Volume 5 Number 4
Princess Parrotfish on Sergeant Major Reef, Cayman Brac
Princess Parrotfish are among the most colorful of all the fish on Caribbean Reefs. This picture shows an adult Princess Parrotfish near Sergeant Major Reef just off the south shore of the west end of Cayman Brac.
This Princess Parrotfish was about 1 foot long.
Like other Parrotfish, Princess Parrotfish get their names from their beaks that look like parrots' beaks. This beak is sharp and tough, so it can scrape algae from the surface of coralheads. Algae can be a big threat to corals, and algae would take over the reef like weeds in a garden if there were no animals to eat them. Therefore, Parrotfish are very important to the reef ecosystem by helping to keep the algae in check.
Sometimes Parrotfish will use their strong beaks to scrape or break off some of the coral skeleton. It will grind up the skeleton along with the algae, using its strong teeth. But the ground-up skeleton can't be digested, and it comes out the back end of the Parrotfish as "Parrotfish poop," which we usually call sand. That's right, most of the fine white sand found on beaches throughout the Caribbean is ground up coral skeleton that came out of the back end of a Parrotfish. A fish like this one could produce over 100 pounds of sand every year!
In the background are the flowing branches of a Sea Plume coral. At the bottom of the picture are two mounds of Brain Corals (easily recognized by the grooves on the surfaces), and one mound of Star Corals (recognized by the dots on the surface). Remember, all of these corals are colonies of hundreds and thousands of animals.
Learn more about corals on the ReefNews Guide to Corals.
ReefNews photographer Jonathan Dowell took this photo using a Canon A2 camera with a 28-105 mm zoom lens in an Ikelite housing.
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