Toxic Tuesday! Lion fish.

The first aid for a lion fish sting is to keep it under hot water (less than scalding). If you experience a severe reaction (trouble breathing) then go to the ER immediately! So if that is what you needed to know, you don’t need to skim the whole post for it.

This is the first post in a series of three on lion fish.

Since I got such a great response from the Copperhead post, I decided I needed to get some pictures of poisonous critters that make for good teaching examples. And so, I pulled up some photos from the last time I went to the Newport Aquarium, just south of Cincinnati Ohio. It was much better than the Creation “Museum” that I blogged about last year, but I knew that going in. I try to go at least once a year, and my trusty camera always goes with me.

Lion fish are some of the most beautiful fish in the sea, and have a nasty reputation for being extremely poisonous. Extremely is an overstatement, as I think about sea snakes as being extremely poisonous. Lion fish will give you a nasty sting, very painful, but not as bad as many people think.

This critter is particularly important to me as a toxicologist, but is is very serious threat to the reefs of the Atlantic. As a (beginning) scuba diver, the thought of losing so many beautiful reef ecosystems would be a terrible thing.

lion fish 1

Pterois volitans is native to the South Pacific, as are all other lion fish, where it is kept in check by natural predators and parasites and is sought after as a food item. All lion fish make for very popular aquarium fish (pics of other species can be found there as well as care directions), and they were probably accidentally released into the Atlantic from an aquarium. lion fish 7

Lion fish were first found in Florida in 1985, and the population was entrenched by 2000 to the point that sightings have become commonplace. They are most common in the Bahamas and Caribbean, but have been sighted Belize and Venezuela and north to New York and the Bermudas. How could these become so spread out so quickly?

lion fish 1

The Gulf Stream runs north along the east coast of the US and larva stage fish and egg packets get picked up and borne along by it. It may come as a surprise, but young tropical fish are commonly sighted off the coast of New York in the warmer months. Lion fish that end up near Long Island won’t make it through the winter, but any of their little brothers and sisters that managed to get off the Gulf Stream by, say North Carolina, will be able to make it, even if mom and dad live in the Bahamas. Think about that for a minute. From the point of spawning north, a single reproductive event can spread baby lion fish all along the coast. By the way, if you don’t read any of the other links, read the previous one. Actually, here it is again. Go for the pictures of the juvenile lion fish, stay for the engrossing description of how one minor discovery by a graduate student can become incredibly important to current research.

lion fish 2Lion fish are voracious predators

That gorgeous coloration tells predators to back off and at the end of some of those fins is a nasty venom delivery system. The tissue on their dorsal, pelvic and anal spines can all be pushed back, causing their venom gland to release a lovely cocktail of toxins into the unlucky recipient of the sting.

Interestingly, the poisons are protein based, and are are broken down by heat, which is why running hot water over a sting or putting a hot towel over the sting site makes for good first aid. Its sort of like frying an egg.

Lionfish anatomy from Essential Image Source Foundation

Lionfish anatomy from Essential Image Source Foundation

You really have to see these guys swimming to get an idea of how beautiful they are. They are simply one of the most gorgeous fish in the sea, but they don’t belong in the Atlantic at the cost of the already fragile reef system.

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3 comments on “Toxic Tuesday! Lion fish.

  1. Will says:

    “You really have to see these guys swimming to get an idea of how beautiful they are. They are simply one of the most gorgeous fish in the sea, but they don’t belong in the Atlantic at the cost of the already fragile reef system.”

    Agreed and agreed. Of all the creatures I’ve seen while diving, they are among the most intimidating and the most mesmerizing, but invasive species are unwelcome.

  2. Thomas says:

    Will you direct me to a web site that will give more detailed anatomical description (drawings, diagrams)of the location of the venom glands of the lionfish? Is there a SOP for handling these fish in and out of water?
    Many thanks,

    a Learniing sapien

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