Sometimes called the Red Lionfish, the Volitans Lionfish also has a black stripe color morph, coveted by aquarists!

The Volitans Lionfish juvenile starts out with a body that is less deep than the adult, has one antenna above each eye, and has disproportionately long pectoral fin spines.  As the lionfish grows, the body thickens and deepens, giving their once apparently long pectoral fins a much shorter appearance and their antennae shrink and disappear! Their vertical bands and stripes vary in thickness and color, including:  red, reddish brown, brown, black, and everything in-between, depending on habitat.  These bands and stripes alternate between a much lighter or darker color and they can have up to 3 different colors on their body.  The membrane lined, individually spaced fin rays of the pectoral and first dorsal fin spines are banded near the body, with some webbing connecting them, and then the color fades towards the tips.  The other fins are clear with speckling of the darkest color on their bodies.  They grow to 15” or 38 cm, live up to 18 years in captivity and are best left to the intermediate aquarist.

This beautiful fish can be found laying on the substrate, hovering in the water column or sitting upside down against the side of the tank!   The Volitans Lionfish is the infamous species that had the unfortunate fate of being accidentally introduced into the Atlantic Ocean.  Sadly, by no fault of their own, their extermination is being carried out, before the Atlantic reef fish populations are devastated.  Problem is, these lionfish have no predators in these tropical waters, except humans!  Although these fish were reported in the tropical Atlantic near Florida in 1992, it wasn’t until 2000 that they were confirmed as present in the Atlantic.  In 2007, they were rarely seen according to one source, but by 2011, groups of 13 could be found within a 300 square foot area of reef patch.  This is a jolting reminder to not let fish loose in waters they are not native to.  Volitans Lionfish in the waters where they belong, will hunt and feed with the Geometric Moray Eel (Gymnothorax griseus) in shallower seagrass beds.  They will also hunt in small groups in the water column, herding baitfish into a tight group and then will take turn picking them off.   Volitans Lionfish have also been seen hunting with octopuses and the gray Moray Eel (Siderea grisea) as well.  Be aware of their location when cleaning the tank, not allowing your arm or hand drift above your lionfish since they can arch their back and jab very quickly! 

The Volitans Lionfish is easy to care for.  They adjust easily to prepared marine flesh, however their size of 15” is reached within 18 months!  Another obvious difficulty an aquarist will have to deal with are the venomous glands on the dorsal, anal and pelvic spines.   Cleaning the tank requires concentration as to WHERE they are in the tank!  “No big deal, I’ll wear rubber gloves,” you say!  NOPE!  Those spines will go right through rubber gloves!   If you are stung, quickly soak the affected area in very hot, (110 to 113˚F) but 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, pain is gone within 24 hours, although some have numbness in the area for a longer period.  Even fewer have a severe reaction that involves a call to 911 when vomiting, weakness, shortness of breath, or unconsciousness occurs.  Avoid feeding them any freshwater fish or crustaceans or freeze-dried foods. 

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 non-lionfish tank mate and possibly kill them.  This is due to the other fish chasing food or getting startled.  The Volitans Lionfish also need to be able to “sit” on the substrate with out anything squishing them.  Upon a visit to Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I saw that many do indeed like to chill on the substrate!  Other lionfish who are stung are not as affected by the venom.  Do not house with the Dendrochirus genus of lionfish, since they will often fight and/or eat them.  They are best kept in a species-specific tank for their and other fish’s safely unless the tank is very very large. 

Some very old sources state 55 gallons as large enough…… well for a juvenile maybe, because within a year they are 10” and a 55-gallon tank is only about 11.5” wide.  In another 6 months, they will be 15” long and don’t’ forget their fin length.  Some sources state that the tank should be at least 18” front to back for their 15” length and a minimum of 4 feet in length.  Let’s THINK about this…. this only gives this poor fish 3” to turn around in, so where is the live rock supposed to go?  The latest information states 120 gallons as the minimum for their size and the amount of waste they produce.  That tank is 24” wide and 4 feet long which is definitely more reasonable!!   Provide your Volitans Lionfish with several places to hide or shelter in during the day when first introduced as a juvenile.  They will stay out in the open more often once they are comfortable.  If you want more than one, then add 50 gallons of space per fish.  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


Volitans Lionfish – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
Minimum Tank Size:120 gal (454 L)
Size of fish – inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm)
Temperament:Large Aggressive – Predatory
Temperature: 62.0 to 82.0° F (16.7 to 27.8&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type:Carnivore
Volitans Lionfish
Image Credit: bearacreative, Shutterstock

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Volitans Lionfish, Pterois Volitans, was first described by Linnaeus in 1758.  They are known by many common names such as:  Volitans Lionfish, Volitans Lionfish, Red Lionfish, Common Lionfish, Featherfins, Fire Fish, Scorpion Cod, Scorpion Volitans, Scorpionfish, Zebrafish, Turkey-fish, Butterfly Cod, and Devilfish.  Most of these names refer to their species name, patterning, behavior, or appearance, however the term “Fire Fish” may refer to the fiery pain that their spines can induce on an unwary aquarist!

Distribution – Habitat:

The Volitans Lionfish is found in the Pacific Ocean in the Cocos-Keeling and Western Australian waters.  It is also found in the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea to Sumatra then to the to the Marquesas and Oeno islands.  They are found in southern Japan and southern Korea, then south to Lord Howe Islands, northern New Zealand, and the Australian Islands.     Some feel the Mile’s Lionfish replaces the Volitans Lionfish in the Red Sea and Sumatra; however, a upon closer examination of the number of dorsal and anal fin spines, it was found that the Volitans Lionfish are the ones that inhabits these waters. The Mile’s Lionfish is also a coastal fish, not venturing out in areas that the Volitans is found.  Within the last few decades, the tropical Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, although that is not it’s natural habitat. They enjoy a variety of waters, including lagoons and back-reef areas when waters are deeper during the rainy season, as well as seaward reefs from clear and turbid inshore areas like estuaries and fore-reef slopes from 3 to 163 feet (1 to 50 m).  

The Volitans Lionfish is a carnivore, and while juveniles feed more heavily on crustaceans, adults feed more heavily on fish, although shrimp  and crabs still are on the menu and important to their nutrition.  Volitans Lionfish hunt a little during a day, but mostly hunt at dusk and after dark, dragging their pectoral fin rays along the sand and other surfaces to prod crustaceans out into the open.  They will also feed in the water column for fish.  In the Red Sea, they will hunt in groups of up to 5 lionfish, herding baitfish into a tight formation then each will take turn attacking.  Some will associate with large moray eels and octopi, following them and grabbing anything that gets flushed out of the corals and reef crevices.  

As juveniles they are solitary, hiding in Barrel Sponges, in the spines of sea urchins, in reef crevices and under ledges.  Once they are adults, they can be found in large numbers, in fact, only diver counted 80 individuals resting near a ship wreck off Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Volitans Lionfish are a popular table fish from what I read!  There is a “how to” video one would need to avoid being stung while filleting them!

They have not been evaluated by the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species. 

Similar Species:

Mile’s Lionfish (Pterois miles) – The coloring and pattern can be similar, however, Volitans Lionfish has one additional dorsal and one additional anal fin spine.  They also have significantly longer pectoral fins at 3.3” than the P. miles,  and the Volitans has larger spots on the median fins.  The Mile’s Lionfish is also a coastal fish, unlike the Volitans, and the Miles’ Lionfish has close-set tubercles on the check area.  

  • Scientific Name: Pterois volitans
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Juveniles are solitary, adults form in groups, especially when resting.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – Not evaluated by the IUCN Red List.


The Volitans Lionfish has a slightly different look from the juvenile to adult phase.  Juveniles have antennae above each eye and much longer pectoral fins that almost seem disproportionately long for their small bodies.  Within a year, the body gets much thicker and deeper, giving the pectoral fins a shorter appearance, and the antenna above each eye shrinks and disappears as they grow into adults.  Adult bodies are deep, ranging from 2.7 to 2.9” from the top of their back to their belly.  Depending on the location, they can be striped in red then anywhere between red and brown and even black.  Their bands and thinner stripes are vertical and run from the top to the bottom of the fish, with wider bands are trimmed in a darker color.  Some have very thick bands and fewer thin stripes, however they all have a variation of darker and much lighter bands and stripes in their pattern.  They can have 3 different shades and colors in the bands and stripes on their bodies. The very large mouth and head of the fish also have these stripes, and at least one band runs through the eye and down to the mouth, to disguise the location of the eyes which helps with hunting.  Their wing like pectoral fins are long and thin, with each of the rays being independent of the others once they move away from the base of the body.   The color is variable on this membrane and there are darker spots on what ever color it may be.  In adults, about 1/2 way up the pectoral fins the color becomes clearish to white with the spots becoming faded.  Their other fins are clear with dark speckling, matching their color morph.  There is a VERY cool black morph where the colors are just silver and black.

When hunting, they will stalk their food by spreading their fins out to the sides. Then tilting them forward, hiding the movement of their tail fin and other fins, they can swim very close to the prey.  When the prey finally realizes their precarious situation, they try to flee, only to have these huge pectoral fins act as a fence to prevent escape.  Corning is also a common tactic in this form of hunting.  They are also ambush hunters, lying still until something yummy gets too close!  When hunting some fish, they will hunt in the open water, often using the help of other Volitans Lionfish to corral baitfish into groups where they pick them off one by one.  The Volitans Lionfish juvenile that is 2” will grow to 8” – 10” in one year with proper feedings and by 18 months they will reach their full 15” (38 cm) adult size.  They are known to live 10 years in the wild and up to 18 years in captivity.

  • Size of fish – inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm) – 15” (38 cm)
 Volitans Lionfish will reach their adult length of 15” in 18 months.
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They can live up to 18 years or more in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These fish are hardy, but best kept by intermediate aquarists.  Although older literature states that 55 gallons is acceptable, the common accepted tank size is 120 gallons.  They have a span of 15” and a 55 gallon tank does not allow them any turning room.  Lionfish have been known to “act out” when crowded into a small tank.  If adding another Pterois genus lionfish, they should be the same size and the tank should be an additional 50 gallons per fish.  When choosing your Volitans 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.  Feed them only marine sourced fish, shrimp, octopus, crab, shrimp, scallop and anything else you think they will enjoy.  As juveniles, feed them a higher percentage of crab and shrimp meat with some fish.  Conversely, as adults, feed them a higher percentage of fish flesh along with some crab, shrimp and other meats mentioned above.  Keep it varied and add a few drops of vitamins for marine fish onto the food or cut an opening and drip some inside one of the pieces.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy – Not as sensitive to poor water quality as other lionfish.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
volitans lionfish
Image Credit: Pelagija, Shutterstock

Foods and Feeding

These adult carnivores prefer fish meat over crab meat and visa versa as juveniles.  Do not feed fresh water fish or crustaceans, since they do not have the amino acids that marine fish need.  This lack of amino acids will lead to sickness and disease.  Feeding them fresh water sourced foods should only be done if the lionfish is not eating and needs live food, but typically Volitans Lionfish usually do not have this problem. If a small juvenile is refusing to eat, once a week while weaning, wait 4 days then skewer a piece of shrimp 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 other marine 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 large pellets.  Pellets, even though eaten by some should not be the main food.  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 marine fish and to a lesser degree, crab, lobster tail, crabmeat, squid and octopus flesh to see what their favorites are, because a varied diet is good for their health.   Be careful not to feed them pieces of food that are too big, since some have been known to choke on them.  You can feed them frozen/thawed mysis as juveniles. 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.  Adding a few drops of Zoe or VitaChem, Selcon or Zoecon is very important for their overall health as well. 

  • Diet Type: Carnivore – Do not feed fish or crustaceans from fresh water sources. 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 not be the main food, but more of a treat.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Do not feed fresh water sourced fish and crustaceans for more than 1 month and this is only needed to induce an feeding response.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet – Juveniles need more crab and shrimp meat and less fish. Adults need more fish flesh and less crab and shrimp.
  • 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:
-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:*
-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 you can get away 20% monthly.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

Provide your eventual 15” Volitans Lionfish with a 120 gallon aquarium, since this large fish needs enough room to turn around and rest on the substrate once live rock is added.  That being said, it is reasonable to have at least 24” front to back since there will be live rock in the tank with the lionfish, besides the bioload they incur.  There should be enough room on the substrate for your 15” fish to “sit” comfortably.  Provide a few places for them to hide, such as caves, crevices and overhangs, especially for new juveniles.   They will come out into the open more often once they are comfortable. If housing more than one Pterois, make sure each lionfish has it’s own hideout as juveniles.  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 62 to 82˚F (17- 28˚C) is appreciated.  Several of this genus can be kept together in one tank, so add another 50 gallons per additional lionfish and make sure none of the other lionfish can fit into the Volitans Lionfish’s mouth! 

  • Minimum Tank Size: 120 gal (454 L) – 120 gallons (454 liters) Add an additional 50 gallons per lionfish. Tank needs to be a minimum of 18” wide for them to be able to turn around as adults, however 24” is much more reasonable to make room for live rock.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Amount – Form more places to hide for juveniles. If there are several juveniles, each will need their own place to hide.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 62.0 to 82.0° F (16.7 to 27.8&deg C) – 62˚F (17˚C) 83˚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 aim pumps toward their sleeping area.
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

These fish are venomous and should be handled with care.  When cleaning the tank, they may perceive a human hand or arm as a threat and will attack.  It is possible to house several Volitans Lionfish in the same tank, along with others from the genus, as long as they are the same size when added to prevent predation of juveniles by adults.  Add 50 gallons per additional lionfish and opt for deeper widths over narrower tanks.  If starting out with all juveniles, provide each one with their own hiding place.  Take note that small juvenile Volitans Lionfish will be eaten by large adult Volitans Lionfish, thus adding babies later on is not a good idea!  If two lionfish do fight, typically they will not die from a sting from their opponent, but they should be separated.  This will usually happen when they feel too crowded.  They will fight and/or eat lionfish from the Dendrochirus genus.

Volitans Lionfish will each pretty much anything that can fit into their large gapping mouths and they are fond of fish!  They are aggressive eaters and can hold their own with very large wrasses, unlike some other genus of lionfish.  If you want other fish in the tank, opt for deep bodied fish mates which are larger than your lion. Volitans Lionfish will attack other scorpionfish or porcupine fish. A crowded tank will result in your lionfish “acting out” and jabbing tank mates. The result?  Depending on the fish, 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!”  Who are their enemies then?  Well, frogfish have been known to swallow young lionfish that are up to the same size as they are!   Also avoid housing with large eels, frogfish and octopus, since all of these will eat your juvenile Volitans Lionfish.   Because of their long beautiful fins, they will be harassed and damaged by large angelfish, pufferfish and triggerfish.  On a side note, I saw a Yellow Tank picking at the long dorsal fins of a Bengali Cardinalfish, making me wonder if they may do the same thing to the Lionfish, only to end up with a mouth full of poison!

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 – Soak in hot water at 110 – 113˚F or use a hair dryer if water is not available and soak or blow heat for 30 to 40 minutes. The heat will denature or break down the venom.
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Add at the same time, at the same size and 50 gallons extra per fish beyond 120 gallons.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat
    • Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – Do not house with angelfish triggers or pufferfish.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Frogfish have been known to eat lionfish with no ill effects. They will also eat dwarf lionfish or smaller/juvenile Volitans Lionfish
    • 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

Sex: Sexual differences


Breeding / Reproduction

The Volitans Lionfish spawning and reproduction is similar to other lionfish.  The males and females will rendezvous 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.  This translates to 30,000 or more eggs every 8 weeks.  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

Volitans Lionfish, like all 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.  Although the Volitans Lionfish is a little more durable than other lionfish when it comes to water quality than other lionfish, they still deserve to have 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.  


These lionfish are found on the internet and in your LFS, however, you may have to order one an put some money down.



Featured Image Credit: Pterois volitans (Image Credit: Fernando Losada Rodríguez, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)