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The voracious and invasive lionfish in the Atlantic ocean. Here is the reason why.

Lionfish are voracious eaters and are able to expand their stomachs to 30 times its original volume to accommodate the loss of appetite.
(Shutterstock)

One of the most notorious invasive species around the lion fish, it is well-known for his voracious appetite and can literally eat the its competitors in a given ecosystem. And that’s what the eye-catching fish to do so, the party made its way through the water, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast.

Now, scientists and businesses are coming up with ways to catch and kill all of the hungry invaders. However, while these new ideas to show commitment, tried-and-true, spearfishing seems to be the most effective way to eradicate lionfish, researchers told Live Science.

“It’s really hard to describe what a lionfish will eat, because they do it in a fraction of a second,” said John Dahl, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida. Lionfish use a complex array of tactics that have no other fish in the world and has been known to be. In the blink of an eye, and a lionfish go from silence to hover above its prey, the flaring of his fins, and the firing of a disorienting stream of water from its mouth, unhinging its jaw and swallowing the entire meal, the scientists reported in a study published in 2012 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The attacks happen so fast that it is near the fish didn’t seem to notice.

“It’s really nice when I’m on the lookout for gut contents,” Dahl said, “if there is something to be eaten fresh, and it is in pristine condition.”

The new fish on the block

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is one of the most notorious invasive species in the United States of america. With their bright colors and frilly fins to make lionfish are popular in the aquarium trade; and, in the last 25 years or so, it seems that aquarium fish owners have dumped unwanted lionfish — which are native to the Indo-Pacific region, in the north Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their popularity in the aquarium trade, it has also encouraged the various breeding programs.

Lionfish were fast, and strong, but their greatest advantage is in a new place. Atlantic prey fish, just don’t know what’s going on. Biologists refer to this phenomenon of victim naivety, and it is believed that this is largely due to the lionfish’s dramatic success as an invader.

Since the first breeding programmes were spotted off the coast of North Carolina in the year 2000, lionfish have rapidly caught up with coastal areas in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

“Sightings have increased rapidly in 2004, and along the Atlantic coast of the United States of america,” said Pam Schofield, research fisheries biologist at the U.s. Geological Survey.

“Lionfish sightings are spreading rapidly throughout the Caribbean and then the Gulf of Mexico,” Schofield, a score of non-native marine fish in US waters, reported the progress of Science. There are now breeding populations in the coastal waters of Venezuela in the Caribbean sea and the Gulf of Mexico. On the East-Coast breeding populations, which extend to North Carolina, and the separate individuals to be seen as far north as Massachusetts, Schofield said. Reports of lionfish sightings have tapered off since its peak in 2010, however, this is probably because the population is in decline — dive guides are so ubiquitous that it’s mocked on a is no longer significant.

How to manage a full-scale invasion

Lionfish are not easily caught, when the traditional fishing methods are used in a number of research groups and start-up businesses and the development of new tools for the management of the war. These are specially designed traps that will lure them in, dive guides, while saving the indigenous species of the remote-controlled vehicle that is of a human pilot, remotely, to spear a lionfish, and an autonomous chase vehicle, which will make use of the artificial intelligence of the fish themselves. Although some progress has been made in the new technologies, and spear guns are used by divers, seems to be the tool that has to be the most effective tool to kill one of them, Dahl said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has been a leader in the dive guides and management, and has a number of incentive programs to entice recreational and commercial divers to harvest lionfish, according to the FWC. The lionfish derby is one of the world’s most successful management tools being used today. When spider-man, skin-diving and scuba divers for a day’s work to get as many lionfish as they can. In the bigger derbies, the organizers will award prizes to the teams and the individuals who catch the largest, smallest and the most lionfish. “The derbies have been a great opportunity to educate people about the lionfish and the threat of release of aquarium fish into the wild,” Dahl said. She has worked and volunteered in a number of derbies. “The more people learn about this occupation, there may not be another lionfish.'”

Culling lionfish will never be eliminate the species from the Atlantic ocean, but it can help to mitigate the effects. While some of the lionfish are able to eat many of the native wildlife, lionfish wreak havoc on a reef, and only after their populations up to a certain density, the researchers reported in 2014 in the journal Ecological Applications. The incentives seem to be working. A few of the popular dive sites in the Florida Keys, as well as recreational divers, have been as diligent in culling invasive lionfish is that it’s unusual to see a couple of different dive operators.

The scientists knew from the beginning that the growth rate of the population, it would eventually taper off as the lionfish populations reach a point where there is no food or habitat to support more people. However, the number of lionfish in areas of the Gulf of Mexico, where Dahl and his colleagues have kept their population for a number of years has actually been purchased. It’s too early to tell what’s behind the change, however, Dahl points to a poorly understood parasite of skin lesions that “have made a dent in their population.”

Now, less than two decades, ever since the invasion began, ecologists are still trying to learn about the lionfish, to manage the new invasion.

“We’re not sure whether or not [the population decline] is going to take a while, or if it’s a boom-bust population cycle,” Dahl said. “It would be a little bit of both. We don’t know.”

Originally published on Live Science

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