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Red Lionfish and Common Lionfish – Invasive Species – Part 6

Invasive Species In USA Waterways - Part 6

Red Lionfish and Common Lionfish

Red and Common Lionfish

Both the Red Lionfish and Common Lionfish are invasive species which have come the USA waterways resulting in Lionfish invasion. They are great at camouflaging themselves. While, Red Lionfish and Common Lionfish have poisonous spines. They are both edible fish.

Invasive Species Definition

The definition of an invasive species is any species that is not native to our ecosystems and cause harm when introduced to the ecosystems. Furthermore, these may include amphibians, plants, insects, fish, fungus, bacteria and more. Impacts on the environment may cause economic loss or affect human health.

While, Invasive species tend to grow and reproduce quickly and spread aggressively with the potential to cause harm on the environment, economy or even human health. Therefore, given the label “invasive”.

Red fish swimming

The Red Lionfish has the botanical name of Pterois volitans. While, being indigenous to the West Pacific Ocean. Further, is a large strikingly beautiful but venomous fish, reaching sizes of up to 45cm. Furthermore, aggressive feeders and explosive breeders. Therefore, a dangerous predator to local aquatic life. Meanwhile, armed with toxins that can cause painful stings to humans who encounter them.

Biology of the Red Lionfish

Feed on crustaceans, other invertebrates, and fish. Opportunistic in foraging among coral reefs. Further, adapt to prey items quickly, allowing them to infiltrate habitats with ease. While, aggressive feeders and fertile fish. Therefore, causing Lionfish invasion.

Females lay eggs every four days. Furthermore, spawn continually throughout the year. Therefore, can lay approximately two million eggs annually. Amazing fertility rate combined with aggressive behaviour makes it a dangerous for indigenous coral reef ecosystems.

However, devastate local reef communities with aggressiveness, wide selection of prey items, and ability to reproduce throughout the year. Superior competitors especially on the coral reef. Slowly making their way to Florida and up into the Gulf Coast.

Prefer to live near reefs in depths between 10-175m. Camouflaging themselves at the reefs bottom. Brilliant coloring allows them to both stand out and warn others of their toxicity. Dominate the coral reef habitats.

Red fish in ecosystem

Introduction and Management in the USA

Red Lionfish swimming in display

Without proper management, they will inhabit all the Gulf Waters. The aquarium trade introduced Red and Common Lionfish into the United States waters. Most likely due to aquarium owners dumping unwanted pets who become too large or too expensive to maintain.

With various methods currently underway for managing the Lionfish invasion in the United States. Some of these activities include spearing, bagging, or simply marking the location of the Red Lionfish by divers. Snorkelers and divers are mostly relied upon to locate these fish.

Eating of the Red Lionfish is promoted. Red Lionfish are a delicacy in some cultures and are even a base ingredient in bouillabaisse.

Common Lionfish

Is native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean region, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Micronesia. As well as, Japan. Have caused a lionfish invasion in the USA. Generally, have a distinctive appearance. Moreover, are maroon-red or brown in color with white stripes from head to tail.

While, the adults can grow up to 18 inches long, with juveniles being around an inch. Meanwhile, feature a large head, being approximately half its length. Above the eyes and below the mouth are numerous fleshy tentacle-like appendages. Generally have smooth edged, elliptical or oval-shaped scales cover the body.

Generally, have eighteen venomous spines along the top of their bodies, rounded or squared caudal fins and fan-like pectoral fins. The strong venomous spiny dorsal fin has 13 long spines and 10-11 soft rays.  Meanwhile, the anal fin is sharp with six or seven soft rays.

Biology of the Common Lionfish

Common swimming in ecosystem

Originating from warm marine waters. But can be found in mangroves, seagrass, deep-water hard ocean bottom, shipwrecks or coral reefs. These are nocturnal fish, inactive during day. Sheltering in reef crevices, natural and artificial structures. Competing against native species.

Active nocturnal hunters capturing prey by cornering them with the fan-like outstretched pectoral fins. Prey includes small fishes and crustaceans. An increase in piscivory occurs with age. Being slow moving. Therefore, rely on coloring and spines for camouflage and allusion to would be predators. 

Can live upwards of 30 years. Females release around two million eggs per year. Nearly, 17 000 eggs every three days, all year long. Reaching maturity at about a year. Due to venomous spines, coloration, prolific reproduction and voracious appetite, they have no known predators. Increasing the chances of lionfish invasion. 

Ecology, Distribution, Introduction and Management in the USA

Lionfish have a strong ecological effect on native prey fishes that equivalent native predators and may pose a substantial threat to native coral-reef fish communities.

The long-term effects are unknown. Lionfish combined with the impact of pre-existing stressors, especially overfishing, may cause substantial deleterious changes in coral-reef communities. Especially, preying on coral reefs, crustaceans, piscivorous and herbivorous native fish species.

Furthermore, with the decrease in herbivorous fish species, thereby, giving Seaweed and macroalgae time to over grow. This in turn could have detrimental impact on the ecology.

Management Within the USA


The successful infiltration into their non-native habitats while edging out native species, has made it necessary to trap and even spear fish the Lionfish to manage populations. Therefore, reducing the lionfish invasion problem. A very successful trap used to trap this species is the FAD, Fish Aggregation Device.

This is a dome trap consisting of a circular base and two half-hoops hinged to permit pivoting from a horizontal to vertical position to closed when retrieved. One of the advantages these have over other types of traps is not becoming “ghost traps”.

Meaning where lost traps can continue to capture or harm fish or other marine life. Another positive for this trap is that it does not use bait, therefore does not catch any other species other than Lionfish. Another plus factor to catching to Lionfish is that it makes for a very good eating fish.

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