Lionfish are venomous, not poisonous – there is a difference.

Pterois640Lionfish   © Sophia Volzke

Although both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that can be harmful to other organisms, the method of delivery is different. Venomous organisms use a specific apparatus like spines or teeth to inject their toxin. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, require their victim to ingest or absorb the toxin.

Lionfish, also called turkey fish, dragon fish and scorpion fish, possess up to 18 needle-like spines that deliver toxin through an unpleasant puncture wound. The venom of the lionfish is purely defensive. To capture prey, the fish relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes, while feeding on mainly small fish and shrimps.
A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.

In contrast, because lionfish are venomous not poisonous, there is no harm in eating the lionfish meat. Once you dispose of the spines, there is no risk of envenomation.
Fortunately for the eco-friendly fish lovers out there, lionfish are delicious. Their white, buttery meat lends itself to any number of different recipes. In fact, there are many restaurants throughout the Caribbean and southern United States that are featuring lionfish on their menus to promote awareness while satisfying customers.
These colourful bony fish reproduce at a rapid rate and due to lack of predators have even been overpopulating a few areas along the coast of North and Central America. Fishing these beautiful creatures from the sea will therefore not threaten the population of the species, in fact in some cases can help recover the eco system of an area where lionfish might have invaded.

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