Lionfish Characteristics

Basic Facts –

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Scorpaenidae
Genus: Pterois

The Lionfish is an Indo-Pacific fish with venomous spikes that grow all over it. They are very eye-catching fish with an exotic, other world appearance about them. To me they look graceful. They have been spotted from as far up as Rhode Island and down into the Bahamas and Caribbean. They will have red and/or maroon and white stripes. Native to the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, there are many rumors about this invasive fish from accidentally being released in the Carolinas, to a tank getting damaged during a hurricane and fish getting released.

Do not let the exotic beauty of the creature deceive you! If attacked, a lionfish delivers a potent venom via its needle-like dorsal fins. Its sting is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal. If stung, immerse wound in very hot water (100-110 degrees F or 38-43 degrees C) for 15-20 minutes. Do not burn skin and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

• Red, maroon, and white vertical stripes;
• Fleshy tentacles above eyes and below mouth;
• Fan-like pectoral fins;
• 13 long separated dorsal spines;
• 10-11 dorsal soft rays;
• 3 anal spines;
• and 6-7 anal soft rays;
• An adult lionfish can grow as large as 18”

Aliases: The lionfish has also been called the scorpion fish, turkey fish, butterfly cod, tiger fish and dragon fish.

Feeding frenzy: Indo Pacific Red Lionfish have no natural predators and they are carnivore. They are skilled at out-competing the native species like the Nassau grouper and are eating an unsustainable amount of juvenile reef fish, lobster juvies and shrimp. They have a large mouth for scooping up juvie fish and crustaceans. The lionfish catches it’s prey by hiding in a crevice in the rock or coral and then ambushing it as it swims past. The lionfish then corners it’s prey with it’s large fins before swallowing it whole. A lionfish will often spread its feathery pectoral fins and herd small fish into a confined space where it can more easily swallow them. A lionfish’s stomach can expand up to 30 times its normal size after a meal. Their appetite is what makes lionfish such frightening invaders. Researchers here examined more than 1,000 lionfish stomachs and found more than 50 species of prey fish inside, including juveniles of commercially important grouper and snapper. The fish also eat juvenile parrotfish, which graze on algae and keep it from overgrowing and killing corals. Yikes! There goes the eco balance of our reefs. I will tell you that I have been seeing less parrotfish than in previous years. This has me pondering whether the liofish are partly to blame.

Lionfish Predators: Humans are hunting these pesky fiends up and down the Florida coast. Some are just killing them but many are cooking them up for dinner. Some scientists capture inject them with a and mixture of clove oil and alcohol, which kill them painlessly and almost at once. Eels also love to have them over for dinner. Frog fish and scorpion fish also partake of lionfish when it is on the menu. I have heard that grouper are eating them and I will delve into this more. This may be a good thing as we are seeing a resurrection in the population of the massive goliath groupers. I read an interesting article on National Geographic about them training sharks to eat lionfish. The image says it all.

Photograph by Antonio Busiello

In Roatan in the picture above, local divers are working with park official and attempting to give sharks a taste for the alien reef species as a way to curb the massive explosion of lionfish on the reefs. Could this be a new way to drum up some tourist bucks?

Reproduction: The female lionfish releases between 2,000 and 15,000 eggs into the water which are fertilised by the male lionfish. A single adult female can lay as many as 30,000 eggs every four days. The lionfish pair then quickly hide so that their eggs can float into the ocean before being spotted by predators that eat the eggs. The lionfish eggs hatch in just 2 days and the juvies remain near the surface of the water until they are bigger. When the juvies reach nearly an inch in length, they swim down into the ocean to join the reef community. They breed every 55 days. They can also live to 15 years in the wild. This is frightening to me when I think how many they can reproduce in their life time. Folks that is over 2 million eggs per year per female!

The lionfish group usually contains one male lionfish and a few female lionfish that he mates with. The male lionfish is highly territorial and protects the area in which by himself and his females live.

About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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