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Lionfish – Profile and Information

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The lionfish is a predatory fish species and native to the Indo-Pacific that has become an invasive species in the Atlantic. The lionfish has won the hearts of many aquarium owners across the United States and the Caribbean coastal waters.

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This colorful species has become a potential threat to ecosystems. This is a top predator that competes with grouper and snapper for space and food. Marine experts fear that the lionfish is a threat to helpful algae-eating species, such as the parrotfish, causing seaweed to take over the reefs.

It’s also been noticed that the lionfish’s population has increased and they’ve also maximized their range in the United States. This may be due to the fact that they have no known predators and are capable of reproducing all year long. A mature female lionfish can release about two million eggs each year.

Classification

  • Scientific name: Pterois volitans
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Scorpaeniformes
  • Family: Scorpaenidae
  • Subfamily: Pteroinae
  • Genus: Pterois

Common Names

  • Lionfish
  • Firefish
  • Zebrafish
  • Red lionfish
  • Turkey fish
  • Ornate butterfly-cod
  • Butterfly cod
  • Peacock lionfish
  • Scorpion volitans
  • Red firefish
  • Devil firefish

Identification

Lionfish can be characterized by the maroon or brown, and white bands or stripes covering their head and body.

They possess fleshy tentacles right above their eyes and below their mouth, fan looking pectoral fins, extended dorsal spines, 13 dorsal spines, 10 to 11 dorsal soft rays, 3 anal spines, and 6 to 7 anal soft rays. Adult lionfish can reach up to 18 inches, while 1 inch or less for juveniles.

Native Range

The Indian Oceans (Indo-Pacific region) and the South Pacific. The lionfish covers a vast range from Western Australia down to Malaysia east to French Polynesia into the United Kingdom’s Pitcairn Islands.

They can also be found in the southern and northern Japan and southern parts of Korea, as well as south to Lord Howe Island mainly off the east coast of Australia. Lionfish also dominate parts of the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand and throughout Micronesia.

Non-native Range

Lionfish have been seen along the southeastern parts of the coast of United States spanning from Florida to North Carolina. Juvenile lionfish have also been seen and collected in waters off Bermuda, New York, and Long Island.

Pterois volitans are a popular marine ornamental fish, and there is a possibility that they were intentionally released into the Atlantic. Early lionfish spotted in southern Florida was in 1985. More sighting of the fish occurred until they were categorized as established in the early 2000s.

Habitat

Lionfish are have been known to dominate most marine habitats and have been found in tropical warm marine waters. They’ve also been found in water depths ranging from 1 – 300 feet on mangrove, hard bottom, seagrass, artificial (shipwrecks), and coral reefs.

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Ecological Role

Lionfish are noticeable and slow-moving, so they solely rely on their peculiar coloration and fierce-looking fins to intimidate would-be predators from attacking them. Lionfish currently hold the position of being one of the top predators in many coral reef habitats of the Atlantic.

They consume over 50 species of fish, and this includes some ecologically and economically important species. Lionfish actively hunt their prey by using their extended, fan-like pectoral fins to ambush and corner them slowly.

Behavior

While lionfish are rumored to be nocturnal hunters, they’ve been found in the Atlantic during the day with their stomachs full. Their mobility is made possible by slowly undulating the tender rays of anal and dorsal fins.

Although lionfish have been seen moving alone or in small groups during the day, and commonly retreat to crevices and ledges among corals and rocks in the Atlantic. Lionfish are native to the tropical, warm waters of the Indian Oceans and South Pacific, including the Red Sea

Economic Importance

Although they’ve served as a food source in their native range, economically, they are more profitable in the aquarium trade. Lionfish are very prominent and common used aquarium fish, mostly in the United States.

Conservation Status

Currently, lionfish are not categorized as endangered or threatened in their native range. Nevertheless, the increase in coral reefs pollution may affect their food sources (fish and crustaceans). Lionfish may suffer a massive decline if they are able to survive and adapt to a reduction in their prey species.

Special Precautions

The spines of Pterois volitans supplies a venomous sting that can last for many days. This effect of their sting can cause extreme pain, sweating, swelling, respiratory complications and paralysis. If you are not an expert diver or fish handler, then it would be best to avoid this fish completely.

Their venom glands are positioned within two grooves of the spine and are a composition of a neuromuscular toxin, protein, and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, and the venom can get into the wound after the fish’s spine pierces the skin.

You must seek immediate medical attention if you are stung by a lionfish. If you find the Lionfish an interesting specimen, then you might also be interested in the following; 

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