These brightly coloured fish, with their blues, greens and purples are easy to identify on any site that ABC Snorkel Charters Port Douglas visits. They have parrot-like teeth!
Originally part of the wrasse family, their teeth evolved forward on the jawbone and fused together, allowing them to feed upon algae coating the corals’ surface. You can see where they have fed, due to white scratch marks left behind on the coral head, as they also take a thin layer of limestone from the coral. Their feeding behaviour serves an important ecological role, as it prevents algae overgrowing the reef system.
Some scientists have estimated that 30% of the coral sand you see within the Great Barrier Reef, can be attributed to the parrotfish. After they digest the edible portions of the algae / limestone, they excrete it as sand, each depositing up to 90 kilograms of sand every year. So, when you’re sunbathing on Four Mile Beach after we’ve returned to shore, you may actually be sunbathing on Parrotfish poop!
Parrotfish like a camping adventure, sleeping in a homemade sleeping bag every night!! They extrude mucus from their mouths to create this protective cocoon, which hides their scent from potential predators like moray eels. The mucus may also act as an early warning system, allowing parrotfish to flee when it detects a predator disturbing the cocoon lining. Its body is lined with another mucus substance, which may help the body repair itself due to the antibiotics it contains, repel parasites or act like a sunscreen, protecting it from UV light.
Whilst the smaller Parrotfish are commonly sighted on all our snorkel sites, you may get lucky and even see the largest of this species, the Bumphead Parrotfish, which can reach up to 1.3 metres and travels in aggregations of up to 75 individuals! Listen closely while you’re snorkelling the reef, because sometimes you can hear them before you spot them, as they ram their heads against the coral to feed.
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