Are Lionfish Poisonous or Dangerous?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: February 13, 2022
Image Credit Vlad61/Shutterstock.com
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Have you ever seen a lionfish up close? If you have, you surely may have been mesmerized by its beauty. Lionfish are bright and colorful and are adorned with fins that look like wings and accessories. But don’t be fooled by their beauty and elegance. The lionfish is one of the most dangerous fish in the ocean. There may have been no reports of deaths caused by a lionfish sting yet, but its venom is equipped with potent toxins that can cause immense pain, infection, and potential allergic reactions. Lionfish contain strong venom that can be dangerous to humans when injected. They inject venom through their needle-sharp dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. While lionfish are not known to be aggressive and will not intentionally sting humans out of the blue, they can act in self-defense and sting with their venomous fins when provoked or caught.

Do Lionfish Bite?

Lionfish isolated on white background
Though lionfish have teeth, they use their venomous spines to sting.

Lionfish are equipped with numerous, tiny teeth. But they do not use these to bite predators away because they have a much greater weapon located in their fins. Instead of biting, the lionfish uses its venomous spine-like fins located at its dorsal, anal, and pelvic regions. The lionfish sting is surprisingly painful, depending on the depth of the spine penetrating the skin. It can cause a roster of symptoms caused by the fish’s venom and can even trigger allergic reactions. Although there have not been any incidents of lionfish sting killing people, the lionfish sting should still be taken seriously, especially by people with allergies or less healthy persons.

The lionfish do not sting without reason or initiate attacks on humans. Despite their beauty, lionfish are predators in the ocean, feeding on other fish, coral shrimp, and other invertebrates along with their habitat in the corals. Yet, the lionfish has its predators too. They use their venomous spines or fins in warding off predators and other threats, including humans. People often snorkeling or swimming near the corals throughout the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean may encounter these glorious-looking fish. It might be tempting to approach and touch them but beware of their needle-sharp spines. Apart from these spines being incredibly sharp, they are also induced with venom that can cause several symptoms. The pain from the sting can last for a few hours, while the swelling usually subsides after a few days.

Are Lionfish Dangerous to Humans?

Animals That Live in Coral Reefs: Lionfish
The lionfish is very dangerous to children and the elderly.

Vlad61/Shutterstock.com

The lionfish is considered one of the world’s deadliest fish. But fortunately, there has been no recorded fatality caused by a lionfish yet in history. While they haven’t been known to be fatal to humans, lionfish can still be very dangerous for their potent venom, especially to children, the elderly, or people with allergies. 

Lionfish are not aggressive fish. Like most animals, they will not chase people to sting them but will only sting as self-defense. Although most reports of lionfish stings are accidental, you wouldn’t want to experience getting stung by one. They are incredibly venomous and can cause a range of symptoms.

Although not typically life-threatening, the lionfish sting can be excruciating. Most sting incidents report initial swelling, bleeding, redness, numbness, intense pain, and bruising. The symptoms may seem typical at first, but since the lionfish possess venoms in their dorsal, pelvic, and anal spines, the stung victim can develop complications from the venom, including allergic reactions. People with severe allergies can experience anaphylaxis shock. Other severe complications from lionfish stings are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Swelling of the face and throat
  • Fever
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Temporary paralysis
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Convulsions

As the venom spreads throughout the bloodstream rapidly, the sting can also lead to tissue death brought by decreased blood flow. This usually happens when you’re stung in the fingertips. 

The lionfish belongs to the family Scorpaenidae, which directly translates to “scorpion fish.” Like the scorpionfish, the lionfish is equipped with spines that secrete venomous mucus that help them fight off predators. This characteristic relates them to scorpions that inject high levels of deadly venom.

Are Lionfish Poisonous?

lionfish isolated on white background
Lionfish are highly venomous but not poisonous.

Erika Kirkpatrick/Shutterstock.com

The lionfish may be highly venomous, but they are not poisonous. They are a delicacy enjoyed in many countries. Lionfish only inject venom through their spines and do not have any other venom source in their body apart from their fins. Once the lionfish has been stripped off of its venomous spines, they are safe and edible. 

The lionfish’s venom is located at the tip of its spines or pointy, needle-sharp fins. The fish is covered with beautiful fins, but not all are filled with venom. The venomous parts are located at its anterior dorsal fin, anal fin, and pelvic fin. The 18 dorsal fins and the rest of the other venomous spines are purely defensive and will only sting when threatened or provoked.

Human consumption of lionfish is encouraged and not illegal because lionfish somehow threatens precious reef ecosystems. As they feed on molluscscrustaceans, and other essential commercial fish in the United States, their increasing number poses a potential of harming more reef ecosystems in the coming years.

How to Avoid and Treat Lionfish Stings

People unaware of the lionfish’s potential to cause serious harm may try to approach or touch one in their habitat. However, this can only result in the lionfish getting startled and stinging in self-defense. To avoid lionfish stings, all you have to do is keep a reasonable distance between you and the fish. They may get startled or feel threatened if you come closer to them, leading them to sting you in defense.

Many lionfish stings do not cause severe complications. These mild stings can recover without any medical attention needed. As long as the spine is removed from the skin immediately and the wound is cleaned immediately, there wouldn’t be much problem. 

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