Lionfish Species Profile


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The Lionfish is a unique and dominant addition to any saltwater aquarium tank. They are known for their ornate, long venomous spines, who can seriously injure an unknowing owner. Being a top predator the lionfish, also known as the zebrafish, turkeyfish, butterfly-cod or devil firefish, lionfish have become an invasive species throughout the world. Although lionfishes are relatively easy going fish, any small fish or invertebrates may become lunch.

Species Overview

Common Name(s): Lionfish, zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, butterfly-cod, red lionfish, peacock lionfish, red firefish, scorpion volitans, devil firefish

Scientific Name(s): Pterois volitans and Pterois miles (other species in Pterois genus), Dwarf varieties Dendrochirus spp.

Adult Size: 12 to 15 inches

Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years

Family Scorpaenidae
Origin Caribbean, Indonesia, Africa
Social Semi-aggressive
Tank Level Top, mid-dweller
Minimum Tank Size 120 gallons
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Egg layer
Care Easy to moderate
pH 8.1 to 8.4
Hardness 8 to 12 dgH
Temperature 72 to 80 F (22 to 27 C)

Origin and Distribution

There are many varieties of lionfish that originate from many different parts of the world. Pterois volitans, commonly known as the Volitan Lionfish, originates from Indonesia and the Caribbean. The other most common lionfish variety, the Miles Lionfish (Pterois miles), originates from African.

These unique and hardy species have caused them to become invasive in many parts of the world. They are a major problem for Florida reef systems, so much so that there are competitions to catch the most of these invasive pests each year. Many of these invasive holdings start as pets that are released by their owners. Never release your pet into the wild and always plan ahead so your system will be able to hold full grown adults (up to 15 inches!).

Colors and Markings

The lionfish is known for their vibrant red and white colorations with elongated fin rays. Beware! These long fin rays contain a potent venom that protects the fish, but can hurt unaware owners. If you are unlucky enough to accidentally be stung by your lionfish, immediately soak the wound in the hottest water you can stand. Heat will break down the proteins in the venom. It is recommended you apply this treatment on your way to more advanced medical care.

Colors can range from a bold, bright red to a darker burgundy or maroon. Fins without venomous spines are usually almost transparent with darker brown, almost black, spots.


Lionfish are generally easy going tank mates, but their venomous protuberances may be a problem for more aggressive tank mates. Multiple lionfish can be kept in one system and one or two make a safe addition to a community reef or coral tank, provided the fish are large enough not to eat. Lionfish are coral safe and do not usually require a cave to hang out in. Smaller dwarf varieties of lionfish may prefer a cave or crevice to call their own. These fish like slightly cooler saltwater habitats, so keep this in mind when choosing suitable tankmates.

Lionfish Habitat and Care

The most important aspect of a lionfish habitat is plenty of space and room to swim. Their venomous spines take up a lot of room and your fish will not do well if they keep getting stuck on decor. Keep your decorations minimal or provide lots of free swimming space.

Lionfish are relatively easy to care for, but it is critical to maintain good water chemistry. Keep up with a regular maintenance routine and be sure to check your water chemistry regularly.

Lionfish Diet and Feeding

Lionfish are top predators and require a carnivorous diet. Most saltwater community pelleted diets should be supplemented with frozen shrimp, fish or squid. It may be tempting to feed your lionfish live foods, such as fish or crustaceans, but keep in mind that this is a common methods for different diseases to enter your system. You must quarantine all live additions to keep your system safe and healthy.

Gender Differences

There are no external differences between male and female lionfish. They are similar in size and appearance, regardless of their variety.

You will likely be able to tell males from females when your lionfish reach reproductive maturity and exhibit behavioral cues. You may see your fish form a pair and take over a small territory, or one male will chase other males away to establish his breeding harem.

Breeding the Lionfish

Lionfish are an invasive species in many parts of the world thanks to their reproductive strategy. They become reproductively mature in less than one year of age and are voracious wild-spawners. In the wild, some lionfish have been observed laying over two million eggs per year.

The lionfish is able to be bred in captivity, with some species breeding in pairs or a group, known as a harem. As with breeding most fish in captivity, give your lionfish lots of extra room, preferably in a separate breeding tank. The females will lay sticky egg mass with the male following close behind to fertilize it. Some species have specific courting behaviors you may need to keep an eye out for in order to successfully breed your fish.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If you are interested in lionfish, and you are interested in compatible fish for your saltwater aquarium, check out: