It’s easy to look past a parrot fish, especially in the bay, in search of something bigger or better. But we really should take time to appreciate these fish as they are responsible for our naturally sandy bay here in Naama.
Parrot fish, with a life span of around 7 years, can grow to be 4ft long, although thankfully most remain at around 1ft long. They are a relative of the wrasse, with over 90 species having been identified to date.
The Parrot fish is a truly unique fish, with many of its characteristics being solely attributed to their species.
Firstly, their feeding habits. If you’ve ever had a nice quiet dive disrupted by a strange gnawing sound, it’s a parrot fish eating. Their beak like teeth, after which they are named, provide the initial power to break off bits of coral, whilst the grinding teeth in the throat ensure the coral becomes nothing but powder. Many think that they ‘eat’ the hard coral that they are often seen nibbling on, but they don’t. Their food of choice is actually an algae that is hidden within the structure of hard coral. The coral is excreted, undigested, as very fine sand; hence our beautiful beach in Naama is partly thanks to fish poo!
Their gender is a tricky subject. They can continually change gender throughout their lives, which also changes their colour and patterns, meaning that identification of a specific species becomes very difficult. Ever heard your dive guide refer to the Dotted Parrot fish? Or the Hump-head parrotfish? No, didn’t think so. It’s a parrotfish, that’s it! They also have a huge variation in male, female and juvenile colours and patterns, so just be happy with ‘it’s a parrotfish’ in future!
And as if that wasn’t weird enough, let’s delve into their bed time habits. When parrot fish go to bed, their first priority is to start producing, from a gland in their head, a mucous ‘cocoon’ – a bit like a fully enclosed sleeping bag. However, this covering is not for warmth, it is thought to be for protection. You aren’t going to get a good night’s sleep if you know that at any time during the night you could be munched as someones evening snack! It is believed that the cocoon acts as a ‘smell’ invisibility blanket, masking their odour from nocturnal predators who use scent to hunt. Clever huh? If you are lucky enough to spot this on a night dive, be careful not to wake the fish, as this breaks the cocoon and they can only produce one per evening.