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Scarus
Sparisoma
Cryptotomus
Nicholsina
The parrotfishes are abundant around Caribbean coral reefs, especially in beds of seagrass or macroalgae. They are typically the predominant vertebrate herbivores on and off of the reef. The taxonomy of scarids in the region is relatively simple: there are four genera, but virtually all of the species belong to two large genera Scarus and Sparisoma. The two remaining species comprise the monotypic Cryptotomus roseus and Nicholsina usta, the latter with a sibling species in the eastern Pacific.
 
Larval scarids share most of their basic features with their labrid relatives, such as long and continuous dorsal and anal fins with slender spines, a relatively wide caudal peduncle, stub-like pelvic fins, a pointed snout and small terminal mouth, typically light markings and no spines on the head. They can be separated from larval labrids by having a row of melanophores along or beneath the base of the anal fin, typically extending into the caudal peduncle. A number of similar-appearing families share the anal-fin row of melanophores, but have many more dorsal and anal-fin elements, usually twice as many in larval labrisomids, chaenopsids, tripterygiids, and dactyloscopids. The latter group of larvae also have narrower caudal peduncles, larger mouths, long pelvic fins, and the anal-fin row of melanophores is right at the base of the fin rays and not deep as in the parrotfishes.
 
The parrotfish family is remarkably uniform in many aspects and all species share the invariant fin-ray count of D-IX,10 A-III,9. Given the morphological and meristic consistency of the family, especially within the two large genera, DNA-sequence analyses are required for identifications to the species level.
 
Pre-transitional scarid larvae can have eyes that are a narrowed vertical oval, often markedly so. This character is shared by larval razorfishes of Xyrichtys and some larval gobies. The eye becomes fully round in larval scarids just before the onset of transitional markings.
Scarus
Diagnosis: Fin-ray counts of D-IX,10 A-III,9 are shared by all Caribbean parrotfishes, however a mode of 14-16 pectoral-fin rays indicates Scarus. The remaining parrotfishes Sparisoma, Cryptotomus roseus, and Nicholsina usta all have 13 pectoral-fin rays, while the similar-appearing wrasse Doratonotus megalepis shares the median-fin-ray count but has only 11-12 pectoral-fin rays. There are six Caribbean Scarus species, with some slight separation by pectoral-fin-ray count: Scarus iseri and S. taeniopterus have 13-14 pectoral-fin rays (modal 14), S. vetula has 14, rarely 15, S. coeruleus usually has 15, and S. guacamaia and S. coelestinus have 16 pectoral-fin rays. Separating the larvae of those species with overlapping pectoral-fin ray counts requires DNA sequencing. Scarus iseri (often mistakenly cited as Scarus iserti) vastly outnumbers the other species at most Caribbean locations.
Analogues: Wider-bodied Scarus larvae can resemble larval Doratonotus megalepis, but the latter do not have the row of melanophores along the base of the anal fin. Transitional Scarus larvae lose their anal-fin base melanophores, and then the two taxa can be separated by the pattern of transitional melanophores on the head.
Description: Body relatively thin, typically long and narrow with a large eye and a terminal small mouth (some individuals are more wide-bodied and leaf-shaped and are presumably approaching transition). Pectoral fins short and pelvic fins stubs in pre-transitional larvae. Dorsal and anal-fin bases relatively long, caudal peduncle short and relatively wide. Lightly marked; an irregular row of up to 12 melanophores along or beneath the base of the anal fin extending into the caudal peduncle. There is marked variability in the line-up of this row of melanophores. The typical pattern for the first seven melanophores is the first three after the vent are deep in the body and not along the base of the anal-fin rays and the next four are located at the base of the fin rays and can be expanded and appear larger than the rest (i.e. 3+4, sometimes 4+3). The next in the row is usually well above the fin base and the then last four are in a row starting near the base of the last anal-fin ray slanting up into the caudal peduncle musculature. Many individuals are missing some of the row of melanophores, some show as few as five. There is a variable row (from none to 10, occasionally 20 or more) of tiny melanophores along the dorsal midline of the caudal peduncle (often can be slightly offset and variably paired), starting just behind the base of the last dorsal-fin ray. Melanophores occur internally around the gut near the vent and often there is an additional melanophore around the gut well above the vent along the posterior peritoneum. Series of transitional larvae show development of the eye from a narrowed vertical oval, usually tilted forward with a sometimes marked posterior-inferior extension of the iris, to large and round with a relatively small pupil at transition. Many pre-transitional larvae have a ventral indentation in the iris, sometimes with a dorsal indentation as well, and rare individuals have the narrowed eyes clearly tilted backward. Some transitional individuals develop a particularly bulbous eyeball with a tiny pupil. Transitional larvae develop a scattering of tiny melanophores on the top of the head along with a bar of iridophores slanting upward from the back of the eye and in a stripe from the eye to the pectoral fin base. On the body, large leukophores develop along the base of the dorsal and anal fins and three leukophore patches appear at the base of the upper, mid, and lower segmented caudal fin rays. The larval row of melanophores along the anal-finbase disappears. Transitional recruits develop additional melanophores densely covering the top of the braincase and a scattering on the snout and along the upper jaw and a stripe angling upward from the rear of the eye. Additional melanophores develop in two dense stripes along the body, wider below the lateral midline than above. Stripes develop later along the base of the dorsal and anal fins.
Scarus iseri larva
6.7 mm SL
note narrowed eye and wide body
San Blas, Panama, SB86-506
larval parrotfish
  larval parrotfishes
Scarus iseri larva
6.3 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB86-1103
larval scarus
Scarus iseri larva
6.2 mm SL
note iris indentation and wide body
San Blas, Panama, SB87-201
larval Scarus iseri
Scarus iseri larvae
6.5 and 6.3 mm SL
note variant above with narrow eye
tilted backwards, variation in anal fin
base melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB87-201
larval parrotfishes
  parrotfish early life history
  parrotfish larval stages
Scarus iseri larva
6.7 mm SL
missing many melanophores in anal-finrow
San Blas, Panama, SB81-002
larval Scarus iserti
Scarus iseri early transitional larva
6.8 mm SL
fully-round eye before transitional markings
San Blas, Panama, SB86-516
larval parrotfish
Scarus iseri larva
6.9 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB86-516
parrotfish recruitment
Scarus iseri larva
7.0 mm SL
variant with numerous paired
melanophores on caudal peduncle
San Blas, Panama, SB86-808
larval Scaridae
Scarus iseri transitional larva
6.9 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-001
transitional parrotfish larvae
  parrotfish reef fishes
Scarus sp. transitional recruit
6.9 mm SL
anterior body melanophores contracted
Barbados 81104, Henri Valles
juvenile Scarus
  parrotfish settlement
Scarus iseri transitional larva
6.9 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-001
replenishment parrotfish
  Sparisoma
 
 
Diagnosis: Fin-ray counts of D-IX,10 A-III,9 are shared by all Caribbean parrotfishes, however pectoral-fin ray counts divide parrotfishes into two groups: Sparisoma, Cryptotomus roseus, and Nicholsina usta all have 13 pectoral-fin rays, while Scarus have a mode of 14-16 pectoral-fin rays (the wrasse Doratonotus megalepis also shares the median-fin ray count but has only 11-12 pectoral-fin rays). The larvae of the seven Caribbean species of the genus Sparisoma (S. atomarium, S. aurofrenatum, S. chrysopterum, S. radians, S. rubripinne, and S. viride; with S. griseorubra in Venezuela) are likely indistinguishable from each other and separation requires DNA sequencing. Cryptotomus roseus can be excluded since its larvae appear to be missing the characteristic lateral melanophore on the body on each side just above the pelvic-fin insertion. Species differences that occur after transition are noted in the individual species descriptions that follow. Larval Nicholsina usta cannot be excluded from the type until those larvae are identified (adults of the species are not found at the collection site in Panama). (R)
Note: the colors, patterns, and markings of juvenile Sparisoma are remarkably variable and changeable with habitat and mood, indeed juveniles can change from blotchy to striped to bars to uniformly green as one observes them in the field. Background color varies widely from reddish to salmon to yellow to green. Overall, juvenile Sparisoma show variations in degree of the same general pattern of blotches and body stripes (which often break up into spots) that are characteristic of the genus. Nevertheless, there are some diagnostic markings in small juveniles that can help to separate the species. DNA sequencing is underway at present to identify the species-specific features of juvenile markings in this genus.
Analogues:
Description: Body relatively thin, long and narrow with a large eye and a terminal small mouth. Pectoral fins short and pelvic fins usually stubs. Dorsal and anal-finbases relatively long, caudal peduncle short and somewhat narrow. Melanophores consist of one on the body on each side just above the pelvic-fin insertion, internally around the gut near the vent, and in a row of 13 discrete round melanophores along or often below the base of the anal-fin and extending into the caudal peduncle (some larvae have only 12, missing the first in the series). The melanophores in the row after the last anal-fin ray are not at the ventral midline but well into the caudal peduncle musculature. Series of transitional larvae show development of the eye from a narrowed vertical oval tilted forward (sometimes backwards or no tilt) with a small posterior-inferior extension of the iris to larger and round with a smaller pupil at and after transition (eye usually becomes fully round just before transitional markings appear). Many pre-transitional larvae have a marked ventral indentation in the iris. A small fraction of larval collections show individuals with head and eye abnormalities including exophthalmos and a pronounced bulbous head. It is unclear whether these are artifacts of collection or true abnormalities. Some transitional larvae first develop two prominent leukophore patches above and below the midline at the base of the segmented caudal fin rays and then the anal-fin row of melanophores start to disappear. Others acquire melanophores first, typically around the eye and on the first dorsal and anal-fin elements and the pelvic fin. Early transitional larvae or recruits develop tiny leukophores along the first dorsal spines and then in patches spaced along the base of some dorsal and anal-fin rays. A central patch of leukophores starts to develop on the base of the caudal fin rays and then variably coalesces with the upper and lower patches into a white bar. Surface melanophores appear scattered over the top of the head and anterior upper body and often in patches along the base of the anal-fin rays (these patches of tiny surface melanophores are distinct from the large larval melanophores). Melanophores also develop along the first dorsal spines and the proximal pelvic-fin rays with leukophores on the more distal portions of the spines and rays. Mid-transitional larvae or recruits continue to develop a bar of melanophores below the front of the eyeball and a stripe forward of the eye which branches down to the middle of the lower jaw and up across the mid-upper jaw to the tip of the lower jaw. Melanophores develop in two upward-angled stripes from the top and rear of the eyeball and a downward-angled stripe develops rearward from the eye across the cheek. A stripe of iridophores develops slanting upward from the back of the eye and in a stripe slanting down across the cheek just above the melanophore stripe. Melanophores continue to develop in discrete patches along the base of the dorsal fin and intensify along the base of the anal fin. Markings on the body develop from anterior to posterior, particularly along the lateral midline. The characteristic larval melanophore over the pelvic-fin insertion is lost. Late transitional recruits show a variety of patterning on the lateral body, mostly in irregular patches and bars but with variants showing 1) additional fine melanophores outlining myomeres, 2) a uniform spotting of small melanophores (S. viride only ?), or 3) an irregular mid-lateral stripe. There appear to be few consistent differences in this pattern among species until the juvenile stage (about 12 to 14 mm SL) when some distinctions start to develop. Sparisoma recruits are notable for expanding first in body depth and girth for the first two weeks or so after settlement and then beginning to increase in length.
Sparisoma sp. larva
9.3 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB84-522
 
Sparisoma sp. larva
9.2 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB86-825
Sparisoma sp. larva
9.9 mm SL
characteristic rear melanophore pattern
San Blas, Panama, SB86-413
Sparisoma sp. larva
9.1 mm SL
narrowed eye, DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB86-825
Sparisoma sp. larva
8.7 mm SL
iris extension, DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB82-020
Sparisoma sp. larva
9.1 mm SL
round eye before any transitional markings
San Blas, Panama, SB87-117
Sparisoma sp. transitional larva
9.3 mm SL
loss of some anal row melanophores
DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB86-422
 
Sparisoma sp. early transitional larva
9.9 mm SL
eye already round with a small pupil
DNA ID pending
Barbados 100802, Henri Valles
Sparisoma sp. transitional larva
9.8 mm SL
head and fin melanophores developing
DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB81-037
Sparisoma sp. transitional larva
9.9 mm SL
head and fin melanophores developing
DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB86-506
Sparisoma sp. late transitional larva
10.0 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-002
Sparisoma sp. early transitional recruit
9.2 mm SL
mostly leukophores, a fine scattering of
anterior and head melanophores
DNA ID pending
Barbados 81104, Henri Valles
Sparisoma viride early transitional recruit
9.9 mm SL
lightly marked anteriorly, captured with
S. viride series, DNA ID pending
SB81-062
Sparisoma sp. early transitional recruit
9.1 mm SL
variant with irregular lateral stripe and
abdominal midline melanophore patch
DNA ID pending
Barbados 81104, Henri Valles
Sparisoma sp. mid transitional recruit
9.9 mm SL
variant with anterior markings and anal fin
base melanophore patches
DNA ID pending
Barbados 62903, Henri Valles
 
Sparisoma sp. mid transitional recruit
9.0 mm SL
Barbados 81104, Henri Valles
Sparisoma sp. late transitional recruit
9.8 mm SL
variant with prominent myomere outlining
DNA ID pending
Barbados 62903, Henri Valles
 
Sparisoma spp. early transitional recruits
with head and eye abnormalities
including exophthalmos and bulbous head
DNA ID pending
Barbados V0553, Henri Valles
 
Sparisoma viride

Diagnosis: The larvae of all Sparisoma may well be identical, and DNA sequencing is required to identify species. Transitional recruits develop the basic markings probably shared by all members of the genus, but small juveniles of Sparisoma acquire distinct patterns that separate most, if not all, regional species. S. viride diverges from the remainder of the genus the earliest, with some individuals smaller than 10 mm SL showing a distinct pattern of markings, in particular an undivided prominent white bar on the caudal fin base.

Description: This type shares the characteristic markings of larval and transitional Sparisoma. Recruits become distinct early on when the leukophores on the base of their caudal fin coalesce into a distinct white bar and they develop rows of round white spots, with the two above the pectoral fin most visible. Characteristically, there are no melanophores extending into the white bar (at least until about 15 mm SL, but by then the white bar and rows of white spots are clearly prominent).
Sparisoma viride recruit
9.6 mm SL
variant with early spot/bar pattern
Barbados 62903, Henri Valles
Sparisoma viride recruit
9.7 mm SL
light markings
San Blas, Panama, SB81-077
 
Sparisoma viride recruit
11.0 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-077
 
Sparisoma viride recruits
11.0 mm and 9.7 mm SL
note no melanophores into caudal bar
DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB81-077
Sparisoma viride juvenile
12.3 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-062
Sparisoma viride juveniles
14.9 and 13.0 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-060
Sparisoma viride juvenile
15.6 mm SL
after 15 mm SL there is some extension
of melanophores into caudal bar
San Blas, Panama, SB80-091
Sparisoma radians

Diagnosis: The larvae of all Sparisoma may well be identical, and DNA sequencing is required to identify species. Transitional recruits develop the basic markings probably shared by all members of the genus, but small juveniles of Sparisoma acquire distinct patterns that separate most, if not all, regional species. The DNA sequence of the juvenile specimen from Noronha in Brazil confirms that it is S. radians (Bernardi et al 2005), even though it displays a peculiar pattern of markings. S. atomarium may be indistinguishable from S. radians when juvenile specimens are found in the same habitat.

Description: This type shares the characteristic markings of larval and transitional Sparisoma. Recruits become distinct from S. viride early as melanophores extend onto the base of the central caudal fin rays and divide the light bar on the tail. The melanophores extending into the caudal bar extend further below the midline than above (vs. equal above and below in S. chrysopterum/rubripinne). Small juveniles tend to have dark patches along the lateral midline mostly below the level of the lateral line and do not develop an obvious white tail bar. Some individuals develop a marked bicolor pattern of light above the lateral line and dark below. Later juveniles are variably mottled with some light striping and spotting and are only identified by process of exclusion (or DNA sequence analysis). Individuals from Noronha in Brazil show a pattern of reduced body markings and intensified black markings on the fins.
Sparisoma radians juvenile
13.3 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB80-101
 
Sparisoma radians juvenile
16.5 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-027
Sparisoma radians juvenile
17.8 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB80-105
 
Sparisoma radians juvenile
18.0 mm SL
DNA ID confirmed
Noronha, Brazil FN01
Sparisoma sp. juvenile
13.9 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB80-102
 
Sparisoma chrysopterum +

Diagnosis: The larvae of all Sparisoma may well be identical, and DNA sequencing is required to identify species. Transitional recruits develop the basic markings probably shared by all members of the genus, but small juveniles of Sparisoma acquire distinct patterns that separate most, if not all, regional species. S. chrysopterum and S. rubripinne may have a similar appearance as juveniles.

Description: This type shares the characteristic markings of larval and transitional Sparisoma. Recruits become distinct from S. radians and S. viride as melanophores extend onto the base of the caudal fin and divide the light bar on the tail. The tail melanophores extending into the caudal bar are roughly equal both above and below the midline and the bar is still clearly white. Juveniles are variably marked, but typically develop an alternating pattern of white and dark bars.

Sparisoma chrysopterum + juvenile
14.0 mm SL
DNA ID pending
San Blas, Panama, SB81-062
 
Sparisoma chrysopterum + juvenile
13.3 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB80-103
 
  Cryptotomus roseus
 
 

Diagnosis: Fin-ray counts of D-IX,10 A-III,9 are shared by all Caribbean parrotfishes, however pectoral-fin ray counts divide parrotfishes into two groups: Sparisoma, Cryptotomus roseus, and Nicholsina usta all have 13 pectoral-fin rays, while Scarus have a mode of 14-16 pectoral-fin rays (the wrasse Doratonotus megalepis also shares the median fin-ray count but has 11-12 pectoral-fin rays). This larval type develops into Cryptotomus roseus when raised in captivity, but the demarkation between C. roseus and Sparisoma is unclear. Larval Nicholsina usta cannot be excluded from the type until those larvae are identified (adults of the species are not found at the collection site in Panama). (R)

Analogues: C. roseus is primarily identified by the absence of the characteristic lateral melanophore of Sparisoma in a pre-transitional larva (does not apply to transitional larvae). Additional characters that may assist are the loss (or fading out) of one or more of the last few anal row melanophores, which correlates well with no lateral melanophore (also only applicable to pre-transitional larvae). Most C. roseus larvae do have fewer than 13 melanophores in the anal-fin row. Lastly, the snout is usually sharply-pointed in this larval type. Unfortunately, transitional Sparisoma larvae can lose their lateral melanophore and show a reduced complement of anal row melanophores: thus the distinction becomes difficult at early transition before the metamorphic melanophore pattern starts. Furthermore, there is the possibility that some rare pre-transition Sparisoma do lack the lateral melanophore and/or the full 13 anal row melanophores (some larvae have 12 in the row, but are missing the first and not the last). DNA sequence analyses underway at present should resolve this potential overlap.

Description: Body relatively thin, long and narrow with a large eye and a pointed snout and a terminal small mouth. Pectoral fins medium. Pelvic fins very short. Dorsal and anal-fin bases relatively long, caudal peduncle short and somewhat narrow. Melanophores occur internally around the gut near the vent, and in a row of 11, 12, or occasionally 13 (but rule out Sparisoma when 13) discrete round melanophores along the base of the anal fin and extending into the caudal peduncle (often missing the last in the series). The melanophores in the row after the last fin ray are not at the ventral midline but can be well into the caudal peduncle musculature. Series of transitional larvae show development of the eye from a narrowed vertical oval tilted forward with a small posterior-inferior extension of the iris to much larger and round at and after transition. Many pre-transitional larvae have a marked ventral indentation in the iris. Transitional larvae develop a few scattered melanophores on the top of the head and two arcs from the mid and upper eye across the top of the head (transitional Sparisoma have a similar upper arc but do not have the arc starting at the mid-eye).

Cryptotomus roseus larva
8.8 mm SL
note 13 anal-fin row melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB86-604
Cryptotomus roseus larva
8.3 mm SL
note 12 anal-fin row melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB86-422
 
Cryptotomus roseus larva
9.5 mm SL
note reduced row of caudal
peduncle melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB86-1028
Sparisoma larva, at top
vs. Cryptotomus roseus larvae below
9.2, 9.2, and 9.3 mm SL
note reduced rows of caudal
peduncle melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB82-020
Cryptotomus roseus larva
9.2 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB82-020
Cryptotomus roseus larva
7.8 mm SL
San Blas, Panama, SB81-047
Cryptotomus roseus transitional larva
8.4 mm SL
note 13 anal-fin row melanophores
San Blas, Panama, SB86-608
 
Cryptotomus roseus recruit
12.4 mm SL
large round eye
San Blas, Panama, SB80-093
Sparisoma vs. Cryptotomus roseus
9.8 mm SL
the lateral melanophore is absent,
but all melanophores are very faint
San Blas, Panama, SB86-422
 
 
Nicholsina usta
 

Diagnosis: Fin-ray counts of D-IX,10 A-III,9 are shared by all Caribbean parrotfishes, however pectoral-fin ray counts divide parrotfishes into two groups: Sparisoma, Cryptotomus roseus, and Nicholsina usta all have 13 pectoral-fin rays, while Scarus have a mode of 14-16 pectoral-fin rays (the wrasse Doratonotus megalepis also shares the median fin-ray count but has 11-12 pectoral-fin rays). Larval and transitional markings are unknown, but based on the appearance of the eastern Pacific sibling species, Nicholsina denticulata, recruits have a distinct uniformly dark pattern distinct from C. roseus and Sparisoma

Description:

Nicholsina denticulata recruit
11.9 mm SL
Baja California, Mexico B01-628ss
Nicholsina denticulata
  larval Nicholsina denticulata
 

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