The Antennata Lionfish with it’s bold stripes and sassy spots, will mesmerize and elicit awe from your visitors!

The Antennata Lionfish is a deep bodied fish that begins with a very large mouth which is pale to tan in color.  The body can be bright red to a reddish tan, with darker red to reddish brown vertical bars.  The bars can run from the top to the bottom of the fish and alternate with thinner bars that may not reach the bottom of the fish.  Their pectoral fin spines are white and are very long and thin, extending out far from the body, and lack a membrane.   The first 1/4 to 1/2 of the pectoral fin has a curved, whitish opaque membrane that has a few or many bluish black spots.  These spots vary in number, depending on the individual fish.  Their other fins are clear with reddish brown speckling, however the dorsal fin does not have a membrane around the spins.  Above each eye are antennas that are banded in white and reddish brown and the base of the antenna has a dark bar that extends through the eye area, thus disguising the front of the fish from prey. They grow to 7.9” or 20 cm, although in captivity they can get up to 9” long.  These fish are best left to the intermediate aquarist.

Of the 5 genera, only 2 genera and 11 species are found in the aquarium trade. Several lionfish all have a similar striping on them, making it difficult to identify.  This pattern is so popular, even the Mimic Octopus got in on the action, mimicking the Pterois species of lionfish!   When threatened, the Antennata Lionfish will direct their venomous spines toward the threat.  Although an aquarist’s hand is not really a threat, that little lionfish may feel differently!   Letting your arm or hand drift above and seemingly out of reach lionfish, is not wise, since it can quickly arch it’s back and jab upward quite a distance!  Their long beautiful fins are used to distract then devour prey.  Some shrimp that cannot see well will also mistake the fins of the lionfish as those of Feather Starfish, ignoring the lion until it is too late.

The Antennata Lionfish is moderately easy to care for.  One of the most obvious difficulties an aquarist will have to deal with are the venomous glands on the dorsal, anal and pelvic spines.  Abiding by basic “rules” for these fish are what an intermediate aquarist has no problem with, because they know not to “bend the rules.”   Cleaning the tank may require a second set of eyes to locate the resident lionfish to make sure it is no where near bare skin.  “No big deal, I’ll wear rubber gloves,” you say!  Well, many an aquarist has found that those spines will go right through rubber gloves!   If you are stung, quickly soak the affected area in very hot, (110 to 113˚F) though not scalding water for 30 to 40 minutes or the pain subsides.  If there isn’t any hot water available, a hair dryer set on high for the same time will work.  The heat of the water or hair dryer will denature or break down the venom.   With most people, within 24 hours, the pain is gone, however some have numbness in the area for a longer period.  Even fewer have a severe reaction that involves vomiting, weakness, shortness of breath, or unconsciousness, at which time a call to 911 may be in order!  Avoid feeding them any freshwater fish or crabs for more than the 2 to 4 weeks it takes to wean them onto prepared foods. 

One Antennata Lionfish per tank since there is now way of distinguishing the males from the females and 2 males will fight.  Tank mates can include other lionfish from the same genus, Pterois, as long as there is enough room and a hiding place for each lion.  The more room they have, the less likely they are to accidentally stab another fish and kill them due to the other fish chasing food or getting startled.  Most of the time they just hang out in their cave during the day and the other fish in the tank won’t come in contact with them until it is feeding time.  The other fish in the tank should be larger than the lionfish and they will eat all crabs and shrimp.  Be cautious with housing tangs in the same tank, since tangs like to dart unexpectedly and quickly for no apparent reason and can often become a victim of the venom.  Those who have or even had tangs know what insane behavior I am talking about!  Other lionfish who are stung are not as affected by the venom.  Do not house with the Dendrochirus genus, since they will often fight.  They are best kept in a species specific tank for their and other fish’s safely unless the tank is very very large.  Even then there still is a danger.

The tank should be 55 gallons, providing your Antennata Lionfish with several places to hide or shelter in during the day.  If you want 2, then add 25 gallons and so on.  Arrange rock work to form overhangs, caves and crevices that they can fit into, providing several places for each fish.  Once they feel secure they will spend more time in the open.  Feed them marine sourced foods, since fish like goldfish or guppies are too fatty and are not typically accepted, since these lions like shrimp and crustaceans.  To help them to start eating, if nothing else works, try live fiddler crabs and glass shrimp.  Do not aim pumps in the area that they hide in during the day.  Lighting is irrelevant since they tend to come out at night to feed and any substrate or lack of substrate is also acceptable.

Scientific Classification


Antennata Lionfish – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:55 gal (208 L)
Size of fish – inches: 8.0 inches (20.32 cm)
Temperament:Large Aggressive – Predatory
Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type:Carnivore
Antennata lionfish
Image Credit: Vlad61, Shutterstock

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Antennata Lionfish, Pterois antennata, was first described by Bloch in 1787.  They are known by many common names such as:  Antennata Lionfish, Spotfin Lionfish, Ragged-Finned Firefish, Broadbarred Firefish, Banded Lionfish, Ragged-Finned Scorpionfish, and Rough-Scaled Firefish.  Most of these names refer to their patterning, however the term “Firefish” may refer to the fiery pain that their spines can induce on an unwary aquarist!

Distribution – Habitat:

The Antennata Lionfish is found in the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Marquesans and Mangareva Islands, then north to the southern part of Japan and south to Queensland, Australia, Kermadec and the islands around Australia.  They like lagoons and seaward reefs where they hide in crevices underneath rock and coral formations during the day.  They like to position themselves with their head towards their hide-out, and they are found at depths of 6.5 to 164 feet (2 to 50 m).  The foods they eat in the wild are benthic crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp/prawns at night.  During the day, if there is a crustacean sharing the Antennata Lionfish’s daylight hiding place, it will also be eaten!  They will eat up to 4 prey items during one hunting session.  

Species Variations and Similar Species:

Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus Zebra) – This lionfish is only slightly smaller but they have similar patterning on the body.  However they lack the spotting on the rays of the pectoral fins.  The Zebra Lionfish also alternating white and brown to red spotting that extend from the body to the tip of the the pectoral fin rays.

  • Scientific Name: Pterois antennata
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – Not evaluated by the IUCN Red List.


The Antennata Lionfish is a deep bodied fish that is 2.5 to 2.7” deep.  The very large mouth and head of the fish is white to tan.  Above each eye are antennae that are banded in white and reddish brown. The head has 3 dark brown bars, with two running through each eye from the bottom section of the antenna and downward to the cheek area, disguising the eye.  The other band is across the top of the head, between the eyes.  The body can be bright red to a reddish tan, with darker red to reddish brown vertical bars that can run from the top to the bottom of the fish and alternate with thinner bars that may not reach the bottom.  Their wing like pectoral fins have spines that are white and are very long and thin, extending out far from the body, free of membrane.   At the base of the pectoral fins, the first quarter to half of the pectoral fin has a curved, whitish opaque, soft membrane that also has several bluish black spots.  These spots vary in number, from one and up to 6 or more, depending on the individual fish.  Their other fins are clear with reddish brown speckling and the dorsal fin also lacks a membrane between the spines. 

When hunting, they will stalk their food by spreading their fins out to the sides. Then tilting them forward, it hides the movement of the Antennata Lionfish’s tail fin and other fins, allowing them to get very close to the prey.  When they are close enough, the soon to be eaten crab or shrimp tries to run, only to have these huge pectoral fins act as a fence to prevent escape.  Corning is also a common tactic.  The Antennata Lionfish grow to 7.9” or 20 cm in the wild.  In captivity, they may reach as much as 8 to 9” and may live up to 18 years, similar to others in this genus.

  • Size of fish – inches: 8.0 inches (20.32 cm) – 7.9” (20 cm)
. Up to 9″ in captivity
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They may be similar to others in their genus that live 10 to 18 years or more in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These fish are moderately hardy, but best kept by intermediate aquarists.  Although older literature states that 30 gallons is acceptable, the common accepted tank size is 55 gallons (208 liters).  Lionfish have been known to “act out” and purposely stab other fish to eliminate crowding!  If adding another Pterois, they should be the same size and the tank needs to be an additional 25 gallons per fish.  When choosing your Antennata Lionfish from the fish store, make sure the fins are free of fin rot, the muscles on the upper back look filled in and not thinning from lack of eating, and ask them to feed the fish.  Their gills only move about 30 times a minute, so if it is faster than that at rest, they may have a parasite infection in the gills.  

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Antennata lionfish
Image Credit: Teguh Tirtaputra, Shutterstock

Foods and Feeding

These carnivores prefer shrimp and crab meat over fish meat.  Do not feed fresh water fish, they do not have the amino acids that marine fish need and they will eventually become sick if fed these items for more than 1 month, by which time they should be weaned onto marine-based prepared foods.  Once a week while weaning, wait 4 days then skewer a silverside on a clear feeding thick and make it “swim away” from the lionfish and see if he bites.  If he does, then you can move onto the shrimp based foods and “wiggle” them too. That being said, flake and pellet food is generally not accepted, although some specimens have been known to eat shrimp based pellets.  Pellets should not be the main fare.  Avoid freeze dried krill since it can cause gastrointestinal blockage (which can kill the fish) and nutritional deficiencies which can lead to the growth of a goiter.  Feed them any fresh or frozen then thawed raw crab and shrimp meat from marine sources to vary the diet.  You can feed them frozen/thawed mysis as well.  Be careful not to feed them pieces of food that are too big, since some have been known to choke on them.  Offer small to medium sized pieces of food to satiation 2 to 3 times a week, unless water temperature is on the lower end of the spectrum, then feed less often.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore – Mainly shrimp and mobile crabs. Avoid freeze dried foods.
  • Flake Food: No – They generally will not eat flake.
  • Tablet / Pellet: No – Most won’t eat pellets, however if yours does, it should be the shrimp based large pellets.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Glass shrimp and Fiddler Crabs to induce an feeding response.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Feed 2 to 3 times a week, less if on the water temperature is on the cooler side

Aquarium Care

Reef tanks:
-Medium sized tanks from 55 to 90 gallons, perform 15% bi-weekly. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

Fish only tanks:*
-Medium sized tanks from 55 to 90 gallons, perform 20% to 30% monthly depending on bioload. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Regular water changes done  bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up.  Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

*Note:  If this is the ONLY fish in the tank, with no corals or other fish 20% monthly water changes are sufficient.

  • Water Changes: Monthly – Unless they are in a reef, then follow the reef tank’s needs.

Aquarium Setup

Provide your eventual 8 to 9” Antennata Lionfish with a 55 gallon tank that has several places for them to hide, such as caves, crevices and overhangs.  This will help them to feel secure.  If housing more than one, make sure each lionfish has it’s own hideout.  Do not house in a nano tank, since they will outgrow the tank rapidly.  Substrate and light do not matter to the lionfish, but a steady temperature of 72 to 82˚F (22 – 28˚C) is appreciated.  Several of this genus can be kept together in one tank, so add another 25 gallons per additional lionfish. 

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – 55 gallons (208 liters). Add an additional 25 gallons per lionfish if keeping 2 or 3 from the same genus.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Form caves, crevices and overhangs.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any – Do not point a pump right where they are resting.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C) – 72˚F (22˚C) 82˚F (28˚C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – Do not point a pump right where they like to rest.
  • Water Region: All – They occupy the space where their hideout is located.

Social Behaviors

These fish are venomous and should be handled with care since they can perceive a human hand or arm as a threat and will attack.  Do not house 2 Antennata Lionfish in the same tank.  There is no way of knowing if they are male or female and 2 males will fight.  You can keep 2 or 3 Lionfish from this same genus together in the same tank, just add 25 gallons extra per fish over 55 gallons, and provide each one with their own hiding place.  All of the Pterois species should be the same size and added at the same time.  Small juveniles may be preyed on by large adults so make sure none of the lionfish can fit into each others mouths!  If two lionfish do fight, typically they will not die from a sting from their opponent, but they should be separated.  They will fight with those from the Dendrochirus genus.

Antennata Lionfish will each pretty much anything that can fit into their large gapping mouths!  This includes, at times fish if they are very hungry.  Only house with fish that are larger than your lion.  Who are their enemies then?  Well, frogfish have been known to swallow lionfish that are the same size as they are!  Also avoid housing with large eels, frogfish and octopus, since all of these will eat your Antennata Lionfish.   Because of their long beautiful fins, they will be harassed and damaged by large angelfish, pufferfish and triggerfish. Antennata Lionfish will attack other scorpionfish or porcupine fish. A crowded tank will result in your lionfish “acting out” and jabbing tank mates with their venomous spines.  I supposed in their mind that will lessen the number in the tank! The tissue around the wound will die and fall off and the fish may recover; however, most fish die within 10 to 30 minutes.  The impaling may be as innocent as a fish accidentally bumping into the lionfish’s spines because they were startled or chasing food or a nutty tang that just decided, “I have GOT to get over to the other side of the tank, NOW!”

These lionfish are often kept in reef tanks because they will not bother corals.

They will not bother starfish, cucumbers, snails or hermit crabs.  Any other crab or shrimp is on the menu!  Tube worms are safe and so are other “decorative” inverts.  They are great for getting rid of those pesky reef crabs that sometimes hitchhike on live rock!

  • Venomous: Yes – Dorsal, anal and pectoral spines are all venomous.
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory – Will eat any shrimp or mobile crab in the tank. Will also eat fish that fit into their mouth.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No – It is not possible to distinguish males from females and 2 males will fight. Others from the same genus are acceptable
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat – Will eat smaller specimens
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat – Will eat smaller specimens
    • Threat – Will eat smaller specimens
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – Make sure your lionfish is getting enough food with fast feeders like wrasses. Do not house with angelfish, triggers or pufferfish.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Frogfish and large eels have been known to eat lionfish with no ill effects.
    • Threat
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor – Will not bother snails or hermit crabs.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sexual differences


Breeding / Reproduction

The Antennata Lionfish are found alone until it is time to spawn.  Lionfish are known to rendezvous with others at a specific spawning site about 30 minutes after the sun sets, give or take 10 minutes.  The male’s first order of business is to evict all other competing males and will bite and ram them with their dorsal spines.  On a side note, dominant males are darker than subordinate males and females when spawning. Once Mr. Lionfish has kicked all other other lionfish’s butts and found a possible mama, he will circle around her or swim next to her, apparently depending on the whim of the fish, then swim up into the water column, trying to get her to join him.  He may have to do this several times before the female decides to spawn with him.  Once she is good and ready, the female’s genital pore enlarges and she expels 2 large mucous sacs, each containing 2,000 to 15,000 eggs.  The male will then fertilize these egg balls, and lucky for these eggs, their structure is less appealing and not tasty to planktivores.  This protects the newly formed babies from the instant predation that most marine fish are exposed to in their first moments of life.  About 2 days later, they hatch and remain close to the surface of the water until they are about 1” long and then swim down and settle in the reef

See general breeding techniques in the Breeding Marine Fish page.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – They have been known to spawn in captivity, however the babies have not yet been raised successfully.

Fish Diseases

Antennata Lionfish have a cuticle covering that is a thin membranous lining to prevent organisms from settling on them because they are sedentary.  Once in a while, they will shed their cuticle layer to remove hitchhikers and looks like a white stringy mucus that trails behind them as they swim.  If your lionfish starts to shed more often, it is a sign that something is wrong with water quality, they are sick or they are stressed.  If they have good food and good water quality, they do not fall sick very often, however, the ailments they are prone to are fin rot, cloudy eyes, parasitic infections such as protozoa and worms.  Fin rot and cloudy eyes can be treated with antibiotics like nitrofurazone or similar products.   If they are infected with a parasite, use copper-based medications.  Fresh water dips and formaldehyde baths also help. 

If your lionfish stops eating, it can be a result of too much freeze dried krill that can cause blockage of the gastrointestinal tract.  Freeze-dried foods can also cause goiters and nutritional deficiencies.  Lockjaw is another condition where they end up with their jaw stuck in the open position and it is unclear what causes it, however, it is possible it is from hitting their jaws on rock work chasing a fish.  It usually fixes itself in a few days, although they tend to be more prone to dislocation in the future, after the first episode.  

For more information see Fish diseases.


These lionfish are found on the internet and in your LFS, however, you may have to order this fish.

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Scorpaenidae Pterois antennata (Image Credit: NasserHalaweh, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)