The Lionfish (Pterois volitans) happens to be a member of the Scorpaenidae family – a species that is known for producing some of the world’s most venomous fish. The Lionfish is one such venomous fish. One should never attempt to touch or handle a Lionfish since it can give a painful and venomous sting. The stung area of your body can experience pain for several days and highly sensitive persons can become seriously ill with the development of a respiratory depression. As a precautionary measure to avoid Lionfish stings, never reach into dark crevices or hollows underwater when snorkelling, and avoid scuba diving near reefs where Lionfish thrive. If you intend to keep a saltwater Lionfish in captivity, it is highly advised that you seek advice from seasoned Lionfish keepers on matters concerning the proper care and handling of Lionfish, and what to do if you get stung.
Lionfish can grow as large as 30-38 centimetres. Thus they must be given a very large aquarium tank when kept in captivity. The lionfish feature 14 delicate pectoral feather-like looking rays, plus a long “tentacle” that protrudes above the eyes. The Lionfish’s nose is partly covered by flaps and the fish also sport a bony ridge that goes across its cheek and over its eyes. One of the main distinctions between Pterois volitans and all other family members of the Scorpaenidae is that the Pterois volitans has 13 dorsal spines while all the others have 12 or less.
The Lionfish is of Indo-Pacific origin, but man has carried it to several other warm parts of the world. Though it is strongly advised against, some aquarists who tire of their marine pets throw them into the wild even though it’s harmful to the ecosystem. For instance in Florida there exist a sizeable population of lionfish which are believed to have formerly been aquarium specimens. Sometimes natural disasters like Hurricane Andrew cause large lionfish-inhabited beachside aquariums to break, thereby releasing them into the ocean.
Although juvenile lionfish can be found to live together in groups, adult lionfish seek companionship only during breeding time. Lionfish are territorial and as they mature, each will claim its own territory and will violently defend it against any other lionfish, regardless of sex. Male lionfish are more aggressive than the females, especially when competing for suitable mates during breeding time. Lionfish try to sting each other with their venomous dorsal spines as they fight. For this reason it is not a good idea to keep adult lionfish together in the same aquarium.
During the breeding period when two male Lionfish encounter each other, the master of the territory will, in an effort to scare the intruder away, spread his fins and start swimming back and forth while pointing the venomous spines forward. If the intruder does not swim away, the owner of the territory will swim up face-to-face with the intruder and will start trembling and shaking his head. The two will soon be engaged in a violent battle if the intruder remains. Then they will try to bite, sting, and tear each other’s mouths.
The Lionfish are mainly a nocturnal animal and spend the day hiding in crevices and other hollows. The lionfish normally leave their shelters at sunset to look for food. They usually finish eating in an hour and spend the night wandering about in the water.