The large flamboyant fins of the lionfish serve as a warning to predators of its toxicity. Lionfish are skilled hunters, using specialized bilateral swim bladder muscles to provide exquisite control of location in the water column, allowing the fish to alter its center of gravity to better attack prey.
“When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad.
Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem.”
Learn more from NPR.
This is a juvenile red lionfish (Pterois volitans). As it matures, those conspicuous pectoral fin spots will disappear, and it will develop the striking brownish-red stripes characteristic of its adult form.
While originally found in the Indo-Pacific region, P. volitans has become an invasive species in the Northwestern Atlantic and the Caribbean, possibly through introduction as released exotic pets.
Their pelagic larval phase (not shown here) has certainly helped their invasive cause. As tiny larvae, they ride the currents, allowing them to disperse and establish populations throughout their new ‘home’.
As invaders, they have the potential to upset the balance of local reef ecosystems, affect fisheries production, and threaten human health (since, being members of the Scorpaenidae family, they are venomous).
Isabela had forgone her usual gold choker and tunic, and instead wore a form-fitting silk dress, royal blue trimmed with gold… It had a high neck with a collar and yet the precise tailoring and tight-fitting silk left her arms exposed. Instead of her customary leather gloves and shoulder armor, her dusky skin was bare save for a number of jewel-encrusted gold bracelets at her wrists. The pirate was stunning; Hawke couldn’t tear her eyes away.
Also known as the Leaf fish, Dwarf Lionfish, Shortfin Turkeyfish or Rouge Fish, the Cockatoo Waspfish is a species of scorpion fish endemic to the Western Pacific Ocean. Cockatoo Waspfish are often found resting on sandy bottoms or in fields of sea grass. They are nocturnal and emerge at night to feed by camouflaging themselves as a dead piece of wood or vegetation and snatching any small animals that pass by. Like the insect they are named after, cockatoo waspfish are indeed venomous and are covered in barbs which will produce a painful (but non lethal) sting.
Frilly fins unite! Four species of tropical lionfish are now fluttering around our Splash Zone exhibit: red, clearfin and fuzzy dwarf lionfish–and the flamboyantly named frillfin turkeyfish. Be on the lookout for the smallest of the bunch, the fuzzy dwarf. Our aquarists say it hangs out in the reef but is the first to appear at meal time!
“The Fu Manchu Lionfish is found in the Indo-Pacific. Its geographical range stretches from Mauritius, Reunion, The Maldives and Sri Lanka to the Society Islands in French Polynesia. Northwards, these fishes can be found up to the southern parts of Japan, and southwards their range proceeds to Scott Reef northwest of Australia.
The Fu Manchu Lionfish habitats are clear tropical waters with prolific coral growth. The depths range for this species is 1-40 meters / 33-131 feet. During the day, the Fu Manchu Lionfish will typically stay hidden in caves or among sponges on the reef.” -
March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as stormy winter weather gives way to a milder spring. Now April is coming in like a lion, too – with the latest addition to our Splash Zone galleries.
The new arrival – the captivating and beautiful lionfish – isn’t just another pretty face. It’s an infamous fish that carries an important conservation message.
Far from Home
Native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, lionfish are fabulous residents of their home waters. Unfortunately, they were introduced to waters off the U.S. east coast in the mid-1980s and are now a destructive invasive species from the mid-Atlantic through Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and into Central and South America.
Cause for Concern
Their fluttering maroon-and-white-striped dorsal fins hide venomous spines that require our husbandry teams to take extra precautions around them. Yet the bigger concern is the threat these fish pose to ecosystems in waters where they don’t belong.
Invasive lionfish have no natural predators outside their home waters, and they compete with native fish for both food and habitat. Lionfish have a hearty appetite for commercially and ecologically important native fish species, and are able to thrive in waters from the shoreline to depths of more than 400 feet. In warmer waters, females are capable of spawning 30,000 eggs every four days, making them prolific breeders and poster fish for invasive species.
The Edible Invader
Our exhibit lionfish were collected from the Florida Keys, where the species has taken a foot – or rather fin – hold since 2009. Absent other lionfish predators, people have adopted the mantra “Eat ‘em to beat ‘em” to encourage consumption of these marine invaders. (They are as tasty as they are beautiful.)