Stone fish

Loaded with a poisonous toxin, the stone fish can inflict excruciating pain and possible death onto the unwary with its 13 dorsal spines. Dwelling among stony, muddy areas the most common cause of injury is usually from swimmers or waders accidentally stepping on a stone fish. To find out more about this fascinating creature and what to do if you encounter one, read on.

What does a stone fish look like?

The name is a giveaway. Extremely well camouflaged the fish looks like an encrusted rock or a lump of coral. Stonefish can be either brown or grey with patches of yellow, red, or orange and they range in size from 35cm – 50cm, although it is rare to see stonefish as large as 50cm.

Where do they live?

You’ll find stone fish all along the Australian coastline, from Shark Bay in Western Australia to Tweed River in New South Wales, living among rock on coral reefs and in estuaries. They typically reside in the shallow coastal waters, lying motionless, partially buried, and very well camouflaged among rocks, reef, or aquatic plants.  

How do they sting?

The back is lined with 13 sharp and strong dorsal fin spines. At the base of each spine, there are two venom glands. It is not the piercing of the skin that causes the most harm, but the venom released through ducts in the spine. When the fish is threatened or disturbed it will stay in its position and erect these dorsal fin spines.

What are the symptoms of the sting?

The venom from the dorsal fin spines can cause extremely painful wounds. The severity of the symptoms depends on the depth of penetration and the number of spines penetrated. The symptoms of the venom are muscle weakness, temporary paralysis and shock, which may result in death if not treated.

How can I avoid being stung?

If exploring reef flats, or walking on the beach at low tide, wear sturdy footwear. Stings usually occur on the feet of unsuspecting swimmers or waders.

What should I do if stung?

  • Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and soak the affected area in hot water (no hotter than can be easily tolerated) to relieve the pain.
  • Once under medical supervision, your vitals will be measured and monitored, any remaining debris will be cleaned from the wound, and you may be given an antiserum to reverse the effects of the venom.

How long will it take me to recover if stung?

This depends on the severity and location of the sting on the body, but you can expect around 24 to 48 hours.  

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