Common Lionfish

Lionfish, genus Pterois, adapt quickly to captivity. With a suitably large tank and a proper diet, a lionfish can live fifteen to twenty years in your home.

Aquarium Capacity 120 gallons

Aquascape Materials crushed coral rock fine grade coral rock a few large pieces coral skeleton artificial or natural, 5 pieces, assorted

Background black


Pterois volitans 3

Special Requirements

Marine fish must provide most of the diet. Supplemental feedings of shrimp, crabmeat, or shellfish are beneficial. Occasionally feed live guppies or goldfish, depending upon size of lionfish.

Lionfishes are members of the scorpionfish family, Scorpaenidae, so named because all members possess venomous dorsal and pectoral fin spines. For defensive purposes, the spines erect automatically when the lionfish feels threatened. Should a predator be foolhardy enough to swallow the lionfish anyway, the inside of its mouth will be stung severely, hopefully encouraging the predator to spit out the lionfish before too much damage is done. I have been stung once, by a dwarf lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra). The intense, burning pain was followed by an angry red welt that itched like the devil for several days afterward. For me, this was much like being stung by a wasp. In others, the pain may be much more severe, requiring medical attention. Fortunately, one rarely hears of an aquarist being stung. Lionfishes are not particularly aggressive; the spines operate only defensively. Contacting the spines causes a reflex in the fish that drives the spine into the intruder. The lesson: Always make sure you can see the lionfish when your hands are in the tank.

Pterois volitans, the common lionfish, is also sometimes known as the black volitans lionfish. Growing to over a foot in length within about five years, it needs a large aquarium. Otherwise, it is probably the best aquarium choice in its family, spending most of the time in the open and feeding readily on a variety of frozen, fresh, and live seafoods. An eight-inch specimen can easily swallow a three-inch tank mate, so beware.

Although there are some obvious differences, all the lionfish species have essentially the same color pattern. Probably this has to do with their similar lifestyles. Since they are sit-and-wait predators, the coloration probably serves to camouflage them against the backdrop of alternating light and shadow on the reef. The basic body color in all species is pearly white. Vertical wavy bars of reddish orange and chestnut brown cover the length of the body. Dark brown blotches and spots usually mark the fins, making them blend with the body and the background. All species have greatly enlarged pectoral fins, which flare out behind the fish's head when it is excited. The resemblance of the fins to a lion's mane is the source of the common name for the group. Besides making the lionfish appear larger to a predator, the pectoral fins are sometimes used to herd smaller fish when the lionfish is hungry, steering them within striking range.

Basic Low-Maintenance Designs 119

Basic Low-Maintenance Designs 119

The mouth of any lionfish is a remarkable structure. It is capable of opening suddenly to a surprisingly large gape. The lionfish waits in ambush for a suitable fish or crustacean to swim into range, then its mouth pops open like a trap. This causes a rush of water toward the lionfish, and the hapless prey is sucked in. Special crushing teeth in the lionfish's throat dispatch the victim quickly so its struggles won't harm the lionfish. The corpse is then swallowed whole. All of this takes only a moment. A six-inch lionfish can dispatch five feeder fish in seconds.

The common lionfish only rarely shows aggression toward members of its own species, so three specimens should get along nicely in the roomy tank suggested for this model design. Install a large protein skimmer in the sump, and make sure you keep up with water changes. The hearty lionfish appetite guarantees the aquarium will have a heavy load of pollutants. Other than that, these fish are a cinch to keep and make great pets. They will learn to recognize you, becoming agitated when you approach the tank. They won't bother snails, so you might want to keep about a dozen in the tank to control algae. Using a long-handled tool to remove algae from the glass makes sense, to avoid the venomous spines.

Any Pterois can be substituted. Make sure all have a spot to shelter, or there may be trouble.

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