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Tuesday
Nov012016

Red Lionfish Return to Georgia Aquarium

 

 

Impressive Yet Invasive: The Red Lionfish

November 1, 2016

Written by Erin Horne, Public Relations Intern

The beautiful, rapidly spreading and somewhat invasive red lionfish recently returned to Georgia Aquarium! While these creatures are certainly a sight to behold thanks to their elongated fin elements and distinctive reddish or golden brown striped pattern, this reef-dwelling fish can wreak havoc on habitats to which it is not native.

Indigenous to Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish are feared predators within their native habitat. This is due to a variety of reasons, the first of which being that this species has venomous spines on the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. Additionally, lionfish pack a punch when hunting by seizing their target in a lightning-quick lunge and swallowing them whole, a difficult maneuver for prey to avoid. Thankfully, larger predators manage to keep the fierce lionfish in check in native areas. However, in non-native waters such as the US and Caribbean, this ferocious eater has become a menacing invasive species. In the Atlantic coral reef environments, lionfish act as an apex predator.

Exactly how did lionfish end up in foreign territory? Lionfish were first reported in Florida, North Carolina and Bermuda in 1990. It is believed that they were introduced to the area through transport and release of larvae and juveniles in ballast water of large cargo vessels, or perhaps due to an escape from a home aquarium that was broken open by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Regardless of how they ended up in the area, red lionfish are causing significant changes to reef environments thanks to their voracious appetites.

It's important to remember, however, that lionfish are only considered an invasive species in Western Atlantic habitats, which include areas in the US, Bermuda, the Bahamas and recently Belize and several Caribbean islands. The species naturally occurs in the Eastern Indian Ocean and in the Pacific from Polynesia to Southern Japan and south to Northern New Zealand. In the latter, red lionfish are an important part of their native ecosystems, serving as both predator and prey.

Come see the red lionfish for yourself in our new lionfish habitat, located in our Tropical Diver gallery! Or, learn more about this species here in our Animal Guide. 

 

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