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What is a stonefish? In short, a creature you don't want to step on

July 13, 2010 |  6:26 pm

What's both venomous and extremely adept at the art of camouflage?

What if we told you this creature lives underwater and possesses a series of dorsal spines that can pack a neurotoxin-filled wallop that's enough to kill an adult human?

This potentially hazardous animal, friends, is the stonefish -- five species that make up the genus Synanceia -- and woe to him (or her) who steps on it, innocently believing it to be a plain old rock. The stonefish doesn't use its venomous spines to catch prey; they're for defensive purposes only. But that doesn't make us any more inclined to want to get up close! Egypt Today writer Richard Hoath recently recalled an encounter with the nowhere-near-as-innocuous-as-it-looks creature:

I have only seen the stonefish once. This was on Jackson Reef in the Gulf of Aqaba. [Toward] the end of the dive, our dive guide pointed out a rock lying in the sandy base of a small ravine that cut into the reef. The guide seemed to be getting very excited by said rock, pointing and gesturing. I moved in closer and it seemed a rather unspectacular rock, rather rough, algae-ridden and certainly not worth a postcard home. And then the rock shot off and disappeared into a labyrinth of reef crevices and crevasses.

Thanks, but no thanks, stonefish. We consider ourselves fortunate that the closest we've ever gotten to you is the National Geographic channel. We're keeping our feet off the Australian ocean floor, if it's all the same to you.

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: A stonefish eats. Credit: diver321 via YouTube

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