Key Largo Parrotfish

In Key Largo Parrotfish are a frequent sight along the reef. Nearly every reef in the tropical Atlantic is home to many vibrant, robust, schools that span the whole rainbow of colors. You can count them as a near guaranteed sight along Key Largo, and very easily point out a variety of species and colors.

Parrotfish are known for their bright colors. In fact, many species show different color patterns based on their genders. They start as females and eventually change to males. But based upon strict size hierarchies the largest fish is the one to transform into terminal males for many species. These fish can range anywhere from a few inches to 4 feet long, with the largest generally being the dominant.

Notably they have a mouth more like a beak–used for scraping and rasping algae from coral and during that process they collect large quantities of the reef itself, calcium carbonate. Have you ever wondered where the fine sand on the reefs and beaches comes from? Now you know! Parrotfish excrete the remaining sediment as a chalky plume in the water column around them.

At night most parrotfish seek shelter deep inside nooks and crannies in the reef or bury themselves under the sand. But the award for unusual sleeping habits goes to them as well! Famously a few species of these unique fish actually cloak themselves in a mucous bubble they secrete from their mouths. With these particular fish sleeping in the open the mucous bubble is believed to mask their scent from prowling predators and provide an “early alarm system” if they’re disturbed. Parrotfish even sleep so deeply trance-like that you could theoretically lift them up while sleeping (but we don’t recommend it)!

key largo parrotfish on reef
Adult brightly colored Stoplight Parrotfish roams the reef

Key Largo Parrotfish eating on reef

Key Largo young Stoplight Parrotfish prowling for food
Young Stoplight Parrotfish pair on the reef
Key Largo Parrotfish