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The Roar Of The Lionfish Really Doesn't Live Up To Its Name

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Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

You suck, lionfish. Laura Dinraths/Shutterstock

When will zoologists stop lying to us? There may be an animal known as a “flying squirrel,” but it can only glide, not fly. The “electric eel” may be able to give you a nasty shock, but it’s a knifefish, not an eel. The “red panda” is neither truly red, not is it even closely related to the black-and-white panda we all know and love.

Sadly, it looks like this mischievous form of naming won’t stop anytime soon. You’d expect something called a “lionfish” to be able to produce a fairly mighty roar. However, researchers have finally managed to hear its vocalizations for the very first time, and it’s enormously underwhelming. It’s more like a diminutive bleep, a pathetic pulse – a rubbish roar, if you will.

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Writing in the Journal of Fish Biology, a team led by North Carolina State University set out to find out what these particular fish sounded like. By understanding what noises they make, researchers could track them more effectively, and if anything needs to be kept tabs on, it’s these pesky creatures.

They’re an aggressive, venomous, and prolifically invasive species. After being dumped into the sea by disinterested aquarium specialists in the mid-1980s, they spread like proverbial wildfire. Their conquest of the Caribbean and Eastern US waters has already led to the collapse of food chains and the degradation of reefs.

Noting that plenty of other fish use low-pitched noises to communicate to each other, the team decided to interrogate a few captive lionfish to see what squeaks or squawks they might make. Placing a series of microphones inside a lionfish aquarium, they waited patiently to see if they picked up on anything. Sometimes, the team induced strong currents in the water in order to see if stressed-out lionfish make noises too.

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As you can hear from the recording, they indeed do make noises, but hardly anything befitting their grandiose name – which to be fair, refers more to their vaguely lion-like “mane” of fins.

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Either way: discovery made.

"Through the analysis of acoustic recordings of captive Pterois spp., this study has confirmed anecdotal evidence that Pterois spp. are soniferous," the team note in their study.

Interestingly, when they’re calm, they make heartbeat-like noises; rhythmic pulses akin to the beating of a teeny tiny drum. When they’re stressed, the pulses become quicker and louder. The team is not sure what the purposes of these noises are just yet.

Curiously, they appear to be far more vocal during the early hours of the morning and the late evening. At present, it’s not yet clear if males and females make different noises.

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Now that the “roar” has been documented, it could be used by researchers to quantify the scale of invasions. Could their “agitated” call could be blasted back at them, convincing them to retreat from vulnerable areas?

"It is certainly possible," Bogdanoff told IFLScience. "A lot more research is needed to figure out exactly how lionfish are using sounds."

Either way: step up your naming game, zoologists. 

[H/T: New Scientist]


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  • invasive species,

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  • invasions,

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