Parrotfish Hotel

Midnight Parrotfish gather at dusk
From the book, Reef Fish Behavior, Midnight Parrotfish gather at dusk

Last evening I participated in an awesome REEF Fishinar, entitled “Perplexing Parrotfish.” These free online classes, taught by REEF instructors, range from basic fish identification to more advanced topics like cryptic Caribbean species. The class inspired me to pull up some footage from an interesting parrotfish observation that we saw in Bimini in 1995, then again in 2008 in Key Largo. In a previous post I described wrasses diving into the sand at dusk to bed down for the night. That same summer, we witnessed a large group of parrotfishes that took bedtime to a completely new level.

Midnight Parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus) and Rainbow Parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia) are different in color and size but they were once considered to be the same species because they share other significant anatomical similarities. In Key Largo, we sometimes see groups of small Midnight Parrotfish together, but in most of their range, we only see solitary, larger fish. Same goes for the Rainbow Parrotfish. Moreover, I don’t think we have ever seen the two species together, except at dusk in Bimini and Key Largo.

Bimini, June 1995 – We were trying to squeeze in as much as possible into the last 3 days of our extended summer stay – days were planned around dusk dives, which were particularly productive. The visibility at South Turtle Rocks was at least 200 feet in the late afternoon sun, so I felt confident wandering away from the mooring to follow a pair of courting angelfish. By the time I headed back, the visibility had dropped significantly, and it wasn’t just because of the setting sun. Parrotfishes, more than a hundred Midnights and Rainbows, had gathered and were chasing and doing what parrotfish do: excreting long plumes of…well the only way to say it is… poop. This lasted until dark, when they all settled under ledges for the night. We returned two more evenings for the spectacle and described it our book, Reef Fish Behavior, but during the next few years, never managed to get back to that site at dusk, so I always wondered if it was still an event.

Key Largo, May 2008 – During Amoray’s Fish and Critter Hunt, we requested a shallow site to make back-to-back dusk and night dives; Amy suggested the Benwood wreck – easy to navigate and very fishy. We have dived and surveyed this site many times, but never at dusk, so we were unprepared for the hundreds of Midnight and Rainbow parrots that swooped in right as the sun set. On the night dive, we found them all tucked into their sleeping spots for the night. How cool to see it again in another region, thirteen years later! Click here or on the video below to see the video from 1995 and 2008: