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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.
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.