Lionfish, a species of ray-finned fish which are native to the region of the western Indo-Pacific, have been recently spotted in the waters off Crete.
Scientists say that the fish, which can grow up to 35 cm (14 inches) in length, has venomous fins. The dorsal fin has 13 long, stiff spines and 9-11 soft rays, and the anal fin has three long spines and six or seven soft rays.
Although native to the Indian Ocean, from South Africa to Indonesia, as well as the Red Sea, lionfish have also recently been reported in the eastern and central Mediterranean Sea. A specimen was first spotted in the Aegean, off the Greek island of Rhodes, in 2015.
The invasion has forced the EU to take steps to prevent further population growth of the species. A recent EU-funded project placed Cyprus on the front line to deal with the difficult campaign to eradicate the venomous fish.
“Four years ago you were lucky to see one, and everyone would take a picture, saying ‘Wow, we see a lionfish’… now you dive, there are thousands,” said Christos Giovannis, a Larnaca boat skipper, in a recent interview with Australia’s ABC News.
The term Pterois miles, the scientific name of the fish, comes from the Greek “pteron,” meaning “wing”, and the Latin “miles,” meaning “soldier.”
The new sightings of the lionfish off Crete follow the discovery that another invasive species from the tropics has entered Greek waters.
In June, an enormous, toxic fish, known as “Lagocephalus” or the Silver-cheeked toadfish, was caught by fishermen near Ierapetra, in southern Crete.
In recent years, this fish, classified as a “highly toxic invasive fish,” have been known to enter the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. They have been spotted off Crete, the Dodecanese archipelago and the islands of the southern Aegean.
Similar to other pufferfish, Lagocephalus are extremely poisonous if eaten because they contains tetrodotoxin in their ovaries, and to a lesser extent in their skin, muscles, and liver. This substance serves to protect the species from voracious predators.