Stonefish are the most venomous fish known. They inhabit the coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific ocean. With texture skin and a mottled colouring, they blend in perfectly with the corals and rocks on which they lie waiting to ambush their prey. Their spines contain a powerful neurotoxin that target cellular membranes. The breakdown of tissue in the afflicted creature can cause infections even long after the wounds and affected tissue are properly treated. The toxins also affect white blood cells, further complicating wounds and making infections more persistent.
Stings are potentially lethal, and they are extremely painful. Humans occasionally step on these fish, resulting in defensive stings. Hot water has the potential to denature the toxins, reducing discomfort and risk for victims. In more extreme cases, antivenom is required. Stings are most often delivered when the stonefish is stepped on, but stings can also happen when the fish is picked up. Due to the well-known risk of touching these fish, such instances are rare. The fish's appearance also deters people from trying to pick them up. Stonefish can survive up to 24 hours out of water and unsuspecting beach-goers might be tempted to try to return them to the ocean if they wash ashore.
This stonefish was found on a coral pillar that rose steeply to a point 20m (60 feet) below the surface in Papua New Guinea. Scuba divers were fascinated by the creature that resembled a large stone with an enormous frowning mouth. Almost motionless, the fish was nearly impossible to detect among the rough coral.
Surprisingly, stonefish are perfectly safe to eat and removing the spines renders them harmless. Cooking further reduces risk of eating the flesh since heat denatures their venom. Their flesh is firm and sweet and considered to be a delicacy. Properly prepared, stonefish are also consumed as sushi and sashimi.