Monday, June 20, 2011

Invasive Species: Red Lionfish

 Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Believe it or not, this highly prized aquarium fish has become an aggressive invasive along the Eastern coast of the United States. Since they are such a popular aquarium fish, it is believed that they have been released by private owners. Also, during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, an aquarium was destroyed and six of these fish were released into the ocean. Since then, their numbers have skyrocketed and they have been spotted as far north as New York. The adults have no natural predators and the larvae can swim great distances, which probably accounts for them spreading so quickly. They eat virtually any other fish, and often will eat larvae, which makes them a major threat to native wildlife.

These fish were first seen at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast in 2007, putting all of the animals protected there at risk. After hearing a lecture from a staff member at Gray's Reef, I must say it sounds like things look rather grim.

The species is venomous, with the spines along their back being the point of delivery. This makes them a danger to recreational swimmers, especially in areas like coastal Georgia where the water is usually quite murky. There is a push to try and get people to fish for them to help control the population. Supposedly they are rather tasty, but if not handled carefully the spines can be dangerous.

Images used are copyright-free from Wikimedia Commons 


  1. Nice resource. That is a pretty good page to look at if you're interested in what it's like for those trying to deal with an invasive species.

  2. It's interesting to me that the vast majority of "feral" lionfish on the East Coast and the Caribbean are red lionfish, instead of the common lionfish species.

  3. It seems that the red lionfish and common lionfish are actually the same species. If you look, you'll come back with the same scientific name for both. Species will often have different common names depending on region and sometimes person, and this species in particular has numerous (red firefish, zebrafish, scorpion-cod, etc.) I was referring mostly to a pamphlet about invasives in Georgia when I wrote this, and it refers to the species as the "red lionfish."