The venom that is produced by stonefish is some of the most venomous in the world, and is fatal to humans. For a complete recovery, a sufficient amount of anti-venom is required quickly to reverse the effects, which start with excruciating pain and swelling. These symptoms develop rapidly causing paralysis, tissue necrosis and even heart failure.
Covered in encrusted brown or grey skin with yellow, orange and red patches, the stonefish has the capability to camouflage very well with their surrounding environment. Not only are they difficult to notice, but due to their size (between 30 and 40 centimetres) they are often mistaken for a stone or part of a coral reef.
Since they’re so difficult to notice, stonefish are often stepped on, which activates the venom sacs. Along their back, stonefish have 13 spines with glands at the base of each one that hold the venom. This venom is only used as a defense mechanism and is released when pressure is applied to their spines; stonefish do not use their venom for hunting.
As carnivores, the stonefish’s diet mainly consists of various shrimps and other fish. Due to their excellent camouflage skills they are able to attack their prey using the element of surprise. They wait patiently for something to swim by, then can attack and swallow their prey in as little as 0.015 seconds. Despite this incredible speed, they are generally very slow swimmers.
Since the arrival of Europeans on Australian shores there have been no recorded deaths from stonefish stings in the country, despite this most venomous fish in the world hiding in the waters. However, many people have suffered stonefish stings by unintentionally stepping on them, resulting in anti-venom being created in the late 1950s to prevent the worst from happening.
As long as their surrounding area remains moist, stonefish can survive up to 24 hours by absorbing oxygen through their skin. This is often seen during retreating tides, which leave them partially exposed; however, after this they will generally die from suffocation and dehydration.
Having witnessed the excruciating pain caused by stonefish for hundreds of years, Aborigines performed an ancient dance ritual as a lesson. To teach others about the dangers of this creature, the dancer displays this agony before jolting to the ground and succumbing to death.