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The Mediterranean sand smelt, Atherina hepsetus, is a species of fish in the Atherinidae family.

Mediterranean sand smelt
Atherina hepsetus Stefano Guerrieri 1.jpg
Mediterranean sand smelt
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Atheriniformes
Family: Atherinidae
Genus: Atherina
Species: A. hepsetus
Binomial name
Atherina hepsetus
Linnaeus, 1758



Atherina hepsetus

The body is rather long, slender and moderately flattened. The mouth is protrusible, directed upward with small teeth; the head and body are scaly.

The lower jaw has an upper expansion within the mouth (high dentary bone).

Two separate dorsal fins, all rays of first and 1-2 anterior rays of second dorsal fin are unsegmented, with the remaining rays segmented. The anal fin is similar to the second dorsal fin, while the caudal fin is forked.

Body is silverish white, darker on the back, with the light blue horizontal stripe extending to the tail.

The maximum size is 20 cm, but usually it is about 15 cm in length.

Although rather small, as a carnivorous species, it feeds on pelagic copepods and benthic crustaceans.

In the Mediterranean, it spawns from December to May.


It is a pelagic-neritic, brackishwater / marine fish, widespread in the eastern Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco including Madeira and the Canary Islands. It is also found in the western Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Seas.


The major small-scale fishing gears exploiting this species are the various coastal beach seines, small mesh size (10 mm) gill nets and lift-nets.

Rarely it can be caught on very small hook, baited with small chunks of fish meat.

Live Mediterranean sand smelt is excellent bait for many predatory species that feed on this gregarious fish.


The meat is mostly deep fried with larger specimens sometimes prepared as part of mixed fish stew or soup.