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Lionfish Facts

We are on a mission to become the single most comprehensive resource for information the general public needs in order to fully understand that the lionfish invasion is TRULY a plague unlike we have ever witnessed in human history. We’ve attempted to compile the following list of lionfish facts and present them with as little commentary or fluff as possible.  If you see a correction, update or have an addition you think should be made regarding lionfish facts, please use our Contact Page or leave a comment below the article to bring them to our attention. At the end of this list we have provided several other links to collections of additional information as well.

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Lionfish facts : Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacifc region and the Red Sea.

Lionfish are not native in the Western Atlantic Basin, which includes the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, or the Mediterranean Sea where they are considered an invasive species.

Intentional and unintentional releases from home aquariums is the most likely cause for the invasion in the Western Atlantic Basin, while lionfish migrating through the Suez Canal is the most likely cause for their establishment in the Mediterranean Sea.

The current global lionfish invasion is made up two species, Pterois volitans and Pterois miles, which are nearly indistinguishable outside of the lab. P. volitans accounts for nearly 93% of the total non-native, invasive lionfish population in the Western Atlantic Basin. The invasive lionfish population in the Mediterranean Sea almost entirely consists of P. miles.

It is entirely unlikely that we will ever eradicate either population from the invaded areas. They are here to stay and we must all get involved to manage their population until nature finds a way to reach some balance.

Lionfish belong in the Scorpaenidae family. Commonly called scorpionfishes the family includes approximately 500 different species.

The genus name “Pterois” is from the Ancient Greek word for “feathered” or “winged.” There are 10 species of lionfish in the genus.

The species name “volitans” is Latin for “flying” or “hovering” and “miles” is Latin for “soldiering.”

Lionfish facts

Adult-sized invasive P. volitans and P. miles average between 13 – 16 inches  (33 – 40 cm) in length. The red lionfish and devil firefish is almost always striped in white, dark red, brown and black with dark spots found in orange fin rays and caudal fin (tail). It is not uncommon to find these fish turning almost entirely black.

Lionfish reach adult size in approximately 2 years.

The largest record lionfish measured a little over 47.7cm or 19.5 inches and was speared near Islamorada, Florida in the United States.

In lab studies, lionfish die when water temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius.

Using water temperature as the limiting factor of it’s potential non-native range, lionfish could theoretically live during the summer months as far north as Rhode Island, United States (where there are documented sightings) and as far south as Buenos Aires, Argentina (no known sightings yet).

Lionfish have been visually sighted down to depths of 1000 feet or 305 meters.

Another interesting lionfish fact is that lionfish have no known predators outside of its native habitat, though there are reports that grouper, gray triggerfish and large eels have eaten healthy, uninjured lionfish in the Caribbean Sea.

Predators known to hunt lionfish in their native habitat include cornetfish, grouper, large eels, bobbit worms, frog fish, other scorpionfish, sharks and others.

Female lionfish are sexually mature and will release eggs when they reach 7 to 8 inches in length, or approximately one year old.

A female lionfish can release between 10,000 and 30,000 unfertilized eggs every 4 days year around, approximately 2 MILLION eggs per year, in South Florida and warmer Caribbean waters but possibly only spawn 3 to 4 months a year in colder waters. She will typically release 2 egg sacs that are between 1 and 2 inches long every spawn.

It has been reported that the egg sac contains a chemical deterrent that discourages other fish from eating the eggs.

The eggs sacs and larvae are distributed by ocean currents.

Once its territory is established, a lionfish will not usually travel very far from its home.

A lionfish’s stomach can expand up to 30 times it’s normal volume.

Lionfish primarily hunt during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. They have also been described as active hunters during periods of dim ambient light such as on overcast or notably cloudy days.

Photo taken by Erin Cziraki while doing graduate work at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. Lionfish Facts Lionfish can eat prey just over 1/2 its own body size as long as it can get its mouth around the prey.

Lionfish are known to eat just about every marine creature in its range, by some estimates that includes over 70 different fish, invertebrates and mollusks. (There’s been no known instances of them eating juvenile sea turtles… yet.)

A single small lionfish may reduce the number of juvenile native fish on any given reef by approximately 79% in just 5 weeks.

Interesting lionfish fact : One lionfish was recently found to have over 60 prey in its stomach.

Controlled studies have shown that a lionfish can go up to 3 months or longer without eating and only lose 10% of their body mass.

Lionfish have 18 venomous spines that are capable of easily penetrating human skin and delivering a very painful sting; 13 of these spines are located along the spine in the dorsal fins, there is one short spine in the leading edge of each of the pelvic fins and 3 short spines in the leading edge of the anal fin. View a detailed image of these spines here.

The venom is a protein-based combination of a neuromuscular toxin and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The venom can be denatured (or rendered inert) by applying heat or freezing.

Recommended first aid for lionfish stings and envenomation include surfacing safely from a dive, removing any broken spines and disinfecting the wound then applying non-scalding hot water for 30 to 90 minutes. Monitor for signs of allergic reaction or shock and react accordingly. Seek medical treatment immediately. Click here for more information about first aid treatment for lionfish stings.

There have been no known human fatalities as a result of a lionfish envenomation.

Yes, you can eat lionfish, they are not poisonous.

Ciguatoxins, the cause of Ciguatera Food Poisoning (CFP), have been found in a small sample of lionfish in VERY SPECIFIC AREAS where other reef predators are known to also carry the risk of ciguatera, however there have been no known cases of ciguatera food poisoning having been caused by eating lionfish to date.

Additional Information:

Our Most Frequently Asked Question About Lionfish

10 Most Common Lionfish Myths – Busted!

7 Interesting (and Shocking) Lionfish Facts You Might Not Know

About the Author:

L. Scott Harrell is the co-founder of the World Lionfish Hunters Association. He now owns a scuba diving marketing consultancy in Cozumel, Mexico and offers expert PADI scuba instruction and private divemaster services. You can hunt lionfish in Cozumel, too!

Comments (28)

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  1. lola says:

    why are the dangerous species

  2. LUV BUG says:


    • Drake says:

      George i like how you have a strong passion for divers and the responsibility that we take with killing lionfish. yet, as much as i hate to say, we make very little impact on the lionfish population if any at all. Us as divers who are already well known with the species should be educating people about the damages of this fish and how they are negatively influencing our ecosystem rather asking for a reward for one lionfish. one lionfish makes no difference just like 5000 made no difference after a year in carasou. there are solutions to this attack and it is to 1) train other animals to eat the lionfish. 2) train species to eat their eggs since their reproductive rates are so astronomical. 3) start commercial fishing for lionfish just like we did with sharks in the past. 4) build artificial reefs to relocate lionfish allowing us to easily monitor them

  3. George Smock says:

    I found your site today and its great and very informative. I’m in Bradenton Florida and dove yesterday in 65’on a favorite ledge I’ve been diving for years and found 4lions in just one section of 50′. I was able to kill 3 of 4 but I can see this is going to be a nightmare for everyone including the commercial industry who seems to be in control of everything.
    I was wondering if anyone in your organization has petitioned them and the FWC to give a reward for killing lionfish. It seems like such a huge problem for just a hand full of divers. Either cash or It could be as simple as ,if you have a fresh killed lion you could have a fish of your choice during the closed season. For example I could have kept 1 gag grouper or red snapper yesterday as reward for the lionfish in my possession. The divers are doing the work for everyone they should be rewarded.

    • Nathaniel Sorensen says:

      It would be impossible to monitor this kind of thing. Scuba for fun and kill the invasive fish… eat it.. that is your reward. I hate the fact i have to kill this beautiful animal but i do it for the feef. I kill no other fish. I am an animal activist. Do the same. Please.

      • Russ Gallegher says:

        “Beautiful” animal? You gotta be kidding me! That thing is as ugly as a weekend in Bangkok! A grouper on my plate with garlic and a nice garnish – now THAT’s beautiful, but we’ll have a lot less of that b/c this monster is damaging a fishery. In Caribbean waters people already have to beware of urchins; now we have this threat? Your dive is going to be ruined by a lionfish sting? Yeah, that’s beautiful alright!

  4. Dylan Freberg says:

    Is the United States Federal Government currently hunting them? If so, can you site any resources?

  5. David Andress says:

    Spotted a lionfish in the snorkeling cove at Disney’s Castaway Cay in November. Reported it to the lifeguard who seemed oblivious to its potential reef threat. Learned about them on the islandgirl boat trip to Trunk Bay, st. John, USVI, for snorkeling there.

  6. Jeff Jones @jwjonez says:

    Mr. Harrell,
    When hunting a territorial animal, the mostly likely scenario is decoy that mimics a rival to lure the out to trap or kill it. If lion fish fight other lion fish consider a “tarbaby” engagment strategy that bogs/bibds a lionfish in a death grip with the decoy. This mitigation scheme may well be in the realm of a expert marine biologist, US fish & wildlife, or NOAA level org to trap to lure and kill the animals with emphasis on minimal impact to non-invasives.
    All the best,
    Jeff Jones
    @jwjonez on Twitter

  7. selena says:

    When was this website last updated

  8. Betty says:

    This website is very helpful

  9. Nathaniel Sorensen says:

    Its simple. Kill them when you see them. It will save reefs.

  10. Barefoot Cay in Roatan, Honduras is hosting a LionFish Hunting Week! Sept. 9-16 2017

    You can become a licensed lion fisher

  11. Heidi Peterson says:

    Develop a deadly communicable virus or mutation which is particular to the lionfish and spread it among the population.

  12. Heidi Peterson says:

    Contact the Bill And Melinda Gates foundation to help. They are trying this with mosquitoes.

  13. Carole jones says:

    I saw a lion fish under my dock this morning. I will report to local authorities but want to know if it iis dangerous to the lobsters who also breed under the dock.

    • Andy Lowe says:

      They won’t bother the lobster other than to compete for food. Thank you for paying attention and I hope you get him removed soon. They don’t usually go far, so he’ll stick around until someone can get him. 🙂

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