October 6 – I’m Not Lion!

Today’s factismal: In order to keep the invasive lionfish population from growing, we’d have to kill 27% of the adults every month!

The lionfish is a pretty critter, with its graceful yet deadly spines and bright coloration. And that probably explains why so many people want to have them in their fish tanks; those little fish add a lot of color in a very small size. But those little fish are also voracious feeders that will cheerfully munch up all the other fish in an aquarium during a lazy afternoon of snacking. And that probably explains why so many people have decided to get rid of the lionfish. But what those people who get rid of lionfish don’t know is that the critter is rapidly becoming the creature from the glass lagoon; it has taken over reefs throughout the Caribbean and is starting on the Gulf of Mexico.

A lionfish contemplating where to invade next (Image courtesy Gulf Coast Research Laboratory)

A lionfish contemplating where to invade next
(Image courtesy Primofish.com)

Lionfish are one of the few reef fish that also do well in deep water, which is part of the reason for their success as an invasive species. The other part is that they are notoriously fecund; a female can lay as many as 15,000 eggs, many of which grow up to be adult lionfish thanks to the lack of natural predators in the Caribbean. As a result, their population has boomed. In four years it increased by 700% and is expected to keep growing despite our best efforts to slow their invasion. Current estimates are that we would need to kill 27% of the adult population each month just to keep the population from growing further; a kill rate of 50% would be needed to start reducing the population.

The good news is that several organizations are taking on the challenge. Some have started sponsoring lionfish cook-offs (the meat is surprisingly tasty when prepared correctly. And others have put a bounty on the heads of these beautiful annoyances; for more information (or to claim your share of the bounty) swim on over to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s Lionfish Bounty Program:
http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/public/lionfish.bounty.program.php

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