Small and diminutive, the clever Dwarf Lionfish goes by many common names including Butterfly Cod, Peacock, Scorpion Fish, and FireFish.
They’re as fierce as they look, and are hard-wired to go after smaller invertebrates and fish. They should do fine in tanks with similarly sized to sizeable semi-aggressive fish.
They do have a separate care sheet that gears towards intermediate to expert-level fishkeepers. Their ‘fuzzy’ appearance comes from the beautifully striped body with stunning fins, making it a favourite hobbyist.
Word of caution: They are poisonous and could kill other fish with just a single string. Human handlers should exercise caution because their sting could lead to bacterial infection, but isn’t lethal.
Here is the complete care guide for Dwarf Lionfish, if you ever plan on adopting one.
|Level of Care||Intermediate|
|Appearance||A mix of red, black, and white|
|Life Expectancy||Can live for 10 to 12 years, or even longer|
|Size||Reach lengths of up to 7” or slightly bigger|
|Tank Size||50 gallons, preferably larger|
|Tank Environment||Plenty of live rock with coral structures|
|Tank Mates||Will hunt down smaller fish|
Dwarf Lionfish Overview
The Dwarf Lionfish originates in the Indo-Pacific region, including eastern Africa, Tonga, the Red Sera, and Samoa. The Dwarf lives in southern Japan, the Mariana Islands, Lord Howe Island, and Australia.
They’re a nocturnal species, which means they prefer to hunt at night and rest at day on shallow pieces of reef located just a few meters offshore.
Their natural habitat includes ref flats, weed-covered rocks, and shallow lagoons – all of which are relatively easy to recreate in a marine tank environment. Do keep in mind that Dwarf Lionfish need ample swimming space both around rock works and out in the open.
Dwarf Lionfish Appearance
The color of their body varies from brown to red. One of the most stunning features of the Dwarf Lionfish is their pectoral fins. These are known to vary in size depending on the individual, but are guaranteed to be colorful, distracting, and can move independently.
When the lionfish hunts, it uses the mobile pectoral fins to perform various crucial tasks, such as saying the pectoral fins forward and side-to-side.
This ‘dance’ performance confuses prey and buys the lionfish precious few seconds to swallow its prey whole. The fins’ movements are far more exaggerated in the case of dwarf fuzzy lionfish. We can see them twitching in a sequential back-and-forth motion.
The Dwarf Lionfish’s exact colour depends on its geographical location, but the most common colors that you will see this fish exhibiting include red, silver, yellow, and black. These stunning colors are usually absent in fish available from most pet stores.
They also sport a short tentacle present over their eye and well-developed leafy appendages on the lateral line and the head.
Most Dwarf Lionfish never exceed 6″ in length, allowing them to be kept in moderate aquariums.
Dwarf Lionfish are often mistaken for the Zebra Lionfish. However, there are a few noticeable differences. Dwarf Lionfishes are smaller in size than Zebra Lionfish. Furthermore, Dwarf Lionfish have spotted bands that cross their pectoral fins.
Dwarf Lionfish Behavior
Dwarf Lionfish are a semi-aggressive fish that will give smaller, more docile fish a tough time. If you feed them live prey, the Dwarf Lionfish will pounce upon its meal in one swift motion, an entertaining spectacle in most tanks.
When they’re not busy terrorizing smaller fish around, they’ll keep to themselves perched on corals and rock works.
And as ironic as it sounds, Dwarf Lionfish are relatively shy when first introduced into the tank. The best way to get your Dwarf Lionfish to adapt to its surroundings is to minimize fast movement and vibrations in the tank. You can also introduce suitable tank mates to make them feel at home.
They are bottom-dwelling creatures and spend most of their time near corals and rocks. It means your tank should include lots of hiding spots and caves to mimic their natural habitat; otherwise, the lionfish will be stressed out.
Males can be very territorial and should not be paired with another male from the same species unless you have a massive tank with plenty of decorations.
It is essential to point out that the Lion Fish is venomous. Their dorsal and pectoral fins can cause extreme pain if touched and may result in severe allergic reactions.
If you get stung, soak the infected area in hot water to slow down the venom’s spread and get medical help right away. It requires owners to exercise due caution when doing any maintenance to the tank.
For the most part, smaller Dwarf Lionfish will quickly adapt to captivity and readily accept homegrown fish.
Dwarf Lionfish Tank Mates and Compatibility
As a general rule, avoid keeping Dwarf Lionfish with smaller fish in an aquarium because they may be confused as food.
When kept with fish that are half the Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish’s size, it’s only a matter of when, not if, it decides to try to eat it. They are predators with venomous fins that will cause severe bodily injury and even death to other fish should the Lionfish decide to chase them.
You can keep multiple Lionfish in your tank, but this also requires caution. They are particularly aggressive towards one another and should only be kept in larger tanks with lots of decorations.
If you are keen on having more than one Lionfish, it is best to introduce them into the tank at the same time. It will increase the chances of adapting to their new environment without attacking each other too often.
You’ll notice that one of the lionfish becomes overly dominant and bullies others for food, threatening them with their poisonous stings.
Below is our round-up of the most compatible tank mates for the Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish:
- Rabbitfish (large)
Make sure that your lionfish don’t become a target of larger, more aggressive tank mates. Fish that you should avoid are morays and other larger specimens that could harass it, or even eat it.
Dwarf Lionfish Food?
Dwarf Lionfish are incredibly fussy eaters with a particular diet – otherwise, they won’t even eat. Failing to provide the Dwarf Lionfish with its preferred diet could lose their naturally bright colors. They are exclusively carnivorous and need a varied diet involving lots of meat.
In their natural habitat, Dwarf Lionfish prefer to eat at dusk or night. They emerge from their daytime hiding (usually a cave) and hunt for crabs and shrimps late in the afternoon. This hunting behaviour continues well in the depth of night. During the day, Dwarf Lionfish are more secretive and solitary, preferring to stay in their cave.
As the Dwarf Lionfish is a predator, they are used to eating live fish that are at least half their body size. That’s why they’re so challenging to keep for beginners because they have a hard time finding live fish for their pets.
You can try feeding them feeder fish, but they will only fulfil part of their diet. It becomes necessary to supplement their diet with other food such as fiddler crabs, freshwater crawfish, feeder guppies, mollies, and even juvenile damselfish.
They will also readily accept small invertebrates when offered.
It is not unheard of for red Dwarf Lionfish to accept frozen meaty foods, but this will take time and a lot of patience from the owner.
One preferred method to train Dwarf Lionfish is to use long handle tweezers or tongs to introduce strips of fish in the tank. Try to create as much movement in the tank as possible. The Dwarf is very responsive to move as it stimulates their basic hunting instincts.
Only feed the Dwarf Lionfish once a day. Abstain from overfeeding them because they can overeat relatively easily.
It can be disastrous because the fish will produce more waste and could negatively affect water quality. Another danger of overfeeding is the risk of creating a blockage in their gastric tract that could stop them from eating altogether.
Word of warning though, do not feed your Dwarf Lionfish on a diet of freshwater guppies, minnows, or goldfish. These fish are known for harbouring parasites and disease, not to mention that they do not meet marine fish’ dietary needs.
Dwarf Lionfish Tank Conditions
You can make do with a tank that is only 50 gallons. They need at least 120 gallons. Although the Dwarf Lionfish is a solitary creature that doesn’t swim very often, it needs enough swimming space to satiate its inquisitive nature, both around rock works and caver structure they sit.
Below are the ideal tank conditions that will keep the Dwarf Lionfish reasonably happy:
- Temperature: 75-81° F
- Hardness levels: 8-11 dKH
- Specific Gravity: 1.020-1.026 (preferably 1.025)
- pH value: 8.1-8.3
Things to Add in the Tank
Owners should try to mimic the natural habitat of the Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish. In the wild, they lurk underneath caves in an upside-down position. Can do it by introducing them to live rock with several creatures.
They prefer to live in low-lighting conditions and won’t display their colours’ full intensity if the lighting is too bright. Install low-intensity lights to make your Dwarf Lionfish feel at home.
If you’ve got too bright lights and don’t want to remove them, then provide the fish with shade from the light. Excessive exposure to intense lighting can cause them undue stress which can leave them vulnerable to death.
Dwarf Lionfish Care: Dangers and Diseases
Dwarf Lionfish are extremely hardy species and hardly fall prey to parasites and diseases. They’re not entirely immune though, so ensure you maintain the water parameters within the ranges provided above and take standard precautions.
It is interesting to note that Lionfish possesses a thin membranous lining called a cuticle specializing in eliminating parasites. Fuzzies adapted the cuticle to keep stalking organisms at bay. If pests invade their body, they shed the outer layer of their cuticle.
Common diseases that they fall vulnerable to include the following:
The most prominent fin rot symptoms are rapidly disintegrating fins that begin at the fins base and spread outward. Treatment requires making improvements to the quality of water. Get in touch with an aquatic veterinarian if symptoms persist even after making improvements.
Symptoms include excessive skin mucus, pale skin, and the development of cysts on gills, and fin. Quarantine the entire aquarium with a commercial remedy to treat the parasite infestation and improve the water quality. Can use Freshwater dips to remove the parasites physically.
Dips could prove to be too stressful for Dwarfs because their fins could get entangled and cause them great bodily harm. It is best to take the Lionfish to the veterinarian.
Dwarf Lionfish Breeding: Is it Possible?
It is not easy to breed Dwarf Lion as it’s a challenge even for commercial fish farms. Many aquarists have immense difficulty achieving this. It isn’t that they’re guaranteed to fail, but it will require tremendous patience from the owner. The first step is to place male and female Dwarf Lionfish in the same tank.
It isn’t easy to do because the sexes are virtually identical. In some cases, the male may develop a larger head than females, along with longer pectoral fins and many bands on the fins. But this difference isn’t easy for novices to spot.
Most aquarists enlist the help of an experienced breeding specialist to initiate egg fertilization. Novices won’t have much success doing this.
Their eggs have a gelatinous, frothy coating that makes them buoyant for the first few hours after spawning.
How Big do Dwarf Lionfish Get?
The average size of Dwarf Lionfish is 6″, or 7″ max. It makes them ideal for smaller saltwater tanks and more comfortable to handle than larger variants like the Volitan Lionfish known for quickly being over a foot tall.
Are Dwarf Lionfish Poisonous?
As mentioned above, Dwarf Lionfish are poisonous. They belong to the scorpionfish family, which gets its name for possessing venomous dorsal, anal, and pelvic spines. These spines connect to a venom sac of the fish. The spines inject the venom through a groove into the flesh of other creatures.
People who’ve stung by the spines have complained of intense pain, that is very similar to a bee sting. The pain may be short-lived or could continue well beyond 24 hours. Some people describe the pain ranging from mild to ‘beyond measure’, growing more intense by the minute.
Common symptoms associated with lionfish stings are swelling, and of course, intense pain. More severe symptoms include nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, pain near the stomach, and even loss of consciousness. There have been sporadic cases of human deaths caused due to lionfish stings, but this.
The intensity of the pain and its symptoms are directly proportional to the size of the lionfish. If it’s a larger species, it could inflict much severe damage because they can inject much larger venom quantities. Either way, owners should exercise due caution when handling dwarf lionfish.
If you’re curious about what happens to a person when stung by a lionfish, check this video out.
Are Dwarf Lionfish Reef Safe?
Lionfish are compatible with reef-only tanks, make sure to select larger invertebrates. The formidable 6″ lionfish will eat bite-sized shrimps and other invertebrates, which explains why most aquarists don’t add them to a reef aquarium.
Where to Buy Dwarf Lionfish?
Dwarf Lionfish on sale online from most pet stores near you, including online stores and online forums. You can also consult experienced aquarists to provide you with healthy stock.
Before purchasing the Lionfish, make sure they are active, have voracious appetites, possess their signature vibrant colors, and feature all their fins and rays as mentioned above.
Quarantine your Dwarf Lionfish for a few weeks in a separate tank before introducing them into the main tank to prevent diseases and parasites from spreading.
Wrapping Up: Are Dwarf Lionfish Ideal for Saltwater Tanks?
They’re a stunning fish with long and colorful, independent moving fins that give them a formidable presence in any tank. The Dwarf Lionfish should only be adopted intermediates and experts who have some experience in handling saltwater fish. They’re poisonous and can cause significant harm to owners who operate them recklessly.
Are they worth adding to your tank? Definitely.
Keep only one Lionfish in a tank and restrict tank mates to just a few species that can fend off an attack. Fuzzies are notorious for eating up smaller tank mates.