A Lionfish at Home

Carlos Fraguela

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve captured a magnificent Pterois volitans specimen. I dared kidnap the fish because of its small size (which made the task rather simple). This species, characterized by long, needle-like fin rays, blindly trusts its venom and therefore does not require a quick escape.

I cut open a transparent bottle of pop to use as trap. A mere five meters from the shore, I saw one swimming about, very much at home, and, using a snorkel, invited it to enter the container – which it did without hesitation. It was stressed on the way home. When I placed it in my fish-tank, it vomited its last victim (a small red fish, which it regurgitated whole).

Only one word properly describes these beauties of the sea: fascinating. This six-centimeter-long baby I brought home, to observe its behavior up close in my fish-tank, populated exclusively by invertebrates, is both beautiful and dangerous.

I wanted to find out how aggressive these specimens can be when faced with an apparent danger. To do this, I employed the brush I use to wipe algae off the glass of the fish-tank. I placed the brush in front of the fish and, when it was within reach, it lunged towards it and got stuck there, as its dorsal fin rays got caught in the bristles for a few moments.

It was not a pleasant experience for it. When it managed to tear loose from the brush, it darted and hid behind a rock and remained there a while, until the scare passed. I felt sorry for the small creature, but this taught me the true danger that running into one of these incredible fish can entail.

I had read about them, but didn’t know how they behaved. They belong to the Scorpaenidae family, which includes some of the world’s most poisonous fish. We know they’ve already made it to our coasts. Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in the United States and released them into an environment to which they are not accustomed.

Another fish from this family is endemic to our coasts. The scorpion fish is also venomous and occasionally and accidentally causes harm to humans who do not see them, as they blend in with their environment, so much so that they are popularly known as “rock fish” in Cuba.

About three years ago, during one of my swims around the coast behind the Melia Havana Hotel, I came across as many as ninety-two heads of lionfish in a single day, the result of a massive offensive against the fish, which are said to be voracious predators which find no biological checks in this environment (save people, who can eat them, provided they are properly scaled and deprived of their dangerous rays).