When Stonefish Attack

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Stonefish venom causes some of the worst stings in the world! Its camouflage makes their spines difficult to detect. Here’s what you need to know about the Synanceia aka stone fish!

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The Synanceiidae, more popularly known as the stonefish, is an incredibly camouflaged marine creature. Their name is derived from their peculiar appearance. They look like rocks and, since they usually swim close to the ocean’s floor, can be easily mistaken. Their bodies are typically a dark shade of brown and they lack scales. They tend to cover themselves in algae to help better mimic the stones around them. They feed off other fish and several different crustaceans, lurking quietly until one swims past them. Most of the stonefish species are adapted to marine environments, but some can live in rivers, making them overall versatile fish. They have several spiky dorsal fin spines, which they can stick up when want to hunt for food. They’re often described as being among the world’s most venomous fish. What’s amazing about stonefish is that they are able to survive out of the water for up to a full day, as long as they remain moist. They achieve this incredible feat by breathing through their skin instead of their gills. After 24 hours, though, if they don’t manage to slip back into the ocean, they’ll perish from dehydration. The stonefish is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries and it’s very important to remove their dorsal fins.

All five species of stonefish inhabit the Indian and Pacific oceans, usually near the coasts and beaches. There are a few exceptions, as mentioned earlier, which are able to survive in rivers. Stonefish usually lie on the ocean floor near coral reefs, and next to rocks in order to properly camouflage themselves. They tend to hide just beneath the sand, so that their disguise increases their chances to catch fresh prey. They’re especially prominent around the Australian, Fijian, Chinese and Japanese beaches as well as the Philippines but they’re also found in other countries. Their dorsal fins feature more than 13 different spines as well as other hidden spikes that remain underneath their skin. They use their sharp spikes to defend themselves from their natural predators, among which there are several types of sharks and rays. These fish live both within groups and as lone individuals and are capable of surviving without the help of others in their species for almost their entire lives. Their life expectancy in the wild is between 5 and 10 years.

The stonefish is a slow swimmer. It can spring into action and eat its prey in less than 0.015 seconds. They wait until the very last second. Their large mouth and strong jaws allow them to generate enough pressure on their prey to swallow food almost whole, before they can even react. It’s easy to step on the stonefish, mainly because you’d be mistaking it for just another rock. Its venom is released when pressure is applied on the spines. Each single one has a small gland that frees the poison, and the harder it presses the more venom it’ll inject.

In the 1950s, anti-venom was developed. Antibiotics are also necessary. It’s hard to avoid stepping on a stonefish, as they tend to look just like another stone from the surface, so the only way to prevent a sting is not to enter the water barefooted. It’s possible to keep yourself from walking on any stones, but it depends on the specific beach you are visiting, as the ocean floor might be filled with various rocks.

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