3 Cool Facts About Parrotfish (And Why They Should Be Protected!)

Parrotfish - the unsung heroes of our oceans.

Sort of.

Parrotfish are very common around the world and are often viewed as less interesting than turtles or eagle rays. Granted, you see a lot of them on a dive so they’re not exactly rare, but did you know that parrotfish have some pretty cool superpowers?

To show these important and under-appreciated animals some love, check out our 3 Cool Facts About Parrotfish, and see why they, and other herbivorous fish in the Caribbean, are so important for our reef!

Cool Fact #1: They can change sex multiple times

Parrotfish can transition between sexes through most of their lives. The majority of parrotfish are born as females and live in a harem under one Supermale. If the Supermale of the harem dies, the largest female in the harem will transition into a male and take on the Supermale role. You can distinguish between males and females by their colors (the colorful parrotfish are the males), but since they change colors every time they change sex (and even as they move from juvenile into adulthood), it can make classification difficult for scientists!

Cool Fact #2: They make their own sleeping bags

At night, parrotfish will create a mucous sac to sleep in. To this day, scientists aren’t exactly sure why. They have their hypotheses, from the sacs protecting parrotfish from predators by masking their scent, to acting as a barrier against parasites, but nothing has been proven.
When you’re doing a night dive, it’s important to be respectful and not shine your light directly into the eyes of parrotfish (or any other animal, for that matter). When they are startled or woken up, they might break the sac, and may not be able to make a new one that night. This means that not only is the parrotfish disgruntled because they’ve been rudely awakened, but they might be in danger, too.

Cool Fact #3: They create the beaches you love…with their poop

And here is the coolest fact of all and the reason that parrotfish should be protected!

Parrotfish are incredibly important to the health of the reef, because they eat the algae that can smother the reef if left unchecked. That’s why herbivorous fish on Roatan are protected, because we count on them to maintain the health of our reef! That grinding sound you can hear when you’re diving? That’s the sound of many parrotfish “teeth” chewing on bits of coral that they break off when they eat the algae. They poop out the coral as fine particles, creating beautiful, white sand. One parrotfish can create up to 700 pounds of sand in their lifetime, if you can believe it! So that beautiful, sandy beach you’re walking on? Parrotfish poop.

So many coral reefs around the world are suffering because the herbivorous fish populations are being severely depleted, and if we don’t start rebuilding their numbers, the coral itself will not survive. Since you don’t often see parrotfish on the menu in Roatan, you may wonder how their numbers are being so badly depleted. Same as many endangered marine creatures, parrotfish are not only hunted for their meat, but are also getting caught as by-catch by human fishing practices, like trawling and ghost nets. That’s why it’s important for governments to implement marine reserves and also enact laws protecting parrotfish from hunting, so that at least the intentional depletion of parrotfish doesn’t happen.

How can you help?

There are a few ways that you can help the mighty parrotfish survive!

First, if you see it on a menu, don’t order. Herbivorous fish are red-listed in the Bay Islands and in many other marine parks, and it’s important for consumers to adjust the demand so that there is no need for a supply.
Second, it’s important to financially support marine reserves so that they can patrol a greater distance, and more consistently. On Roatan, you can support the Roatan Marine Park by purchasing a yearly bracelet for $10. That $10 donation helps the RMP maintain the dive site moorings, run patrols and educate the community, so they play a very important role in the health of Roatan’s reefs.

Now, go enjoy an awesome dive on Roatan and take a minute to appreciate a parrotfish when you see one!

Interested in more 3 Cool Facts posts? Let us know what animal you want to learn about next!