are very drab, dull-colored shades of reds, browns and olive greens.

When there are too many females, nature takes over and changes some of them into males. It is nature's way of keeping the species alive. Many fish species do this, but for fishes like bird wrasses and box fishes, it is a very noticeable change. They will have both color patterns on their bodies for a short time when the sex change is occurring, and you can see it happening. Some parrotfishes do this too.

Mucus Cocoon

Many parrotfishes form a mucous cocoon at night to sleep in. Sometimes you'll find a big clump of slime floating around in your tank. Just scoop it out with a fine-mesh net as the slimy mass can contribute to the organic bio-load in your tank. Your Parrotfish will stop making its cocoon at night when it gets more comfortable in your tank and doesn't feel threatened, anymore.

With proper care, this can be a wonderful fish to have, especially the males with their bright, vivid colors. This is a fish we suggest for the advanced, more experienced aquarist. The parrotfish should have a tank of at least 90 gallons in size as they do a lot of swimming in the wild and will want to do so in an aquarium.