Parrotfish are one of the more common species of fish to be found in the waters surrounding St. Maarten, which is lucky for us because they play a very important role in the health of the coral reef system and sand beaches! Parrotfish their name from their bright colors and sharp beak-like teeth used for scraping food off the ocean floor. There are about 80 different species of these fish, but in general they can be identified by their large separated scale pattern.

Diet and Impact on Beaches

Parrotfish use their teeth (which are fused together like a beak) to scrape algae of the bottom of the sea or from pieces of coral. This makes way for new hard coral colonies to form which would not be able to safely settle otherwise.

In addition to keeping the reef healthy these fish excrete the sand that can be found on beaches! Bits of coral that are picked up while eating pass through the parrotfish and are excreted into sand. In one year a single parrotfish may convert 1 ton of coral into sand. Just try not to think about it the next time you are lying on our white sand beaches!

Unique Sleeping Habits

Each night a parrotfish will take up to an hour producing a mucus sack to sleep in. (Yes mucus as in the stuff that is in your nose!) The fish will actually tuck itself in between pieces of coral or rock and rest not moving for the night. The mucus sack then protects the fish from predators and parasites! 

When the parrotfish moves it bursts the snot bubble and looses its protection. So if you are diving and come across a sleeping parrotfish give it some space. They might not be able to make another ‘cocoon’ for a full day!

Fun Facts

  • Parrotfish can change their sex throughout their lives switching from male to female, changing their coloring each time!
  • Size can range from 4 inches to 4 feet
  • Lives up to 7 years
Photo by Leslie Hickerson

Learn more about Parrotfish from our sources: