Tropical Indian and Pacific oceans from the Red Sea to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Coral and rocky reefs
Order Scorpaeniformes (scorpionfishes and relatives), Family Synanceiidae (stonefishes)
The world’s most venomous fish is a close relative to the scorpionfishes, known as the stonefish. Through its dorsal fin spines, the stonefish can inject a venom that is capable of killing an adult person in less than an hour. In nature, the stonefish does not use its venom to capture prey, but instead to avoid predation. The venom is extremely painful and is likely quite effective at turning away even the strongest potential predators.
Stonefish are masters of camouflage and can blend in so perfectly with their surroundings that their prey, predators, and even human SCUBA divers have trouble seeing them at all. They almost always sit perfectly still, on the sea floor, in their preferred habitat of coral and rocky reefs, and their colors are often a perfect match for the substrate. Some individuals have even been observed with algae growing on them. While this camouflage gives them further protection from predators, its primary purpose is to allow stonefish to ambush their prey. They eat other reef fishes and some bottom dwelling invertebrates, but they do not actively pursue these animals. Instead, they wait for dinner to come to them. Waiting for hours at a time, stonefish strike when their potential prey is less than their body length away. Their powerful jaws and large mouths create so much pressure that they are easily able to suck down their unsuspecting prey and swallow it whole.
Stonefish are only rarely eaten by people, and there is not a targeted fishery for this species, though individuals are sometimes caught for the private aquarium trade. Population trends are not currently known, but there is no evidence to suggest that human activity threatens the stonefish. However, as human activity does continue to threaten their habitat (coral reefs), it is important for scientists to continue to research this and other species, to ensure that populations are in fact stable.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.