Photo safari – lionfish

By Ed Yong | May 8, 2010 4:06 pm

LionfishI’ve just come back from a week holiday in Jordan, culminating in a few nights at Aqaba, a town bordering the Red Sea. On the first night, my wife and I walked to the jetty of our hotel and spent a glorious half-hour dangling our feet over the edge, toes tickling the water.

There was a school of small fish milling about the water beneath us but after about 15 minutes, a handful of them would periodically jump out of the water. They all seemed to be jumping in the same direction, and I suspected that a predator was behind it. Following the direction of the fish, we saw a small red blob in the water. The light wasn’t good enough to make a confident identification but the combination of size, shape and colour, and the fact that it was a very slow-moving predator screamed out “lionfish” to me.

Two days later, we went back to the jetty at sunset and saw the same school of fish being stalked by the same predator but, this time, in plentiful light. It was clearly a lionfish, and these photos were taken from the jetty looking downwards, hence the ripple distortions. Nonetheless, the water was clear and still enough to take some pretty cool snaps. In the one below, you can clearly see the small fish keeping their distance from the predator.


In this shot, you can just about make out the boundary of the school, with the lionfish at the middle of an empty circle. The edge of the school starts about halfway between the lionfish and the left edge of the photo and continues upwards and rightwards in a large sweeping arc.


Those beautiful fins aren’t just for show – those on the back are sharp and tipped with a very powerful venom. I’m just glad we didn’t dive into the water straight on top of it.


And then there were two. As a final treat, a second fish turned up, which I take to be a different species of lionfish. By this point, the water was getting choppier and this is the least distorted shot I could take of the two fish, practically on top of one another. If anyone can identify the exact species, I’d be grateful.



Comments (11)

  1. NewEnglandBob

    Wonderful pictures – thanks.

  2. tim

    What a wonderful experience, to be able to see these guys completely natural, in such clear water.

  3. Well, the first definitely looks like Pterois volitans or miles to me… the second one is harder to tell.

    So let me get this straight – you spot two beautiful lionfish and don’t get samples for your dear friend who studies lionfish genetics?! You totally should have gotten me fin clips. I could’ve run some analyses on them and told you what species they were for sure šŸ˜‰

  4. Ed

    Were those shot with the Nikon P90 as well? Impressive. Try – you can search by ecosystem (Red Sea). Scroll to the Scorpaenidae family. One looks like Pterois miles simply because of the simple banding on the body. Both may be. I couldn’t find any pictures of ones with that orange at the end of the pectoral fins, though.

  5. Nice shots, by the way.

  6. Nice shots! I’m inclined to think that the first one you saw was Pterois miles, while the second might be Pterois russelii. You can view photos of both species at this link.

  7. @Ed – Yep, P90. It’s a wonderfully versatile camera and the zoom-lens is just extraordinary.

    Thanks for the species thoughts folks. I fancy the P.miles and P.russelii guesses for now.


    There’s a critical point being missed here, the Lion fish is native to the Pacific, I don’t believe its supposed to be there, the same invasion is occurring along the east coast of the US. The Lion fish is a predator with no enemies, it will consume the small fish in an area until there are no more, it is a real problem that lacks a current solution. If you google lion fish invasion you will see lots of details on this problem.

  9. DENNIS HUDSON: Several species of lionfish are indeed native to the Red Sea. The lionfish as a whole (Pterois & Dendrochirus spp.) are distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific.

  10. Ed

    And Christie, who has commented above, is studying lionfish as an invasive species.


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