Commonplace in many biology courses, laboratory dissections allow students to investigate external and internal anatomy. Unfortunately, many dissection kits contain preserved specimens with faded coloration. At Forfar Field Station on North Andros Island, we have replaced traditional fish specimens with invasive lionfish. Local lionfish removed from Stafford Creek and Fresh Creek provide students with realistically colored models. Students are asked to correctly identify fins, lateral line, gills and most importantly the location of all 18 venomous spines. Internally, students can easily locate heart, liver, stomach, intestine, spleen, gonad, muscle and swim bladder. Careful dissection can even reveal the spinal cord and brain.
The aggressive feeding ecology of lionfish also provides interesting diet analysis. Many lionfish have been found consuming assorted reef species, and students often find intact juvenile damselfish, angelfish, wrasse, parrotfish, grunts, and crustaceans in lionfish stomachs. Students can imagine the damage caused by thousands of invasive lionfish throughout the Caribbean.
A lecture on lionfish ecology and life history accompanies the dissection. Invasive species are prolific, and include virtually every type of organism. Human manipulation of the natural world is often the root of each invasion. Common vectors include exotic pet trade, commercial ships’ ballast water, open pen mariculture, and accidental watercraft transfer. Concluding remarks on the Forfar lionfish program address the future of invasive species. With globalization continuing to merge borders, more invasions like the red lionfish can occur. Managing the harmful effects of lionfish and other invasives will be critical for the next generation of scientists.
At Forfar, we are pleased to offer local lionfish as laboratory specimens. Our students gain a deeper understanding of invasive species, and a twist on the typical fish dissection.