Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Common lionfish


  • Name: Common lionfish
  • Latin: Pterois volitans
  • Classification: Fish
  • Origin: Australia
  • Lifespan: 15 years


  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Actinopterygii (fish)
  • Order: Scorpaeniformes (ray-finned fish)
  • Family: Scorpaenidae (marine fish)
  • Genus: Pterois (found in the Indo-Pacific)
  • Species: Pterois volitans (common lionfish)


  • Length: 11.8-15in (30-38cm)
  • Weight: Up to 2.6lbs (1.2kg)

The lionfish is clad in a series of zebra-like stripes, the colour of which vary among the different types of lionfish. It has up to 18 long, needle-like pectoral fins which it uses to sting and poison its prey.


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  • Red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) -NOT EVALUATED-

Habitat & Distribution

Lionfish tend to live in coral reefs in shallow waters and hover near caves or crevices. They live in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific oceanic region, ranging from Western Australia and Malaysia to the French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Islands. They can also be found in places such as South Japan, South Korea and the southern part of coastal Australia. Also, due to recent introduction, they can be found in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, Azores, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea and the Red Sea.

They can also be found in the waters surrounding Florida. This is widely believed to be because an aquarium was hit by Hurricane Andrew. DNA from captured lionfish from the area have proven that they nearly all originated from the same six or seven fish.



The diet of a lionfish consists mainly of fish and shrimp and it relies on its lightning-fast reflexes and camouflage to help capture it. When hunting, the lionfish will use its large fins to corner its prey and then uses its quick reflexes to swallow it whole. It hunts mainly from late afternoon till dawn. It only uses its poisonous spines for protection not to capture prey. The poison of a lionfish is painful to humans but not lethal.


Lionfish are not aggressive towards humans and will keep their distance when given the opportunity to do so. Their poisonous spines are used only for protection instead of hunting. It will face an attacker in an upside down position which exposes its poisonous spines.

When hunting for prey it will corner it using its large fins, then swallow it whole using its lightning-fast reflexes.


When courting, a male will form a group of other lionfish of about 3-8, including a number of females. The lead male of this group will become extremely aggressive and chase off intruders while showing off its poisonous spines. When ready for mating the male becomes darker in colour and its stripes are much less visible. The female will become much paler and many areas of the body will become a silvery white. A female lionfish can lay from 4,000 to 30,000 eggs at one time.

Juvenile common lionfish in diver's hand



  • The colourful markings and the long fins on a lionfish help it to blend into its coral background.
  • The lionfish can deliver a very powerful venom from its fins that can cause nausea and breathing difficulties in humans, however, it is rarely fatal.
  • The lionfish has a swim bladder which helps it to maintain its buoyancy whilst in the water.
  • The lionfish is a ‘wait-and-strike’ hunter. It hides, camouflaged, among coral and waits for a fish to swim past, then lunges out and eats it. The lionfish is a nocturnal hunter, eating only at night.


The only real threat to the population of the lionfish is the fact that they are slow breeders. It doesn’t have any real enemies in the wild although grouper and other fish have been found with lionfish remains in their stomachs.


  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

Lionfish are not listed as being threatened or endangered, as they can currently be found in most warm water areas of the world. Therefore no conservation is needed for this animal.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Male
  • Female: Female
  • Young: Fry
  • Group: Shoal, School
  • A lionfish can have up to 18 pectoral fins,
  • The lionfish is also known as a turkey fish, a dragon fish and a scorpion fish,
  • They are very popular as pets.

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