Lionfish (Pterois), is a type of venomous marine fish, commonly referred to as Lionfish, firefish, zebrafish, turkeyfish, red firefish and devil firefish. But despite the array of dramatic names and the fact it’s spines are venomous, the Lionfish is a spectacularly beautiful fish. It also makes for a stunning photographic subject.
There is much documentation surrounding their invasive species status in the Carribean, however the Lionfish are native to Thailand and indeed the Indo-Pacific region, Western Australia, Malaysia East to French Polynesia, Japan, South Korea, parts of New Zealand and throughout Micronesia. They are even native to the United Kingdom’s Pitcairn Islands.
The Lionfish is characterized by conspicuous warning coloration with red, brown, maroon, white, creamy, or black bands, covering the head and body. They have fleshy tentacles above the eyes and below the mouth, as well as their trademark fan like pectoral and long, separated dorsal spines.
Females release two egg clusters frequently, which can contain up to 15,000 eggs. Adults can grow as large as 18 inches, whilst juveniles can be one inch or less. They can live from 5 to 15 years.
Lionfish are skilled hunters. They have always been known as nocturnal hunters, however research has shown they may hunt most actively from 7am to 11am, which is perfect timing for us to see on our first dive of the day!
Lionfish have exceptional control in the water because of their specialised bilateral swim bladder muscles. This allows them to alter their centre of gravity and attack their prey. Lionfish tend to spread their large pectoral fins to herd their prey into a suitable location, then blows a single jet of water whilst approaching to disorientated the prey, before swallowing it whole. They can be seen alone or in small groups.
Lionfish themselves have few predators due to the effectiveness of their venomous spines. Aside from instances of cannibalism on smaller individuals, Lionfish are hunted by Moray Eels, large Groupers and Sharks, who display no ill effects from their spines.
Lionfish Interaction with Humans
Lionfish are known for their venomous fins making them worthy of note to divers and snorkellers alike. Whilst Lionfish tend to not be aggressive, there is more chance of coming into contact with one by accidentally touching the reef. All the more reason to keep working on those buoyancy skills!
If you are unlucky enough to come into physical contact with a Lionfish, the most common symptoms to expect are extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and headache. More severe reactions have been reported, particularly by those who have been allergic to the venom, including numbness, convulsions and in rare cases with low immunity, death.
Thankfully in most cases, first aid is effective and includes remove any remaining spines, clean and disinfect the wounded area, control any bleeding and submerge in non scalding hot water as long as is needed.
For those interested in underwater photography or videography, the Lionfish can be the perfect subject to seek out. Often adorning our shipwrecks or reefs, and moving slowly yet gracefully in the water, they make for an easily obtainable stunning image.