Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are quite lovely to watch, with their graceful fin spikes and stark brown and white bands. But don't be fooled, this fish is armed and dangerous! These residents of the Indo-Pacific were accidentally introduced into the Caribbean in the 1990s, and they are causing havoc on native reefs today. That's because lionfish are prolific breeders, have quite the appetite and no natural predators to keep the population in check. This invasive problem is quickly becoming one of the most important conservation issues in the world.
A long-time Aquarium volunteer and avid scuba diver Don Stark talked about the invasion of the lionfish on the Divers Blog. Don has taught many of our teen scuba diving students about this "prickly situation." (More on the students' encounters with lionfish here and here.) In fact, divers on the Bahamas Expeditions have been encountering these nasty predators in greater frequency. They've even sampled lionfish for lunch — turns out, they're quite delicious! Most recently, researchers have spotted lionfish in Belize.
Invasive species are a big problem all around the world. In the Phoenix Island Protected Area, rats threaten native bird populations. Comb jellies invaded the Black Sea and have wiped out some commercial fisheries. And today we're seeing lionfish muscle into Caribbean reefs, far from their native habitat.
Look for this dangerous beauty in the armored and venomous exhibit on Level 1. (Learn about another resident of this exhibit, the longhorn cowfish.)