Home > Education
Click to Increase Text Size Click to Decrease Text Size Email This Page Print this Page Bookmark This Page



Lionfish are an invasive species, originally from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Two species, the red lionfish (Pterois volitan) and the devil fish (Pterois miles) have been found in the Atlantic/Caribbean; however, the vast majority (97%) is the red lionfish. They were first reported in the 1985 by a commercial fisherman off Dania, Florida. In 1992, several individuals escaped from an aquarium on Biscayne Bay, Florida. They were found in 2000 and 2001 off NC, SC, GA, FL and Bermuda, and in 2004 they invaded the Bahamas. They are now present throughout Bermuda, the Southeastern US, Bahamas, Caribbean, and much of Central and South America.


Lionfish are the Perfect Invaders: Reproduction

  • Mature in Year 1; males at 4" and females at 7"
  • Eggs evolve & grow on stalks; each egg has somewhat of an umbilical cord
  • Complex courtship - female releases 2 egg masses
  • Eggs encased in gelatinous mucous - hollow & traps sperm
  • Larval duration of 26 days
  • Spawn year round - every 4 days
  • 25,000 eggs per batch
  • Over 2 MILLION eggs per female per year

Lionfish are the Perfect Invaders: Feeding

  • Eat more than 40 species
  • Stomach expands 30X in volume; eat fish ½-3/4 their own size
  • Observed eating 20 small fish in 30 minutes
  • Eat ecologically important species & economically important species (Nassau groupers & yellow tail snapper)
  • Research in Exuma shows reduced native fish numbers by 80% on a reef

Lionfish are the Perfect Invaders: Predators

  • Few natural predators - large groupers, coronet fish?
  • Native predators don’t recognize lionfish as prey
  • Found in Nassau groupers, greater amberjack and sharks
  • Exuma feeding trials - over 5-39 days, Nassau grouper, red hind, grasby, nurse shark & octopus did not eat lionfish
  • NMFS Beaufort, NC similar results with black sea bass and gag

Lionfish are the Perfect Invaders: Density

  • Why so many? Niche empty, lack of predators, lots of food, warm temperature
  • Native density - Red Sea = 200 per acre; Palau = 5.5 per acre
  • North Carolina density - Mean = 375/acre; Maximum = 1,125/acre
  • Bahamas density - Mean = 983/acre; Maximum = 1,343/acre

Lionfish Spines are Venomous NOT POISONOUS:

  • Dorsal, ventral & anal spines have 2 glandular grooves with venomous tissue under a sheath covering
  • Sheath is pushed down as spine enters victim and the glands are damaged, releasing the venom
  • Symptoms are severe pain, swelling and rash
  • Venom is in the spines NOT in the flesh/meat
  • Remove spine = Remove venom = SAFE to EAT!!!!!

The videos and links on the following pages provide additional information. We also have a Frequently Asked Questions page that may answer any additional questions. Please contact us via the Blog or the Contact Us page if you want more information.


Related Information

What is SafeSpear? Buy SafeSpear Now SafeSpear is a unique polespear system that provides the best and safest method to catch lionfish which helps restore ecosystem balance.