This interesting looking fish is called a lionfish. Though it's a crowd pleaser in the aquarium, it's a catastrophe in the ocean.
Native to the Indian and South Pacific Oceans, the lionfish is an invasive species in Southeast Atlantic and Caribbean waters and spreading fast.
NOAA defines an invasive species as "an organism that causes ecological and/or economic harm in a new environment where it is not native". The lionfish is definitely earning this label. It is competing with local fish like snapper and grouper for food and space. Scientists are also concerned that parrot fish may diminish in numbers as well. Parrot fish are important to coral. They keep algae from overgrowing and smothering the reefs.
Lionfish make their homes in shallow waters around mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and even in shipwrecks. They hunt by spreading their pectoral fins and using them to corner their prey before an attack.
Unfortunately, lionfish have no known predators and are prolific at reproducing. A mature female's body makes eggs all year long, and she will release around two million within the year's time.
If you spot one of these beauties, keep your distance. A sting from their spines can last for days, leading to extreme pain, sweating, respiratory distress, and paralysis. If you are stung, seek medical attention.
There are several theories about how lionfish got into the ocean.
- One theory has the fish on display at a pubic aquarium during a hurricane. Storm surge is blamed on washing them out to sea.
- A second theory has the lionfish living in a private aquarium when they were released by the owner.
We will never know what exactly happened, but two things are certain:
- Lionfish are a big problem.
- And wherever there are lionfish, scientists are looking for a way to keep the ecosystem in balance.
1. "What is a Lionfish?". National Ocean Service: NOAA. Web. 23 Oct. 2018. <https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html>.
1. "Lionfish" by Linzmeier 1 is licensed by CCO Creative Commons.