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What is a Scorpionfish?

Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin

“Scorpionfish” is the name given to a large family of fish native to the world’s tropical oceans, particularly the Pacific Ocean. Most species of scorpionfish have venomous spines that can cause severe injury or death to its victims, including human beings. Some species, such as the stonefish, have excellent camouflage that can increase a person's chance of accidental contact. Scorpionfish can be dangerous, but they are popular aquarium fish because of their unusual shape and coloration.

Many species of scorpionfish have names that compare them to other, non-aquatic species and objects. These include the alligatorfish, snailfish, oilfish, dragonfish, lionfish, firefish, horsefish, goblinfish and stonefish. Many of these creatures match the classic description of scorpionfish: exotic, often beautiful creatures with vivid coloration and multiple venomous spines. Most scorpionfish are predators that live in shallow waters and hunt or trap their prey. They do not use their spines for hunting, but rather to protect themselves from larger predators.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Keeping scorpionfish as aquarium pets can be challenging. Their predatory nature means they may feast on other fish in the same tank but ignore provided food that is not alive and wriggling. Cleaning a tank or transferring a fish from one tank to another must be executed with care. They are not recommended for households with small children or anyone else who may accidentally reach into the tank.

Humans stung by scorpionfish may suffer a variety of symptoms. Although deaths are rare, several cases have been documented, most before the advent of modern medicine. Less severe symptoms include swelling, fluid accumulation or edema, and excruciating pain. If treatment of the symptoms is postponed or delayed, ulceration of the wound can result, and such ulcers can last for weeks or months. Experts advise treating wounds immediately with hot water, because this lessens the effect of the toxin and reduces the chance of bacterial infection.

Diving and fishing are the activities that most often contribute to accidental encounters with scorpionfish. While deep-sea divers in tropical regions such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef face the greatest risk, inland encounters are also possible. Stonefish and other varieties of scorpionfish sometimes inhabit rivers and creeks, where their natural camouflage makes them virtually invisible to their victims. Scorpionfish spines have been known to penetrate thick-soled boots and other protective clothing, although the resulting injuries were less severe than in those cases in which the spines met and punctured unprotected skin.

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    • Veterinarian with a puppy
      Veterinarian with a puppy