Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia
Queen Parrotfish Scarus vetula
Species ID: S.SV
Description: Adult queen parrotfish have two colour phases – initial phase and terminal phase. Initial phase fish can be either male or female. They are heavy-bodied and coloured reddish-brown with a pale head and a single broad, white stripe running along each side of the fish. Terminal phase fish are always male, and sometimes referred to as supermales”. They are usually larger than the initial phase, and coloured pale blue-green with bright blue and green markings around the mouth as well as a pale blue bar on each pectoral fin. All life stages have prominent, beaklike teeth, characteristic of the parrotfish family.
Maximum Size: 61 cm (24 in)
Longevity: Unknown, but up to 20 years based on the longevity of related parrotfish
Status: Not currently on the IUCN endangered species list
Queen Parrotfish & People: The queen parrotfish is fished locally in the Caribbean, usually by spearfishing and in fishpots, but is not of great commercial importance
Geographical Range: Fairly common throughout the shallow waters of the Caribbean
Coral Reef Zone: Found mainly in the back reef and fore reef zones
Favourite Habitat: Queen parrotfish prefer areas of rock or coral rubble where they can find plenty of algae to consume
Depth Range: 3 – 25 m (10 – 80 ft)
A Day in The Life
Dawn: Spawning activity occurs in the early morning just after sunrise
Day: Queen parrotfish roam the reef, scraping algae off rocks and dead coral
Dusk: Fish look for a place to spend the night, often on sand next to reef
Night: Queen parrotfish sleep within protective mucous cocoons
Who Eats Who
Adult queen parrotfish are eaten by a variety of large reef predators, most notably grouper, eels and sharks. Queen parrotfish are omnivores. They feed on turf algae, but occasionally consume sponges, corals and reef encrusting animals as they feed.
Scuba Diver & Snorkeler Best Practices
Don’t disturb the wildlife Interfering with wildlife may frighten them, disrupting feeding and mating behaviours and even provoking an attack on you! Hanging onto marine wildlife such as turtles, dolphins and whale sharks can cause them stress. Maintain your distance—wildlife will spend longer in your vicinity if they feel comfortable in your presence.
Queen parrotfish are not shy and are relatively easy to approach, but will move away if divers or snorkellers come too close for comfort.
During the day, queen parrotfish search the reef for patches of turf algae either alone or in small schools. They feed almost exclusively by using their strong, beak-like teeth to scrape algae from hard surfaces such as rocks and corals. Parrotfishes consume a lot of rock and coral while feeding. These hard materials are ground up by hard, bony plates in the throat before being excreted as fine sand over the reef. Parrotfish poop is therefore one of the many sources of the beautiful, white sandy beaches we see in the tropics.
Observe, record & share:
O S.SV-101 – Scraping algae: Parrotfish scrape algae from rocks and coral, sometimes producing audible scraping sounds
O S.SV-102 – Excreting sand: Parrotfish excrete a stream of fine white sand
Attack & Defense Behaviour
Queen parrotfish males are territorial, and defend a large area that contains both their feeding ground and their mates. When a defending male meets an intruder of the same species, they spread their fins and display their flank. This is generally followed by the defending male chasing the intruder away, often with the mouth held threateningly open. In serious fights, or in cramped quarters, these fish can inflict deep and serious bite wounds that may leave gouge-like scars. When settling down for the night, queen parrotfish secrete a thin veil of mucous from a gland at the base of the gills which surrounds them like a bubble and helps mask their scent from predators. Sometimes, discarded mucous bubbles from the previous night can be seen drifting along the reef the next day before they disintegrate.
Observe, record & share:
O S.SV-201 – Mucous bubble: At night, fish surround themselves with a thin veil of mucus to mask their scent from predators
O S.SV-202 – Aggressive display: Parrotfish spread their fins and display their flank to intruders
O S.SV-203 – Chasing: Parrotfish chase intruders with open mouths
O S.SV-204 – Biting and bite scars: Biting during serious conflicts can leave deep scars
Queen parrotfish reproduce sexually by broadcast spawning, and undergo a complex series of sex-changes during their life cycle. Most parrotfishes begin life as a female. As they
reach a certain size, they change sex to become terminal males, also known as “supermales” – the biggest and most brightly coloured individuals in the population. In rare cases, an individual may be born male, but resemble a female, until they also grow large enough to become a supermale.
In some populations, supermales guard a permanent harem of females they mate with during the breeding season. In other populations queen parrotfish have been documented spawning in pairs. Courtship behaviour is similar in both situations, beginning with the supermale swimming in progressively tighter circles around or above the female, shaking his tail rapidly. If the female is interested, she rises up to meet the male, and together they rush towards the surface and release eggs and sperm together. Sometimes, initial phase males (which resemble females) join a spawning rush at the last minute – a behaviour known as streaking. This sneaky behaviour is the only way initial phase males can reproduce, as females prefer to mate with the large, flamboyant supermales. Queen parrotfish spawning can occur year round, but peaks occur in the winter and summer. Most reports suggest that spawning occurs mainly in the morning.
Observe, record & share:
O S.SV-301 – Circling: Supermale swims in tighter and tighter circles around females
O S.SV-302 – Tail shake: Supermale shakes tail or shivers while circling females
O S.SV-303 – Spawning rush: Supermale and females rush towards the surface and release gametes together
O S.SV-304 – Streaking male: Initial phase male that resembles the females may join a spawning rush in the last few seconds
Did You Know?
• Although queen parrotfish usually scrape the surface of the reef to gather algae, some parrotfish take large bites out of the reef and must therefore process huge amounts of rock and coral residue in their digestive system. Scientists have calculated that as much as one ton of mineral material per acre of reef per year is eaten by some parrotfish and re-deposited as sand.
• A male and his harem of females may jointly defend a territory much larger than an individual male can guard, demonstrating one of the many advantages of choosing a group lifestyle.
What to do?
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