Seven Interesting Facts About Invasive Lionfish You Might Not Know

reposted from World Lionfish Hunters Association (August 2013)


1. Where do the names "Pterios volitans" and "Pterois miles" come from? Are lionfish known by other names?

Pterois volitans, which makes up approximately 93% of the invasive lionfish population, is also commonly called “red lionfish” and Pterois miles is often called the “common lionfish” or “devil firefish.” However, their common names do not match the origins of their scientific names.

poseidon-speared-a-lionfishThe genus name, Pterois, pronounced (tare-oh-eese) is defined in modern dictionaries as simply “lionfish,” however the word Pterois comes from the Greek word “pteroeis” meaning “feathered” or “winged” and the Ancient Greek word, “πτερόν” (pteron), meaning “feather” or “wing.”

The species name, volitans, pronounced (vole-ee-tahnz), is Latin for “flying” or “hovering” and the present participle of the Latin word “volitō,” which means “to fly” or “to hover.”

The species name, miles, pronounced (mee-layz), is Latin for “soldiering” and the present participle of the Latin word “mīlitō,” which means “to soldier.”

No one is quite sure where the name “lionfish” really came from, but it would be a logical guess that when both pectoral fins are completely extended and fanned out, a head-on view of the lionfish might resemble a male lion’s mane. Others have also suggested that it might be a tip of the hat to the lionfish as a ferocious predator.

In areas where lionfish are not native, they may also be known by other names such as butterfly cod, firefish, turkeyfish, dragon fish, zebrafish, pez diablo (Spanish for devil fish), pez león (Spanish for “lion fish”), korall duivel (Dutch for “coral devil”), peixe-leão (Portuguese for “lion fish”) and poisson lion (French for “lion fish”).

2. What are the fleshy tentacles above the eyes and below the mouths on young lionfish? What happens to them as they grow older?

Lionfish have “wigglers” and fleshy knobs over its eyes and under its mouth when they are young. Smaller prey fish are lured to these tassels. When the fish attempt to take the bait, the lionfish is able to swallow them in a lightning-fast strike; the hunter becomes the prey! As the lionfish grows older, they no longer need these lures as they gain hunting experience. The knobs may eventually be nibbled down to nothing or they can get knocked off as the lionfish moves around its habitat.

3. How deep have invasive lionfish been found?

Lionfish have been visually confirmed at a depth of 1,000 feet (305 meters) near Lyford Cay, Bahamas.

4. How long can a lionfish survive without eating?

When food is scarce, a lionfish’s metabolism can essentially crawl to a stop; Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects at REEF, said in one presentation not long ago that studies have shown that lionfish can live without food for up to 3 months and only lose 10% of their body mass.

It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to starve them to death …

On the other hand, a different observation by James Morris, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s preeminent scientist studying the invasion of lionfish into U.S. coastal waters, uncovered evidence that lionfish might be quite literally eating themselves to death. Obese lionfish are being found with internal organs completely encased in fat. In fact, these lionfish are so fat that they are suffering from liver damage!

Obese Lionfish Source: Slate

5. Are lionfish invasive in other parts of the world other than in the Western Atlantic Basin?

Yes. Lionfish, mostly Pterois miles, are being sighted in the Mediterranean Sea now. They appear to have either transited the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, where lionfish are considered a native species, or private aquarium releases are contributing to their establishment of a new non-native habitat.

Source: Green Prophet

6. Can the invasive lionfish live in fresh water?

No, not exactly. However, in Florida, they are increasingly being found in brackish, estuarine environments over 4 miles inland away from the ocean where water salinity is approximately only 8 parts per thousand, compared to an ocean average of 33 parts per thousand.

That’s not quite fresh water but it is scary close!

Source: The Abaco Scientist

7. Is eating lionfish healthy?

Yes, in fact eating lionfish is healthier than eating snapper or grouper because lionfish have higher concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, scoring above snapper and grouper, as well as tilapia, bluefin tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo and other table fish commonly served in restaurants. Lionfish are also very low in heavy metals like mercury and lead!

Nutrition Information Source: BIOFLUX
Heavy Metals Source: Science Direct

For more interesting facts about invasive lionfish, be sure to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Lionfish page!

About the Author: Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell is the Executive Director of the World Lionfish Hunters Association. He was a high-profile private investigator and business consultant who now lives and "slow travels" throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, hunting lionfish and working with dive centers on behalf of the WLHA. Scott has been a dive instructor since 1995.


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