Getting its name from its stone-like appearance, the Stonefish is without a doubt one of the ugliest fish in the sea. This excellent disguise allows it to blend in with the background as it waits for its prey, typically small fish, to wander close enough to wolf down. This fish is found in the coastal reefs along the indo-pacific regions, especially the Red Sea and Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In addition to its gruesome looks, the Stonefish is one of the most venomous fish known to man, and has sharp, venomous spines that contain enough poison to kill a man if accidentally stepped on. The Stonefish secrete powerful neurotoxins from the base of their dorsal fin spine, which is extremely lethal to human beings. What makes this fish even more dangerous is its stone or rock like appearance that allows it to camouflage itself perfectly with the surrounding reef. This has been the main cause for so many unsuspecting divers coming in contact with the sting of the Stonefish which is extremely painful and can cause tissue death, shock, and paralysis.
Stonefish are predatory and live on small fish and invertebrates, and are hunted in turn by larger fish such as rays and sharks. They often grow to a length of 30-40 cms (12 -16 inches) long, and have 13 spines on their back that inject the toxin when pressure is placed on them.
The symptoms of a Stonefish sting can range from an intense throbbing pain, with redness, swelling numbness and tingling in the affected area, followed by severe reactions including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, seizures and paralysis. First aid treatment should be to immerse the wound for 30-90 minutes in as hot water as the victim can tolerate, to break down the protein in the venom, then scrub the affected area, attempting to remove any stings still present in the wound, and to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Scuba divers are therefore advised to be very cautious when diving near reefs and wrecks, and are always advised against touching any surface on a dive. In shallower reef waters, scuba divers and people snorkeling should always keep their fins on, or wear dive booties, to prevent stepping on a Stonefish accidentally while exiting and entering the water.
Strangely enough, several aquarium hobbyists keep Stonefish in their marine tanks where they are hugely popular, and in Hong Kong and some parts of Asia, this fish is sold in commercial markets to be consumed.