The Lion fish is without doubt one of the most striking looking fish on any reef, including the reefs in Thailand. As they glide gently about in shallow waters, you would think that butter would not melt in its mouth. At second glance however, underneath all those beautiful markings and symmetric fins lies one of the most aggressive predators pound for pound in the oceans today.
Lion fish do actually belong to the Scorpion fish family, and that name alone must tell you something about this fish. They have a distinctive look to them, their coloring is normally brown, white stripes though here in Thailand we have Black ones too, these specimens tend to be little smaller than the Common Lion fish.
You will find small protruding tentacles above their eyes and also underneath their mouths, the fins on the side of the body (pectoral fins) are long and wispy. They have 13 dorsal spines with other 10 or 11 lateral spines; they also have 3 anal spines.
The adult Lion fish can grow quite large, especially where there is an abundant food source, such as an old wreck -where juvenile fish are born and bred. In fact, any artificial reef or nursery will house some magnificent Lion fish specimens.
They much prefer the warmer tropical waters (Thailand’s Andaman Sea), in the Indian Pacific and Atlantic oceans; they tend to stay around reefs, which means they are shallow water dwellers, however, specimens have been found as deep as 300 meters down.
Lion fish are quite a popular aquarium fish until they grow so big that they tend to eat all the other fish in the tank. This behavior has led many fish being released back into the wild; and even in waters where they would not normally be found, such as the cooler waters around the United States.
These fish have created a problem, as they have such a voracious appetite they tend to eat almost any smaller sized fish than itself. I have met many divers form the United States, many whom dive in the east coast waters and have complain about these fish growing very large and eating all the smaller fry. I guess this is what happens when man interferes in nature.
The spines of the Lion fish are extremely poisonous and will deliver a venomous sting to anything foolish or clumsy enough to tangle with it. The pain can be excruciating, it can cause extreme swelling, respiratory problems as well as paralysis, the young and aged are more at risk if stung.
Their venom is a combination of protein, a neuromuscular toxin and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine all sounds very nasty and it is, just be careful out there, especially where you put your hands. If stung by a lion fish the patient must seek medical attention immediately. Warning these fish are dangerous, they can lay under ledges out of the sight of the diver.
Lion fish are normally a solitary creatures, however they can be found in small groups, these groups will usually consist of a large male and several females (a lion fish harem, if you like) that he will mate with. He is particularly aggressive of his territory and will protect his area.
The female lion fish, during mating, will release several thousands of eggs, maybe as many as 15000 at any one time, then the eggs will be fertilized by the male. The eggs will then float away on the ocean currents for a only a couple of days before the baby lion fish hatch. Once hatched, the young fry will stay close to the surface until they are large enough to defend themselves. Then they will swim down to join the nearest reef community.