I like writing about venomous creatures. Animals that rely on deadly toxins rather than large claws or sharp teeth are really cool. I do, however, value my health rather highly, and so try to avoid venomous animals as much as possible. So I’ll keep writing about them, but I’ll never go to Australia.

See how easy it would be to mistake one for a rock? Kind of cool, aren’t they?
Image by NOAA Photo Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The reef stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. They belong to the stonefish family, which is confusing, since the reef stonefish is often just called the ‘stonefish’. So for the rest of this post, when I use stonefish, I’m referring specifically to the reef stonefish.

Reef stonefish are fairly widespread, living in tropical waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Stonefish are typically found in shallow areas, specifically in and around rocky habitats. Their favourite places are coral reefs.

This is a problem for swimmers, who may step on the fish, giving themselves a nasty sting. The stonefish’s name comes from its habit of posing as a rock, which means that the chances of someone stepping on one are that much greater. The brown and grey colouring of stonefish helps them blend in. They usually reach sizes of 30 to 40 cm, though some can get to be over 51 cm long. The spines on the back of the stonefish are what transmit the fish’s venom, so watch out for those!

Some people might think stonefish are pretty. Image by Richard Ling, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These spines not only have two venom sacs each, they are very sharp and quite strong. Stonefish spines can go through boot soles, so don’t think you’re safe just because you’re wearing shoes. If you do get stung, be prepared for a lot of pain, paralysis, and tissue death. Stonefish stings can be fatal to young and old people, but stings usually don’t kill healthy adults. There can be permanent nerve damage to the affected area though, so try to avoid stepping on a stonefish.

Stonefish are sometimes sold as pets for aquaria — which I’m not sure I would want if I had an aquarium. They are fairly funny looking, but having such a venomous creature near me would make me nervous. What if I stepped on one while I was cleaning the tank?

Cover image by Rickard Zerpe, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit