The species Pterois volitans is known under many different names in English, such as Lionfish, Lion fish, Common Lionfish, Peacock Lionfish, Red Lionfish, Red Firefish, Butterfly-cod, Ornate Butterfly-cod, Turkey fish, and Scorpion Volitans. Several of the names are used for other closely related species as well, and using the common name can therefore lead to confusion and mix ups. The safest course of action is to use the scientific name: Pterois volitans.
Pterois volitans has not been evaluated for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Geographical range, habitat and habits
The Volitans Lionfish is found in the Pacific Ocean and in the eastern parts of the Indian Ocean. Its geographical range stretches from Western Australia and the Australian Cocos (Keeling) Islands to the Marquesas and Oeno Islands (Pitcairn group). The northernmost specimens inhabit the waters south of Japan and Korea, while the southernmost specimens are found around Lord Howe Island (Australia), off northern New Zealand, and near the Austral Islands of French Polynesia.
(If you encounter a lionfish that looks very much like Pterois volitans in the region that stretches from the Red Sea to Sumatra, it is most likely Pterois miles.)
The offspring have a pelagic stage when they are swept away by currents and can travel great distances in the ocean.
Since the Volitans Lionfish is such a popular aquarium fish, it has been introduced by man to environments outside its native range. One example of such an introduction is the beachside aquarium that broke when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992. The aquarium contained lionfishes which managed to escape into the warm waters of Key Biscayne. There are also thriving populations of Volitans Lionfish to be found in the Caribbean Sea.
The Volitans Lionfish inhabits lagoon and seaward reefs and can be found in turbid inshore areas as well as 55 meters / 180 feet down in the ocean. They are primarily reef associated but can be encountered in other environments in tropical, marine waters as well.
This fish likes to hide during the day and will often position itself with the head pointing downwards in a safe spot, such as a cave or a crevice. During the night, this fish is commonly seen gliding along rocks and coral in search of prey.
The Volitans Lionfish live in small groups as juveniles and during the breeding period. Outside the breeding period, the adults will live alone and they do not tolerate other members of their own species within their territory. They can also decide that other species should stay out as well and use their venomous spines to scare them off. The males are even more aggressive than the females.
If a male Volitans Lionfish encounters another male during a hunting expedition, the more aggressive of the two will darken its colours and point it venomous dorsal fins at the other male. To avoid conflict, the other male will typically lower its pectoral fins and leave the area.
Size and appearance
The largest scientifically measured Volitans Lionfish was 38 cm / 15 in.
The body is covered in cycloid scales and decorated with reddish, golden brown or black bands over a pale yellow or creamy white base colour. The dorsal and anal fins sport dark rows of spots. In adult fish, you can usually see white spots along the lateral line. The exact colours of the Volitans Lionfish will chiefly depend on the surrounding environment. Coastal dwellers tend to be darker and specimens found in estuaries can be almost black.
The pectoral and dorsal fins of this species are very long, and most specimens have a tentacle above both eyes. The size and shape of the tentacle varies from individual to individual and is usually longer in juveniles and more similar to a leaf in adult fish. There is a body ridge across the cheek, and flaps will partially cover both eyes and nose.
Volitans Lionfish distinguishes itself from other members of the family Scorpaenidae by having 13 venomous dorsal spines instead of 12. It is also equipped with 14 feather-like pectoral rays. The anal fin has 3 spines and 6-7 rays.
Volitans Lionfish can easily be confused with the Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata), but you can tell them apart by looking at the pectoral fins. On a Volitans Lionfish, the pectoral fins will be pointier and adorned with variable spots and bands. On a Spotfin Lionfish, the pectoral fins are rounder and their colouration varies from white to golden. You can also them them apart by counting the pectoral rays; Volitans Lionfish has 14-16 rays while the Spotfin Lionfish has 16-17 rays. The scales are another important difference. As mentioned above, the body of Volitans Lionfish is covered in cycloid (rounded) scales. In the Spotfin Lionfish, the scales are mostly ctenoid, i.e. their margins are toothed like a comb.
Volitans Lionfish care
For many aquarists, Volitans Lionfish is the lionfish. You should however keep in mind that this fish can become 38 cm / 15 in and require a really big aquarium. Despite this, Volitans Lionfish is still the most commonly displayed and sold member of the family Scorpaenidae. In the wild, adult Volitans Lionfish congregate only to breed so it is not a good idea to house them together.
Keep the water temperature in the 22-28° C / 72-82° F range, the pH-value between 8.1 - 8.4 and the specific gravity at 1.020 - 1.025.
Be very careful when you carry out maintenance work in the aquarium because the Volitans Lionfish can deliver a venomous sting. All 13 dorsal fin spines, the pelvic fin spine, and the three anal fin spines are venomous. Pectoral and caudal fins are not venomous because they are without spines. If you are stung by a Volitans Lionfish, the pain can go on for days. You may also suffer from sweating and serious cases can lead to respiratory depression. Prompt medical attention is therefore recommended as soon as someone has been stung by a Volitans Lionfish. Keep the afflicted area in really hot water; as hot as you can stand without getting burned. It might be possible to use stonefish antivenom against Volitans Lionfish venom, but more research is necessary.
Feeding Volitans Lionfish
Volitans Lionfish hunts during the night and feeds primarily on small fishes, shrimps and crabs. It is also fond of amphipods, isopods and similar crustaceans. It is cannibalistic and will happily gulp down smaller members of its own species.
By slowly undulating the soft rays of its dorsal and anal fins this fish will move around in search of a suitable prey. It can vibrate its fin-rays to shake out animals that try to hide in the sand or among rocks. Once an animal has been located, the lionfish will use its pectoral fins to force it into a corner before stunning it and swallowing it whole.
When the Volitans Lionfish hunts out in the open water where there aren’t many suitable corners to trap prey in, it will use another technique. It waits 20-30 cm / 8-12 in below the surface until it can see a school of fish being chased by another predator. The chased fishes will most likely leap out of the water to get away from the predator, and when they land they lionfish will swallow them.
The Volitans Lionfish will typically be finished hunting after a few hours, but it stays out in the open until morning comes.
In the aquarium, you should try to mimic the natural diet of the Volitans Lionfish by giving it small fishes and various crustaceans. It is important to keep the diet varied and avoid over-feeding. In the wild, Volitans Lionfish can eat vast amounts of food when available and then refrain from hunting for a while, and this behavior makes over-feeding in the aquarium easy. Young specimens will grow very fast in the aquarium if you give them a lot of food, because in the wild Volitans Lionfish always tries to get as large as possible as fast as possible to avoid predation and increase its chances of producing offspring. If you want to make your Volitans Lionfish grow fast by feeding it a lot, keep an eye on the water quality.
Breeding Volitans Lionfish
As mentioned above, Volitans Lionfish will form small groups when breeding. A group will consist of one male and 2-7 females. During the courting period, the male fish will be even more aggressive than normally and it is not uncommon for males to kill each other.
As the fishes get ready to spawn, the male will turn darker and become more uniformly colored while the female turns paler. Her belly, throat and mouth will change into a silvery white shade which makes her easy to distinguish in the dark.
The male fish will locate a ripe female and place himself next to her on the substrate. He will prop himself up suing his ventral fins and look up towards the surface. After a while, he will start circling around her. Eventually, he will swim up to the surface and the female will follow while shaking her pectoral fins. Sometimes the pair will swim back down again and then up several times before any eggs are released. When it is time to release the eggs, the pair will swim right under the surface and the female will let go of two buoyant hollow mucus tubes. The tubes contain 2,000-15,000 eggs and will stay afloat right below the surface. After roughly 15 minutes the tubes will become filled with seawater and turn into oval balls. The sperms released by the male fish are capable of penetrating the mucus and fertilize the eggs inside. The larvae will hatch after roughly 36 hours. After another 2 ½ day or so, you can expect the larvae to start feeding on small ciliates in the water.
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