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Title: Stonefish  
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Subject: CSL Limited, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, Synanceiidae, Newport Aquarium, Venomous fish, List of reef fish of the Red Sea, Red Sea species hazardous to humans, Synanceia
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Type species Synanceia verrucosa, 1801 illustration
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Synanceiidae
Genus: Synanceia
Bloch and J. G. Schneider, 1801

Synanceia is a genus of fish of the family Synanceiidae, the Stonefishes, whose members are venomous, dangerous, and even fatal to humans. It is one of the most venomous fish currently known in the world.[1][2] They are found in the coastal regions of Indo-Pacific oceans as well as off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean.

Habitat and characteristics

Synanceia are primarily marine, though some species are known to live in rivers. Its species have potent neurotoxins secreted from glands at the base of their needle-like dorsal fin spines which stick up when disturbed or threatened.[3] The vernacular name of the species, the stonefish, derives from the stonefish's ability to camouflage itself with a grey and mottled color similar to the color of a stone.[4] Swimmers may not notice them, and may inadvertently step on them, triggering a sting. When the stonefish is disturbed, it may inject an amount of venom proportional to the amount of pressure applied to it.


The type species of the genus is Synanceia verrucosa, and it includes the species Synanceia horrida that Linnaeus described as Scorpaena. The authors of Synanceia are Marcus Elieser Bloch and Johann Gottlob Schneider in the latter's republication of Systema Ichthyologiae iconibus cx illustratum (Illustrated catalog of Fishes), in 1801. The description was accompanied by an illustration by J. F. Hennig. The misspelling Synanceja is regarded as a synonym for this genus.


The following is a list of species in the genus:[5]

Treatment of envenomation

There have been unproven reports of osteo-arthritic sufferers experiencing improved mobility and reduction in joint pain following an envenomation episode. The responsible agent has not been identified.

The pain is said to be so severe that the victims of its sting have been known to demand that the affected limb be amputated.

"I got spiked on the finger by a Stonefish in Australia … never mind a bee sting. … Imagine having each knuckle, then the wrist, elbow and shoulder being hit in turn with a sledgehammer over the course of about an hour. Then about an hour later imagine taking a real kicking to both kidneys for about 45 minutes so that you couldn’t stand or straighten up. I was late 20s, pretty fit physically and this was the tiniest of nicks. Got sensation back in my finger after a few days but had recurrent kidney pains periodically for several years afterwards."
—Stonefish victim[6]

Recommended treatments include the application of heat to the affected area and antivenom. Using hot water at a temperature no lower than 45 °C (113 °F), applied to the injured area has been found to destroy stonefish venom, and causes minimal discomfort to the victim. For more extreme cases, antivenom is to be used.[7]

Stonefish stings in Australia

Stonefish stings in Australia can cause envenomation and death if not treated. The stonefish is one of the most venomous fish in the world[8] and when stepped on by a human forces venom into the foot. Most stonefish stings occur as a result of stepping on the creature while it is less common for the fish to sting when it is picked up.[9] Stonefish stings can occur on the beach, not just in the water, with stonefish being able to stay out of the water for up to 24 hours. They often cannot be seen easily as they look similar to rocks or coral. Stonefish antivenom is the second-most administered in Australia.[10]

Aborigines knew of the venom of the stonefish and had corroborees which involve re-enacting death from someone who trod on the fish. The Aborigines of Northern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef had different ways of preparing the fish for eating to avoid poisoning.[11]

After stonefish envenomation, the amount of anti-venom given depends on the number of puncture wounds from the stonefish spines.[12]

Number of incidents

There were 25 cases of the use of antivenom for stonefish reported to Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for a one-year period between July 1989 and June 1990, with most from Queensland and four from the Northern Territory.[13] There were 14 calls to the Queensland Poisons Information System in 2008 regarding stonefish poison.[14]

Fatal incidents

Name, age Date Species Location
Dr J.L. Wassell 'some years' before 1936 Great Barrier Reef[15]
1915 Thursday Island[16]

Non-fatal incidents

Some notable non-fatal incidents which have appeared in reliable sources are listed below:

Name, age Date Species Location
12-year-old girl 2007 Mooloolaba, Queensland[17]
3-year-old boy October 2004 Moreton Island[18]

As food

Though Synanceia are venomous and dangerous to human beings, they are actually consumed as food in some parts of Asia including south Japan, south Fujian and Guangdong in China and Hong Kong. Their venom is harmless after heating. In the Hokkien speaking area, they are considered delicacies and good for health. The meat of Synanceia is white, dense and sweet, and the skin is also edible. They are usually cooked with ginger into a clear soup, and sometimes served raw as sushi or sashimi.


Further reading

  • FishBase entry

External links

  • National Geographic video, Deadly Stone Fish
  • Reef Stonefish, Synanceia verrucosa Australian museum

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