Mediterranean invaded by poisonous lion fish

The common lion fish (Pterois volitans) was originally 'only' found in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, South Africa and east of Sumatra. Lion fish are carnivores with a life span of up to 15 years. The largest of lion fish can grow to about 40 centimeters in length. Predators of lion fish are mostly larger lion fish. Despite the problems it causes, lion fishes are very suitable for human consumption.

The lion fish has now made its way to the Aegean Sea, particularly in the waters around the Greek island of Rhodes. It first appeared in the summer of 2015 after it swam into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

The Hydrobiological station of the Greek Center of Sea Research based on Rhodes recently issued an announcement on the appearance of the common lionfish in the Aegean Sea. 

The station warned that the fish’s venomous spines inject a powerful protein-based toxin in their prey. In fact they are so poisonous that they even might be deadly to humans. Its population is known for rapidly multiplying and for this reason is listed as an invasive species. First caught in fishing nets in January 2016 in the shallow waters off Faliraki beach and then off Lindos, both specimens are now on display at the Rhodes Aquarium.

But if these lionfishes are caught in waters around Rhodes, the surely must swim around Cyprus too? And yes they do. They are a danger to fishermen, divers, swimmers and spear hunters even though they use their spines to sting for defensive reasons, not offensive. Someone could touch a dead lion fish and still get injured. Even though they are not usually fatal, the pain and allergic reaction can be severe. If stung by a lion fish, it is recommended to immerse the wound in hot (but not scalding) water for about 30 minutes as soon as possible - the toxin quickly– this helps denature the lionfish venom and decrease pain.

Venomous or poisonous?

The terms venomous and poisonous are often used interchangeably, but incorrectly. There is, in fact, a difference between a venomous organism and a poisonous organism. Both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that is injurious or even lethal to another organism. However, the real difference between the two involves how that toxin is delivered.

Venomous organisms deliver or inject venom directly into other organisms. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, do not deliver their toxins directly. The entire body or large parts of it, may contain the poisonous substance. These organisms may be harmful when eaten or even touched.

The short answer is therefore: if it bites you and you die, it is venomous. If you bite it and die, it is poisonous.

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