Common Lionfish, Pterois volitans (Linnaeus 1758)

Other Names: Butterfly Cod, Butterfly-cod, Featherfins, Fire Fish, Lionfish, Ornate Butterfly-cod, Red Firefish, Scorpion-cod, Turkeyfish, Turkey-fish, Zebrafish

A Lionfish, Pterois volitans, at North Solitary Island, New South Wales, December 2015. Source: Ian Shaw / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial


This striking scorpionfish is an active predator that stalks its prey with its pectoral fins outstretched.

Identifying features:

  • Body with distinctive irregular reddish bands on a white to cream background
  • First dorsal fin with very long spines, fin membranes transparent with rows of dark spots
  • Pectoral fins very long and fan-like, with rays extending well beyond the membranes
  • Lateral line usually with a row of white spots
  • Head with fleshy antenna and numerous fleshy appendages.
  • The fin spines a highly venomous and can inflict excruciatingly painful puncture wounds.

    The Common Lionfish is highly invasive in the Western Atlantic, and is having a devastating effect on reef fish populations and the corals themselves.

    Visit the Arkive site for images and videos of Common Lionfish.

    High speed video of a Common Lionfish suction feeding - played back in slow motion.

    Cite this page as:
    Bray, D.J. 2017, Pterois volitans in Fishes of Australia, accessed 15 Jul 2024,

    Common Lionfish, Pterois volitans (Linnaeus 1758)

    More Info


    Known in Australian waters from about Rottnest Island (Western Australia) around the tropical north to southern New South Wales; also Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea, reefs in the Coral Sea, the Lord Howe Island region and Norfolk Island. 

    Elsewhere, widespread in the tropical Indo-West Pacific, from Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean, to French Polynesia and the Line Islands, north to southern Japan, and south to northern New Zealand.

    The Common Lionfish inhabits lagoons and seaward reefs, from shallow inshore waters to dpeths of almost 130 m in Australia.


    This voracious predator feeds mostly at night by stalking and cornering its prey with its huge outstretched pectoral fins. Prey includes fishes and crustaceans.


    Most spines have venom glands at the base and operate like a hypodermic syringe. When the spine is depressed through contact, venom containing a neurotoxin is released into the puncture wound.


    The Common Lionfish has been introduced into the Western Atlantic, and is now well-established in a wide area from Cape Hatteras to Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean.

    The species is a highly invasive voracious predator, preying on reef fishes unaccustomed to lionfishes.

    By severely reducing the population of herbivores, lionfishes in the Atlantic are also having a devastating affect on reefs which are being smothered by algae.

    Species Citation

    Gasterosteus volitans Linnaeus 1758, Systema Naturae 1: 296. Type locality: Ambon Island, Indonesia


    Bray, D.J. 2017

    Common Lionfish, Pterois volitans (Linnaeus 1758)


    Albins, M.A. & P.J. Lyons. 2012. Invasive red lionfish Pterois volitans blow directed jets of water at prey fish. Marine Ecology Progress Series 448: 1-5.

    Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls.

    Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

    Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 1-21

    Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1988. Fishes of Christmas Island Indian Ocean. Christmas Island Natural History Association, Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, 6798, Australia. 197 p.

    Allen, G.R., Steene, R.C. & Orchard, M. 2007. Fishes of Christmas Island. Christmas Island : Christmas Island Natural History Association 2 edn, 284 pp.

    Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls.

    Barbour, A.B., M.S. Allen, T.K. Frazer, & K.D. Sherman. 2011. Evaluating the Potential Efficacy of Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans) Removals. PLoS One 6(5): e19666.

    Betancur-R., R., A. Hines, A. Acero P., G. Ortí, A.E. Wilbur & D.W. Freshwater. 2011. Reconstructing the lionfish invasion: insights into Greater Caribbean biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 38: 1281-1293.

    Choat, J.H., van Herwerden, L., Robbins, W.D., Hobbs, J.P. & Ayling, A.M. 2006. A report on the ecological surveys undertaken at Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs, February 2006. Report by James Cook University to the Department of the Environment and Heritage. 65 pp.

    Coleman, N. 1981. Australian Sea Fishes North of 30°S. Lane Cove, NSW : Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd 297 pp.

    Fishelson, L. 1997. Experiments and observations on food consumption growth and starvation in Dendrochirus brachypterus and Pterois volitans (Pteroinae, Scorpaenidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 50: 391-403.

    Fishelson, L. 2006. Evolution in action-peacock-feather like supraocular tentacles of the lionfish, Pterois volitans - the distribution of a new signal. Environmental Biology of Fishes 75: 343-348. 

    Grant, E. 1999. Guide to Fishes. Briskane, Queensland: The Department of Harbours and Marine.

    Green, S.J., J.L. Akins, A. Maljković & I.M. Côté. 2012. Invasive Lionfish Drive Atlantic Coral Reef Fish Declines. PLoS One 7(3): e32596.

    Halstead B.W., Chitwood M.J. & F.R. Modglin 1955. The anatomy of the venom apparatus of the zebrafish Pterois volitans (Linnaeus). The Anatomical Record 122: 317-333.

    Hamner, R.M., D.W. Freshwater & P.E. Whitfield. 2007. Mitochondrial cytochrome b analysis reveals two invasive lionfish species with strong founder effects in the western Atlantic. Journal of Fish Biology 71 (Supplement B): 214–222.

    Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

    Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762

    Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal fishes of south-eastern Australia. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu, Hawaii. 437 p.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to sea fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

    Kulbicki, M. J. Beets, P. Chabanet, et al. 2012. Distributions of Indo-Pacific lionfishes Pterois spp. in their native ranges: implications for the Atlantic invasion and refs therein. Marine Ecology Progress Series 446: 189-205.

    Larson, H.K. & Williams, R.S. 1997. Darwin Harbour fishes: a survey and annotated checklist. pp. 339-380 in Hanley, H.R., Caswell, G., Megirian, D. & Larson, H.K. (eds). The Marine Flora and Fauna of Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia. Proceedings of the Sixth International Marine Biology Workshop. Darwin : Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory 466 pp.

    Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna tria Naturae, secundem Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus, Differentis, Synonymis, Locis. Tom.1 Editio decima, reformata. Holmiae : Laurentii Salvii 824 pp.

    Mandrytsa, S.A. 2001. Lateral Line System and Classification of Scorpaenoid Fishes (Scorpeaniformes: Scorpaenidei). Perm : Perm State Univ. Press pp. 1-393.

    Meister H.S., Wyanski D.M, Loefer J.K., Ross S.W., Quattrini A.M. & K.J. Sulak. 2005. Further evidence for the invasion and establishment of Pterois volitans (Teleostei: Scorpaenidae) along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Southeastern Naturalist 4: 193-206.

    Mihalitsis M, Bellwood DR (2017) A morphological and functional basis for maximum prey size in piscivorous fishes. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184679. pone.0184679 Open access

    Morris, J.A., Jr., J.L. Akins, A. Barse, D. Cerino, D.W. Freshwater, S.J. Green, R.C. Munoz, C. Paris & P.E. Whitfield. 2009. Biology and Ecology of the Invasive Lionfishes, Pterois miles and Pterois volitans. Proceedings of the 61st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 61: 409-414.

    Myers, R.F. 1999 Micronesian reef fishes: a comprehensive guide to the coral reef fishes of Micronesia, 3rd revised and expanded edition. Coral Graphics, Barrigada, Guam. 330 p.

    Oxley, W.G., Ayling, A.M., Cheal, A.J. & Osborne, K. 2004. Marine surveys undertaken in the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve, December 2003. Townsville : Australian Institute of Marine Sciences 64 pp.

    Poss, S.G. 1999. Families Scorpaenidae, Caracanthidae, Aploactinidae. pp. 2291-2358 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 2069-2790 pp.

    Randall, J.E., G.R. Allen & R.C. Steene 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii. 506 p.

    Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs.

    Ruiz-Carus, R., Matheson Jr, R.E., Roberts Jr, D.E. & Whitfield, P.E. (2006) The western Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Scorpaenidae), in Florida: evidence for reproduction and parasitism in the first exotic marine fish established in state waters. Biological Conservation 128: 384-390.

    Sainsbury, K.J., Kailola, P.J. & Leyland, G.G. 1985. Continental Shelf Fishes of Northern and North-Western Australia. Canberra : Fisheries Information Service 375 pp. figs & pls.

    Schofield, P.J. 2010. Update on geographic spread of invasive lionfishes (Pterois volitans [Linnaeus, 1758] and P. miles [Bennett, 1828]) in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Aquatic Invasions 5 (Supplement 1): S117–S122.

    Schultz, E.T. 1986. Pterois volitans and Pterois miles: two valid species. Copeia 1986(3): 686–690.

    Shiomi, K., M. Hosaka, S. Fujita, H. Yamanaka, T. Kikuchi. 1989. Venoms from six species of marine fish lethal and hemolytic activities and their neutralization by commercial stonefish antivenom. Marine Biology 103(3): 285-290.

    Whitfield P.E., Gardner T., Vives S.P., Gilligan M.R., Coutenay, W.R., Jr., Ray, G.C. & J.A. Hare. 2002. Biological invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans along the Atlantic coast of North America. Marine Ecology Progress Series 235: 289-297.

    Whitley, G.P. 1951. Studies in Ichthyology No. 15. Records of the Australian Museum 22(4): 389-408 figs 1-14 ( p. 406, fig. 14, as Pterois volitans castus

    Whitley, G.P. 1963. Dangerous Australian fishes. Proceedings of the First International Convention on Life Saving Techniques, Supplement to the Bulletin of the Post Graduate Committee in Medicine University of Sydney. 41-64 pp.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37287040

    Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

    Danger:Highly venomous spines

    Depth:1-128 m

    Feeding:Voracious active predator

    Fishing:Aquarium fish

    Max Size:38 cm TL

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map