Red Lionfish Fact File
Credit: Public Domain
Wild 10 years
Captive 10 years
Beware of the Spines!
The red lionfish is named for the venomous spines which stick out from their back and resemble the mane of a lion. These are used to inject predators to defend them against their attacks.
This species is a carnivore which seek out fish and crustaceans pulling them in to their mouth quickly.
They have become invasive in parts of the Atlantic Ocean where they have spread to since the 1980s as a result of escapes or introduction. They now pose a major threat to other fish with which they can compete.
Few threats are faced by this species due to the venomous spines and their range has been expanded by introduction. Small numbers are collected for food.
Read on to learn more about these fearsome fish.
What does the Red Lionfish look like?
The red lionfish is a pale white color across its body which is banded with black or red vertical stripes.
Above the eye sits a large tentacle. This becomes more leaf-like as the individual ages but in some individuals is entirely absent. These fish have a rather impressive appearance with the thirteen venomous spines extending from the body.
Lionfish are covered by cycloid scales meaning the scales are oval shaped with a smooth edge.
The fish are relatively large reaching lengths of up to 45cm (17.7in).
How does the Red Lionfish survive in its habitat?
For their defence these animals are equipped with a number of venomous spines which can inject a venom where necessary. They are considered non-aggressive and do not appear to seek out trouble.
In humans the venom is typically non-lethal but can cause vomiting, discomfort and pain for several days. If stung one should seek medical treatment as the venom can have differing effects on some people.
Some evidence suggests that commercial stonefish venoms are partially effective against the venom of this species.
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What does the Red Lionfish eat?
The red lionfish is a carnivore. Their diet includes a range of crustaceans and fish.
This species is highly adaptable in regards to their diet and this has allowed them
to expand in to new territories with relative ease.
These fish are considered ambush predators and will sit and wait for prey to pass them by before lunging forward to capture it.
Food is sucked in to the mouth at high speed and schooling fish may not notice that one of their members is gone. This leaves the lionfish free to hunt the other fish within the school.
Learn more about the Red Lionfish in this video from Deep Marine Scenes on YouTube
Where do you find the Red Lionfish?
These fish are found in the Indo-Pacific oceans with their range taking in parts of the coastlines of south-east Asia and Australia along with a number of Pacific Island nations. It extends North to Japan and south to Lord Howe Island off the Australian coast.
Red lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean along the United States coastline. The first records of this species in this region are from the 1980s.
Two likely theories are proposed for their spread here. One is that hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium and washed its contents in to the ocean. Another is that the fish are descended from those released by home aquarists when they became too big for their tanks.
Where can the Red Lionfish survive?
The red lionfish is found in marine environments where they are found along reefs. As they have expanded their range in to the Atlantic they have adapted to new habitats. These include mangroves and estuarine environments.
They require areas of warm water.
Credit: Public Domain
How does the Red Lionfish produce its young?
A female red lionfish is capable of producing eggs every four days. While carrying her eggs the female will become darker in color.
Spawning occurs year round allowing her to produce as many as 2 million eggs each year.
Eggs are released as a mass following mating and float to the surface where a coating of mucus will help to attach them to nearby rocks and corals.
Larger egg masses are produced during periods of warmer weather.
Eggs hatch within 36 hours of being produced. Microbes will invade the egg and work to deplete the mucus coating to help them escape the egg.
They begin life as a larvae. These have a large head with a pointed snout and coloration is only present in the pelvic fin.
Only about a month of their life is spent as a larvae.
Sexual maturity is tied to size and is reached around 19cm (in). They can produce larger clutches of eggs the larger they grow.
What does the Red Lionfish do during its day?
This species is solitary and will only come together during the breeding season.
Lionfish are considered to be primarily nocturnal. During the day when they are less active this species will retreat to rocky ledges along the reef.
Credit: Public Domain
Predators and Threats
What stops the Red Lionfish from surviving and thriving?
Red lionfish are recorded to be cannibalistic and will take members of their own species. Most other animals are not keen to prey upon red lionfish due to the venomous spines along their back which act as a defence.
Most studies of predation in this species come from their introduced range in the Caribbean. Here they have been targeted by groupers and eels.
In their natural range they are taken by the bobbit worm.
When threatened by a predator the red lionfish will typically stop and point its venomous fins towards the threat.
This species is considered common across its range and their range has increased in recent years. This is mostly occurring through their expansion within the Central Atlantic.
They are a popular species within the aquarium trade and collection occurs to supply this.
Some are also captured for use as food. Some conservationists have suggested that this may be a method of population control which could help to control the population within the Atlantic which is rapidly expanding.
An increase in pollution within their range presents the potential that their food sources could decline leading to flow on effects for this species.
In their natural range the species is considered rare and in some regions it has likely been depleted.
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This species is known by a number of alternative names including the butterfly cod, firefish, lionfish, zebra fish or scorpion cod.
Their name is taken from the fins which span out on either side of the body and resemble the mane of a lion.
They were first described for modern science in 1758.
Credit: Public Domain
The Australian Museum. 2022. Common Lionfish. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/fishes/common-lionfish-pterois-volitans/> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
Tsusinvasives.org. 2022. details. [online] Available at: <http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/pterois-volitans> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
Thai National Parks. 2022. Pterois volitans, Red lionfish. [online] Available at: <https://www.thainationalparks.com/species/red-lionfish> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
Oceana. 2022. Red Lionfish. [online] Available at: <https://oceana.org/marine-life/red-lionfish/> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
Oceanservice.noaa.gov. 2022. What is a lionfish?. [online] Available at: <https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
Wood, M. 2001. “Pterois volitans” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pterois_volitans/
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