Lionfish Invasive Species
The danger from the Lionfish is four-fold: 1) it has large spines that are highly poisonous, 2) has no predators in the Atlantic, 3) is a voracious eater and 4) native species are not familiar enough with it to evade it.
Lionfish Distribution and Habitat
The Lionfish (Peterois volitans and Peterois miles) is native to the waters of Indo-Pacific that includes the water of the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
They were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean with disastrous effects on the local plant and animal populations. The Lionfish can be found in depths ranging from a few feet to over 1000 feet deep and can tolerate temperatures as low as 60.8°F/16°C.
Features and Size
The Lionfish is not a very large fish. The largest of the species reaches just 50 centimetres. Those lion fish found in the Atlantic do not get larger than 14 inches/35 centimetres with most being found averaging 6 inches/15 centimeters.
The danger does not come from its size, not from its teeth. The danger from the Lionfish is four-fold: 1) it has large spines that are highly poisonous, 2) has no predators in the Atlantic, 3) is a voracious eater and 4) native species are not familiar enough with it to evade it.
The poisonous spines carry enough toxin to induce significant pain in humans. A healthy person can survive being stung, but someone less healthy or able to deal with intense pain may die from the experience.
The Lionfish is not aggressive to humans. The only way to get stung is to improperly handle them or step on one. Be couscous when swimming in their distribution. Stepping on one or improper removing one from a net or a hook can lead to a nasty sting.
Many fish species are not intimidated by the Lionfish because it is small and does not appear to pose a threat. Because it attacks with such rapid speed, they prey fish has no idea of the attack. Populations of coral fish have already been decimated in the Caribbean region.
Lionfish Food Preferences
The Lion Fish eats small fish, much smaller than itself, crabs and shrimp. They can consume significant volumes of food each day. Their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its empty state.
Training Reef Sharks to Eat Lionfish
What might seem a little strange at first has turned out to be a promising, natural method of controlling the lion fish population. While sharks cannot be trained like a dog or a cat, biologists have had progress in training sharks to eat lion fish in an attempt to control their population.
Scientists started by killing lionfish and feeding them to sharks. They wanted to prime sharks with the taste of lion fish.
The second step in their sharks training was to get the sharks develop an interest seeking out and hunting lionfish. They left wounded lionfish where reef sharks were present so that they would go after them. Slowly, but surely, reef sharks developed a taste for lionfish and started hunting them. Its is hoped that this will help bring back balance to the environment as lion fish have decimated reef populations and brought down populations of larger reef fish.
For those concerned about the sharks suffering ill effects from eating these fish, many sharks are known to eat venomous prey like the lionfish without suffering any apparent ill effects.