Parrot Fish – Misunderstood, or Miraculous Ocean Dwellers
Take an ever-changing rainbow of colors, an undefined shape that morphs over time, and an ambiguous gender that can shift at the drop of a hat, and what do you have? None other than the seemingly confused, infinitely fascinating parrot fish!
The parrot fish (aka parrotfishes as there are somewhere between 90-100 species) is one of the stranger creatures of all marine life. It can be found sparsely throughout most of the world’s oceans, though the Indo-Pacific is their most favored area to inhabit. An average adult from that region is about 12-20 in (30-50 cm) in length. And the meat is considered to be a very exquisite dish in some parts of the world.
Its diet is most certainly notable. Most parrot fish are primarily herbivores, although some eat small ocean organisms. But some species of parrot fish go a little bit further than this and chomp down a little coral as they pick through the vegetation. They get their name from their strong teeth that allow them to do this. These teeth are all fused together and appear beak-like, thus the “parrot” name, and the bright colors also help with the comparison to parrots. Coincidentally this activity, their unique teeth grinding up the coral rocks, is extremely important for the environment. After being digested, these coral bits are excreted from the parrot fish as sand. This contributes immeasurably to numerable islands and beaches in the Caribbean.
Perhaps the most curious thing about them, is their ambiguous and variable gender! The fish is classified as a sequential hermaphrodite, meaning that it may be born with one sex, but change it at a later time. At birth, the parrot fish is born female. This is known as the initial phase. Eventually, after maturing, she will enter what’s known as the terminal phase, and over time, become male. This very curious quality makes them one unique creature.
As if that weren’t enough to establish its reputation, there is the bizarre (and somewhat messy) matter of its choice of sleepwear. At night, some species cover themselves in a cocoon made of mucous prior to going to sleep. This mucous is excreted from an opening on the head and wrapped around the body, masking its scent from its potential enemies and securing the fish to one spot. As if that weren’t enough, the mucous also has special restorative and healing properties, regenerating any wounds they may have sustained, and even protecting them from harmful UV rays. Wow, where can I get some pajamas like that?