Stoplight parrotfish are commonly found in the tropical western Atlantic Ocean from Bermuda to Brazil, including along the coasts of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea (34°N-6°S, 36-100°W). (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1996; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012)
Stoplight parrotfish live on reefs, depending on the shelter, protection, and nutrition that densely packed coral provides. In particular, the 1-2 cm wide tubes of branched finger coral (Porites porites) provide shelter and protection as well as a food source (algae) to juveniles. Young may also be found in seagrass beds. Adults often reside in shallower waters, usually over reef bases. These fish are most commonly found in clear waters at depths of 3-50 m. These habitats are characterized by coral species such as staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), and boulder star coral (Montastrea annularis). Population density tends to be greater in offshore reefs than inshore reefs, possibly due to increased fishing pressures inshore. (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Choat, et al., 2003; Cutler, 2012; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012; Tolimieri, 1998)
These fish range in length from 300-600 mm (10-24 in) and may continue to grow as they age; initial phase females range in size from 100-367 mm and terminal phase males are much larger, reaching lengths of over 600 mm. Average weight is approximately 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs). Stoplight parrotfish have strong, beaklike jaws formed by fused teeth; their bottom teeth fit inside their top teeth. They also have plate-like pharyngeal teeth. These fish have 9 dorsal spines, 10 soft dorsal rays, 3 anal spines, and 9 soft anal rays. (Bester, 2010; "Stoplight parrotfish", 2013; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012)
Coloration varies with age and sex. Juveniles have reddish brown and black scales, with three rows of white spots along their sides and a vertical white bar on the caudal fin. Their bellies are pale red. Adult females and primary males retain the reddish brown scales and are mottled with white, but no longer have white spots in distinct rows. Their bellies are bright red. Scales of females and juveniles are outlined in gray. Secondary males (fish born as females which but develop into males) lose this coloration, becoming green with diagonal orange bands on the head, yellow spots above and slightly behind the gill openings as well as at the base of the caudal fin, and a sickle-shaped yellowish-orange mark at the end of the caudal fin. (Bester, 2010; "Stoplight parrotfish", 2013; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012)
Eggs are released and fertilized externally during spawning, in deep water reef areas. Eggs are approximately 1 mm in diameter and are negatively buoyant. Larvae, typically 1.4 mm long, hatch 25 hours after fertilization. Upon hatching, larvae have no eyes, coloring, or mouths. Within three days of hatching, a mouth appears; little else is known regarding development at this stage. ("Biology of Parrotfish in Hawaii", 2008; Bester, 2010)
Juveniles of both sexes are not dimorphic; following a post-settlement period, they enter their initial phase. The majority of juveniles are female. Once reaching sexual maturity, some individuals may enter terminal phase; these fish are always male (sometimes known as secondary males or super males) and exhibit the blue-green coloration described above. Individuals that were born as males (known as primary males) will remain males into their terminal stage. Sex changes often occur when population numbers are low, and only involve females becoming males. Most growth and development occurs within the first four years of life; fish will continue to grow throughout their lives, but generally reach a size of 300-500 mm (roughly 10-20 in) at their terminal stage, though larger individuals have been recorded. ("Biology of Parrotfish in Hawaii", 2008; Bester, 2010; Choat, et al., 2003)
Stoplight parrotfish spawn year round in deep water reef areas. Secondary males mate individually with a female partner, while smaller primary males will mate in groups, with multiple males to one female. Secondary males also defend and maintain harems of multiple females (typically 3-7). (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Mumby and Wabnitz, 2002)
Stoplight parrotfish reach sexual maturity by the age of four. Secondary males may reproduce as females before changing sex. Primary males will often mate in groups with one female, while secondary males will reserve females as their own to mate with. Secondary males maintain and defend a harem of multiple (usually 3-7) females, mating with them daily. Breeding occurs year round, more often during summer months. Fish travel from shallower reef waters to deeper areas to release eggs, where they are subject to less mechanical stress from water currents. After hatching, juvenile fish return to shallower reef areas. (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Bruggemann, et al., 1996; Choat, et al., 2003; Glynn, 1997; Mumby and Wabnitz, 2002)
Data collected using otoliths and fish size measurements have shown the average age of fish collected to be 7-9 years. However, visual censuses have recorded individuals as old as 15-20 years, with a maximum age of 30 years. Commercial fishing activities and reef degradation contribute to more conservative expected lifespan estimates of this species, however. (Choat, et al., 2003)
Stoplight parrotfish inhabit all portions of a reef, but they are most abundant at shallow reef bases and slopes. Most parrotfish live alone or in small groups. The majority of observed aggressive behaviors have been with other spotlight parrotfish, rather than with other species. These fish use their pectoral fins for vertical locomotion and their caudal fins for quick bursts of speed. Foraging occurs throughout the day, year-round, for an average of 12 hours a day; the most activity occurs at the height of the afternoon during the summer months (up to 14 hours a day), while activity during winter months decreases (to about 10 hours a day). Stoplight parrotfish sleep on the bottom at night. (Alwany, et al., 2009; Bester, 2010; Cutler, 2012; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012; Mumby and Wabnitz, 2002; Tolimieri, 1998)
Stoplight parrotfish maintain medium-sized territories (approximately 100-300 m^2) and have an average daily feeding range of 50-800 m^2. (Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Mumby and Wabnitz, 2002; Tolimieri, 1998)
Stoplight parrotfish are able to identify potential mates by their color. Like most other fish species, they also possess a lateral line to detect vibrations in the water, a well-developed inner ear for the detection of sounds, and olfactory receptors located in two pairs of nares, found on the head. (Bester, 2010; Bond, 1996; "Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia: Queen Parrotfish Scarus vetula", 2012)
These fish forage on live and dead coral, and occasionally on detritus. Rather than feeding by scraping corals, stoplight parrotfish excavate coral skeletons, creating deep holes using their strong jaws and regenerative teeth. While they appear to be feeding on the coral itself, the polyps (and their mutualistic photosynthetic zooxanthellae) that exist within the coral skeleton are what actually provides nutrients to the fish. After boring into the coral with fused, plate-like teeth (which resemble a beak), the fish use the pharyngeal teeth located at the back of the throat to grind the coral. Algal nutrients are obtained and the crushed coral debris is deposited as a sand-like waste. Preferred food sources include branched corals, such as elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), boulder star coral (Montastrea annularis), and finger coral (Poritus porites). (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1994)
Stoplight parrotfish are fished by humans as a food source and hunted by carnivorous fish including snappers, jacks, and moray eels. Little is known about this species' defense mechanisms against such predators. Other species of parrotfish are known to react when threatened, however. For example, queen parrotfish (Scarus vetula) may spread their fins and attempt to chase away or bite other threatening fish. Several species of parrotfish are also known to encase themselves in a self-secreted, mucous-like bubble while sleeping, masking their scent from predators. ("Scientists-in-the-Sea", 1971; Bester, 2010; Luna and Kesner-Reyes, 2012; "Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia: Queen Parrotfish Scarus vetula", 2012)
Stoplight parrotfish are external bioeroders, regulating and maintaining coral reef habitat. Their biting, scraping, and excreting of coralline algae and coral debris recycles the materials needed for new coral production. Bioerosion can be potentially detrimental to reefs in areas where erosion exceeds construction (such as in nutrient rich waters created by runoff or warm, active waters); however, the activity of parrotfish is generally beneficial. Stoplight parrotfish also create habitat for smaller organisms within the coral, increasing reef diversity and productive biomass. Moderate mechanical interference by parrotfish and other bioeroders can also aid in coral reproduction, weakening the coral just enough so that other bioeroding processes can break off fragments, which propagate the reef. (Bester, 2010; Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Bruggemann, et al., 1996; Choat, et al., 2003; Glynn, 1997)
Stoplight parrotfish are known hosts to a number of ecto and endoparasites. They may be attended to by cleaner fishes, such as wrasse; this relationship benefits both animals, as parasites are removed from one fish and consumed by the other. (Aizpuru, 2013; Bailly, 2013; Bullard, et al., 2012)
Due to their vibrant coloration, stoplight parrotfish can often be found in public aquaria. They are also fished as a food source. Their contribution to, and regulation of, coral communities is indirectly vital to humans who utilize other reef organisms as food sources. (Bester, 2010; Glynn, 1997)
These and other reef fish may ingest toxin-containing algae of the dinoflagellate genus Gambierdiscus, often found in subtropical and tropical coral reefs. By ingesting contaminated fish, humans may contract ciguatera poisoning. Exposure is usually not fatal, but symptoms include gastrointestinal (diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea), cardiovascular (hypotension, bradycardia), and neurological (fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and numbness or tingling of extremities) distress. (Friedman, et al., 2008)
This species is not considered to be in danger of becoming threatened or extinct and is listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. (Rocha, et al., 2012)
Christopher Kane (author), Sierra College, Jennifer Skillen (editor), Sierra College, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals
particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
fertilization takes place outside the female's body
union of egg and spermatozoan
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).
having more than one female as a mate at one time
condition of hermaphroditic animals (and plants) in which the female organs and their products appear before the male organs and their products
structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.
mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
breeding takes place throughout the year
animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)
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