Red lionfish

(Pterois volitans)




Facts about this animal

The red lionfish grows to 38 cm in length. It has very long pectoral and dorsal fins. The body is covered with reddish or golden brown to black bands on a pale vellow background. Adults often have white spots along the lateral line. The dorsal and anal fins possess dark rows of spots on a clear background. There are 13 dorsal fin spines and 14 long, feather-like pectoral rays. The anal fin has 3 spines and 6-7 rays. A tentacle is usually present above both eyes and nose. which is variable in size and shape, usually long in juveniles and leaf-like in adults, and there is a bony ridge across each cheek.

The dorsal fin spines are extremely venomous. When disturbed by a diver it often makes little effort to swim away. Instead it points its dorsal fin spines towards the intruder.

Red lionfish are reef-dwelling occurring from shallow water to a depth of ca. 50 m, and nocturnal, moving out into the open for hunting as the light dims. They move slowly towards their prey with the pectoral fins spread wide, which helps herd the prey to a position where they can be picke off easily. Red lionfish are usually solitary defending their territory against co-specifics, but will aggregate with others as juveniles and while courting, forming groups of up to 8 fish. The female produces two mucosal balls each containing 2,000 to 15,000 eggs. Twelve hours after fertilization the embryos begin to form, and 36 hours after fertilization, the larvae hatch. Four days after conception, the larvae are already good swimmers and are able to begin feeding on small ciliates.

Did you know?
that the first seven hard dorsal fin spines of the red lion fish can inject potent venom that can be fatal?


Name (Scientific) Pterois volitans
Name (English) Red lionfish
Name (French) Rascasse volante
Name (German) Rotfeuerfisch
Name (Spanish) Pez León
Local names Bahasa Indonesia: Lepu-penganten
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Jens Petersen



Range Eastern Indian Ocean from Ondia, Cocos Island and Western Australia to western Pacific Ocean. Replaced by the very similar Pterois miles from the Red Sea to Sumatra.
Habitat Coral reefs and warm, marine water of the tropics
Wild population Unknown
Zoo population 64 reported to ISIS (2007). Considering that most public aquaria are not part of the WAZA system and do not register their collections with ISIS, available ISIS data are not significant.

In the Zoo

Red lionfish


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 51 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.

Fish must be unpacked carefully and under low illumination.


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Why do zoos keep this animal

Red lionfish are not an endangered species but their habitats, coral reefs, are threatened in many places. They are thus presented by zoos and aquariums as an ambassador species for reef protection, and they are of educational intrerest because they are one of the few venomous fish species.