parrotfish, common name for a member of a large group of colorful reef fishes of warm seas, resembling the wrasses but of a larger size. Long considered a separate family, Scaridae, they are now grouped as a subfamily, Scarinae, of Labridae (the wrasse family) by some authorities. 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 queen parrotfish, or 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 illness in humans, fatal to a small percentage of consumers. Known as ciguatera, it is caused by eating fish that have ciguatoxins, acquired as a result of feeding on dinoflagellates or on fish that have fed on them. Many reef fish species, especially larger fish, can cause such poisoning. Parrotfishes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Actinopterygii, order Perciformes, family Scaridae or family Labridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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