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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Be Afraid When Handling Your Catch

Venomous snakes send shivers down many people's spines, but venomous fish are far more common, often ignored. Please note that venomous species of fish outnumber not just such snakes, but all other venomous vertebrates combined. In total, the world's oceans, lakes, and rivers harbor more than 1,200 species of venomous fish. 

Previously, some fish scientist had estimated that there were only 200 venomous fish. The new additions double the number of known venomous vertebrates to more than 2,000 species. Until the new study, scientists had estimated the number of venomous fish species largely from medical records of fish-human encounters, not on biological or evolutionary species surveys. 

Only some species, such as the lionfish, use their venom as offensive weapons the same way snakes do, according to the few fish studies. Most use the venom for defense against predators. So you disturb, you're dead. Don't disturb, you may live.

 Venomous fish should not be confused with poisonous species, such as the infamous puffer fish, which harbor colonies of toxin-producing bacteria. Venomous fish produce their own toxins. These fish also inflict their venoms with a delivery mechanism. But unlike snakes, which employ fangs, fish generally boast sharp spines.

Most venomous species are ocean dwellers. Typically, they are found near tropical shores. Indo-Pacific waters are notable for their abundance of venomous species. But a number of freshwater species exist as well. Australia, for instance, is home to a deadly freshwater scorpionfish called the bullrout. Southeast Asian waters harbor deadly freshwater catfish species. And a potentially lethal freshwater toadfish swims in the waters of the Amazon basin. The most common North American examples—some species of catfish and Pacific rockfish (or rock cod)—pose only a small threat to humans. But deadlier lionfish, native to Australia and Indonesia, were introduced off the Florida coast several decades ago, probably when captive fish were washed into open water during a storm. Their population is reproducing and the fish have been spotted as far north as Connecticut in summer. 

Though many people remain unaware of venomous fish, they can be a big problem. More than 50,000 injuries are attributed to them annually. Some stings inflict only blisters, but others are strong enough to kill a human. Most dangerous or deadly encounters occur between fishers and their prey. When you examine a place like Brazil that keeps good records, somewhere in the 40 to 60 percent range [of people encountering venomous fish] are fishermen. But who knows how many people might die in rural areas of developing countries if they step on a stonefish in the mud flats? They may never be reported as a venomous-fish death, right?

A Hope For Jasper


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