Lionfish Stomach Contents Reveal Massive Appetite


Lionfish Gut Contents

By now, you should all be aware of the lionfish invasion of the Atlantic and Caribbean. It is a problem that has now been around for several years, and one that we’ve talked about on more than one occasion. Despite that, it is still a shock to see the devastation that these fish are dishing out on their non-native reefs, and there has been no better visualization that the image posted above. In the image, the dead lionfish is laying side-by-side with what was reportedly removed from its stomach…and the size and number of fish are just mindblowing.

The 10″ predator had a total of five fish in its gut, with two of them being tangs of a fairly reasonable size. The other three fish are noticeable smaller, but pack all of that into one stomach and take into account that all but one fish look even barely digested, and you’ve got a scary scenario on your hands.

Two doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus)
What appears to be an East Atlantic peacock wrasse (Symphodus tinca)
What appears to be a juvenile red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
Unknown partially digested fish

So now that you have a feel for what kind of damage a single 10″ lionfish can inflict, now think about all of the thousands upon thousands of adult sized lionfish that are permeating through just about ever square inch of the Caribbean and easter Atlantic. We’re talking about fish that are up to a foot and a half long, almost double the size of the lionfish pictured above. Imagine how much destruction those fish can cause, cumulatively. It truly is a scary thought.

Image taken from Reef2Reef


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  • Philip Karp

    Lionfish are indeed voracious predators. I’ve had similar experience in examining stomach content. The good news in the case of the photo you posted is that none of the fish are herbivores. I dissected one lionfish that had 14 juvenile parrotfish in its stomach. Fortunately there has been some good news recently with respect to the ability of native fish populations to recover if lionfish are removed regularly. They don’t need to be exterminated (which is probably impossible); if their population on a reef can be reduced by at least 75%, native fish populations begin to recover
    For removal efforts to be sustainable, a range of stakeholders need to be involved. Marine habitat protection agencies can’t do it alone, nor will periodic removals by groups of volunteer divers do the trick. Most notably, groups that will reap a commercial return from control efforts are key. This includes fishers, seafood sellers, and restaurants. However, the challenge is to provide fishers with an adequate economic return to offset the higher cost of catching lionfish (need to use spears or hand nets) in comparison to other seafood species. One approach to increasing return is promotion of lionfish spines and tails for jewlery and other decorative items. Its already happening in Belize and elsewhere:
    The aqaurium trade could help as well. 60,000+ lionfish are imported to the US annually. Almost all of them come from the IndoPacific. Why not require that only those caught in the Atlantic can be imported?

  • it’s a fake

    I have a question. How’d you get the contents out of that lionfish without cutting it open? While I know lionfish eat a lot of everything, this seems to be a fake, although I can’t imagine why someone would need to fake it. First, a ten inch lionfish has a mouth of perhaps 1.5 x 1.5 inch, so that last fish, if not one or two of the others, wouldn’t even fit. Second, I don’t think that fish has been dissected as it wouldn’t still have that curved belly after its guts were removed. Sorry. I’m not a skeptic about their eating abilities, but I actually study these fish and think this is fake.

    • I’m not agreeing with you that it is a fake, but you do have a very valid point…at least in terms of cutting the fish open. Perhaps this lionfish wasn’t the individual who ate the other fish, but another of similar size.

      • AquaticEnvy

        ^Agreed. There could be an incision along the the bottom of the fish. It may just not be visible.