By Dr J Floor Anthoni, 2002
Lionfish or firefish as they are called, are
found in all tropical seas. The one found at the Kermadec Islands, has
been identified as Pterois volitans, but in its isolation, has become
more beautiful than any of its namesakes. With its many frilled petticoats,
it is purely enjoyable to watch, hence the many photographs devoted to
Lion fishes or firefishes occur in all tropical
seas. They are small predators extravagantly equipped with wings, folded
like petticoats. They represent a pinnacle in evolution, both in shape
and in the way they live. Their elaborate fins do not allow them to move
fast, but enable them to herd smaller fish into corners of the reef, or
to even catch these inside their many frills. Let there be no mistake,
it is a fierce predator, catching its prey with a loud suck. Unlike scorpionfishes
who have lost their swim bladders, the lionfishes can effortlessly hover
above the rocks, using their many ailerons for hang-gliding. They can even
do this upside down! Meeting these fish and observing them, defies imagination,
hence the many images shown here.
Kermadec lionfish has been identified as being identical to the Australian
red lionfish Pterois volitans, as shown here. This species is widespread
in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia. The first 6-7 pectoral spines
of the red lionfish have developed into hard and sharp talons used as legs.
These fish have finely radiated and translucent fins, but deceptively,
these are quite hard to the touch, as if made of plastic. Protruding from
the eye are two antennas (eyebrows) which are long in some, and short in
others. The function and meaning of these is unknown, and could well be
an indication of sex (male-female).
The firefish is feared by marine creatures and humans alike, due to
its poisonous dorsal spines. These release poison into the wound, causing
an intensively burning sensation, which can last for days. The pain may
be accompanied by sweating and respiratory depression. When approached,
the fish will turn its body to face the intruder with its back, pointing
its dorsal spines individually as well.
The firefish is related to the scorpionfishes, many of which also have
poisonous dorsal and gill spines. Unlike the scorpionsfishes, which lie
still in the sand, on the sand or on the rock, the firefish swims around
freely in and around sheltered crevices. They are also quite comfortable
swimming upside down. Their breast fins (pectorals) consist of two
parts: the bottom part has developed into fingers with sharp talons, and
the upper part folds forward to form the spectacular wings. The top of
the wing is thus the bottom of the pectoral fin. Their belly fins (ventrals)
have moved forward and become very large. These fins together, form a kind
of catch net with which it catches little fish and crabs.
This fish does not have eyebrow protrusions. Female?
This fish has long eyebrow protrusions. Male?
Detail of the finely splitting polka-dotted hard fin rays
of the rear fins (tail, back and anal fins)
The hard dorsal spines are easily miscounted, due to two
small spines between the front and rear sections of this fin - 13 in all.
Note the gaudy white flags topping these poisonous bunting banners.
f031320: Although a little nervous, this lionfish tolerates
the diver and the photographer nearby. The picture shows its relative size,
but it can grow to 38cm long (twice the size shown).
f030917: At dusk, the firefish congregate in sheltered caves
and at strategic points awaiting small fish to return to their narrow coral
shelters. Advantaged by low light conditions, this time of day is good
f030937c: A beautiful image of the gaudy petticoats and frills
of the lionfish. Notice how its breast fins fold over and forward, changing
from short fingers to long wings. In this species, the wings are particularly
showy and fully webbed. Notice also the very large ventral fins, almost
joining the breast fins. This particular animal has no eye protrusions
f031820c: A lionfish has cautiously left its cave, now silhouetted
against a clear blue sea. It shows clearly 11 long dorsal spines and two
f030920: lionfishes can also be dark coloured, from red to
dark brown. The younger ones are black to brown.
f030924: This closely cropped image shows the colourful details
of the lionfish: its finely radiating fin rays with black dots, splitting
half way its tail and once again further aft; its finely painted stripes
and wide polka-dotted banners on dorsal and pectoral spines.
f031819: A fine display of firefish gaudiness, set against
a background of purple and green rock.
f031820: Firefish contrasting against a deep blue sea of
very clear water. This image was taken at Macdonalds Rock, near Macauley
Island. These fish are found on all islands of the Kermadec group.
f031131: Firefishes are often found congregating in caves
and crevices. Their elaborate shape gives the moving water good cause for
tossing them around, hence their prevalence for shelter. In this image,
five fish can be counted. Notice the one on left, hanging upside down.
f031132: Firefish swimming upside down.
f031125: Another fine display of the firefish, set against
the gaudy backdrop of encrusting coralline algae (pink) and matting sponges
(green, yellow, orange, red)