In This Article

  • Origin

  • Colors and Markings

  • Tankmates

  • Care

  • Diet and Feeding

  • Gender Differences

  • Breeding

  • Further Research

The Lionfish is a unique and dominant addition to any saltwater aquarium. They are known for their ornate, long venomous spines, which can seriously injure an unknowing owner. Being a top predator, lionfish (also known as the zebrafish, turkeyfish, butterfly-cod or devil firefish) have become an invasive species in some oceans. Although lionfishes are slow swimming fish, any small fish or invertebrates that gets too near 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

Characteristics 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 several species of lionfish that originate from different parts of the world. Pterois volitans, commonly known as the Volitans Lionfish, originates from Indonesia, but now also inhabits the Caribbean due to its accidental release into the warm waters off Florida. The other most common lionfish species, the Miles Lionfish (Pterois miles), originates from the oceans around Africa.

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

Colors and Markings

The lionfish is known for its vibrant red and white colors 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 get 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 that you apply this treatment on your way to the doctor or hospital to receive more advanced medical care.

The lionfish's 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 for big fish, but their venomous protuberances may be a problem for more aggressive tank mates that may try to bother the lionfish. Multiple lionfish can be kept in one aquarium and one or two make a safe addition to a community reef or coral tank, provided that the other fish are large enough not to be eaten. Lionfish are sage to keep with corals and do not require a cave to hide 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 room to swim. Their venomous spines take up a lot of space and your fish will not do well if they keep getting stuck on décor. Keep your decorations minimal or provide lots of open 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 goldfish or crustaceans, but keep in mind that this is a common method for diseases to enter your aquarium. 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 gender.

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 and are prolific 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 a sticky egg mass, with the male following close behind to fertilize it. Some species have specific courting behaviors that you may need to keep watch for in order to successfully breed your fish. Before breeding lionfish, however, ensure you have a plan to manage any babies that are produced.


Do not let them go into the ocean!

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

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

  • Flame Angelfish
  • Achilles Tang
  • Triggerfishes
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