Since their introduction to the Atlantic Ocean in the 1980s, Pacific red lionfish (Pterois volitans) have gobbled up native Caribbean and western Atlantic reef fishes, reducing their abundance by up to 90%. Researchers think one of the secrets to the lionfish's success is a predation strategy unheard of in other fish predators—blowing jets of water while approaching prey to disorient them.
The squirting water (seen in the video) overwhelms the target's lateral line, part of a fish's nervous system that detects vibrations and warns of approaching objects, the team reports this week in Marine Ecology Progress Series. Prey often end up facing the hungry lionfish, increasing the chances of head-first strikes and lowering the risk of the lionfish getting stuck by backwards-facing spines. The team first observed this behavior while monitoring lionfish populations off Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas.
Only 18% of observed lionfish in the Atlantic blew these jets, while about half of the observed lionfish employed this strategy in the Pacific. Researchers think unsuspecting Atlantic prey are easier for lionfish to catch without having to resort to this spitting behavior.
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