The sphex is the smallest of the medium-bodied lionfishes, and is also one of the rarest you’re likely to encounter in the trade. They are one of the two lionfishes that are endemic to the Hawai’ian Islands, the other being a dwarf species, Dendrochirus barberi. Like its Hawai’ian cousin, one thing that sets it apart from other lionfish species are the greenish-yellow/orange-tan spots on its caudal and median fins. These spots are not present in any of the other lionfishes. At first glance, P. sphex resembles P. antennata and P. mombasae, however, P. sphex lacks the pectoral ocellae (eye spots) which are present in both of the other species. All in all, the Hawai’ian lionfish is a very attractive fish marked in the typical striped lionfish pattern, with alternating red/brown and white vertical bands. The rays of its pectoral fins are connected with a membrane that encompasses about half the length of the rays, leaving the outer half of each ray free. The dorsal spines of this species tend to be on the long side, often as long as, or longer than, the fish is in body height. The base of the pectoral fins are marked with a few dark, crescent-shaped bands near the fish’s body, and many specimens (generally younger fishes), have a pair of long, supraorbital appendages that are adorned with alternating dark and light bands. Finally, the head of P. sphex has several mandibular dermal flaps and lachrymal and suborbital “spines”. Like most lionfish, P. sphex is not sexually dimorphic/dichromic.
Our specimen took readily to stick feeding, and eats the “standard” scorp fare of fish, shrimp, squid, lobster, etc., although in the wild, this fish feeds primarily on crustaceans. P. sphex makes a great addition to a small to medium fish-only or reef display. As they feed predominantly on crabs in the wild, train to frozen foods through the utilization of ghost shrimp, as swimming mid-column fish may be ignored.
If you’re looking for a rare, hardy, mild-mannered showpiece fish, and you’re lucky enough to find one, look no further than P. sphex.