Science Interviews


Sun, 12th Dec 2010

Anyone for turkey?

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show The 12 Critters of Christmas

Should turkey fish - also known as lion fish - be on the Christmas menu?

LionfishFind out more:

Invasive lionfish in the Florida Keys (NOAA)

Helen - Well, from one elegant creature that you need a microscope to appreciate to another stunner that can easily be seen with the naked eye.

My next critter has a slightly tenuous connection to the festive season, but it’s sometimes called the Turkey fish – it’s also known as the firefish, scorpion fish, but probably it’s most well know as the lionfish.

These beautiful, graceful denizens of coral reefs are quite easy to spot, they tend to be covered in red and white stripes and they dress themselves in a costume of long white spines that stick out in all directions, which you should steer clear of because each spine is tipped with a dose of nasty poison –although they tend not to be deadly for people, but they are extremely painful, and lionfish use them as a means of defence.

Well, originally lionfish lived only in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but around a decade ago, divers started spotting them a long way from home, in the Caribbean where it’s thought they were accidentally – or maybe even deliberately released from aquariums – and they’re now spreading throughout the region, stirring up controversy and altering the balance of ecosystems.

Because the problem is, that lionfish may be pretty to look at, but they are also voracious predators. One study revealed that after five weeks, lionfish can munch their way through 80% of the native young fish on a Caribbean reef. And a big worry is that in the Caribbean, lionfish have escaped the natural checks and balances, those predators, parasites, and diseases that in the Indo-Pacific prevent them from taking over. So we really could be facing a lionfish plague.

Sarah -  So, what’s being done to try and deal with this invasion of lionfish?

Helen -  Well, a lot of divers are going out and collecting lionfish by hand – well, with spears and nets – and there are early response networks being set up, so that anyone who spots a lionfish can report it and a swot team of lionfish disposers can be on the scene to quickly whisk it away.

And people have started to work out they are also quite good to eat too… so maybe turkey fish should be on the Christmas menu.


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