Parrotfish Life Cycle


Parrotfish are a mostly tropical species of fish that prefer the shallow coral reefs of the Red Sea and Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. There are approximately 90 subspecies. The main concentrations of parrot fish can be found in the Caribbean Sea.

Parrotfish get their name from the way their teeth have evolved: They are all located in the forefront of the mouths, arranged in such a fashion that it appears that the fish has a parrot-like beak. The fish uses this beak to break off tiny pieces of coral to eat.


Not much is known about the actual development of the parrotfish, though they reproduce much like any other fish species. Parrotfish have developed a few unique characteristics that aid them in reproducing.


When the female parrotfish is ready to lay her eggs, she secretes a sticky layer of mucous around her body. This appears to be a defensive mechanism that disguises the fish from predators. Eggs are released free-floating int the water, where they intermix with plankton. The male fish will fertilize the eggs later. Eventually, the eggs will settle into coral, where they will hatch.


The fertilized egg will develop into an embryo. After hatching, the fry will be completely self-sufficient, hiding from predators and finding its own food. The juvenile fish will have distinctly different coloration patterns than an adult and will undergo several color/pattern changes during maturation.

Many fish will not survive to adulthood due to predation, but those who do can expect to live about five years.


Parrotfish have a unique adaptation. Most parrotfish will begin life as females and lay thousands of eggs in a few years. With age, the fish will spontaneously transform into a male fish and change color. The only explanation for this is that the average lifespan of a parrotfish is relatively short, so there is a need for many eggs to be produced at once and only a handful of males to fertilize those eggs.

Ecological Importance

Parrotfish are deemed ecologically necessary to the health of the coral reefs, though they were once thought to be nuisances. Parrotfish keep algae blankets from smoothering the coral reefs. They also produce tons of sand a year from the breakdown of small coral bits they remove when scavenging for algae.

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