Lionfish in Hong Kong

This Hong-Kong based blog has not actually featured much about Hong Kong diving recently due to my Philippines trip! Moreover, I was supposed to go on a local dive today in Hong Kong but it was cancelled. Instead, (and partly to console myself) let me continue with my series of posts about Hong Kong marine life that divers can spot. After the adorable Hong Kong Pufferfish, I would like to talk about an unmistakeable and beautiful fish that all divers will recognise: the lionfish.

Zebra turkeyfish at night Hong Kong

Lionfishes are members of Scorpaenidae family (Scorpionfishes). These fishes are among the world’s most venomous fish species. The spines on their fins, with venom glands at their base, can inflict a very painful wound to humans. In Hong Kong, there are two kinds of fish that divers refer to as ‘lionfish’. When you know the difference, they are easy to tell apart.

The Zebra Turkeyfish

Lionfish Zebra Turkeyfish Hong Kong

The most common of the two in Hong Kong is Dendrochirus zebra, or zebra turkeyfish, shown in the two pictures above. With its bold, red-and-white striped body and remarkable, fan-like pectoral fins, it is a lovely fish. Another distinctive feature are the frilly ‘horns’ above the eyes (usually longer than in the picture above). In the daytime, these fish shelter near rocks or under ledges, often resting on the rock itself as shown here. They may be seen singly or in small groups.

The Red Lionfish

Red Lionfish Hong Kong

The species Pterois volitans, the red lionfish, although common elsewhere in South East Asia, is somewhat rarer in Hong Kong. If spotted, is easily distinguishable from the zebra turkeyfish due to its larger size, longer spines and darker colouring. The pectoral fins are quite different, looking more ‘raggedy’ than those of the zebra turkeyfish. It tends to hover in the water rather than rest on rocks. Its apparent rarity may be due to the fact that it is not found at popular dive sites, or at slightly deeper locations. I have seen this fish just a handful of times in over a hundred local dives, whereas I will usually spot the zebra turkeyfish if diving at a rocky site.

Observing lionfish

Lionfish inhabit coral areas and rocky reefs. may be more easily spotted at sites with large, exposed rocks, such as Trio Island 大癩痢 or Pak Pai 白排. (In March we spotted a nice red lionfish at Shelter Island 牛尾洲, see this photo gallery). They hunt at night, and use their wing-like fins to trap their prey in a corner before attacking. If you spot one on a night dive, you can try shining your torch on a nearby small fish or shrimp. I have been told that the lionfish will move towards it and if you’re lucky, you’ll see it gobble it up (I have not tried this yet!).

In the daytime, they are easy to observe due to their slow-moving behaviour. They may spread their poisonous pectoral fins and turn around slowly in a warning display if they feel threatened. Although this is defensive rather than aggressive behaviour, it is advisable to treat lionfish with respect and maintain good buoyancy and awareness of surroundings when observing and photographing them.

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Categories: HK marine lifeTags: , ,


  1. Hey, another nice post! I am enjoying this. They are an invasicmve species now in the U.S. (sadly), but cool to have them in HK.


    • Thank you! I heard they are an invasive species in some parts of the world, indeed, and people go out on dives to catch them! I considered mentioning that but didn’t seem relevant to HK. They are always nice to spot on a dive here.

      Liked by 1 person

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