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Some species of fishes such as sharks and rays are born one sex and stay that sex throughout life.

For others, such and the wrasses (Family Labridae) and parrotfishes (Family Scaridae) sex reversal is the norm.

Initial phase Yellowfin Parrotfish

An initial phase Yellowfin Parrotfish

Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

For species that change sex there may be up to three colour phases. The first is a juvenile phase colouration shown by immature fishes. As a juvenile fish grows it develops the initial phase (IP) colouration. This may resemble the juvenile phase colouration or be quite distinct. The IP colouration is usually drab, comprising mostly grey, brown and red.

Yellowfin Parrotfish

A terminal phase Yellowfin Parrotfish

Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

IP individuals are usually female but IP males do exist in some species. These IP male fishes are known as primary phase males. They look identical to females.

IP fish may then develop terminal phase (TP) colouration. All TP individuals are males. When a male fish becomes a TP individual it undergoes a change of colour.

A female that changes into a TP fish undergoes not only a change of colour but also a change of sex.


  1. Choat, J.H. & Bellwood, D.R. in Paxton, J.R. & W.N. Eschmeyer (Eds). 1994. Encyclopedia of Fishes. Sydney: New South Wales University Press; San Diego: Academic Press [1995]. Pp. 240.