parrotfish, common name for a member of the large family Scaridae, colorful reef fishes of warm seas, resembling the wrasses but of a larger size. Parrotfishes, also called pollyfishes, are so named for their powerful cutting-edged beaks, formed of fused incisorlike jaw teeth. With these they scrape from the surface of coral, algae, polyps, and other small plant and animal life upon which they feed. Parrotfishes also have a set of grinding teeth, located in the throat in front of the esophagus, with which they further break up their food to prepare it for the action of digestive enzymes. Common in Florida waters are the rainbow parrotfish, Scarus guacamaia, the largest (up to 3 ft/91 cm) of the family; the red and blue parrotfishes; and the oldwife. Parrotfishes are not valued in the United States as food except in Hawaii, where they are very popular and were once taboo (to be touched only by royalty). Parrotfishes occasionally cause a nervous reaction in humans, fatal to a small percentage of consumers; such fish poisoning is inexplicably caused by over 300 other species. Parrotfishes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Scaridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.