The Lionfish (Pterois)
During my 7 day visit to the Caribbean island of Nassau I spent my spare time shooting photos of the island and the Atlantis Resort (where I was staying). What I found most interesting about the Atlantis was the impressive number of aquarium exhibits and their integration into the resort's design. There are catacombs and hidden walking paths all which lead to little coves or underwater chambers where you can view a stunning array of exotic ocean life.
I quickly found that my 50mm f/1.4 lens was my best friend. It offered the best choice for the environment for many of the displays were tightly interwoven into the architecture of the resort; instead of large areas which would be better suited to a wide angle lens the Atlantis offers small intimate viewing locations. Finding the right mix of focal length and low-light ability - the f/1.4 50mm lens really outperformed all of my other lenses for capturing the marine life in these exhibits.
ONE EXHIBIT THAT I FOUND PARTICULARLY BEAUTIFUL TO PHOTOGRAPH WAS THE LIONFISH HABITAT.
Because the lighting was perfect to minimize reflections on the viewing window's surface and the habitat itself was colorful and bright, these beautifully dangerous looking creatures really photographed well. Wanting to understand more about what a Lionfish was, I decided to do some research. They are actually fascinating fish.
HERE IS WHAT I LEARNED - Pterois is a genus of venomous marine fish, commonly known as Lionfish.
The Lionfish is also called Zebrafish, Firefish, Turkeyfish or Butterfly-cod, is an unmistakably striking creature due to conspicuous warning coloration in red, white, creamy, or black bands, showy pectoral fins, and venomous spiky fins. There are 9 different sub-species of Pterois with each sharing common traits such as their venomous spiky fins and stripped coloration. Pterois range from 5 to 45 cm (2.0 to 17.7 in) in length, weighing from 0.025 to 1.3 kg (0.055 to 2.866 lb). Pterois species can live from five to 15 years and have complex courtship and mating behaviors.
The lionfish is a predator and it aggressively preys on small fish and invertebrates. They can be found around the seaward edge of reefs and coral, in lagoons, and on rocky surfaces to 150ft (50m) deep. They show a preference for inshore areas and in harbors, and have a generally hostile attitude and are territorial towards other reef fish. Many universities in the Indo-Pacific have documented reports of Pterois aggression towards divers and researchers. Lionfish are known for their venomous fin rays, an uncommon feature among marine fish. These are primarily defensive tools used to keep larger predators from successfully attacking the Lionfish.
The potency of their venom makes them a serious potential threat to fishermen and divers. In humans, Pterois venom can cause systemic effects such as extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, redness on the affected area, headache, numbness, paresthesia (pins and needles), heartburn, diarrhea, and sweating.
Rarely, such stings can cause temporary paralysis of the limbs, heart failure, and even death.
Fatalities are common in very young children, the elderly, those with a weak immune system, or those who are allergic to their venom. Their venom is rarely fatal to healthy adults, but some species have enough venom to produce extreme discomfort for a period of several days.
Pterois venom is a danger to allergic victims as they may experience anaphylaxis, a serious and often life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Severe allergic reactions include chest pain, severe breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure, swelling of the tongue, sweating, runny nose, or slurred speech. Such reactions can be fatal if not treated. There have been cases where humans were stung but the Lionfish did not release venom into the wound, suggesting that they can control if venom is injected or not. Most accidents happen to fishermen when they inadvertently catch a Lionfish in their nets. AS THEIR NAME SUGGESTS - LIONFISH ARE DEADLY HUNTERS
According to a study that involved the dissection of over 1,400 lionfish stomachs, Pterois prey mostly on small fish, invertebrates, and mollusks in large amounts, with some specimens’ stomachs containing up to six different species of prey.
Lionfish are skilled hunters, using specialized bilateral swim bladder muscles to provide exquisite control of location in the water column, allowing the fish to alter its center of gravity to better attack prey. The lionfish then spreads its large pectoral fins and swallows its prey in a single motion. They blow jets of water while approaching prey. The theory behind the blowing of these jets is to disorient their prey making it easier to catch. Indigenous to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific regions – two of the nine species of Pterois, the Red Lionfish (P. volitans) and the Common Lionfish (P. miles), have established themselves as significant invasive species off the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean.
They have been described as "one of the most aggressively invasive species on the planet". The Lionfish invasion is considered to be one of the most serious recent threats to Caribbean and Florida coral reef ecosystems according to a 2015 report by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in the United States.
The red Lionfish was likely first introduced off the Florida coast by the early to mid-1990s. This introduction may have occurred in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida, releasing six Lionfish into Biscayne Bay. Another theory is that the Lionfish may have been purposefully discarded by unsatisfied aquarium enthusiasts. This is in part due because Lionfish require an experienced aquarium owner but are often sold to novices who find their care too difficult.
Lionfish have successfully adapted to the coastal waters of the Atlantic in less than a decade and they pose a major threat to reef ecological systems in these areas. The ecological damage caused by Pterois is born from their impact on prey population numbers therefore directly affecting food chain relationships; leading to reef deterioration and negatively influencing Atlantic species diversity.
Lionfish have already been shown to overpopulate reef areas and display aggressive tendencies forcing native species to move to waters where conditions might be less than desirable. Because the Lionfish thrive in the Atlantic and the Caribbean's nutrient-rich waters while also enjoying a lack of natural predators the species has spread rapidly. A single Lionfish can reduce young juvenile reef fish populations by 79%.
LIONFISH SANDWICH ANYONE?
In 2010, NOAA began a campaign to encourage the consumption of the fish. The "Lionfish as Food" campaign encourages human hunting of the fish as the only form of control known to date. Encouraging the consumption of Lionfish could not only help to maintain a reasonable population density, but also provide an alternative fishing source to other overfished populations, such as grouper and snapper. NOAA also encourages people to report Lionfish sightings, to help track Lionfish population dispersal.
When properly filleted, the naturally venomous fish is safe to eat. The NOAA calls the Lionfish a "delicious, delicately flavored fish" similar in texture to grouper. Recipes for Lionfish include deep frying, ceviche, jerky, and grilling.
So there you go… if you can catch one without getting stung… you can find recipes for how to cook them. I personally would rather just see them as I did at the Atlantis Resort – behind a wall of glass in an aquarium display. © Copyright 2010-2015, Jon Patrick Hyde, All Rights Reserved.