Lionfish

Update of post from November 23, 2013

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The lionfish is a bizarre-looking, medium-sized fish native to the Indian and Pacific oceans. There are actually several species of lionfish which look very different from each other. The one shown above is the common lionfish, which, true to its name, is the most common of all of the species. The number of species of these fish is debatable. Different sources put the number anywhere between 8 and 16.

Below, I have shown two other species of lionfish. Although their general shape is the same, their coloring is drastically different from each other and from the one above. The lionfish on the left is the luna lionfish, and on the right is the clearfin lionfish. The common lionfish is also called the red lionfish, as it is one of the few species that has red on its body.

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As you can see from these two pictures and the one at the top, lionfish are diverse fish with many different colors. They can have many different colors on their body, including, blue, white, brown, black, white, and red.

Size

Lionfish are larger than they probably look in the pictures above. They range from 12 to 15 inches (30-38 cm) long, but they are normally closer to the smaller end of this range. The largest lionfish ever recorded was 19.5 inches (48 cm) long!

They do not weight very much for their size. This is probably because most of what gives them this size is their long, thin spines, which are quite light. These fish usually weigh about 2.5 pounds (1.2 kg).

Diet and hunting

These fish are carnivores, eating mostly other fish. They will also eat small crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs, and occasionally plankton. The habitat they live in has a lot of small fish, so lionfish almost live in a buffet. In zoos and aquariums, lionfish are usually fed shrimp and various frozen foods.

These fish do most of their hunting during the daytime. When hunting their prey, lionfish use their long, thin pectoral fins (the long flaps coming off the side of their body) to their advantage. These fish ambush their prey, but they do not always catch it immediately. Instead, they can use their fins to corral their next meal into a corner. They then quickly devour the fish before it has a chance to escape.

Habitat and range

Lionfish live in many places in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They also live in the Red Sea, which is just off the Indian Ocean. These fish are also an invasive species. They have non-native populations in the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of North America from Florida to New York.

It is unknown exactly how they got here, but there are two possible explanations. First of all, these invaders could be the result of people releasing their pet lionfish into the wild after realizing they were too hard to take care of. Another possible reason is that a hurricane broke some aquariums containing these fish, therefore releasing them into the wild. The most likely explanation is that fish were released into the wild in the 1980s, and Hurrican Andrew in 1992 released more fish, strengthening the population.

Lionfish live near the shores of the oceans and seas they live in. They particularly like to inhabit reefs, as they provide plenty of places to hide from predators as well as plenty of choices for food. You may have been able to tell already from the oceans these fish live in, but lionfish love warm water. According to research, they may die if the water gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C).

Status, threats, and protection

Lionfish have not been classified by any major conservation group, but if I had to guess, I would say they would be Least Concern. There are a couple reasons why I would say this, one of which is the fact that these fish have a large range. Most species that are threatened have a smaller range.

Also, they are an invasive species, and most invasive species are not threatened. In fact, the invasive lionfish population in the Atlantic has become so well established that attempts to kill them off or remove them have failed! The reason people have tried to kill these fish here is that they mess with the balance of predators and prey.

There are many predators of the lionfish, all of which are larger fish. These include groupers, eels, sharks, and scorpionfish. You may never have heard of scorpionfish before, and what is interesting is that lionfish are scorpionfish. The term “scorpionfish” refers to a large group of fish, and lionfish are a part of that group.

These fish are not normally preyed on because most other fish are a lot less dangerous to eat. See, lionfish have many long fins coming out of their body. Not only do these fins make the fish appear larger and harder to eat, but many of them also contain needle-like points at the end that are tipped with poison. This poison, while not fatal to humans, is extremely painful, and causes nausea and even difficulty breathing.

Reproduction and young

Lionfish spawning season runs for three or four months in colder areas of their range, and in warmer areas, it can last year round. During this time, females can lay between 4,000 and 30,000 eggs every four days! If she continues this pace for an entire year, she could lay 2.7 million eggs in just one year!

After the female lays the eggs, a male fertilizes them. The eggs are laid in clusters with mucous that holds thousands of the eggs together. Within a few days, the mucus dissolves, and the eggs float freely through the ocean.

In one to two days, the eggs will hatch into transparent, planktonic creatures. Until they are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, the young stay floating in the water. Once they reach this size, they will swim down and join the adults in the reef. It is unknown how long these fish live in the wild, but they have been known to live 10 years in captivity.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Lionfish – Alexander Vasenin
  • Lionfish 2 – Wikipedia user: The High Fin Sperm Whale
  • Lionfish 3 – Wikipedia user: syu-1
  • Mystery animal – Kenneth Dwain Harrelson
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