From my bold stripes to my sharp spines, I’m one of the flashiest fish in the sea! My dramatic coloring makes me very popular in the aquarium industry—who wouldn’t want to see me swimming around their tanks? Just make sure you don’t touch me. My spines contain a nasty neurotoxin that causes pain and swelling if injected—OUCH! It’s my fun little way of letting predators know I don’t make a good meal.
I have to admit that I’ve become quite a nuisance in parts of the world. Although I’m originally from the Indo-Pacific region, some people thought it would be a good idea to release me into the Atlantic Ocean. I’m a very scrappy fish and wasted no time in making this new region my home. Now you can find me (and lots of my friends and relatives) throughout the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Our numbers have gotten so big we’re considered an invasive species—that’s just a fancy way of identifying a species that is wreaking havoc in its non-native environments.
Did You Know?
People are coming up with some pretty creative ways to keep me off reefs in the invaded region. Scuba divers and snorkelers use spears to nab me (I’m typically too clever to fall for that old hook-and-line trick). Occasionally there will be big “Lionfish Derbies,” where teams of divers will compete to collect as many of us as they can to win prizes.
I have quite a voracious appetite (my nickname is “the Hoover vacuum of the sea”). I absolutely love to eat, but my dining habits are causing trouble in my invaded range. In densely invaded areas, we can consume 460,000 prey fish per acre per year, including ecologically and economically important fish like grouper and snapper. In some places we’ve reduced the native prey population by 90%. That’s a lot of fish!
We’re not the only ones doing the eating though. Apparently we taste really good, which has led some restaurants to start listing us on their menus to help keep our populations down in the invaded range!