Lionfish

The lionfish (Pterois) is a highly venomous invasive fish found in the West Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  it is characterized by conspicuous warning coloration with red, white, creamy, or black bands, showy pectoral fins, and venomous spiky fin rays.

Pterois fish in the Atlantic range from 5 to 45 cm in length, weighing from 0.025 to 1.3 kg. They are well known for their beauty, venomous spines, and unique tentacles. Juvenile lionfish have a unique tentacle located above their eye sockets that vary in phenotype between species.

Lionfish prey mostly on small fish, invertebrates, and mollusks in large amounts, with some specimens’ stomachs containing up to six different species of prey. The amount of prey in lionfish stomachs over the course of a day suggests lionfish feed most actively from 7:00–11:00 a.m., and decrease feeding throughout the afternoon.

Lionfish are skilled hunters, using specialized bilateral swim bladder muscles to provide precise control of the location in the water column, allowing the fish to alter its center of gravity to better attack prey. The lionfish then spreads its large pectoral fins and swallows its prey in a single motion. They blow jets of water while approaching prey, apparently to disorient them. In addition to confusing prey, these jets of water also alter the orientation of the prey so that the smaller fish is facing the lionfish. This results in a higher degree of predatory efficiency as head-first capture is easier for the lionfish.

Two of the twelve species of Pterois, the red lionfish and the common lionfish, have established themselves as significant invasive species off the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean. They have been described as “one of the most aggressively invasive species on the planet”. Lionfish have also established themselves in parts of the Mediterranean with Pterois miles being found in the waters around Cyprus and Malta. Lionfish species are known for devouring many other aquarium fishes, unusual in that they are among the few fish species to successfully establish populations in open marine systems. Pelagic larval dispersion is assumed to occur through oceanic currents, including the Gulf Stream and the Caribbean Current. Ballast water can also contribute to the dispersal. The lionfish invasion is considered to be one of the most serious recent threats to Caribbean and Florida coral reef ecosystems. To help address the pervasive problem, in 2015 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) partnered with the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute to set up a lionfish portal to provide scientifically accurate information on the invasion and its impacts. The lionfish web portal is aimed at all those involved and affected, including coastal managers, educators, and the public and the portal was designed as a source of training videos, fact sheets, examples of management plans, and guidelines for monitoring. The web portal draws on the expertise of NOAA’s own scientists as well as other scientists and policymakers from academia NGO and managers.

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