Parrotfish: Facts, Diet, Tank size & more!

Parrotfish are interesting and beautiful, but they are difficult to raise. As an aquarist, you should do thorough research to ensure your parrotfish thrive! These colorful tropical fish will spend 90% of their time eating algae off the reefs in the wild.

Their distinct beak-shaped mouth is why they got their name – the Parrotfish. Of course, as a pet owner, you have to know how to care for your fish properly. We will cover everything you need to know about caring for your Parrotfish to ensure its long and happy life!

Parrotfish Overview

There are 95 different species of Parrotfish that live and grow around reefs.

Their lifespan is about 5-7 years and can grow between 1 and 4 feet long. Parrotfish have an unusual digestive system, such as the teeth inside their throats for breaking down and digesting the coral they swallow. They break down coral bits, which when excreted, add to the white sands of the South Pacific beaches. This process is called bioerosion, as it will control the algae population. It is estimated that the Chlorurus gibbus parrotfish can excrete around 2,000 pounds of white sand every year.

Parrotfish are vibrant and colorful, although they are difficult to feed in an at-home aquarium. They originate from tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world, especially the Indo-Pacific. You can find them on rocky and coral coasts and seagrass beds, contributing to their colorful surroundings.

Parrotfish are considered fit for royalty in Polynesia and a delicacy in many parts of the world. They have a sweet taste, and their fillets are white and meaty.

They also don’t mind sharing their space with fish species of a similar size and temperament, but they are territorial towards their own kind. If you would like to add other fish to the aquarium, consider Marine Angelfish.


Most parrotfish are red, grey, or dull brown in color when young. However, they turn into a bright green with orange, yellow, and pink patches as they age. Most fish have some form of dimorphism with a clear distinction between the genders. With most types of parrotfish, it is difficult to determine gender.

Parrotfish can change their sex. Primary males are born male but remain that way throughout their life. Secondary males are born female but change to male when they sexually mature. There are a variety of different parrotfish species that come in a variety of colors and patterns:

  • Humphead Parrotfish: The humphead parrotfish can weigh up to 100 lbs and is an impressive 51 inches in length. Both the males and females are blue-green, and they get their name from the unique hump on their forehead.
  • Blue Parrotfish: This sapphire-colored parrotfish has a yellow spot on its head that will fade as it matures and grow to about 12 to 30 inches in length. You can find them in the Caribbean Sea and Western Atlantic Ocean.
  • Rainbow Parrotfish: Rainbow parrotfish have orange and green fins, and their body is a greenish-brown color and green dental plates. They weigh in at an impressive 45 lbs and 47 inches in length. These bad boys can live up to 16 years. Unfortunately, it’s not often you get to see them in their natural habitat as their numbers are declining and categorized as threatened.
  • Queen Parrotfish: Females are reddish-brown with a white stripe on each flank. They can also turn into males, while males are more prominent and can turn into a light blue-green color.

Parrotfish have 1,000 tightly compressed teeth with a beak-like mouth that allows them to scrape coral easily. They have 15 layers of teeth, and as they wear, they get replaced by another row of teeth. Parrotfish have strong jaws and powerful jaws to eat away at corals.

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Parrotfish Nutrition and Diet

Parrotfish Nutrition and Diet

The diet of parrotfish is complex, and they won’t survive long if you don’t meet their nutritional needs. Parrotfish are herbivores and use their mouths to break corals and consume algae. In fact, that’s how they spend most of their time – feeding on algae that are caked in algae. As a result, coral reefs rely on parrotfish to keep them clean and healthy.

There are three main groups of parrotfish:

  1. Excavators: They have strong jaws and leave marks on corals and rocks.
  2. Scrapers: Less powerful jaws and don’t leave marks on corals and rocks.
  3. Browsers: They mostly feed on seagrass.

The most nutritious food to buy parrotfish is algae, but they can be hard to find for aquarists, making them a difficult fish to keep in captivity. Some experts can train their fish to eat nori seaweed and shrimp, but there is a risk of death.

Tank Setup

Parrotfish require a large aquarium to survive and require the following:

  • Living conditions: Instead of using gravel, a parrotfish needs sand at the bottom of the aquarium.
  • Filtration: Since you will need a large tank, you will need a canister filter because it is powerful enough to keep the tank clean. If your tank is 200 gallons, you will need a filtration system with an 800 gallon per hour flow rate.
  • Heat: Parrotfish are tropical fish that survive in warm water at a temperature of 76-80° F.
  • pH level: The water should have a pH of 6.5 – 7.4.
  • Light: Lighting is essential for coral and plant growth. Your aquarium will need adequate lighting with natural day and night cycles.
  • Decorations: Parrotfish like plants, clay pots, and rocks for hiding places. You can also use real plants such as Dragon’s Tongue Algae or Halimeda to make them feel at home.

Water Conditions

The aquarium will need regular water changes and a good filtration system to maintain a healthy tank. High ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels will begin to develop if you don’t remove and replace the water often. The parrotfish’s health will decline and most likely die if you don’t.

People raising parrotfish should take out about 20% to 30% of the tank’s water every week, but it would need to be done more frequently if you have a smaller tank. Test the equipment because the filtration system, lighting, and heater must be working at all times.

Having parrotfish is time-consuming and will require regular maintenance and attention to ensure their health. Ensure they have a lot of corals and algae to eat and provide the most natural environment for them as you can. Check their skin and test the water so they aren’t suffering from any diseases or illnesses.

Parrotfish Protection

There are a lot of threats that coral reefs face today, such as pollution, invasive species, and climate change. Parrotfish keep seaweed under control, making it essential to restore parrotfish populations. Parrotfish prevent corals from being suffocated by seaweed, and we see this happening in the Pacific and Caribbean.

Unfortunately, bumphead parrotfish live in predictable locations to be susceptible to overfishing. Due to their populations dwindling, they are extinct in some countries, such as Guam, and there are very few parrotfish numbers in Fiji and parts of the Solomon Islands.

Final Thoughts

Parrotfish are beautiful, vibrant fish with a parrot-beak-shaped mouth that requires a lot of TLC. Their dietary needs are unique, and it takes a lot of effort to keep them alive and healthy. Parrotfish will also need a lot of space to grow, so have a decent size tank and remember to make the habitat as natural as possible with live plants and algae.

It is not recommended to keep parrotfish in captivity, but they can thrive if you follow their strict dietary and environmental needs.