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Enchanting Island Nature: the fantastic Parrotfish

One of our favorite activities on an Island Runaway -- to Caribbean islands or the Florida Keys -- is exploring the tropical reef. Usually, Zickie and I choose to snorkel. Although he's PADI certified, I am not (and have had trouble in the past with my sinuses while trying Scuba). So when it's the two of us together, along with our littlest Island Runaways' member, we stick to snorkeling, which just seems so easy: you don't need much equipment, and in some cases, you can literally wade into the water just offshore and start an amazing oceanic exploration.

Island Runaways

(A Parrotfish on the reef. Photo by Paul Asman & Jill Lenoble, Flickr.)

Have you seen those "Fishwatcher's Field Guide" cards, laminated plastic cards which identify fish with bright drawings? I have one of those tacked to my bulletin board beside my desk. Sometimes it's stuck with a magnet to our refrigerator. Over the years of staring at this thing, I've gradually learned to identify some of the reef fish. It's pretty cool to be on the reef off Key Largo or in Guadeloupe, and be able to pop my head up and say, "Hey, come look! Here's a Yellowhead wrasse!"

Some of you are already experienced divers and snorkelers, with many hours of underwater discovery to your name. Others may be newbies to the ocean's fishy secrets. We thought that since Island Nature plays such a huge role in our appreciation of islands, why not launch a new series of posts which occasionally feature a specific reef fish? Then we can all be building our knowledge of the reefs together.

Our first featured tropical friend? The Parrotfish. This brightly colored fish, with its funny-looking mouth, always thrills me when it appears from behind a seafan or outcropping of coral. While there are different species of parrotfish, the one I've seen most is the Rainbow Parrotfish, with its vibrant yellows, blues, and aqua greens.

Caribbean getaway

(The brilliant colors of the Parrotfish. Photo by Derek Keats, Flickr)

Writing this post for our blog, I came across a few curious Parrotfish facts that I want to share with you. For starters Parrotfish get their name from their densely packed teeth, that push their mouths out into a parrot-like beak. (This also makes it easy to identify them in the water!) They often nibble at algae on the reef, essentially cleaning it, and then excrete it as sand! It turns out that the very health of certain reefs depends a great deal on Parrotfish and their cleaning ability. Much of the sand you'll see on the reef comes from Parrotfish digestion. (That detail blew my mind!)

The final fact I'll share today? Most, although not all, species of Parrotfish are hermaphrodites. In their initial phase of development, they're female. Later, in their "terminal phase," they become male.

Although I've seen Parrotfish plenty of times while snorkeling, I had absolutely no idea they were so vital for reef health -- or that they change sex. Next time I slip on my mask, snorkel, and fins, I'll pay much closer attention to these colorful, intriguing creatures.

island travel blog

(A Parrotfish in Bonaire's waters. Photo by Waywuwei, Flickr.)

Have you spotted Parrotfish on your island getaways? And do you have any tropical fish you'd like to see featured on the blog? Just let us know by responding below in the comments, filling out our Guest Island Experts contact form, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We'd love to hear from you.

Hope you get to explore the beauty of tropical reefs...very soon!

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