Dendrochirus zebra, more commonly known as the Zebra Turkeyfish, are indigenous to the Indo-reefs Pacific and rocky fissures, yet they have spread to other warm aquatic habitats throughout the world.

The elaborate fins of the Zebra Turkeyfish mimic turkey feathers when viewed only at a particular angle. Among the numerous creative moniker people give it, you could also hear them refer to it as lionfish, devil fish, red lionfish, scorpion-cod, ornate butterfly-cod, featherfins, butterfly cod, Indian turkeyfish, soldier lionfish, or poison scorpion depending on the part of the world.

However intrigued you might be when encountering the Zebra Turkeyfish, don’t make the mistake of touching it, as it will be fatal!

Appearance

The Zebra Turkeyfish is indeed a fish with a distinctive appearance. Its body is lined with pinstripes of orange, white, and black, and its pectoral fins, which resemble enormous striped fans, flex out on each side while the fish is lying on the seafloor. The Zebra Turkeyfish has a maximum growth potential of 10 to 12 inches. 

Particularly vibrant Zebra Turkeyfish swimming close to the gravel bottom
Particularly vibrant Zebra Turkeyfish swimming close to the gravel bottom

Credit: Bernard DUPONT

Both the first and second dorsal fins have 10-11 soft rays and 13 stiff, quill-like barbs on the front fin. The anal fin comprises ten soft rays and three spikes. On every fin, the Zebra Turkeyfish has black and white bands that give a particularly hostile appearance.

Diet

Recent observations of Zebra Turkeyfish showing collaborative behavior while hunting for sustenance. When hunting in packs, Zebra Turkeyfish uses their poisonous dorsal spines and flared fins to crowd their prey into a narrow area. When the prey is cornered, they begin to use their spikes and shoot jets of water to incapacitate the prey. Zebra Turkeyfish are immune to each other’s venom. 

When hunting by themselves, Zebra Turkeyfish uses camouflage to stalk their prey. They are predators that eat tiny crustaceans and juvenile fish, notably snapper and grouper, two significant commercial fish species. Except for decomposing flesh, they will attempt to consume any fish, shrimp, and other tiny, fit-in-the-mouth living things.

Habitat

Although they are originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish are now found in portions of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the southeast coastline of the United States. Lionfish have extremely few predators because they are not endemic to Atlantic seas, which has contributed to their newfound population there. It may be found in inland waters as deep as 262 feet. 

Zebra Turkeyfish live on the bottom while resembling its environment
Zebra Turkeyfish live on the bottom while resembling its environment

Credit: Mauritius100

It is a species that lives on the bottom and is occasionally found in small groups in caves, outer reefs, lagoons, and on gravel, sand, and rocky bottoms. It’s a social species that will hunt in packs for added success, but when solitary, they rely on hiding on the sea floor.

Reproduction

Zebra Turkeyfish reproduction occurs between the males and the females of the species. The male Zebra Turkeyfish is the aggressive partner, while the female develops a “white” face during the courtship between them. The process of courtship and spawning takes place during nighttime when the male and female initiate a special movement.

Spawning results in a viscous mass of 2,000–15,000 eggs and takes place at the peak of a brief and swift coordinated rise. Larvae begin to disperse after 36 hours after hatching and within a few weeks. The biggest Zebra Turkeyfish may reach a length of around 15 inches, although the usual size is more like 1 ft.

Threats

The direct predator of Zebra Turkeyfish is the groupers, as there aren’t any other predators that find this fish appealing. Zebra Turkeyfish are appreciated significantly more in the aquarium trade than they are as food in various areas of the world. 

Likely female Zebra Turkeyfish swimming between rocks
Likely female Zebra Turkeyfish swimming between rocks

Credit: Gomen S

They have a strong population and a wide range, which worries some Americans who believe the flourishing of this non-native species poses risks to both people and the environment. In some parts of the world, like Florida, the Zebra Turkeyfish is actually invasive, resulting in ecosystem disruption. Bounty policies are in place to control such species.

Facts about the Zebra Turkeyfish

  • Zebra Turkeyfish are venomous, and often fatal to humans.
  • Zebra Turkeyfish have fairly hostile appearances, followed by a hostile personalities.
  • Zebra Turkeyfish relies heavily on camouflage and stealth to gain an advantage on prey.
  • Virtually there isn’t a predator for Zebra Turkeyfish.
  • Zebra Turkeyfish populations are fairly spread out across the world.


FAQs

Are Zebra Turkeyfish poisonous?

They are incredibly poisonous; Zebra Turkeyfish possesses 13 spikes that carry the fatal toxin that incapacitates on impact. Scuba divers are highly warned to keep a distance from this fish and avoid piercing contact with the spikes as the pain is immeasurable.

What happens if you get pierced by a Zebra Turkeyfish?

The likelihood of infection and widespread symptoms, including heart rate changes, abdominal pain, shivering, and fainting, doubles when a Zebra Turkeyfish stings. Zebra Turkeyfish stings are extremely uncommon causes of death. Depending on the intensity of the sting, symptoms can linger anywhere from 8 hours to 30 days.

Do Zebra Turkeyfish get pregnant?

Zebra Turkeyfish reproduction takes place externally, during which the female will develop a white spot on the face and lay the eggs which the male will fertilize in a special spawning movement.

Do Zebra Turkeyfish get lonely?

Zebrafish are sociable animals, just like people, and by the time they are a few weeks old, the majority of fish show a significant preference for social relationships. However, a tiny percentage of social outcast fish prefer to stay away from their siblings or tank companions.