Have you ever wondered where sand comes from? You might think that sand is worn-down pieces of rock and shell. Or you might even believe that sand has always been present on the earth.
Though this is somewhat true, one of the major contributors to sand is marine parrotfish. These tropical fish munch away on coral reefs and expel sand in return!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about parrotfish and how this process from reef to sand happens!
Bolbometopon muricatum is a saltwater fish commonly known as the green bumphead parrotfish. Other names include green parrotfish, bumphead parrotfish, green humphead parrotfish, buffalo parrotfish, and giant parrotfish.
While other parrotfish have predominantly green colors, the green bumphead is the one that is mentioned most. The bumphead portion of their name comes from the pronounced nuchal bump at the top of their heads.
Parrotfish, in general, get their name from their frequently large, protruding beak that they use to eat hard species of corals and other calcareous invertebrates.
The green bumphead parrotfish is the largest species of parrotfish among nearly 100 species within the Scaridae family. Bumpheads are also one of the largest herbivorous fish to inhabit coral reef ecosystems in the shallow waters of tropical oceans.
Wild populations of these tropical fish are decreasing, and they have been listed as a vulnerable species according to the IUCN Red List. This decrease is mainly due to overfishing, though the loss of coral reef habitat also potentially affects numbers.
It should also be noted that many coastal and island nations heavily rely on the vulnerable bumphead parrotfish for food.
The green bumphead parrotfish is found in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Juveniles spend their time in sheltered lagoons until they are ready to move to shallow outer lagoon reefs.
These marine fish usually travel in small groups, picking the reef clean and feeding off crustaceans, corals, and algae covering the reef. Interestingly, they will use their bumped heads to make feeding easier, possibly ramming their head against corals to help break them into smaller pieces.
They retreat to dedicated sleeping areas among the rockwork or other structures at night.
The green bumphead parrotfish is very easy to identify. Not only are these fish huge, but their unmistakable bump makes them stick out from other coral reef species.
Colorful adult fish grow to a massive size of 52 inches (132.1 cm) and can weigh over 100 pounds (45.4 kg).
These amazing fish have a very noticeable nuchal hump at the front of their face and a protruding beak; both mature males and females appear the same, though primary males might be slightly larger and more colorful.
Otherwise, these large fish are murky green and have noticeable scales.
How do parrotfish make sand?
What goes in must come out.
While parrotfish don’t intentionally process sand, the corals and rocky reefs they pick at get mixed up in their diet. As the fish digests, the fleshy parts of coral and algae are absorbed by the body, leaving calcium carbonate and other hard structures to be excreted.
This, in turn, gives Hawaii its pure white beaches.
Though wild populations of green bumphead parrotfish are decreasing, there is some worry about the impact these incredible fish have on declining coral reef ecosystems. Corals take years to grow, and parrotfish could be consuming too many in too little time.
Can you keep parrotfish in the aquarium?
While you might not be able to keep the largest parrotfish, the green bumphead parrotfish, in your home aquarium, you can certainly go to visit them at your local aquariums.
Green bumphead parrots are also a very common sight on the coral reef if you ever decide to go scuba diving in their native waters.
But what about the other 100 different species of parrotfish? There must be some that can fit into your home display.
Actually, there are! Quite a few, though most need larger setups.
Princess parrotfish (Scarus taeniopterus)
The princess parrotfish, also oddly known as the Sammy Johnson parrotfish, is a large, attractive fish. These fish are rainbow-colored with pastel pinks, yellows, greens, and blues.
Though these colorful fish can be kept in the home aquarium, they can still grow to be about two feet (61 cm) long. Because of their maximum size, they need a community aquarium setup of 125 gallons (473 L).
Quoy’s parrotfish (Scarus quoyi)
Quoy’s parrotfish have extremely vibrant colors of purples and greens. They can grow to be 16 inches (40.6 cm) long.
Since these fish are even larger than princess parrots, a 200 gallon (757 L) or larger tank is recommended; this tank should also be mature with plenty of algae for your fish to graze on.
In the freshwater hobby, there is another popular aquarium fish known as the parrotfish, or more specifically, the blood parrot.
These fish are not related to true parrotfish and are actually a type of hybrid cichlid. Blood parrots are named after their bright orangey-red colors and compact size, which allow them to live comfortably in smaller tanks than their saltwater counterparts.
Blood parrots typically grow to be about 8 inches (20.3 cm) long and need 55 gallons (208.2 L) of water. They can be semi-aggressive, so some consideration needs to be given while stocking.
The next time you step on white sand, make sure to keep the parrotfish in mind. The green bumphead parrotfish is the largest of this group and can process hundreds of pounds of sand throughout its lifetime.
Unfortunately, these colorful fish cannot be kept in the home aquarium due to their immense size.
If you have any questions about the green bumphead parrotfish, other parrotfish species, or have seen these fish in the wild on a dive, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!