The ocean around Grand Cayman is home to literally thousands of different varieties of fish and one of the most prolific must be the parrot fish - you are guaranteed to see them on every dive site whether with scuba or snorkelling. There are at least 90 different species on reefs around the world and much still to be learned about them. While we're still learning here are some of our favourite fun parrot fish facts: -
1) How did they get their name?
It's not just the multitude of colours - red, green, blue, pink, yellow, orange - that makes them resemble the most colourful of parrots; it's also their rows of tiny teeth and a beak that gives them a similar face to their namesake bird.
2) Male or female?
Juvenile parrotfish are almost always female. As they move through their life span a number of them will change sex and become male. We don't really know why! Experts remain amazed (and somewhat baffled) by their ability to keep a balance of gender in their local population.
Impressed yet? Here's the really cool part - when they change sex, they also change colour.....
Some males are known to keep a harem of females - when the male dies the largest (and therefore dominant) female will be the one to change sex. And a full change it is - the former female is able to mate with and father the parrotfish generation of the future. And people think that fish don't have scandalous lives.
3) Parrotfish poop. I bet this one got your attention!
So firstly, what do they eat? Their teeth and beak are used for scraping and biting dead coral; additional teeth in their throat help break this down even further. They don't have a stomach and so all this coral passes straight through their intestines and "exits" the fish in a cloud of sand. Larger parrot fish are quite literally sand factories - producing up to 850lbs every year. We are able to say, with confidence, that much of the sand on beaches around the world has been generously donated by the digestive system of the humble parrot fish. Bear that in mind next time you build a sand castle, take a romantic walk etc etc.....
In the meantime this is the most attractive picture of poop that you will possibly ever see.
4) Sleepy fish
Did you know that fish sleep? Well parrot fish take their sleeping very seriously indeed - too much snoozing and they'd be an easy target for predators. Some members of the species excrete a cocoon of mucus that will encompass their entire body. Not only will this prevent parasites attacking whilst they sleep, it will also mask their smell to help them evade bigger predators. A little bit like humans wearing pyjamas to bed.
5) Age & Weight
Parrot fish range in size from 30cm to over 120cm. Hump head parrots can weigh up to 100lb. It's possible for them to celebrate their 7th birthday. Gives a whole new meaning to fish cake.
6) Food of the King
Have you ever seen parrotfish on the menu? We haven't either. But in some parts of the world they are considered a delicacy - in Polynesia they were once considered "royal" food and were only ever eaten by the King.