Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus): Ultimate Care Guide


The Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus) is a beautiful and fierce species in marine life. Commonly, they have a coating that involves splashes of brown and maroon with intricate white stripes, and spines that can sting like a bee.

This article aims to provide you with the ultimate care guide so you can experience the joy of keeping the Dwarf Lionfish in your tank at home.  

Originating from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and inhabiting coastal waters, the Dwarf Lionfish loves to hang around caves and rocky outcrops that provide them with a bit of peace, and a great place to lurk for passing prey. Interestingly, over recent years Dwarf Lionfish have found their way into the tropical waters of the Atlantic. Now you’ll find that they are actually more common there in comparison to their native waters.

There’s three types of Dwarf Lionfish to be found in these oceans: The Fu Manchu/Two Spot (Dendrochirus Biocellatus), The Dwarf Fuzzy Lionfish (D. brachypterous), and The Dwarf Zebra Lionfish (D.Zebra). Each varies in their appearance and behaviour.

Are Lionfish Poisonous?

Belonging to the Scorpionfish (Scorpaenidae) genus, Dwarf Lionfish live up the family name with their venomous sting. The venom coats their spines and fins, successfully keeping them from being food for the majority of marine life. When attacking prey they spread their fins wide, trapping their food to be swallowed whole.

If you make contact you will feel like you’ve received a very painful bee sting. Being stung can easily be avoided if you’re careful and take the proper precautions. In the event you do find yourself stung, it’s best to seek medical attention right away in case of an allergic reaction. Put the wound in hot water that doesn’t burn for around half an hour. You will experience swelling and but it’s nothing to worry about long-term. As long as you take care when cleaning your tank, and make sure not to feed them directly with your hands, you will be able to keep one without experiencing this pain.

Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus)
Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus)

Dwarf Lionfish Care

If you’re considering looking after a Dwarf Lionfish, this section will cover all the details you need to know before buying one. After reading, you’ll have the tools you need to help them settle and sustain in your aquarium.

Dwarf Lionfish Temperature

Dwarf Lionfish should be kept in a saltwater tank that holds a temperature between 72-78F or 22.2-25.6C.

Dwarf Lionfish PH

Water PH levels should be kept at a stable value between 8.1-8.4 for Dwarf Lionfish to thrive. Salinity should be at 1.025, with 0 ammonia and nitrite levels.

Dwarf Lionfish Tank Size

Dwarf Lionfish can grow up to be 7 inches long, so it is best to keep them in a tank much larger than 20 gallons (91L). Making their home a 55 gallon (250L) tank should be the minimum requirement here. This will give the fish plenty of room to maneuver and to hide away when it wants to.                            

Dwarf Lionfish Tank Setup

Ensuring the water in your tank is of good quality is important for a Dwarf Lionfish. If the water is dirty and swimming with more leftovers than fish, you can expect your new friend to retreat under a rock and refuse to feed.

Including rock work in their new tank will help your Dwarf Lionfish to feel more at home. As mentioned, in their natural habitat they love to hide in caves and under rocky outcrops. Providing this environment is essential to acclimating them successfully. 

Another thing to think about is potentially adjusting the lighting of your tank before introducing a Dwarf Lionfish. It has been found that they experience stress when exposed to bright light. It will also inhibit their ability to see clearly. Use subdued lighting to help your Dwarf Lionfish stay calm.

Are Dwarf Lionfish Reef Safe?

Despite them being carnivorous, and aggressive in terms of their eating habits, Dwarf Lionfish are reef safe. They have no interest in harming coral and the likes, damage will only very rarely be caused by accident when they are busy hunting.

Dwarf Lionfish Size

Both Fuzzy and Zebra Dwarf Lionfish grow to a maximum of 7 inches, whereas Dwarf Fu Machu Lionfish grow to a length of 5-6 inches.

Dwarf Lionfish Food & Diet

Now, because Lionfish tend to be very shy when first entering a new tank, the feeding process is one that often requires a little bit of patience. You will find them retreated under the rocky terrain you’ve built them for at least the first few weeks of owning one. Don’t expect to see them swimming around comfortably until they have had some time to settle in.

The trick to making sure your Dwarf Lionfish doesn’t go hungry during this period of timidity, is to start them off with live feed. What they’re used to naturally. Drop food right outside their cave so they can come out and snatch it without having to swim too much. Dwarf Lionfish are predators, primarily feeding on small crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. Starting them off with food such as ghost shrimp is a great way to help them acclimate. The shrimp will wriggle around outside your Dwarf Lionfish’s home base, enticing it to begin eating in a timely manner. Don’t worry too much if your fish doesn’t come out for its meal right away, it may even take a few hours for them to claim their food if they are especially shy. Feed them in small amounts every other day for a few weeks, before moving them on to a more varied carnivorous diet.

Once you have your Lionfish eating regularly, you have a choice whether you want to keep sourcing live feed for them, or whether you want to source frozen and processed protein foods for their meals. If you’re happy to continue with live feed your Dwarf Lionfish won’t complain. Vary their diet between foods such as fish chunks, shrimp, squid, and crabmeat.

Getting your fish to eat processed foods requires a bit of training. Pierce what you’ve got for them on a skewer, lower it down outside their cave and try to move the food around to emulate the movements of the ghost shrimp or other live feed. If you perform this naturally enough, your Lionfish is bound to be too tempted to resist feasting on its meal. Mix this method, using processed foods, with dropping live feed for them at the same time, and you’ll be able to train your fish to enjoy their new diet relatively shortly. Eventually you’ll be able to drop the processed foods in for them just like you did with the live feed, and they will be happy to eat it on their own.

Another thing worth noting here is that Dwarf Lionfish are gluttons. Make sure you’re not dropping too much food in the tank for them at once, because they will overeat if given the chance to! Small amounts every two days is enough.

Breeding Dwarf Lionfish

Breeding in captivity can be a slow process, and even then it’s not guaranteed. If you want to breed your Dwarf Lionfish, it may be worth getting an expert to help you carry out the process successfully. Ensure that you have plenty of space in your tank, and that the fish you want to breed are as comfortable as they can be in their environment.

It’s difficult to tell the sexes of a Zebra Dwarf Lionfish apart from each other, which makes breeding them extra tricky. However, when any male Dwarf Lionfish is ready to mate, you’ll notice it turns darker and their stripes grow less visible. When a female is ready to mate she will turn paler. To tell the other types’ sexes apart before starting the breeding process, it’s useful to know that males show more stripes than females.  

Dwarf Lionfish Diseases

When looked after properly, Dwarf Lionfish are resistant towards disease, and it is uncommon for them to suffer from ailments.

However rare, it is possible for them become ill. Fin rot can occur, which can be treated with antibiotics, as well as cloudy eyes and dinoflagellates. They can also develop ich, which can be soothed with copper or hyposalinity based medications.

Dwarf Lionfish Tank Mates

Compatible Tank Mates

Dwarf Lionfish will eat any fish that is smaller than itself. Make sure to put it in a tank with other large marine predators such as Triggers, Moray Eels, and Pufferfish. Generally, the rule of thumb is to accompany it with fish that its mouth can’t stretch wide enough to eat.

Feel free to add more Dwarf Lionfish of the Zebra or Fuzzy variety to your tank, these fish can be kept in schools or on their own and they will be happy either way. Just make sure they have enough space to swim around comfortably.

Incompatible Tank Mates

Fu Manchu Dwarf Lionfish, on the other hand, should not be kept in multiples. More than one in your tank and you’ll find that they will begin to terrorize one another, sooner rather than later.

Other incompatible tank mates include crustaceans, crabs, and shrimp, as well as any other fish that is smaller than the Dwarf Lionfish.

Dwarf Lionfish and Clownfish

Unfortunately it’s not a good idea to keep Dwarf Lionfish and Clownfish in the same tank. Clownfish are smaller in size and will end up being a nice meal for your Lionfish.

Where Can I Find A Dwarf Lionfish For Sale?

If you can’t find a Dwarf Lionfish for sale in your local aquarium, the best place to get yourself one is online. A good retail site where you can find them is liveaquaria.com or aquariumfishsale.com. These fish are well sought after, so you may have to be patient before the type you want becomes available for the right price.

Dwarf Lionfish Price

Prices vary when it comes to Dwarf Lion Fish. A Fu Manchu will be between $100 and $130, a Fuzzy can be found between $50 and $80, and a Zebra between $90 and $149.

Summary

So, that’s all you need to know when it comes to caring for Dwarf Lionfish. It’s easy to see why these are such a popular fish to have in your saltwater aquarium. They are fascinating and beautiful to look at. Once your fish has grown comfortable in its tank, you will see a lot more of its personality as well. Dwarf Lionfish are known to recognize their owners and will often come out from where it is hiding to greet you. Thank you for reading this article, we’re sure you and your new Lionfish will get on swimmingly!

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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