10 What’s with the name, lionfish? Nobody knows for sure how they got their name, but when they spread out their pectoral fins it sort of looks like a lion’s mane. And they are ferocious predators. The scientific name for the species is Pterois volitans (pronounced, Tare-oh-ease vol-eh-tawns). Pterois = wing or fin, from the Greek, and volitans = flying, from Latin. Another common name for lionfish is turkeyfish!
9 The marine aquarium trade makes a ton of money selling lionfish. Indeed, some countries are considering exporting live juveniles as a way of controlling their lionfish invasions. The logic involved is seriously flawed (and ironic) as this approach can only further contribute to the problem elsewhere. Lionfish are an iconic species for hobbyists due to their spectacular beauty. They are easy to find in aquarium stores. You can order them off the web. They survive well in poor water quality, they resist diseases, and they eat just about anything. It’s probably too late to matter for lionfish, but we clearly need better controls on live shipping of non-native fish from around the world.
8 How did the INVASION start? The INVASION is most likely a result of escapes or releases from aquariums, either by accident or on purpose. There is one documented case of lionfish escaping from an aquarium located in a house damaged by Hurricane Andrew – the fish were seen swimming nearby after the storm. The “on purpose” introductions are assumed to occur from hobbyists who dumped them into canals (not knowing any better) when the fish either got too large for their aquariums or became unwanted. Genetic evidence from recent scientific results suggests multiple introductions.
7 Lionfish reproduction is sexual. Fertilization involves complex courting and mating behaviors where males will use their spines and fins in visual displays. Females produce mucus-encapsulated clusters of thousands of eggs that are fertilized by males as the clusters float in the water. Females can produce egg masses during all seasons of the year. The clusters apparently have chemicals that make them distasteful to predators. Yuck.
6 The red lionfish is a solitary ambush-predator. They use their fan-like pectoral fans to herd or corner prey against corals or ledges, then consume them whole in a single strike. They can also strike fast, sucking and gulping smaller fish into their mouths in an instant. They devour juveniles of many important commercial species, like snappers, groupers, and shrimp. Lionfish also compete with native species, starving them out through competition or by eating them!
5 Do lionfish have teeth? Yes, but they are small and are located as you might expect on the upper and lower jaws, but also in a small patch on the roof of the mouth – a good system for grasping prey that are caught by the quick predatory strikes of the species.
4 A lionfish’s stomach can expand to 30 times its normal size. They can really fill up! This ability and its voracious appetite is what makes it such a frightening INVADER in Florida, the Caribbean, and most recently in the Gulf of Mexico.
3 Where are they found in Florida, the Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico? Bad news – from shallow mangrove waters to nearly 1000 feet deep. They are also hardy to temperature lows of about 16 °C, which means that they thrive along the southeast US as far north as North Carolina.
2 Lionfish have no known predators in the Atlantic and Caribbean. In lab studies, many native fish starve to death rather than attack a lionfish. It’s time to consider international controls on live shipments of lionfish. You can order them on the internet. How does that make sense?
1 WARNING! Lionfish can inflict a nasty, painful, agonizing sting or stab from any of their 13 dorsal, 3 anal, or 2 pelvic spines. The spines are defensive only and are not used in hunting. The potent venom is contained in venomous glandular tissue that is located in the grooves of the spines. When a spine enters a victim the tissue is torn and the venom diffuses into the wound. The venom includes a protein, a neuromuscular toxin and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. How people react to the stings depends on the amount of venom in the wound, the immune system of the victim, and the location of the sting.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Captain Picard has a pet lionfish named Livingston!
The USS Lionfish (SS-298) was a Balao-class submarine commissioned in 1942. It was the only ship in the US Navy named for a lionfish.
The lionfish was first described in 1758 by the Dutch naturalist Johan Frederick. It was also known as the firefish – obviously a reference to the pain stings you can get from its venomous spines – painful like fire!
The lionfish uses its broad, feathery pectoral fins, in an expansive display, to corner prey that it then grabs and swallows whole.
Larvae and juveniles of this species drift long distances before settling to the bottom, which accounts for its wide native distribution and rapid spread in the western Atlantic.
Six lionfish escaped into the sea in South Florida in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a shore-front home.