The Lionfish (Pterois)

During my 7 day visit to the Caribbean island of Nassau I spent my spare time shooting photos of the island and the Atlantis Resort (where I was staying). What I found most interesting about the Atlantis was the impressive number of aquarium exhibits and their integration into the resort's design. There are catacombs and hidden walking paths all which lead to little coves or underwater chambers where you can view a stunning array of exotic ocean life.

I quickly found that my 50mm f/1.4 lens was my best friend.

ONE EXHIBIT THAT I FOUND PARTICULARLY BEAUTIFUL TO PHOTOGRAPH WAS THE LIONFISH HABITAT.

Because the lighting was perfect to minimize reflections on the viewing window's surface and the habitat itself was colorful and bright, these beautifully dangerous looking creatures really photographed well. Wanting to understand more about what a Lionfish was, I decided to do some research. They are actually fascinating fish.

HERE IS WHAT I LEARNED - Pterois is a genus of venomous marine fish, commonly known as Lionfish.

The Lionfish is also called Zebrafish, Firefish, Turkeyfish or Butterfly-cod, is an unmistakably striking creature due to conspicuous warning coloration in red, white, creamy, or black bands, showy pectoral fins, and venomous spiky fins. There are 9 different sub-species of Pterois with each sharing common traits such as their venomous spiky fins and stripped coloration. Pterois range from 5 to 45 cm (2.0 to 17.7 in) in length, weighing from 0.025 to 1.3 kg (0.055 to 2.866 lb). Pterois species can live from five to 15 years and have complex courtship and mating behaviors.

The lionfish is a predator and it aggressively preys on small fish and invertebrates.Many universities in the Indo-Pacific have documented reports of Pterois aggression towards divers and researchers.

Lionfish are known for their venomous fin rays, an uncommon feature among marine fish. These are primarily defensive tools used to keep larger predators from successfully attacking the Lionfish.

The potency of their venom makes them a serious potential threat to fishermen and divers. In humans, Pterois venom can cause systemic effects such as extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, redness on the affected area, headache, numbness, paresthesia (pins and needles), heartburn, diarrhea, and sweating.

Rarely, such stings can cause temporary paralysis of the limbs, heart failure, and even death

Fatalities are common in very young children, the elderly, those with a weak immune system, or those who are allergic to their venom. Their venom is rarely fatal to healthy adults, but some species have enough venom to produce extreme discomfort for a period of several days.

Most accidents happen to fishermen when they inadvertently catch a Lionfish in their nets.

AS THEIR NAME SUGGESTS - LIONFISH ARE DEADLY HUNTERS

Lionfish are skilled hunters, using specialized bilateral swim bladder muscles to provide exquisite control of location in the water column, allowing the fish to alter its center of gravity to better attack prey. The lionfish then spreads its large pectoral fins and swallows its prey in a single motion. They blow jets of water while approaching prey. The theory behind the blowing of these jets is to disorient their prey making it easier to catch.

Indigenous to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific regions – two of the nine species of Pterois, the Red Lionfish (P. volitans) and the Common Lionfish (P. miles), have established themselves as significant invasive species off the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean.

one of the most aggressively invasive species on the planet

The red Lionfish was likely first introduced off the Florida coast by the early to mid-1990s. This introduction may have occurred in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida, releasing six Lionfish into Biscayne Bay. Another theory is that the Lionfish may have been purposefully discarded by unsatisfied aquarium enthusiasts. This is in part due because Lionfish require an experienced aquarium owner but are often sold to novices who find their care too difficult.

Lionfish have successfully adapted to the coastal waters of the Atlantic in less than a decade and they pose a major threat to reef ecological systems in these areas. The ecological damage caused by Pterois is born from their impact on prey population numbers therefore directly affecting food chain relationships; leading to reef deterioration and negatively influencing Atlantic species diversity.

Lionfish have already been shown to overpopulate reef areas and display aggressive tendencies forcing native species to move to waters where conditions might be less than desirable. Because the Lionfish thrive in the Atlantic and the Caribbean's nutrient-rich waters while also enjoying a lack of natural predators the species has spread rapidly. A single Lionfish can reduce young juvenile reef fish populations by 79%.

LIONFISH SANDWICH ANYONE?

Lionfish as FoodEncouraging the consumption of Lionfish could not only help to maintain a reasonable population density, but also provide an alternative fishing source to other overfished populations, such as grouper and snapper.

When properly filleted, the naturally venomous fish is safe to eat.delicious, delicately flavored fish

I personally would rather just see them as I did at the Atlantis Resort – behind a wall of glass in an aquarium display.

© Copyright 2010-2015, Jon Patrick Hyde, All Rights Reserved.

I'm a director of photography (cinema), commercial illustrator, & Nikon Professional Photographer. I'm the Founder of Summit4CAD.org - Cyclists Against Coronary Artery Disease.
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