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Type specie Synanceia horrida, 1796 illustration
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Scorpaenidae
Subfamily: Synanceiinae
Tribe: Synanceiini
Genus: Synanceia
Bloch and J. G. Schneider, 1801
Type species
Scorpaena horrida

Synanceia is a genus of ray-finned fish belonging to the subfamily Synanceiinae, the stonefish, which is classified within the family Scorpaenidae, the scorpionfish and relatives. Stonefish are the most venomous fish known; stings can be fatal to humans.[2][3] They are found in the coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific.


Synanceia was first described as a genus in 1801 by the German naturalists Marcus Elieser Bloch and Johann Gottlob Theaenus Schneider with Scorpaena horrida, which had been described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766 from Ambon Island (Indonesia), as its type species.[1][4] The genus Synanceia is classified within the tribe Synanceiini which is one of three tribes in the subfamily Synanceeinae within the family Scorpaenidae.[5] Despite this, other authorities regard Synanceiidae as a valid family and the Synanceiini as the subfamily Synanceiinae.[1] The genus name Synanceia is made up of syn, meaning "with", and angeíon, which means "cavity", an allusion to the large, cavernous heads of the species considered to be in the genus.[6]


Synanceia verrucosa in a public aquarium

Synanceia contains the following species:[7][4]

Image Scientific Name Common Name Distribution
Synanceia alula (Eschmeyer & Rama Rao, 1973) Midget stonefish northern Indian Ocean to the Solomon Islands
Synanceia horrida (Linnaeus, 1766) Estuarine stonefish India to China, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia, and is also recorded in Vanuatu
Synanceia nana (Eschmeyer & Rama Rao, 1973) Red Sea stonefish Red Sea and Persian Gulf
Synanceia platyrhyncha (Bleeker, 1874) Indonesia
Synanceia verrucosa (Bloch and J. G. Schneider, 1801) Reef stonefish Red Sea and Indo-Pacific
Synanceia quinque Matsunuma, Manjaji‑Matsumoto & Motomura, 2021 Indonesia

Habitat and characteristics[edit]

Synanceia are primarily marine, and although some species are known to live in rivers, most live in coral reefs near the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans. The species has potent neurotoxins secreted from glands at the base of their needle-like dorsal fin spines which stick up when disturbed or threatened.[8] The vernacular name of the species, the stonefish, derives from its grey and mottled camouflage similar to the color of a stone.[9] Swimmers may not notice them and inadvertently step on them, triggering a sting. When the stonefish is disturbed, it may inject an amount of venom proportional to the amount of pressure applied to it. [citation needed] Stonefish have the ability to extend sharp, specialized spines (lachrymal saber) as an additional defense mechanism.[10][11]


The venom of Synanceia consists of a proteinaceous toxin called verrucotoxin (VTX), which modulates Ca2+ channel activity through the β-adrenoceptor-cAMP-PKA pathway. In humans, stings can cause intense pain, respiratory weakness, damage to the cardiovascular system, convulsions and paralysis; sometimes they can lead to death. The exact mechanism is not yet fully understood.[12]

Treatment of envenomation[edit]

Stonefish stings are extremely painful and potentially lethal.[13] The two most recommended treatments are the application of heat to the affected area and antivenom. Hot water (at a temperature of at least 45 °C (113 °F))[14] applied to the injured area has been found to denature stonefish venom, and causes minimal discomfort to the victim. Antivenom is used in more extreme cases. Vinegar is found on some Australian beaches as it is said to lessen the pain.[15]

Stonefish stings in Australia[edit]

The stonefish is the most venomous known fish in the world[16] and stings can cause death if not treated.[17] Most stonefish stings occur as a result of stepping on the creature which forces venom into the foot, while it is less common for the fish to sting when it is picked up.[18] Stonefish stings can occur on the beach, not just in the water, since stonefish can survive out of the water for up to 24 hours. They are not easily seen as they look similar to rocks or coral. Stonefish antivenom is the second-most administered in Australia.[19][verification needed]

Some Indigenous Australians have corroborees which involve re-enacting the death of someone who trod on the fish. The Aboriginal people of Northern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef have ways of preparing the fish for eating to avoid poisoning.[20]

After stonefish envenomation, the amount of anti-venom given depends on the number of puncture wounds from the stonefish spines.[21]

Number of incidents[edit]

1936 article from Melbourne newspaper The Argus about venomous stonefish.

There were 25 cases of the use of antivenom for stonefish reported to Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for a one-year period between July 1989 and June 1990, with most from Queensland and four from the Northern Territory.[22] There were 14 calls to the Queensland Poisons Information System in 2008 regarding stonefish poison.[23]

Fatal incidents[edit]

Name Age Date Location
Joseph Leathom Wassell 53 7 April 1915 Thursday Island, Australia[24][20][25]
name not given 58 6 August 2010 Nago, Okinawa, Japan[26]

As food[edit]

Synanceia is edible to humans if properly prepared. The protein-based venom breaks down quickly when heated, and raw stonefish served as part of sashimi is rendered harmless simply by removing the dorsal fins which are the main source of venom. The fish are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia, including south Japan, south Fujian, Guangdong in China, Hong Kong, and some parts of Vietnam. In the Hokkien-speaking area, they are considered delicacies and good for health. The meat of Synanceia is white, dense and sweet, and the skin is also edible. They are usually cooked with ginger into a clear soup, and sometimes served raw as sashimi.

Pop culture[edit]

In "Blue Lagoon (1980)," Emmeline Lestrange (played by Brooke Shields) unknowingly steps on a stonefish and is almost fatally poisoned.[27] The movie was filmed on Espiritu Santo island in Vanuatu, which is known for having stonefish which can grow up to 40 centimeters long.[28]


  1. ^ a b c Eschmeyer, William N.; Fricke, Ron & van der Laan, Richard (eds.). "Genera in the family Synanceiinae". Catalog of Fishes. California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  2. ^ Smith, M.M.; Heemstra, P.C., eds. (2003). Smiths' Sea Fishes. ISBN 1-86872-890-0.
  3. ^ "Puffer Fish". Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b Eschmeyer, William N.; Fricke, Ron & van der Laan, Richard (eds.). "Species in the genus Synanceia". Catalog of Fishes. California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  5. ^ J. S. Nelson; T. C. Grande; M. V. H. Wilson (2016). Fishes of the World (5th ed.). Wiley. pp. 468–475. ISBN 978-1-118-34233-6.
  6. ^ Christopher Scharpf & Kenneth J. Lazara, eds. (10 March 2022). "Order Perciformes (Part 10): Suborder Scorpaenoidei: Families Apistidae, Tetrarogidae, Synanceiidae, Aploacrinidae, Perryenidae, Eschmeyeridae, Pataceidae, Gnathanacanthidae, Congiopodidae and Zanclorhynchidae". The ETYFish Project Fish Name Etymology Database. Christopher Scharpf and Kenneth J. Lazara. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Synanceia". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  8. ^ "Notesthe robusta - Family Scorpaenidae". O'Connor,J. Southern Cross University. Archived from the original on 23 August 2004. Retrieved 14 June 2009.
  9. ^ Pocock, C.A. "Romancing the Reef: history, heritage and the hyper-real." James Cook University Ph.D. Thesis. 2003. Accessed 2009-06-14.
  10. ^ Smith, W. Leo; Smith, Elizabeth; Richardson, Clara (February 2018). "Phylogeny and Taxonomy of Flatheads, Scorpionfishes, Sea Robins, and Stonefishes (Percomorpha: Scorpaeniformes) and the Evolution of the Lachrymal Saber". Copeia. 106 (1): 94–119. doi:10.1643/CG-17-669. S2CID 91157582.
  11. ^ Willingham, AJ (13 April 2018). "Stonefish are already scary, and now scientists have found they have switchblades in their heads". CNN.
  12. ^ Yazawa, K; Wang, JW; Hao, LY; Onoue, Y; Kameyama, M. (August 2007). "Verrucotoxin, a stonefish venom, modulates calcium channel activity in guinea-pig ventricular myocytes". Br J Pharmacol. 151 (8): 1198–1203. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707340. PMC 2189832. PMID 17572694.
  13. ^ Rebecca, Sarah. "The Most Excruciating Pain Known To Man." Scienceray. (29 Dec 2010): 1. Print. "The Most Excruciating Pain Known to Man | Scienceray". Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2012..
  14. ^ White, Julian (2013). A Clinician's Guide to Australian Venomous Bites and Stings: Incorporating the Updated Antivenom Handbook. Melbourne, Victoria: CSL Ltd. ISBN 978-0-646-57998-6.
  15. ^ Taylor, G. (2000). "Toxic fish spine injury: Lessons from 11 years experience". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 30 (1). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2009.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  16. ^ Stonefish Envenomation, adventure medicine Archived 28 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Marine Envenomation, Hornbeak, Kirsten B., and Paul S. Auerbach. Emergency Medicine Clinics 35.2 (2017): 321-337.
  18. ^ "CSL Antivenom Handbook - Stonefish Antivenom". www.toxinology.com. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  19. ^ Stone Fish slk320 Archived 6 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ a b The Poisonous Stone Fish Dreaded Denizen of the North The Argus 14 March 1936
  21. ^ Stonefish antivenom product information Archived 29 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Marine Bites and Stings Dr Mark Little Archived 21 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ annual report 2008, Queensland Poisons Information Centre
  24. ^ Design, UBC Web. "Dr Joseph Leathem Wassell - Monument Australia". monumentaustralia.org.au. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  25. ^ Marine Bites and Stings Dr Mark Little Archived 21 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Okinawan diver dies from stonefish sting".
  27. ^ "Where was The Blue Lagoon filmed?". giggster.com. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  28. ^ Aurimas (10 November 2022). "Dangerous Animals In Vanuatu". Go Look Explore. Retrieved 4 July 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]