24 February 2011 Lionfish on the Loose Posted by: Caitlin Leutwiler | 3 comments | Share: It’s a case of “Free Willy” gone wrong: the escape or – more likely – intentional release of a home aquarium animal into the tropical waters off of Florida has resulted in a potentially devastating explosion of invasive species populations along the U.S. Atlantic coast. The runaway? Lionfish. Lionfish have become a dangerous invasive species in U.S. waters along the Atlantic Scientists suspect this slow-moving and venomous fish, native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea, was first unleashed into Atlantic waters in the 1990′s. Although genetic evidence suggests the original invaders were limited to just a few fish, the remarkable reproductive rate of lionfish (a single female can produce up to two million eggs!) and practical lack of predators have led to an abundance of the species from the Caribbean to Bermuda, even as far north as Long Island, NY! They may be beautiful, but lionfish are bad for business in Atlantic coral reefs. Invading ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs, lionfish are voracious predators, eating several fish per hour. And they aren’t picky eaters. With a wide variety of fish and crustaceans on their menu, lionfish have the potential to decimate native fish populations. Not to mention they’ve got a mean sting. While not fatal to humans, the venomous fin rays and spines of the lionfish can cause serious injury, including edema, intense pain and necrosis at the site of sting and at least one case of paralysis. (Suffice to say, you wouldn’t want to step on one). What can we do? Scientists and wildlife experts are still trying to figure out how to eliminate the lionfish from its unnatural habitat. Ideas include targeting young lionfish or increasing potential predator populations (like tiger and Nassau groupers) to provide natural control. Some people propose eating our way out of the problem, hosting targeted fishing derbies, offering prizes for the most lionfish caught. However, therein lies danger: increased traffic in and around the reefs where lionfish are found increases the risk of damage to the reef and other species. One sure-fire way to prevent other invasive outbreaks like this is to be a responsible aquarium or pet owner. ALWAYS ask your vendor for assurances that creatures were collected and imported using sustainable and humane practices, and NEVER release animals into the wild. You never know where they may end up! Learn more: See other ways the wildlife trade threatens the health of coral reefs. The invasion is coming! Learn more about invasive species and what they mean for native wildlife. 3 Responses to “Lionfish on the Loose” Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Wolf Weekly Wrap- Up California wavering on protection for gray wolves under state law; Defenders of Wildlife featured on the HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell show tonight; A close up look at the science: wolf breeding pairs in Idaho; bad bills for Mexican gray wolves in Arizona. The Votes Are In… You voted, and we listened – now the winners of Defenders’ 2014 Photo Contest are here! See if your favorite won, and take a look at some of the amazing runner-ups. We’ve Got to Protect What’s Left of the Sagebrush Sea New research shows that after a fire, the Sagebrush Sea (home to the imperiled greater sage-grouse) could take up to 20 years to fully recover. With other factors already threatening so much of this habitat, what does that mean for the species that call it home?