Even with the rapid spread of lionfish throughout the Caribbean, this is the first documentation of a lionfish larvae. After mating, females lay an egg mass that disintegrates in a couple of days, releasing the tiny (just a couple of mm) lionfish larvae. Then, like many marine fishes, the larvae are pelagic, i.e., they live in the water column floating on the prevailing currents. With a larval phase of ~30 days, they may travel hundreds of miles in strong currents. They would then “settle” out of the plankton when they reach about 1cm in length.
So lionfish are everywhere…..but where are all of the larvae? Incredibly, they have yet to documented until this recent paper. This is a real mystery – how can the invasion be so pervasive yet larvae not more commonly observed? Fully understanding the trajectory of the invasion necessitates a better understanding of their larval ecology.