Fish Fatale!

Date November 6, 2011

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It looks unassuming, but this is one potent fish! I almost missed this squat and grumpy-looking Hollow-cheeked stonefish as it blended seamlessly with its silty, algae-encrusted surroundings, but as I swam over it, I managed to catch it at just the right angle to pick out the shape of its upturned mouth and spiny dorsal fins, which gave away its position.

Some divers have likened this fish to its cousin the rhinopias. They look similar and are sometimes classified in the same family (Scorpaenidae) but there have been no records of rhinopias in local waters.

Stonefish are ambush predators. They don’t actively hunt their prey. Instead, they lie motionless, relying on their camouflage to remain undetected. When a suitable snack comes close enough, they suck it into their huge mouths, or grab it with a sudden lunge of incredible speed. They generally eat fishes and crustaceans.

Running into a stonefish might mean death if you’re a fish or crab, but you’re just at risk if you’re a human. They are one of the most dangerous fishes on our shores, with tough dorsal fin spines that can penetrate thick soled shoes. These spines act like hypodermic needles, injecting a venom that can be fatal to humans! Stonefishes produce a neurotoxin that is considered the most deadly of fish venoms. While there have been few documented cases of fatalities, a victim should be brought to hospital as soon as possible. Though they are deadly, the fishes use their spines only in self-defence and not for hunting prey.

Despite the mean arsenal, some animals do eat stonefishes! Known predators include sharks, rays, a sea snake, and well, humans of course! I’ve witnessed local fishermen catch these fish with hook and line and they’ve told me that it’s good deep fried to a crisp.

So just how painful is the sting of a stonefish? A victim from Australia describes, “Imagine having each knuckle, then the wrist, elbow and shoulder being hit in turn with a sledgehammer over the course of about an hour. Then about an hour later imagine taking a real kicking to both kidneys for about 45 minutes so that you couldn’t stand or straighten up. I was late 20s, pretty fit physically and this was the tiniest of nicks. Got sensation back in my finger after a few days but had recurrent kidney pains periodically for several years afterwards.” Other stories describe sting victims wanting to have their stung limb amputated from their body. Mother Nature’s Kings of Pain Stings and Bites of Some Animals Are Almost Beyond Endurance, Victims Say By Lauren Cahoon ABC News 26 Feb 08

There have been cases of people getting stung by stonefishes in Singapore. Naturally, they weren’t too happy about it. See more amazing photos and videos of Singapore‚Äôs sea life first on our Facebook Page!

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