Friday 17 May
Common lionfish (Pterois volitans)
Common lionfish fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Common lionfish description
A striking, boldly-patterned fish, the common lionfish (Pterois volitans) has distinctive bands of red and white stripes and conspicuous, elongated, fan-like fins (3) (4). The red and white stripes are intermingled with varying reddish, golden brown and black-brown bars or stripes, alternating against a pale yellowish-white background (4) (5). A row of white spots is usually present along the lateral line (5) (6).
The long pectoral and dorsal fins of the common lionfish are transparent and covered in rows of dark spots. The pelvic fins are black with numerous white spots (6). Characteristic fleshy tabs around the face and numerous projecting spines on the head vary in their shape and size, but are typically long on juveniles and somewhat leaf-like on the adult (3) (4) (5).
The larva of the common lionfish has a large head with a relatively long, triangular snout, as well as long, serrated head spines. Juvenile common lionfish have very little distinctive colouring and appear mainly translucent, with only slight red-white colouration to the pectoral fins (7).
- Also known as
- Lionfish, Red lionfish.
- Length: 38 cm (2)
- Dorsal fin
- The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
- The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- An organ that makes and secretes substances used by the body.
- Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Lateral line
- A row of receptors that can detect movement via vibrations in water. The receptors are typically embedded in the skin, and in fish they form a line along the sides of the body.
- Pectoral fins
- In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
- In birds, applied to sea birds that come to land only to breed, and that spend the major part of their lives out at sea.
- Pelvic fins
- In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
- Aquatic organisms, usually tiny, that drift passively with water movements; may be phytoplankton (plants), zooplankton (animals), or other organisms such as bacteria.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
UNEP-WCMC (January, 2011)
FishBase (January, 2011)
Smithsonian Marine Station - Pterois volitans (January, 2011)
Florida Museum of Natural History - Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) (January, 2011)
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums - Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) (January, 2011)
- Ruiz-Carus, R., Matheson Jr, R.E., Roberts Jr, D.E. and Whitfield, P.E. (2006) The western Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Scorpaenidae), in Florida: evidence for reproduction and parasitism in the first exotic marine fish established in state waters. Biological Conservation, 128: 384-390.
- Morris, J.A., Akins, J.L., Barse, A., Cerino, D., Freshwater, D.W., Green, S.J., Munoz, R.C., Paris, C. and Whitefield, P.E. (2008) Biology and Ecology of the Invasive Lionfishes, Pterois miles and Pterois volitans. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Gosier, Guadeloupe, French West Indies.
- Whitfield, P.E., Gardner, T., Vives, S.P., Gilligan, M.R., Courtenay Jr, W.R., Carleton Ray, G. and Hare, J.A. (2002) Biological invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans along the Atlantic coast of North America. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 235: 289-297.
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Common lionfish biology
The common lionfish feeds on a wide variety of small fish, shrimps and crabs. It hunts primarily at night, stalking and ambushing its prey by spreading the pectoral fins out wide and corralling its prey into a corner, before rapidly swallowing it whole (2) (4) (6) (8).
Although the common lionfish is usually found alone in the non-breeding season, during courtship male lionfish will aggregate with multiple females to form groups of three to eight fish (3) (5), performing a suite of complex courtship and mating behaviours. The elaborate courting display is performed by the male and includes circling, following, and leading the female, as well as using its many spines in territorial displays with competing males (6) (7).
The female lionfish releases two mucus-filled egg clusters (3) (4) (5) (6) (7), each containing between 2,000 and 15,000 eggs, which are fertilised externally by the male (3) (5). The adhesive mucus that binds the clusters together dissolves after several days, releasing the eggs into the water and allowing them to develop as free-floating, planktonic larvae (6) (7). Dispersal of the common lionfish occurs during this pelagic larval phase, during which individual larvae can be travel great distances in the water column (7).
The common lionfish has venom glands positioned at the base of most spines. Used for both predator deterrence and to facilitate prey capture, the spines are encased in a sheath with two grooves that contain venom-producing tissues. When the spines enter the skin of prey or a potential predator, the sheath around the spines is depressed and the tissue releases potent venom into the puncture wound. The venom of the common lionfish contains a neurotoxin which reduces the transmission chemical signals to the muscles, as well as affecting the cardiovascular system (3) (4) (7).Top
Common lionfish range
The common lionfish is native to the western Pacific Ocean, from southern Japan and southern Korea, throughout Indonesia, Micronesia and French Polynesia to Lord Howe Island, the east coast of Australia and the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand. In the South Pacific Ocean the common lionfish is distributed from Western Australia to Marquesas and Oeno in the Pitcairn Islands (2) (3) (4) (6).
In parts of its range the common lionfish is considered an invasive species, and it is now known to inhabit the waters off the eastern coast of the United States from Florida to New York. It has also been found in the waters off the Bahamas and as far south as the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean (4). There are also unverified records of the common lionfish elsewhere in the Caribbean Sea (6).Top
Common lionfish habitat
Occurring down to depths of 50 metres, the common lionfish inhabits lagoons, turbid inshore areas, and coral or rocky reefs (2) (3) (4) (6). There are also reports of the common lionfish occurring in bays, estuaries and harbours (4) (6).Top
Common lionfish status
The common lionfish has yet to be assessed by the IUCN.Top
Common lionfish threats
There are no known threats to the common lionfish.Top
Common lionfish conservation
A widespread and common species, there are no conservation measures in place to protect this species within its native range.
Along the coast of the U.S. and around the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the common lionfish is considered to be an invasive species. In these areas, the common lionfish is the subject of targeted control efforts in order to prevent it spreading further, and to protect native species from being out-competed for food and habitat (7).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the common lionfish:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.