Coming in Like a Lion(fish)
March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as stormy winter weather gives way to a milder spring. Now April is coming in like a lion, too – with the latest addition to our Splash Zone galleries.
The new arrival – the captivating and beautiful lionfish – isn’t just another pretty face. It’s an infamous fish that carries an important conservation message.
Far from Home
Native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, lionfish are fabulous residents of their home waters. Unfortunately, they were introduced to waters off the U.S. east coast in the mid-1980s and are now a destructive invasive species from the mid-Atlantic through Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and into Central and South America.
Cause for Concern
Their fluttering maroon-and-white-striped dorsal fins hide venomous spines that require our husbandry teams to take extra precautions around them. Yet the bigger concern is the threat these fish pose to ecosystems in waters where they don’t belong.
Invasive lionfish have no natural predators outside their home waters, and they compete with native fish for both food and habitat. Lionfish have a hearty appetite for commercially and ecologically important native fish species, and are able to thrive in waters from the shoreline to depths of more than 400 feet. In warmer waters, females are capable of spawning 30,000 eggs every four days, making them prolific breeders and poster fish for invasive species.
The Edible Invader
Our exhibit lionfish were collected from the Florida Keys, where the species has taken a foot – or rather fin – hold since 2009. Absent other lionfish predators, people have adopted the mantra “Eat ‘em to beat ‘em” to encourage consumption of these marine invaders. (They are as tasty as they are beautiful.)
gotta love lionfish