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What are the Poisonous Fish Species?

by Nazım Ofluoğlu 18 Apr 2024

The oceans and seas of our planet are teeming with biting, electric shock-inducing, and venomous creatures. Humans live in a world invaded by numerous potentially dangerous creatures. The truth is, in only a few cases do these animals intentionally attack: a combination of ignorance and carelessness. Consequently, accidents become inevitable. We must bear in mind that we are not the prey of these fish. We should know the answer to this question very well: Are these animals attacking us deliberately or are we triggering them?

Spiny fish are categorized as actively venomous animals. They use this venom to defend themselves and/or catch their prey. There are some simple tips to prevent possible injuries and poisonings while fishing. It benefits to avoid poisonous fish and other marine animals. These can be listed as follows:

Take precautions before fishing!

- Gather information about whether there is a poisonous species, animal, or fish in the place you are going.

- It is beneficial to have good regional knowledge in potentially dangerous, fauna-rich seas, try to get information from locals, and take precautions accordingly.

- Don't touch anything you don't know.

- Watch your step (there may be stranded sea urchins or fish).

Myliobatiformes (Cartilaginous Fish)

They are creatures with tail-like whips. Their bodies flatten to a circular or rhomboidal shape. They are the only venomous fish species that can cause deep wounds. Poisonous spines; they can be different shapes, sizes, and positions on the top of the tail, depending on the species structure of the family. They are usually buried on the seabed and in mud structures in the water. Therefore, most accidents occur as a result of involuntary body movements.

The spine is located at the tip of the tail. This allows for a wide reach, but it is only used as a weapon for defense. The spine is hard and its edges are barbed. The poison consists of components that can affect the heart muscles. In addition to the wound, symptoms include: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, circulatory disorders, and anxiety.

There are two poisonous species in the Mediterranean: Rough-Tailed Stingray, also known as Rina fish (Dasyatis centroura) and Thornback Ray (Dasyatis pastinaca). They can reach up to 210 cm in length and have a rhomboidal shape. Rough-Tailed Stingrays have bony tubercles on the middle of the back and tail. Feeding on crustaceans, cephalopods, and small fish, these creatures abound in coastal waters. On the other hand, Thornback Rays, which also live in coastal waters, have a tail without bony tubercles on the back.

Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfish)

Scorpaenidae fish have a sturdy body and large pectoral fins. They have a large head structure. Their color can be brown, reddish, and irregular.

Most species live on rocks or behind corals, making them risky species. It is almost impossible to see these species without careful observation. Depending on the amount of venom, there may be a decrease in respiration and an increase in cramps in the pulmonary arteries. The sharp spines placed in front of the dorsal fin, the first three of the tail fin, and the first two of the ventral fins are poisonous.

Scorpaena scrofa (Scorpionfish): In the Mediterranean, venomous spiny species belonging to Scorpaena are: Small Red Scorpionfish (Scorpaena notata) and Brown Scorpionfish (Scorpaena porcus).

The Large-Scaled Scorpionfish is the largest species in the Mediterranean (it can grow up to 50 cm). They live on rocky and sandy seabeds. They can be easily identified by their separated membranous long dorsal spines. On the other hand, the small red scorpionfish has a short tentacle above each eye, with no additional ones on the chin. It measures approximately 20 cm and has a black spot on its dorsal fin. Finally, the Brown Scorpionfish has large tentacles above its eyes and on its chin.

Scorpionfish Venom and Stings

When a scorpionfish is caught, held, or stepped on by a predator, it erects its spines and injects its venom. The venom contains a mixture of neurotoxins. Typical symptoms of poisoning include; intense, throbbing pain lasting up to 12 hours; reaching its peak within the first one or two hours after the sting. Additionally, redness, bruising, numbness, and swelling occur at the sting site. Severe reactions include; nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, tremors, decreased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and abnormal heart rhythms. Paralysis, seizures, and death are possible. Young and elderly individuals are more sensitive compared to healthy adults. Death is rare, but those with allergies may experience anaphylactic shock.

The first step when faced with such a situation should be to immediately remove the person from the water to prevent drowning. While vinegar can be applied to reduce pain; the venom can be inactivated by soaking the sting area in hot water for 30 to 90 minutes. Tweezers should be used to remove any remaining spines, the area should be washed with soap and water, and finally rinsed with clean water.

Even though the venom may seem to be inactive, urgent medical intervention is necessary for all scorpionfish, lionfish, and stonefish stings. It must be ensured that there are no spine residues in the tissue.

Pterois (Lionfish)

They live in coastal areas, at depths of up to 50 meters. The venomous lionfish, which poses a significant danger to humans with its secreted poison, can cause serious problems. They are species of fish that usually inhabit the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Feeding on small fish, they reproduce rapidly. Poisonous lionfishes, which also cause significant damage to the marine ecosystem, pose a great risk for fishermen.

Trachinidae (Weeverfishes)

These fishes have a long and laterally flattened body. The mouth is wide and directed upwards.

All species live on sandy seabeds where they bury themselves. Venomous spines are on the dorsal fin and gill cover. Intense pain and sweating, nausea occur in the affected area. It causes secondary infections.

Striped Weever: Two venomous species are found in the Mediterranean region Trachinus radiatus and the larger Trachinus draco. Identifiability for the weever is as follows: It has dark spots; a gray, brown, yellowish body; a spine covered with six black nebram on the first dorsal fin.

Rabbitfishes (Rabbitfish)

These are typical coral reef species found in lagoons in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with only those living in algae-covered rocky seabeds found in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their body is oval, with a small head and mouth.

It is difficult to observe and examine this fish, which has spines all over its body. Poisonous spines are found on the 13th dorsal fin, 7th caudal fin, and 2nd ventral fin. The venom causes a sharp pain but does not have much effect on the body. It likely subsides within a few hours. Small swelling may occur in the area, which will go away the next day.

Marbled Spinefoot Rabbitfish (Siganus rivulatus) has an irregular brown spotted and khaki-colored body. It can be confused with the Sarpa salpa. It is an invasive species.

Lagocephalus sceleratus (Pufferfish)

Pufferfish causes a decrease in the population of marine organisms in the area where it exists. It damages the eggs and larvae of native fish. It leads to poisoning due to its toxin content.


Like other pufferfish, it is highly poisonous when eaten because it contains tetrodotoxin in its ovaries and to a lesser extent in its skin, muscles, and liver. This protects it from greedy predators. By eating bacteria containing toxins, it becomes poisonous. This lethal substance causes involuntary muscle paralysis, which can lead to its victims stopping breathing or heart failure.

The toxin contained in the pufferfish leads to the following symptoms in the human body:

Numbness in arms and legs, Dizziness followed by sweating, Vomiting, Bruising, Difficulty speaking, and Paralysis.

The distribution area of the pufferfish is Marmaris and the Gökova region.

The most common cases of poisoning during fishing are scorpionfish and weeverfish. Neutralizing the poisons of these creatures is very simple. The most correct method is "hot water." Hot water is the best way to neutralize the poisons of many poisonous fish. You can reduce or eliminate poisoning with hot water massages that won't burn you.

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