Lionfish are invading the Mediterranean

Mary Beth Griggs
Whole Foods Offering Invasive Species To Florida Customers
Whole Foods Offering Invasive Species To Florida Customers

Lionfish have already unleashed their fury on ecosystems across the waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean here in the Western Hemisphere. Now, these beautiful, highly venomous predators are set to tear the Mediterranean apart.

In a paper published today in Marine Biodiversity Records researchers found that lionfish had colonized the shoreline of one Mediterranean island in just a single year.

RELATED: Incredible images of lionfish

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"Until now, few sightings of the alien lionfish Pterois miles have been reported in the Mediterranean and it was questionable whether the species could invade this region like it has in the western Atlantic," Demetris Kletou, co-author of the paper said in a statement. "But we've found that lionfish have recently increased in abundance, and within a year have colonized almost the entire south eastern coast of Cyprus, assisted by sea surface warming."

Lionfish were originally found in the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They likely ended up in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic after being released from home aquariums. The invasion of the Mediterranean has different roots.

The expansion of the Suez canal has given lionfish even more access to the Mediterranean Sea, and warming water temperatures have provided the perfect environment for the invasive species.

A lionfish invasion is particularly worrying because they can eat their way through the food chain, devouring all kinds of fish and crustaceans, including commercially important species. They also reproduce at an alarming pace, with each female lionfish producing about 2 million eggs per year.

In North Carolina, lionfish are eating so much that some individuals are considered obese. In Florida, some have resorted to cannibalism because of the high numbers there. This year, Florida also started the Lionfish Challenge encouraging divers to kill as many lionfish as they possibly could. Maybe that tradition will spread to the Mediterranean as well.