Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) populations have drastically exploded in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean in the past decade, and not without attracting some attention. The trouble is that these gorgeous fish sporting an array of venomous spines are invasive species. They naturally occur in the Indo-Pacific but have been introduced to Florida via aquarium releases and are now potentially causing significant changes to marine ecosystems, the inhabitats of which have not evolved with this fish. They can now be found from Costa Rica and Venezuela up the US eastern seaboard to Rhode Island, a truly impressive extent considering the first individual was found offshore of Florida in 1985. Recently, I was fortunate enough to dive in Roatan, Honduras on my honeymoon and lionfish were a relatively common sight, despite their efforts to hide among the barrel sponges on the benthos. They could potentially spread well into the southern hemisphere, along the the coast of South America, based on the lethal minimum water temperature [pdf] for this fish (10 C). Lionfish feed upon the larvae of reef fishes, undercutting the next generation of fishes. They can spawn year-round and release buoyant egg masses that can float in the currents for weeks, ensuring a wide distribution.
Dr John Bruno, over at the excellent new ocean-science blog, Seamonster, points out some new efforts in the fight against a particularly troubling invasive species, the lionfish. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific but have invaded waters along the US eastern seaboard, all the way down to South America, and represent an enormous ecological change, as pretty much nothing is left to eat them. But apparently there are efforts afoot to change that, by working with sharks, and by attempting to convince a largely land-based bunch of bipeds that they’re yummy as well.