Scary to Look at, But Lionfish Are Now Being Eaten as a Delicacy
Lionfish is a type of marine fish. It is also known as dragon fish, scorpion fish, tiger fish and turkey fish due to characteristic appearance. There are 10 different species of lionfish that are native to the Pacific Ocean. Lionfish appeared recently on the eastern coast of the United States after they managed to escape from the private aquariums. Lionfish in North America are regarded as invasive animals because they do not have natural enemies and they easily eliminate native species when competing for space and food. Lionfish live near the coral reefs and in the rock crevices. These fish are highly adaptable, they have high reproduction rate and their number in the wild is large and stable. Lionfish is not on the list of endangered species.
The size of lionfish depends on the species. Smallest species are only 2 inches long, while largest can reach 16 inches in length. On average, lionfish have 1 to 2 pounds in weight and can reach 13 inches in length.
They are famous by their beautifully colored bodies, covered with red, white, orange, black or brown stripes (it depends on the species). Stripes are arranged in zebra-like pattern. Their feathery pectoral fins that are used to attract smaller prey. On the other hand, same features keep the predators on the safe distance.
Here’s the scary part: Lionfish has more than thirteen (up to 18) venomous spines on the back side of the body. Venom is used only for self-defense (lionfish does not hunt using these spikes). Some people will experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, breathing difficulties and pain after the close encounter with lionfish’s venom. Fatalities have not been recorded. Despite their venom, lionfish are consumed as delicacy in certain countries.
The large mouth of lionfish allows swallowing of the prey in a single bite. OUCH! it is a carnivore (meat-eater). And it eats various types of fish and crustaceans. When the food sources are scarce, lionfish will attack and eat members of its own species. This phenomenon is called cannibalism, something that humans have been known to do. Lionfish often hunts as an ambush predator (using the factor of surprise). They are diurnal animals (active during the day).
The main predators of lionfish are eels, large fish and humans. Lionfish are often collected and sold as pets due to their unusual look.
They are solitary creatures that occupy and defend their territories. Sometimes they form smaller groups composed of one male and few females. reproducing at incredible high rates. Females can release 30 000 eggs every 7 days. Because of that, lionfish easily occupy new habitats and outnumber native species. Then fertilized eggs hatch after 2 days. Babies, called fry, will swim near the surface of the water until they reach the length of at least 1 inch.
Wow! Lionfish can survive from 5 to 15 years in the wild.