Sparisoma virideParrotfish(Also: Stoplight Parrotfish)

Geographic Range

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)

  • Range depth
    3 to 50 m
    9.84 to 164.04 ft

Physical Description

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    1.6 (high) kg
    3.52 (high) lb
  • Range length
    100 to 600 mm
    3.94 to 23.62 in
  • Average length
    300 mm
    11.81 in


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)

  • Breeding interval
    Reports indicate that stoplight parrotfish breed daily.
  • Breeding season
    Stoplight parrotfish breed year round, with a peak during the summer.
  • Average time to hatching
    25 hours
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 years

After depositing eggs, stoplight parrotfish have no further involvement in the care of their offspring. (Bruggemann, et al., 1994; Bruggemann, et al., 1996; Choat, et al., 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


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)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 to 30 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 to 12 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years


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)

  • Range territory size
    100 to 300 m^2

Home Range

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)

Communication and Perception

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)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

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)

  • Plant Foods
  • algae


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)

  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

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)

Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

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.


Atlantic Ocean

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.

World Map


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.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

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).

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

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

external fertilization

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.

indeterminate growth

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

native range

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.

saltwater or marine

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.


lives alone


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

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Hawaii Cooperative Fishery Research Unit. Biology of Parrotfish in Hawaii. Final Report. Honolulu, Hawaii: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. 2008. Accessed June 20, 2013 at

Oceana. 2012. "Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia: Queen Parrotfish Scarus vetula" (On-line). Oceana. Accessed May 09, 2013 at

United States Department of the Interior. Scientists-in-the-Sea. 1. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. 1971.

Florent Charpin. 2013. "Stoplight parrotfish" (On-line image). Florent's Guide to the Florida, Bahamas & Caribbean Reefs. Accessed June 02, 2013 at

Aizpuru, G. 2013. "Stoplight parrotfish" (On-line). Project Noah. Accessed June 20, 2013 at

Alwany, M., E. Thaler, M. Stachowitsch. 2009. Parrotfish bioerosion on Egyptian Red Sea reefs. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 371/2: 170-176. Accessed April 15, 2013 at

Bailly, N. 2013. "Sparisoma viride (Bonnaterre, 1788)" (On-line). World Register of Marine Species. Accessed June 20, 2013 at

Bester, C. 2010. "Biological Profiles: Stoplight Parrotfish" (On-line). Ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed April 04, 2013 at

Bond, C. 1996. Biology of Fishes, 2nd Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Bruggemann, J., A. van Kessel, J. van Rooij, A. Breeman. 1996. Bioerosion and sediment ingestion by the Caribbean parrotfish Scarus vetula and Sparisoma viride: implications of fish size, feeding mode, and habitat use. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 134: 59-71. Accessed March 25, 2013 at

Bruggemann, J., J. Begeman, E. Bosma, P. Verburg, A. Breeman. 1994. Foraging by the stoplight parrotfish Sparisoma viride. II. Intake and assimilation of food, protein, and energy. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 106: 57-71. Accessed March 27, 2013 at

Bullard, S., E. Williams Jr., L. Bunkley-Williams. 2012. New genus and species of fish blood fluke (Digenea: Aporocotylidae Odhner, 1912) from Stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride (Bonnaterre, 1788), (Labridae: Scarinae) in the Caribbean Sea. Journal of Parasitology, 98/6: 1139-1143. Accessed June 20, 2013 at

Choat, J., D. Robertson, J. Ackerman, J. Posada. 2003. An age-based demographic analysis of the Caribbean stoplight parrotfish Sparisoma viride. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 246: 265-277. Accessed March 27, 2013 at

Cutler, J. 2012. "Coral Reef Zonation" (On-line). The Encyclopedia of Earth. Accessed April 06, 2013 at

Friedman, M., L. Fleming, M. Fernandez, P. Bienfang, K. Schrank, R. Dickey, M. Bottein, L. Backer, R. Ayyar, R. Weisman, S. Watkins, R. Granade, A. Reich. 2008. Ciguatera Fish Poisoning: Treatment, Prevention, and Management. Marine Drugs, 6/3: 456-479. Accessed April 06, 2013 at

Glynn, P. 1997. Bioerosion and Coral Reef Growth: A Dynamic Balance. Pp. 68-95 in C Birkeland, ed. Life and Death of Coral Reefs. New York: Chapman and Hall.

Luna, S., K. Kesner-Reyes. 2012. "Sparisoma viride: Stoplight parrotfish" (On-line). Fishbase. Accessed June 18, 2013 at

Mumby, P., C. Wabnitz. 2002. Spatial patterns of aggression, territory size, and harem size in five sympatric Caribbean parrotfish species. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 63: 265-279. Accessed June 20, 2013 at

Rocha, L., J. Choat, K. Clements, B. Russell, R. Myers, M. Lazuardi, A. Muljadi, S. Pardede, P. Rahardjo. 2012. "Sparisoma viride" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed May 09, 2013 at

Tolimieri, N. 1998. The relationship among microhabitat characteristics, recruitment, and adult abundance in the stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride, at three spatial scales. Bulletin of Marine Science, 62/1: 253-268. Accessed March 25, 2013 at