The Ember Parrotfish (Scarus rubroviolaceus) is also known as the Redlip Parrotfish and Bicolor Parrotfish. Parrotfish obtain their name from their teeth which are fused into a beak.
Within the various species of Parrotfish which are part of the Labridae family there is considerable divergence in looks between the juveniles and the adults and some females based on social cues change into so called Supermales which are very colorful. Additionally there are regional variations in looks which combined with their ability to change their colours particularly at night creates a large amount of confusion as to which is which. The specimen above is in its night colors which differ dramatically from the daytime colors.
This species common name comes from the initial phase females which are more common than the males and resemble a burning ember and which have red lips hence their two common names. In Tanzania we have not seen a specimen with a bicolor pattern.
Most species have been described on multiple occasions in various areas with this species having been described on eleven occasions by different scientists in different parts of the world. It can often be exceedingly difficult to determine which species is which and which species the specimen belongs to.
In Tanzania the small juveniles start out as above , being a white color with three darker brown stripes across the body. As they age so they darken and the mouth area starts going red which can be seen below.
From this stage the body darkens and the lips go red as seen below. The red extends from the facial area down onto the belly. The scales are large and the upper body is a mix of green brown, black and off white. The caudal area thickens and the caudal fin is square. Note the eight white dots from the mid body to the caudal area.
From this stage onwards at around 31 cm they become sexually mature and are Initial phase females. As they age so the head enlarges and changes shape, growing outwards forming a distinctive bump on the nose. Note this specimen still has lines of white dots on the rear body.
As they grow so the body darkens with the red becoming more prominent and the nose area enlarges as seen below.
Larger more dominant females change into males which are large extremely attractive fish growing to some 70 cm in length. The change can occur from 46 cm on wards but not all females change. In Tanzania the body is blue with purple lines between scales, purple on the pectorals, anal and dorsal fins. The caudal fin develops long trailing filaments and the mouth area is blue as are the teeth. There are considerable color variations across their range and genetic studies seem to indicate four major genetic groupings.
EMBER PARROTFISH IN THE WILD
As a juvenile the Ember parrotfish often feeds on the shallower reefs at around 10 to 15 meters with groups of Rabbitfish , Goatfish, Wrasse and smaller Surgeonfish. They are not rare at this stage but neither are they common. Occasionally the juveniles are seen in small loose shoals. As they mature so the larger fish seem to go to the deeper reefs and we only see the larger specimens from twenty meters downwards.
The females sometimes seem to be in small groups and there is often a male nearby. The deepest we have seen them is around 30 meters off Mafia Island, Tanzania. Unusually at night we have seen larger specimens sleeping in the corals at around 12 to 15 meters but we never see them at these depths during the day.
The Ember Parrotfish is found across the Indian Ocean from East Africa and the Red Sea across into the Pacific as far south and east as the Great Barrier Reef excluding Rapa and the Austral Islands but including Hawaii. They are found as far north as the Ryuku Islands south of Japan and east to the Gulf of California and the Galapagos Islands.
The Ember Parrotfish feed on a variety of filamentous algae which is scraped off dead coral using their powerful beaks. These scrapings which are mainly comprised of inorganic matter are further ground down by bony teeth plates and then go into a long specialized alimentary canal where nutrients are extracted. The inorganic matter is expelled as fine sand.
Parrotfish are unusual in that they have the ability to change their sex throughout their lifetime. At birth both males and females are present and these are referred to as primary males and females. The primary males and females are less colorful and are often difficult to tell apart. Secondary males are born female and change their sex when prompted by social cues such as the absence of another secondary male. These secondary males are often referred to as Supermales because of the brightness of their colors.
Individual pairing takes place and the eggs are released into the substrate. Interestingly in a genetic study done in the Philippines in three different areas full siblings and half siblings were found at sites more than 500 km apart. This indicates that the eggs or larvae are widely distributed by the currents.
Ember Parrotfish are not commonly kept in aquariums although some public aquariums may occasionally keep them for public display. This is both a function of their size and the difficulty in providing them with food.
All the Parrotfish are heavily exploited in Tanzania both by trapping and netting. Parrotfish carry a heavy premium on price, particularly the blue parrotfish. They make very good eating as a rule.
EMBER PARROTFISH CLASSIFICATION
Species: S. rubroviolaceus
- The Reef Guide: Southern Africa’s East and South Coasts