Lionfish Facts ~  Lionfish FAQ & Pictures

by Bob

in Sea Life

Lionfish is a small to medium-sized, stout, brightly colored venomous fish that is part of the scorpionfish family with large defensive defensive dorsal spines.

Lionfish are considered an invasive species in the southern Atlantic Ocean as few predators can deal with their venomous spines.

Red Lionfish

Red Lionfish- most common species

Here are some lionfish facts:

What are some neat lionfish facts?
* Their 18 venomous spines are used purely  for defense.
* Lionfish are also called dragon fish, scorpion fish, zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, butterfly cod, peacock lionfish and ornate butterfly-cod.
* The first lionfish (red) in Florida waters was spotted in 1985. Through DNA testing, all lionfish in the Atlantic can be traced back to 6-8 females. 1

How many types (species) of lionfish are there? 
Andover lionfish
Spotfin lionfish
Pterois brevipectoralis
Luna lionfish
Devil firefish
Pterois paucispinula
Clearfin lionfish
Soldier lionfish
Hawaiian turkeyfish
Red lionfish

What is the scientific name for lionfish?

Is it lion fish or lionfish?

What does lionfish mean?
Definition of lionfish

:  any of several scorpaenid fishes (genus Pterois) of the Indian Ocean and the tropical Pacific that are brilliantly striped and barred with elongated fins and venomous dorsal spines. 2

What is the size of a lionfish?
They range in size from 2-17 inches long and weigh from 1 ounce to nearly 4 lbs. The red lionfish is the largest. 

What type of lionfish is prevalent along the East Coast of the USA?
Red lionfish make up 98% of the population while the devil firefish makes up the other 2%

Are lionfish native to the to the East Coast of the USA?
No. They are considered an invasive species and were released by their owners into Florida waters either accidentally or on purpose. They were first discovered in Florida in the mid 1980s and have thrived ever since due to few natural predators.

How did lionfish end up in Florida?
It is believed they were released accidentally from the Miami Seaquarium during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

What is the native habitat of the lionfish?
They are primarily reef associated and are native to the warm waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans

Where are non-native lionfish found?
Off the US eastern seaboard from Florida up to North Carolina. Any farther north is too cold for them. They are also showing up in the Caribbean, the Western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Belize spotted its first lionfish in 2009. 3

Are lionfish causing any harm to their non-native environments?
Yes, as they have few predators, have voracious appetites and are fast breeders; they wipe out fish stocks wherever they appear. They also wipe out localized stocks of shrimp, sea horses, crabs, juvenile octopus, parrotfish, squid and juvenile lobsters. They are not recognized by the native marine life as predators. Many of these animals are critical to the health of the reefs they occupy. Parrotfish, for example, feed on algae that grow on the coral, keping it at manageable levels. Without these types of marine animals, the algae overruns and kills the coral.

Lionfish Invasion

Lionfish Invasion

Why are lionfish a problem?
They are an invasive species with few predators, huge appetites and thrive in the same warm waters where coral reefs are located. By feeding on the marine animals that allow the coral to thrive, they threaten the continued existence of these reefs.

Are lionfish an invasive species?
Yes. Wherever they are considered non-native.

Should lionfish be removed from their non-native habitats?
Yes. They are very disruptive and are destroying local ecosystems.

What are effective ways to remove lionfish from an area?
Divers with spearguns are the most effective way to rid an area of lionfish.

Can we stop the lionfish invasion?
No. There are too many of them spread out over too large an area. Instead, one has has to focus on ridding small areas instead.

Are lionfish hard to catch?
Non-native lionfish, like those in Florida have no natural predators, so they tend to be sitting ducks for divers that cull them from an area.

What are some fish that non-native lionfish are feeding on?
Common fish found in lionfish stomachs include bicolor damsels, fairy basslets, brown chromis, yellowtail snapper, saddled blenny and bluehead wrasse.

What are some other invasive species that caused major destruction?
Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and purple loosestrife, a weedlike plant that occupies wetlands throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife- another invasive species.


Zebra Mussel Invasion

Zebra Mussel Invasion in the Great Lakes

How deep in the ocean have lionfish been spotted?
1,000 feet

What do lionfish eat?
Anything they can catch up to 1/3 of their own body length. Primarily other fish but also crabs, shrimp and baby lobsters.

How long can a lionfish live without eating?
At 3 months with no food, they lost only 10% of their body mass. So, perhaps a year.

What is the lionfish diet in the wild?
Juvenile lionfish eat mostly invertebrates like squid and few fish. Adults eat mostly fish.

How do lionfish catch their prey?
They suck in their  prey with their mouth They are ambush hunters that corral their prey, if needed, with their large fins. They are so quick that they can catch 1 fish at a time from a school without the other fish noticing.

Do lionfish have any predators?
In their native habitat of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, their predators include eels, scorpionfish and frogfish. In their non-native habitats, they have very few predators as most fish fail to recognize them as potential prey. Groupers and sharks have been seen catching and eating healthy, uninjured  lionfish but not at a rate expected to make a noticeable difference in their populations.

Do lionfish have scales?

Can lionfish live in fresh water?
They have been found in brackish water, which is partially salted, but never in fresh water.

Are female lionfish larger than the males?
No, the males are generally larger with a more square-shaped head.

What happens the first 48 hours in the life of a lionfish?
Twelve hours after fertilization the embryo begins to form. Only 18 hours after fertilization, the head and eyes become moderately developed. Eventually, invading microbes deteriorate the mucus walls and 36 hours after fertilization, the larvae hatch. Four days after conception, the larvae are already good swimmers and are able to begin feeding on small ciliates (Fishelson, 1975). 4

Do lionfish live in groups?
As juveniles they may live in groups of 40 or so. As adults, they are solitary and only group up during mating season.

What do lionfish do to reefs?
They prefer living in coral reefs and feed on animals that support reef health. This endangers the reefs.

What do lionfish use their spines for?”Only as a defensive mechanism. They do not hunt or catch prey with them. The venom in these spines can prove fatal to other fish.

Are lionfish spines deadly to humans?
Not to healthy humans.

Do lionfish charge with their spines?
No. Their spines are strictly for defense. They will not attack or lunge with the purpose of impaling anything with its spines.

What does lionfish venom do?
“It won’t kill you, but it’ll make you wish you were dead”. 5

Are lionfish dangerous to humans?

Where is the venom of the lionfish located?
The venom of a lionfish is found in the anal, dorsal and pelvic fins.

How fast can a lionfish swim?
Average speed for a fish their size.

Are lionfish endangered?

Are lionfish edible?
Yes. Their flesh has no venom, unlike a puffer fish, so no special preparation is needed other than to avoid their spines.

Are lionfish dangerous to eat?
No. Only their spines are venomous, not their flesh.

Which species is the smallest & largest?
The dwarf lionfish is the smallest while the red lionfish is the largest.

How long do lionfish live for?
Roughly 5-15 years

How do lionfish reproduce?
Here is a great explanation

Can lionfish be kept as pets?
Yes. They are immensely popular as residents of aquariums around the world.

does lionfish have scales-how do lionfish catch their prey-why are lionfish called lionfish-

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