Myths Busted!

Myth: Invasive lionfish are poisonous.

Invasive lionfish are not poisonous, they are venomous. A common misconception is that these two terms (venomous and poisonous) are synonymous when in fact they are distinctively different. The two terms can be distinguished by the method of toxin delivery. Venomous organisms deliver their toxins by injecting it into their victims using specific apparatuses like fangs (some snakes), stingers (bees), or spines (lionfish). In contrast, poisonous animals require their victim to ingest (some mushrooms) or absorb (some frogs) their toxins.

Myth: Lionfish can't be eaten.

Because invasive lionfish are venomous and not poisonous, their meat can be safely consumed. In fact, research suggests that invasive lionfish meat contains higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids than some commonly consumed reef fish. On-going research shows that invasive lionfish do carry ciguatoxins, which can cause ciguatera fish poisoning in humans when fish containing these toxins are consumed. However, over 400 other reef fish have been found to carry ciguatoxins, including many commonly consumed species like grouper and snapper, and no reports of ciguatera fish poisoning has been documented from invasive lionfish consumption. Current research is being conducted to investigate whether invasive lionfish are more toxic than other commonly consumed fish species. Until that research is completed and suggests otherwise, the same caution that is advised when consuming fish or shellfish is also recommended for invasive lionfish.

Myth: Invasive lionfish venom is produced and contained in the meat, which makes the meat toxic.

On the contrary, invasive lionfish venom is contained in the last ¼ of spine and does not contaminate the meat.

Myth: The lionfish invasion began in the Atlantic when a home aquarium broke during Hurricane Andrew, which released lionfish into the wild.

The first confirmed sighting of invasive lionfish in the Atlantic was actually in 1985 off Dania Beach, Florida. The release of unwanted lionfish from home aquaria is believed to be the most probable source for the invasion. Although it is possible that lionfish were accidentally released during Hurricane Andrew, evidence suggests this was not the start of the invasion.

Myth: The lionfish invasion began due to ship ballast water exchange.

In many areas, especially the Great Lakes region, invasive species are commonly introduced during ship ballast water exchange. Some believe this is the same mechanism that introduced lionfish to the Atlantic. However, research on common Atlantic and Caribbean shipping lanes, ship origins and destinations, ballast water exchange locations, ocean currents, and the location where invasive lionfish were first reported (Dania Beach, FL) suggest this scenario is an unlikely candidate for starting the lionfish invasion. The release of unwanted lionfish into the wild from home aquaria is believed to be the most probable source for the invasion.

Myth: Predators can be trained to hunt invasive lionfish.

Many videos have surfaced over the last several years showing divers feeding invasive lionfish to predators like sharks and barracuda. Although these predators are consuming the invasive lionfish that are being fed to them, no evidence suggests that these predators are actively hunting and consuming invasive lionfish. This misinformed control technique can have severe negative and counterproductive results. When predators are fed by divers, it is highly likely that they will associate divers with a free meal and may harass them more than usual, which could result in unwanted attacks by predators. It is highly encouraged not to feed predators in the wild.

Myth: There is nothing we can do at this point to protect our native reefs from invasive lionfish.

Scientists have agreed that invasive lionfish are here to stay and nothing can be done to completely eliminate invasive lionfish from the invaded region. However, a lot can be done and has been done to minimize their impacts on our native reefs. Invasive lionfish removals through derbies and tournaments have shown to be highly effective at reducing invasive lionfish abundance. Invasive lionfish consume native species at astonishing rates and this rate is higher when invasive lionfish abundance is higher. Therefore, the best way to combat invasive lionfish is to remove as many as possible for as long as possible.

Myth: Invasive lionfish are aggressive and will attack you.

No evidence exists that suggests invasive lionfish will actively attack you. The majority of reports that state invasive lionfish “attacked” a victim also state the victim was harassing the fish before the attack. Most wild animals will attempt to defend themselves, violently if necessary, when they feel threatened. It is advised to seek proper training before participating in activities in which you will encounter invasive lionfish.

Fact Sheets

In the U.S. and the Caribbean, lionfish are an invasive species — a top predator with the potential to create massive and irreversible harm to our reef ecosystems. Fortunately for our reefs, the flashy lionfish has caught the attention of the hungriest predators of all: People! The “Eat Lionfish” campaign is a way to make the public aware of this growing threat and invite them to be part of the strategy to combat it and enjoy a tasty fish at the same time.
The red lionfish is an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Their human-caused introduction and subsequent population increase are now causing negative impacts on marine ecosystems in the southeastern seaboard of the U.S. and the Caribbean Sea. Lionfish are efficient predators invading a variety of natural and artificial habitats, competing with native predator fish and consuming smaller fishes, including the young of large species.
This document provides overall information about lionfish in the U.S, who to respond to, and how to deal with the invasion.
The lionfish invasion in Florida and information on how to help.
The venomous Indo-Pacific ‘Lionfish’is regularly observed in habitats within the southeast region (Florida to North Carolina) and the Bahamas. These fish are not native to Atlantic waters and may have a negative impact on native fish populations. All of their spines are venomous and can cause extreme pain! If stung, immerse wound in hot water and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Basic biology and ecology of invasive lionfish

Story Map



Diving Deeper: The Lionfish Invasion Part II: Controlling the Spread
What can we do to stop the spread of lionfish? Tune into today's Diving Deeper episode as we continue our discussion on invasive lionfish with James Morris.
Diving Deeper: The Lionfish Invasion Part I: Covering New Ground
Comparing the spread of lionfish to an oil spill? That's one way to look at this invasive species. Tune into today's Diving Deeper interview with James Morris to learn more about the new ground that the invasive lionfish covers.

Workshops and Conferences


Classroom Resources

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Are you looking to create unique lessons and exercises in the classroom? Visit to get the latest invasive lionfish ideas for the classroom, printable materials, links to lesson plans, online resources for teachers, quizzes, student guides, and more!
REEF Biology, Ecology and Impacts Powerpoint
Lionfish Toy Box
Junior Ranger Underwater Explorer



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