Scientific name: Pterois volitans (Linnaeus)
Common names: Lionfish, lion fish, zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, red lionfish, butterfly cod, ornate butterfly-cod, peacock lionfish, red firefish, scorpionfish
Average life span in the wild: Up to 15 years
Size: 11" to 15"
Weight: Up to 2.6 lbs.
Remarks: Lionfish are an invasive species that threatens native fish and the environment in U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast waters
Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, but are now established along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico. While the exact cause is unknown, experts speculate that people have been dumping unwanted lionfish from home aquariums into the Atlantic Ocean.
Since lionfish are not native to U.S. waters, they have very few predators. They feed on native fish and crustaceans in large quantities, including both ecologically and economically important species like grunts, snapper, grouper, and cleaner shrimp. As the fish become more abundant, they are becoming a threat to the fragile ecosystems that they have invaded. Between outcompeting similar fish and having a large diet, the lionfish is drastically changing and disrupting the food chains that hold the marine ecosystems together. As these chains are disrupted, scientists continue to see declining densities of other fish populations, as well as a decline in the overall diversity of coral reef areas. The presence of the lionfish also can create a cascade of problems. It often feeds on parrotfish, which eat algae. If there are no parrotfish, the algae will grow unabated and can smother the coral. That’s why organizations like TPWD and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees Flower Garden Banks, have been studying the lionfish for some time.
Three separate lionfish were spotted at Flower Garden Banks National Maritime Sanctuary, which lies east of Galveston and about 100 miles south of the Texas-Louisiana border. The coral reefs there are popular among scuba divers and fishing enthusiasts. Not only are there reefs for them to live around, but the added dynamic of the many oil rigs in the Gulf, provide them places to live as well.
The venom of the lionfish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.
Lionfish are capable of reproducing year-round with unique reproduction mechanisms not commonly found in native fishes (females can reproduce every 4 days!)