What is a Lionfish?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A lionfish, alternatively called dragon fish, scorpion fish, or turkey fish, is a venomous tropical marine fish noted for its long, separated spines. It is not a single fish species, but rather incorporates many species of the family Scorpaenidae. Many people enjoy the appearance of lionfish, which are often brightly colored and striped, making them popular aquarium fish. They are often striped in some combination of brown, red, yellow, orange, black, and white.

Lionfish may live in coral regions.
Lionfish may live in coral regions.

Native to the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish also live in coral regions of the Eastern Atlantic and the Caribbean. They tend to live around crevices and caves, where they spend most of the day. These fish are thought to be nocturnal. They are active predators with quick reflexes that feed on smaller fish. They use their poisonous spines to subdue their prey before swallowing it whole.

The sting from a lionfish can cause problems in humans that include shortness of breath.
The sting from a lionfish can cause problems in humans that include shortness of breath.

Though lionfish are relatively easy to care for as pets due to their hardiness, the possibility of being stung by their spines makes them an impractical choice of aquarium fish for many people. The sting is quite painful and often accompanied by swelling. Systemic symptoms consistent with shock can also occur, including dizziness, hypotension, shortness of breath, nausea, headache, and muscle weakness. Tissue necrosis at the site of the sting is rare, though possible. No deaths have been reported in humans as a result of the venom.

The severity of lionfish venom varies according to the size and species of the fish. A sting can be treated with heat. Immersing the affected area in hot water, about 113°F (45°C), for 30 to 40 minutes can alleviate the pain and swelling.

Lionfish are edible, and though they carry venom, preparing them safely is not difficult. This is because the venom is contained in the spines, rather than in the internal organs of the fish.

The toxins in lionfish can cause dizziness and low blood pressure.
The toxins in lionfish can cause dizziness and low blood pressure.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


We can always use a new food stock, and there should be no limits on catching and killing this unwanted invasive species.


anon15299 (Post 3) makes an error which could be painful to someone preparing lionfish for cooking.

Not only the dorsal fin is poisonous. The leading spine on the pelvic and anal fins are also poisonous and must be removed to render the handling of the fish safe. A good kitchen scissors is the best tool for this removal but, if one is not available, then carefully chop them off with a sturdy knife or a small cleaver.


We are actually holding a workshop on lionfish on Little Farmers cay in the Exuma cays, in the Bahamas. we are teaching the locals about the fish, rounding as much of them up as we can, and having a large grill out!


Kill Em'. Kill Em All. They will ruin the Carib.


Just had Lionfish in Long Island, BHS. We carefully cut the fillets off and then sauteed it in butter. It's a bland white fish that needs seasoning or would be great fried as fingers or nuggets. Just make sure it's dead and watch the dorsal spines. The others are not toxic. BHS government is trying to promote people eating them since they are edible and are taking over the reefs.


I recently ate some lionfish by accident at a restaurant. They called it Gilt Taco. I thought it was fish, but when I tasted it it tasted like chicken (really it did) after I ate it I was told it was fish. I would never have thought that in a million years. It was cooked like a chicken stew but the fish shredded. Who knew?


Since the lionfish is not native to the Caribbean & Atlantic and rather got here by human stupidity, they're becoming a real nuisance (no natural predators). Any hints on how to prepare the fish for eating? I'd really like to get rid of a few of them...

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