While goldfish act as the scions of the freshwater aquarium world, lionfish seem to be the poster fish for saltwater hobbyists. Their long spines and unique striped color pattern makes them instantly recognizable, even for people who hardly know a thing about fish.
Oh, jeez. Where do I begin? The lionfish is one of the most elaborate, and over-the-top fish that the ocean has to offer. To be honest, they’ve always kind of reminded me of a drag queen: colorful, extravagant, and looking to get noticed. There are nine different species of lionfish, but I’ll go over the features common to the most popular species, Pterois volitans, miles, and radiata.
These relatively large fish top out around 40 cm and have long, spindly spines extending from their back and fins. Striking stripe patterns range from brown, orange, and yellow to black and white.
As beautiful as the lionfish is, don’t touch! The spines contain a very potent and dangerous venom. It’s not powerful enough to kill a human, but getting a dose of their neurotoxin won’t be a walk in the park, either. Well, unless your walks in the park typically include convulsions, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, fever, and extreme pain.
And believe it or not, lionfish actually have tentacles above and below their eyes. A lot of people mistake them for spines, but scientists believe that these tentacles are used to attract prey or as part of mate selection. Is that a tentacle on your forehead or are you just happy to see me?
Caring for your Lionfish
With a name like “lionfish,” a body full of venom-tipped spines, and flashy colors, you’d think that this fish would shove its weight around and generally be a jerk to all of the other fish. On the contrary, lionfish are actually rather peaceful. They are predators, though, so they will chow down on smaller species of fish and crustaceans in the tank if you give them a chance.
For the most part, all you have to do is put them in a large tank (at least 100 gallons, but more would be better) and this hardy species could live for as long as 15 years.
Start your lionfish off with a diet of saltwater feeder shrimp to tempt them into eating. You should balance it out with a meaty meals of other fish, live shrimp, and occasionally crustaceans. Diet problems are one of the main issues plaguing captive lionfish, so you really can’t be stingy when it comes to feeding them. Don’t think of them as dainty, flake-nibbling herbivores. Think of them as miniature sharks in drag.