Deadly master of disguise
The stonefish is a member of the scorpionfish family and is the most venomous fish in the world. With its mealy-mouthed expression, this fish looks permanently grumpy but then again in real life you’d probably never know notice. One of nature’s best masters of disguise the fish is able to camouflage itself perfectly among the corals, where it lies in wait for an unsuspecting passing fish.
What’s all that venom used for?
Defence. The stonefish is vulnerable to attacks by bottom-feeding predators like sharks and rays. So its deadly row of 13 venomous spines along its back is basically for protection. It’s only when it is actually stepped on (or rather nibbled on) that the venom in these spines is expelled as a natural defensive reflex.
Chances of stepping on one?
Quite high, if you’re not careful. Not only does it simply look like a stone, it enjoys shallow waters and can often be encountered (rather than spotted!) washed up from exposed sand and mud in tidal inlets where it can survive outside of water for 24 hours (see video below). What makes the stonefish even more difficult to spot is that no matter how close you get, it simply won’t move.
And what would happen if…
When stood on, the stonefish will lock its spines into an upright, vertical position to deliver its deadly dose of venom. The next thing that would happen would be you feeling excruciating pain! A huge swelling would rapidly develop. Common symptoms included muscle weakness, temporary paralysis and shock. If you didn’t get treated with anti-venom in a couple of hours and were unlucky enough to have been hit with a huge dose – you could well die too.
Thanks to more awareness of the dangers of walking barefoot in waters frequented by these fish and the development of effective antivenom – there have been no reported fatal attacks by stonefish since 1936.
Where does it live?
It can be found around reefs in the Indo-Pacific region and Northern Australia.
It is one helluva fast eater. Whilst lying on the seabed looking for all the world like an encrusted rock, it waits to ambush small fish and shrimps that swim by. When they do, as you’ll see in the below video the stonefish opens its mouth with lightning speed and wolfs them down – often attacks can last for less than 0.1 of a second! Despite this impressive lunch gulping ability, it is not the fastest eater in town. No that honour belong to the fleshy star-nosed mole.