Working with leading scientists, REEF's lionfish field work is paying off in valuable information needed to address this key issue. Information from the five Bahamas projects conducted thus far this year is being used to help determine the range and extent of the lionfish invasion, as well as to address key questions on age/ growth, reproduction, genetics, parasites and habitat preference.
To date, more than 400 fish have been collected and shipped to the NOAA research lab in Beaufort NC and more than 500 sightings have been documented in the Bahamas. Data on length, plumage and stomach content have been gathered in the field, and samples for genetics and age/growth studies have been shipped to researchers. REEF has worked in close partnership with the College of the Bahamas, researchers at UNCW, and Salisbury University, and local dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove in gathering and analyzing the data.
Interesting data to date include:
- Average size:188mm
- Most species: Pterois volitans (though there are some Pterois miles present also)
- Stomach content: about 70 % fish and 30 % crustacean with the most prevalent prey families including basslets, gobies and shrimp. Also found in stomachs: whole crab, whole sand diver, jawfish with eggs still in its mouth, and juvenile grouper (including Nassau)
- Genetics: It appears that there were at least 11 females involved in the original founding population. This number is up from previous indications of four fish.
- Reproduction: Fish are reproducing year-round with age at reproduction as young as 1-2 years.
- Habitat preference: Lionfish have been found in almost all habitat types including artificial sites, canals, deep reefs, shallow reefs, small ledges and sand bottom.
- Parasites: Compared to native fish, lionfish have almost no parasites, leaving more energy and time for growth and reproduction.
- Growth: Lionfish appear to grow faster than similar sized native fish species like the graysby and the red hind.