Parrotfish: Magicians of the Reef

Picture it :Nighttime on the reef. A queen parrotfish sleeps Inside a crack in the coral. A Strange ,clear , gooey blod surrounds its motionless body . Out of the darkness skims a mray eel on the hunt . The queen parrotfish is surely a goner ! But wait a second the eel gives a sniff , then swims right by the sleeping fish ! How could it skip such a tasty meal ?

Tricky Fish

Parrotfish are tricksters of the sea. They can hide from predators in plain sight , fool scientists , turn coral into sand , and do other remarkable stuff . They are the colorful magicians of the coral reef . And they are very important in keeping reefs healthy . So how did that queen parrotfish escape becoming an eel meal ? Some kinds of parrotfish create a « mucous cocoon » ( MYOO_KUSS KUH_KOON) when they settle in for a night’s sleep . It’s like a sleeping bag made of snot ! Scientists think it helps mask a parrotfish’s scent so predators can’t sniff them out

(ALL RIGHTS) Rainbow parrotfish in the Caribbean.
Photo credit: © Ken Marks

Presto Change-o !

At one time , scientists thought there were more than 300 species of parrotfish in the Atlantic , Indian , and pacific océans . Today , they figure there are only about 80 . Why the confusion ? As they grow up , some kinds of parrotfish go through big color changes . These phases can make them tricky to identify . In addition to changing color , female parrotfish also have the ability to change into males . Say a shark grabs the main male parrotfish in a group . One of the adult females changes into a male to replace him . She changes into a he ? switching color and behavior . The new male then takes over the role of fertilizing the eggs laid by the females .

Reef Rescuers

Parrotfish play an important role in keeping reefs healthy. Too much seaweed is bad for corals and life on the reef . Seaweed can smother the coral , blocking the sun and food corals need to survive and thrive . Parrotfish,though , make the seaweed disappear with their constant nibbling . In this way ,these colorful magicians of the reef help keep the reef clean-and full of life and Wonder .

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