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What is a Lionfish?

Niki Acker
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A lionfish, alternatively called dragon fish, scorpion fish, or turkey fish, is a venomous tropical marine fish noted for its long, separated spines. It is not a single fish species, but rather incorporates many species of the family Scorpaenidae. Many people enjoy the appearance of lionfish, which are often brightly colored and striped, making them popular aquarium fish. They are often striped in some combination of brown, red, yellow, orange, black, and white.

Native to the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish also live in coral regions of the Eastern Atlantic and the Caribbean. They tend to live around crevices and caves, where they spend most of the day. These fish are thought to be nocturnal. They are active predators with quick reflexes that feed on smaller fish. They use their poisonous spines to subdue their prey before swallowing it whole.

Though lionfish are relatively easy to care for as pets due to their hardiness, the possibility of being stung by their spines makes them an impractical choice of aquarium fish for many people. The sting is quite painful and often accompanied by swelling. Systemic symptoms consistent with shock can also occur, including dizziness, hypotension, shortness of breath, nausea, headache, and muscle weakness. Tissue necrosis at the site of the sting is rare, though possible. No deaths have been reported in humans as a result of the venom.

The severity of lionfish venom varies according to the size and species of the fish. A sting can be treated with heat. Immersing the affected area in hot water, about 113°F (45°C), for 30 to 40 minutes can alleviate the pain and swelling.

Lionfish are edible, and though they carry venom, preparing them safely is not difficult. This is because the venom is contained in the spines, rather than in the internal organs of the fish.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a All Things Nature editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon321302 — On Feb 21, 2013

We can always use a new food stock, and there should be no limits on catching and killing this unwanted invasive species.

By anon208611 — On Aug 23, 2011

anon15299 (Post 3) makes an error which could be painful to someone preparing lionfish for cooking.

Not only the dorsal fin is poisonous. The leading spine on the pelvic and anal fins are also poisonous and must be removed to render the handling of the fish safe. A good kitchen scissors is the best tool for this removal but, if one is not available, then carefully chop them off with a sturdy knife or a small cleaver.

By anon40372 — On Aug 07, 2009

We are actually holding a workshop on lionfish on Little Farmers cay in the Exuma cays, in the Bahamas. we are teaching the locals about the fish, rounding as much of them up as we can, and having a large grill out!

By anon33078 — On Jun 01, 2009

Kill Em'. Kill Em All. They will ruin the Carib.

By anon15299 — On Jul 07, 2008

Just had Lionfish in Long Island, BHS. We carefully cut the fillets off and then sauteed it in butter. It's a bland white fish that needs seasoning or would be great fried as fingers or nuggets. Just make sure it's dead and watch the dorsal spines. The others are not toxic. BHS government is trying to promote people eating them since they are edible and are taking over the reefs.

By anon12230 — On May 02, 2008

I recently ate some lionfish by accident at a restaurant. They called it Gilt Taco. I thought it was fish, but when I tasted it it tasted like chicken (really it did) after I ate it I was told it was fish. I would never have thought that in a million years. It was cooked like a chicken stew but the fish shredded. Who knew?

By anon5932 — On Dec 10, 2007

Since the lionfish is not native to the Caribbean & Atlantic and rather got here by human stupidity, they're becoming a real nuisance (no natural predators). Any hints on how to prepare the fish for eating? I'd really like to get rid of a few of them...

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a All Things Nature editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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