sand smelt

Scientific name Atherina presbyter
Descriptor Cuvier
Year of description 1829
IUCN category (World) LC
Family Atherinidae
Genus Atherina
Atherina presbyter Atherina presbyter


Atherina presbyter is a fish found in cold and temperate seawater from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and along the Saharan coasts of Africa.

Who is it?


  • Average size
    18 cm
  • Maximum size
    20 cm
  • Longevity
    4 year
  • Average size
    18 cm
  • Maximum size
    20 cm
  • Longevity
    4 year

How to recognize the sand smelt ?

Atherina presbyter is a fusiform fish, with a nearly transparent body that is silvery-gray in color with blue-green to yellow reflections. The transparency allows for the discernment of the lateral line scales.

The fins are translucent. The pelvic fins are located above the pectoral fins.

Sexual dimorphism

There is no apparent dimorphism in this species.

Behaviour & Life cycle

  • diet
  • Male sociability
    living in shoals
  • Female sociability
    living in shoals
  • territorial
  • Way of living

The Atherina presbyter is a lively fish that lives in large shoals near the surface, close to the shore. At night, it moves closer to the bottom in search of planktonic prey.

This species undergoes seasonal migrations in the Atlantic.


  • Reproduction

The Atherina presbyter is an oviparous fish that spawns in open water from spring to late summer. The eggs attach to surfaces (algae, rocks, etc.) and develop until hatching. The 7-millimeter larvae are part of the plankton.

This species has rapid growth, with size increasing significantly in the first year.

Harmless species

This species presents no particular danger to humans in case of encounter in its natural environment.

Where to find it?

Geographic distribution & Conservation

This species, being observed in very large shoals, is not currently threatened.

Atherina presbyter is mainly artisanally caught with seine nets.

The main threat is water warming. This warming forces the species to migrate further north for survival. The Mediterranean sand smelt population could then disappear.

What is its habitat?

Natural environment characteristics

  • Temperature
    8 - 26 °C
  • Depth
    0 - 50 m

Biotope presentation

This species migrates vertically in the water column on a daily basis. During the day, the fish swim near the surface, while at night they descend close to the bottom, up to 50 meters.

Species of the same biotope

To go further

To read on the web

Sources & Contributions

Participation & Validation

The Fishipedia team and specialist contributors are committed to providing high-quality content. However, although the information comes from scientific sources or testimonials from specialists, the cards may contain inaccuracies.

Adrien Falzon

Adrien Falzon

Nans Gourgousse

Nans Gourgousse


Translation done with the valuable contribution of our translators, who make this information available to a wider audience. We sincerely thank them for their commitment.

Bibliographic references

The Early Life History of The Sand Smelt (Atherina Presbyter) - A. W. H. Turnpenny - R. N. Bamber - Cambridge University Press - 2009.

Reproductive biology of the sand smelt Atherina presbyter Cuvier, 1829 (Pisces: Atherinidae) in the central-east Atlantic - Teresa Moreno - José Juan Castro - Juan Socorro - Elsevier Ltd - 2005.

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Template and content © Fishipedia - Unauthorized reproduction without prior request - ISSN 2270-7247 - Last modification 12/11/2023

Scientific partners

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