Red lionfish

Pterois volitans

A member of the Scopaenidae or scorpion fish family, the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) is commonly found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The species ranges from western Australia and Malaysia to the Marquesas Islands. It is not a native of this eco-region, but in the last few years, there have been increasing reports of the species being seen off the coasts of Georgia and Eastern Florida. Research scientists want to document all sightings, collections and other incidents relative to this species as well as other non-native marine species. They would also like to learn more about their distribution, abundance and habitat preference in the region.

The red lionfish has distinctive red to purple color with vertical white stripes, fleshy tentacles above the eyes and below the mouth, and fan-like pectoral fins. This spectacular fish inhabits channels, lagoons, and semiprotected seaward reefs to depths of over 36 m. It usually occurs under ledges and feeds on small crustaceans and fishes. This species seems to occur most frequently in relatively turbid water.

Like other members of the scorpion fish family, red lionfish are capable of inflicting extremely painful, though generally non-fatal, wounds and will stand their ground when harassed. The lionfish uses its poisonous spines along with its widespread pectoral fins, trapping its prey and then stunning it with the spines. It then swallows the prey whole. During the day the Lionfish looks for unexposed places and hides, nearly motionless to rest for the upcoming night, sometimes upside down!