Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans & P. miles) represent very popular aquarium fish. “Zebra” stripes and intricate fins make this fish a site to behold. But these beautiful accessories also serve an evolutionary purpose, providing camouflage and protection as Lionfish invade America’s Atlantic coast and much of the Caribbean. The pattern and shape of Lionfish is hypothesized to benefit the species’ ambush predation style, and scientists are concerned that Lionfish may dramatically alter the food webs in which they are introduced, including decimating species of commercial and environmental importance. Worse, the Lionfish thrives in reef ecosystems, which are already threatened by other invasive species, climate change, direct human disturbance, and myriad other factors.
One additional stinging point about the beautiful fins of Lionfish is that their spines harbor a painful and potent toxin. Although the Lionfish is not known to be aggressive toward people, they can be dangerous to swimmers and divers via accidental stings. The cooked flesh of the fish however, is not harmful… on the contrary, it’s delicious. This fact has made Lionfish a posterchild for the invasivore movement, leading to popular public campaigns and cookbooks.
Nevertheless, the Lionfish has achieved a broad invasive distribution and is unlikely to ever be completely eradicated due to a variety of factors ranging from the inability for efficient, largescale capture and its impressive fecundity. Alas, the true benefit of eating Lionfish may be the opportunity to discuss biological invasions more generally and prevent the next introduction.
So how have Lionfish been introduced? As with many invasive species, it is not known for certain, but there are several likely hypotheses. The first recorded release was in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a beach-side aquarium in Biscayne Bay. Only six fish escaped but they were later observed alive nearby (Ruiz-Carus et al. 2006. Biological Conservation 128:384-390). It’s also suspected that many other intentional releases have occurred when aquarium enthusiasts have released their pets, often with the best intentions.
Hunting & Gathering