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The most deadly of all fish venoms comes from the stonefish. Its venom glands are near the bottom of the needle-like spines on its dorsal fin. The stonefish got its name because it looks so much like a rock. It spends most of its time on the ocean floor, half buried in sand. If you accidentally step on a stonefish, the pressure of your foot will cause the venom glands to eject poison along the spines and into your foot. When this happened to a swimmer in South Africa, the swimmer lived for only about two hours after the accident.

Like turkeyfishes, stonefishes live in the Indo-Pacific Region (but unlike the lionfish, there are no stonefishes in Hawaii). In Australia and other areas of the Indo-Pacific, you can get an antivenin (a serum containing an antitoxin that will fight the poison) for the stonefish venom.


There are a lot of different species of catfishes. Some have long narrow bodies that look like eels, while most are more "fishlike" in appearance. Most catfishes have barbels or feelers (they sort of look like whiskers) on each side of their upper jaw and sometimes on their lower jaw. Many of them have spines on their dorsal (top) and pectoral (lower side) fins, and some of them are venomous. One species is the elecric catfish, which lives in tropical central Africa and the Nile valley. It is able to discharge as much as 100 volts at one time. An electric catfish can grow to as much as 4 feet long and weigh fifty pounds. Ancient Egyptians included pictures of this special fish on their tombs.

photo by Carl Roessler,
A Medical Guide to Hazardous Marine Life,
p. 18




Electric Catfish
photo by John Tashjian,
Living Fishes of the World, p. 43

What You Should Do

The best thing to do is learn to recognize these fishes and stay away from them. Be careful where you step when you are swimming, snorkeling or diving. Early morning and dusk are times when predators (creatures that eat other creatures) do most of their hunting for food, so be especially aware during these times. If you or someone with you is poisoned by one of these venomous fishes, you should get expert medical help as soon as possible. This is especially important if you are poisoned by a stonefish, since you will need the antivenin right away. In the meantime:

1. Cover the wound with water that is as hot as you can tolerate, but not so hot that it will burn your skin. This will ease the pain. It will usually take between 30 to 90 minutes for the pain to get better.

2. Remove any pieces of the spine or sheath that you see. Scrub the wound with soap and water; then pour lots of fresh water (not ocean water) over it.

3. Do not tape the wound closed.

4. If the injury is infected or if the puncture wound is deep, you will need to take antibiotics (medicine that kills germs), for about 7 to 10 days. Some antibiotics make your skin sensitive to the sun, so you may need to stay inside during that time.

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