Lionfish Tank Setup (Tips and Guidance)

Lionfish are truly remarkable fish, perfect for hobbyists seeking a challenge, and looking to escape their comfort zone when it comes to fish keeping. I think that despite being hard work, and the obvious danger lionfish pose, they are possibly the most rewarding saltwater fish you can have if you set them up properly.

Lionfish tank setup

The number one consideration before purchasing a lionfish, or any fish for that matter should be their tank setup. Ensuring the water parameters, water temperature, pH levels, and salinity are all correct for your lionfish are the most important aspects of owning the fish. Of course, feeding your lionfish is important too!

Whenever you acquire a new fish, including a lionfish you will need to cycle the non-reef or reef tank properly, meeting the demands of the lionfish. So, on the basis you have completed the nitrogen cycle for your lionfish aquarium, we need to take a look at the Lionfish tank setup itself.

How do you Setup a Lionfish Aquarium

The most crucial characteristic of a lionfish is that they are saltwater fish, and they will only survive and can only achieve a healthy life when living in a saltwater fish tank. It may seem like an obvious one, but there are a lot of people that still ask if lionfish are saltwater or freshwater fish!

Another consideration is that there are actually several different species of lionfish, ranging in size, coloration, and origin. The most commonly found lionfish species in aquariums are the Volitans, Radiata, and Antennata variants, with the dwarf lionfish subspecies also being incredibly popular.

Fortunately, these species of lionfish are all very similar; however, in the wild, some of them can be more invasive than others! What this means is that their tank setup requirements are identical to each other, excluding the size of the tank for the dwarfs.

Below I have added my own video covering everything in this article if you wanted to consume a more visual guide:

What is the Best Lionfish Tank Size? 

In the wild, lionfish will not leave the vicinity of their lair very often, this is due to them not being very good or strong swimmers. Despite this, due to their large size and span, they require a large tank to go about their daily activities.

Best reef tanks

Just because they are not the most mobile fish in the world does not mean that they need a small fish tank, it is quite the opposite. So, when performing your lionfish tank setup, make sure you do so with a large fish tank.

How Many Gallons Does a Lionfish Need?

Due to there being different types of lionfish that vary in size, you will need to acquire a saltwater aquarium to suit yours best.

Typically, a 30 gallon (113 liters) aquarium will be big enough for a dwarf lionfish, which will grow to a maximum of 7 inches (17.8cm) in length.

For the larger species of lionfish, you will need a much larger aquarium. A minimum tank size of 120 gallons (454 liters) is required. I understand that this quite a commitment for anyone relatively new to the hobby, so if you are not up for such a large tank and the space it takes up, then going with a dwarf lionfish might be your best option.

What Type of Tank do Lionfish Need?

Firstly, lionfish should be kept in a reef aquarium if possible, this will mimic their natural habitat and keep them nice and settled with all the hiding spots and places to explore.

They will be fine in a non-reef tank too, but you will need to provide them with decorations and live rock to keep them happy.

Secondly, you should ideally be getting an acrylic tank for your lionfish setup. They are clearer than standard glass tanks and will usually come with built-in LED lighting.

If you do not buy an acrylic tank, or your tank does not include an LED light, I would highly recommend purchasing one as part of your lionfish tank set up. LED lighting is fantastic for reef aquariums and brightly colored fish as it brings out all the bright and exciting colors on display.

Setting up a Saltwater Lionfish Tank

Lionfish need to feel comfortable and stress-free upon arrival and the best way of achieving this is by ensuring their tank has plenty of places to explore and hide in.

Reef safe angelfish

You can either create a reef aquarium environment if you haven't already, or a cheaper alternative is to add rocks, caves, and other decor. Small cave fixtures are widely available online at affordable prices if you do not have the time to create your own hiding places.

Now we need to dive into the tank parameter recommendations.

Water Parameters for Lionfish

I cannot stress the importance of using a premium marine salt aquarium mix for your lionfish. Purchasing a salinity meter is highly important too so you can measure the saltwater quality in your lionfish tank and easily monitor it on an ongoing basis.

The gravity should range between 1.020 and 1.025, which is 26.5 to 33 PPT, all of these numbers will be displayed on your salinity meter. For the pH level, you will want your lionfish aquarium to range between 8.1 and 8.4.

It is crucial that you ensure your tank is hitting these requirements, no more, and no less!

Ideal Lionfish Water Temperature

Water temperature is key in your lionfish living a long and healthy life and instrumental in their tank setup. The best water temperature for your lionfish should be between 74℉ to 80℉ (23°C - 27°C).

Additionally, the water flow in the aquarium should be low or very low. Lionfish tend to get overwhelmed at even medium-flowing water, and will often find low-flowing places in your tank to hide in if the current gets too much for them.

Lionfish Compatibility with Other Fish

Lionfish by nature, are pretty aggressive and territorial, not to mention they are natural predators that will almost certainly gobble up any smaller fish or aquarium invertebrates.

This almost always puts people off getting a lionfish, but the truth is that you can house them with many different types of fish! The key is to acquire lionfish tank mates that are too big for your lionfish to eat or mess with.

Lionfish Care Guide

Other predatory saltwater fish are in abundance and typically live happily with lionfish. We have created a comprehensive guide discussing the best lionfish tank mates that you can check out for a more in-depth summary.

Here are 5 fish that are compatible with lionfish:

  • Blue tang
  • Maroon clownfish
  • Clown triggerfish
  • Harlequin tuskfish
  • Pantherfish

Lionfish Diet and Food

Lionfish are hungry carnivores and also predatory fish, meaning that they only need to eat meat-based products to maintain a healthy diet.

They will eat almost anything that fits in their giant mouth, so, again, do not keep them with small fish - this is your last warning!

Some good options for feeding your lionfish are krill, squid, silversides, and freeze-dried krill.

Something else you should do every so often is feed your lionfish live foods, such as crab, damselfish, ghost shrimp, or feeder guppies.

This will excite them, and release their natural predatory instincts as they hunt and kill the live food provided. It makes for an awesome watch too!

Final Thoughts

Lionfish are not exactly easy fish to look after, but if you are up for the challenge, and set their tank up correctly, I can guarantee that you will not regret your decision as they will soon become the star of the show!

It is incredibly important, however, that you follow the steps in this guide, ensuring the safety and happiness of your lionfish and those that might cohabitate with them.