larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next
by Larry

August, 2009

Caribbean Lions?

In recent years, a bizarre marine phenomenon has occurred in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico oceans near the U.S. From Caribbean nations, such as Turks, Caicos, and Cuba, to the Bahamas, Bermuda, the waters off FL, and all the way up the east coast of the U.S. to MA, an explosive growth in the numbers of Indo-pacific Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) has been observed by professional divers, tourist snorkelers, and fishermen.

Red Lionfish, NOAA photo
One theory as to the origins of this development is that perhaps a half dozen of this exotic salt water aquarium species were swept into the retreating sea waters after a hurricane about a decade ago had flooded thousands of FL homes. But whether by accident or on purpose (as former tropical fish owners may have deliberately released their pets at FL beaches), these venomous, roughly two-foot long (as adults) old world creatures are now menacing vast stretches of new world oceans and their reefs. To date, no natural predators exist for the invasive lionfish, and they are flourishing in part at the expense of native reef life, both fish and crustaceans, in their newly adopted habitats.

Already, Red Lionfish have shown exponential growth while decimating the fishing industries wherever they have appeared. While not lethal to humans, their barbs or spines are poisonous and can cause us nasty wounds. Red Lionfish, unlike most native species, also reproduce year round and have few parasites, giving them a double advantage over the rest of their new eco-systems' fauna.

Lionfish removal programs, the physical capturing, extraction, and killing of individual fish, are being attempted wherever they are found, but their spread is annually exceeding this effort by large numbers. Volunteer divers are being enlisted for this work. Many more are needed.

One potential solution or adaptation to the mushrooming Red Lionfish presence in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters is to encourage their use as a staple food source. They are, for instance, widely eaten by Asian peoples, just not yet recognized as an edible commodity here, since their vastly increasing numbers in the West have only been noted in the past couple years.


-Lionfish Research Program at; July-August, 2009.

-Lionfish Arrive in the Florida Keys at; January 12, 2009.

-The Bahamas - Stopping the Lionfish. Arathi Sundaravadanan in The Nature Conservancy; August 5, 2009.

-Lionfish Biology Fact Sheet at Lionfish Invasion - NOAA Ocean Service Education; February 4, 2008.

larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next