Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A red lionfish photographed at Pure Aquariums in Lincoln, Nebraska
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Red Lionfish

Pretty much everything about the venomous red lionfish—its red-and-white zebra stripes, long, showy pectoral fins, and generally cantankerous demeanor—says, "Don't touch!"


The venom of the red lionfish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. It relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey, mainly fish and shrimp. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.


Red lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, although they've found their way to warm ocean habitats worldwide.

The largest of lionfish can grow to about 15 inches in length, but the average is closer to 1 foot.

Red lionfish are popular in some parts of the world as food, but are far more prized in the aquarium trade. Their population numbers are healthy and their distribution is growing, causing some concerned in the United States, where some feel the success of this non-indigenous species presents human and environmental dangers.

WATCH: How Eating Venomous Lionfish Helps the Environment

Now you can do your part to fight the invasive lionfish—by ordering a delectable dish from a dinner menu. Divers and chefs are promoting a gastronomical way to control the venomous lionfish population in Florida's coastal waters by introducing the invasive species to the American palate.