Jan 142010
photo provided courtesy of Mister.Tee on Flickr Creative CommonsHomeIndo-Pacific Oceans
Habitatcoral reefs, rocky coastal shelves
Nicheambush predator
Favorite Foodsmall fish
Lengthup to two feet
Threatshabitat destruction, exotic fish trade, bottom trolling fishing practices
Notable Featurehighly venomous

The estuarine stonefish is one of five species of synanceia, a group of unusual scale-less fishes that inhabit tropical waters. However, this species is commonly known just as the stonefish. These grotesque fish are both masters of camouflage and killing in their underwater lair.

Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, delivering a powerful toxin through sharp spines on their dorsal fins. What makes the stonefish so terrifying is that it’s nearly impossible to see when it’s sitting motionless on the sea floor. As an ambush predator, it relies on its ability to blend in with its surroundings. Many divers have discovered the sinister nature of this fish the hard way, in excruciating pain after stepping on what they thought was a stone. If the antivenin is not promptly administered to reverse the effects of the deadly toxin, what started as an unfortunate accident could quickly turn fatal.

Stonefish don’t use their venom for hunting because they don’t need it. Few fish even know of a stonefish’s presence before they’re gobbled up. The stonefish has eyes set on the top of its head, so it can remain completely motionless piled in sand and mud until its victim is practically touching its body. It then strikes with lightning speed, sucking the unfortunate fish into its huge mouth.

Although stonefish encounters can prove deadly, the number of those encounters in the wild is steadily decreasing. Destruction of their rocky reef habitats, collection as exotic aquarium fish, and bottom trolling fishing has devastated populations in the South Pacific. They are now an endangered species.