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Sea of Cortez 810

Family Scaridae
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Perciformes
Suborder Labroidei

Key Features:
Closely related to the wrasses, identification of the parrotfishes is based on the presence of jaw teeth that have been fused into a parrot-like beak.  Compared to the wrasses, most parrotfish are larger with a more substantial build, although exceptions to this generalization are common.  Besides these features, the parrotfishes share many features of wrasses, including bright coloration, a complex sex changing system, and a dramatic variability in the coloration, often reflecting their stage of sexual development.

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Scarus perrico
Bumphead Parrotfish
Scarus compressus
Azure Parrotfish
Scarus ghobban
Bluechin Parrotfish
Scarus rubroviolaceus
Bicolor Parrotfish
Nicholsina denticulata
Loosetooth Parrotfish

juvenile bicolor parrotfish baja, mexico, sea of cortez

Scarus rubroviolaceus
Juvenile Bicolor Parrotfish

San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

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Family Scaridae
Parrotfishes (Peces loro)

Besides their bright tropical colors, parrotfish derive their name from their prominent, fused front teeth, which resemble the beak of a parrot.  They are most commonly associated with coral reefs and because of this fact, as well as their strong crushing jaws, it is often believed that they feed on coral.  Despite the wide-ranging repetition of this belief, there is little evidence to support it.  Instead, it appears that parrotfish feed primarily upon the encrusting coralline algae and other surface algae that are associated with coral reefs and the jaws themselves are often used scraping instead of crushing.  As the coralline algae is chewed and processed through the parrotfishes gut, it is emitted in large clouds of fine coralline sand. A single parrotfish may excrete over one thousand pounds of beautiful Caribbean beach sand in one year. 

The parrotfishes are considered to be closely related to the wrasses and share many characteristics including the coloration, sexual dimorphism and color changes that are associated with sex reversal. 

There are approximately eighty species of parrotfish in ten genera worldwide.  However, in the Sea of Cortez there are only six species in three genera. This may be due in part to a lack of suitable habitat and foodstuffs, as there are few true coral reefs in the region. 

The largest of the parrotfishes in the Sea of Cortez is the bumphead parrotfish, Scarus perrico, which can reach up to two feet in length.  It is moderately colorful and is generally a blue or green in coloration.  Although it has been found as far north as Puerto Penasco, it ranges mainly from Guaymas and San Carlos south to the Galapagos Islands.  At night, like many parrotfish, it sleeps wedged into rocky crevices inside a mucous cocoon that the parrotfish secretes to prevent harassment by nocturnal predators. 


Updated August 28, 2009

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