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Invasive Lionfish in Florida Are Literally Becoming Cannibals

These venomous fish are eating up Florida’s ecosystem.
July 27, 2015, 4:55pm

As far as invasive species go, one with venomous spines is somewhat less than ideal. But that's exactly what's happening in Florida's coastal waters with the population explosion of the lionfish.

They have huge appetites, grow very quickly, lay up to 30,000 eggs every four days, and their spines keep them protected from predation. It's a "perfect storm" for an invasive species to manage a total takeover.

Fishermen and scientists suspect the population was introduced into the Florida ecosystem in the 1980s, when someone released the exotic species into the sea from an aquarium. Now the lionfish are depleting the populations of crustaceans and smaller fishes, which also affects the populations of the other, larger species who rely on these organisms for food.

In fact, the lionfish are so voracious they have begun resorting to cannibalism to feed their hunger, which is a rare behavior in fish. This still may not be sufficient to reduce their numbers to a comfortable level, so marine biologists have started collecting lionfish to study their growth habits, working alongside local fishermen. The partnership is mutually beneficial, as the research might help protect the fishermen's usual targets, while saving the scientists money.

Eric Johnson, a biologist from the University of North Florida, thinks our best shot at managing the lionfish population is making them a popular species for human consumption. But after getting a good look at these things, I'll let him try it first.