Profile of the Parrotfish Family Scaridae/Scarus

Bullethead Parrotfish Image
Bullethead Parrotfish. Photo by Brian Tissot

Profile of the Parrotfish Family Scaridae/Scarus:

Scientific Names: (Callyodon- tidae, Sparisomidae & Scraichthyidae)

The Parrot Fish Family has about 80 species that inhabit tropical waters around the World. The above photo from Flying Fish Express is what some people call a Princess Parrot, Scarus taeniopterus. The photo from Brian Tissot's Marine Fishes of Hawai'i site is a Bullethead Parrot, Scarus sordidus.

Parrot Fishes 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.

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

Getting this fish 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 most any type of fish, but it is particularly good for Parrot Fishes.

The hard plaster food mix allows the Parrot Fish to bite into something hard and firm, which is how they are used to eating.

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 larger species of up to two or three feet.

As you can see from the photos there are two shapes to the head. The first photo is what we would consider a Sharpnose Parrot with its more curved, pointed shaped head. The second is a Bullethead Parrot because of its blunt, squared-off shaped head.

Parrot Fish can be one of the most difficult fish to identify. Because the males and females have so many different color combinations and 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 Parrot Fishes 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. There are many fish species that 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 period of time when the sex change is occurring and you can see it happening.

Some Parrot Fishes do this too.

Many Parrot Fishes form a mucus 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 mess 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.