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The Truth About Getting Stung by a Lionfish

Posted by Erin Spencer in Explorers Journal on August 8, 2013

“It won’t kill you, but it’ll make you wish you were dead”.

That’s how Mike Ryan described a lionfish sting as he briefed a boat full of people before an afternoon dive. Mike, an instructor at Horizon Divers in Key Largo, developed the Lionfish Safari Diver course for recreational divers to learn about invasive lionfish and try their hand at hunting the fish themselves. For a group of inexperienced hunters, that was probably the last thing we wanted to hear.

That wasn’t the first time someone warned me about the stings of this invasive predator. When you’re dealing with lionfish, the topic is bound to come up. In almost every interview I conducted, the conversation eventually turned to a dramatically recounted story of the time (or times) the interviewee was stung, each tale more cringe-worthy than the last. And while it’s clear that getting pricked by a lionfish is no walk in the park, stings can be easily avoided by proper handling techniques and safety measures. Be sure to keep the following three things in mind when dealing with lionfish to decrease your risk of getting stung.

Lionfish stings can occur long after the fish has died. Photo by Erin Spencer.

Lionfish stings can occur long after the fish has died. Photo by Erin Spencer.

Lionfish spines are used defensively, not offensively.

Lionfish spines are used as a deterrent for predators rather than for hunting prey. So don’t worry- lionfish aren’t about to ambush unsuspecting divers or swimmers. Lionfish only use their weapons defensively; therefore simply steering clear of their venomous dorsal, ventral, and anal spines can avoid stings.

If you are stung, a loose sheath surrounding each spine is pushed down, compressing two venom glands located down then length of the spine. Neurotoxic venom then travels through two parallel grooves up the spine and into the wound. Sounds unpleasant, right? Better just to avoid the spines in the first place.

Lionfish safety applies both on and off the water. 

The overwhelming majority of lionfish stings result from people simply not paying attention.

Stings can occur even after the lionfish is dead.

Stings can occur even after the fish have died, so handlers should be aware of their lionfish at all times, whether they are underwater, on a boat, or back in the kitchen filleting the fish up for dinner. I heard many stories of victims unknowingly sticking their hands into coolers containing lionfish and finding a painful surprise inside.

 

So make sure everyone you’re with knows where the lionfish are located, as well as which of the fishes’ spines are dangerous. Some handlers (myself included) choose to use medical-grade puncture-proof gloves to help protect from stings. Although these gloves don’t protect all potential sting sites, they decrease the risk of accidental envemonation when handling the fish.

Puncture-proof gloves are a great way to decrease your risk of getting stung. Photo by Eric Billips

Puncture-proof gloves are a great way to decrease your risk of getting stung. Photo by Eric Billips

Just in case, know what to do if you get stung.

Even if you follow all the safety precautions, sometimes mistakes happen. Immediate first response can help decrease pain and swelling, so have a plan in place if you or anyone you’re with is going to be handling lionfish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends immersing the wound in hot (but not scalding) water for about 30 minutes as soon as possible after the sting occurs – this helps denature the lionfish venom and decrease pain.

If necessary, remove any spines still located in the wound. Lionfish stings are rarely fatal, but in extreme cases nausea, vomiting, and allergic reactions can result, so monitor symptoms closely. One spear fisherman swore that if someone had offered to amputate his stung foot, he would have accepted the invitation gladly.

On the other hand, a divemaster I spoke with said he barely noticed the pain when he was stung, and didn’t experience any swelling or adverse effects. Ultimately, everyone seems to respond to stings differently. Most people I talked to experienced some pain and swelling for anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

The important thing to remember is this: the more you know about stings, the more effectively you can prevent them. Pay attention to your lionfish at all times and have a plan in place in case you or a friend gets stung. There are quite a few examples of people who have dealt with large quantities of lionfish and have never been stung, proving that with proper handling and a bit of luck, you can avoid envenomation. But remember, on the off chance you do get pricked, you’ll at least have a great lionfish war-story to tell your friends.

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com

Lionfish concern at Forida’s Reef

Pretty much everything about the venomous lionfish—its red-and-white zebra stripes, long, showy pectoral fins, and generally cantankerous demeanor—says, “Don’t touch!”

The venom of the lionfish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. It relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey, mainly fish and shrimp. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.

Lionfish, also called turkey fish, dragon fish and scorpion fish, are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, although they’ve found their way to warm ocean habitats worldwide.

Currently they are a big cause for concern at Florida’s reef as they have few natural enemies such as some big shark species. They are taking over in large numbers and multiplying quickly eating many other endangered reef fish. Speculation of their release ranges from Hurricane Sandy’s destructive path to mis-guided fish collectors that released them when they could not make money from their sale.

Celene Couseau ( http://celinecousteau.wordpress.com/ ) has attested to their tasting good making them somewhat popular to very careful spear fishermen.

Learn, Connect, Defend!
www.OceanDefenderHawaii.com

Some of the information above is from National Geographic
Photo: Andy Wingate (tagged)

Photo: Pretty much everything about the venomous lionfish—its red-and-white zebra stripes, long, showy pectoral fins, and generally cantankerous demeanor—says, "Don't touch!"

The venom of the lionfish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. It relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey, mainly fish and shrimp. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.

Lionfish, also called turkey fish, dragon fish and scorpion fish, are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, although they've found their way to warm ocean habitats worldwide.

Currently they are a big cause for concern at Florida's reef as they have few natural enemies such as some big shark species. They are taking over in large numbers and multiplying quickly eating many other endangered reef fish. Speculation of their release ranges from Hurricane Sandy's destructive path to mis-guided fish collectors that released them when they could not make money from their sale. 

Celene Couseau ( http://celinecousteau.wordpress.com/ ) has attested to their tasting good making them somewhat popular to very careful spear fishermen. 

Learn, Connect, Defend!
www.OceanDefenderHawaii.com

Some of the information above is from National Geographic
Photo: Andy Wingate (tagged)

Ocean Care Solutions Lionfish Sting 1st Aid Kit provides safe and effective sting relief

Pterois volitans and P. miles
Native range: Indo-Pacific and Red Sea
Invasive range: East coast of the United States and Caribbean sea

Some say that the invasion started in Miami, when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in 1992. But you can’t blame the weather: records of wild lionfish in Florida date back at least to 1985. This popular aquarium fish may have been released by fish enthusiasts tired of having a relentless predator in the living rooms, silently dispatching their other fish. And now that exotic predator is spreading north to New England, south to Panama and throughout the Caribbean, feasting on juvenile snapper and grouper along with algae-eating parrotfish as they go–-species which help keep reefs healthy. The lionfish is the first marine fish invasion in the western Atlantic.

Lionfish Range in the US.

Marine biologists are shocked at the speed of their spread in just a decade and at their population densities. Few fish species have established in the wild, let alone so successfully. Suddenly, they’re an abundant reef fish from the Bahamas to Rhode Island. Overfishing of predators like the grouper may be part of the story. Reef destruction and trophic cascade are possible outcomes. The only range limits appear to be colder and fresher waters.

A female lionfish produces two million eggs a year, so not only does it seem unlikely the species can be successfully eradicated, even slowing the growth rate is a challenge. Because lionfish eat just about anything that fits in their mouth while larger native fish don’t seem to recognize lionfish as prey, some experts say humans are the only predators left to call upon.

Common lionfish (Pterois miles)

As of 2010, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has given out licenses to divers to kill the species inside the property. Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) hosts a series of “Lionfish derbies” offering prize money  largest, smallest, and highest number caught; and publishes the Lionfish Cookbook, aimed at introducing chefs to what NOAA calls a “delicious, delicately flavored fish” similar in taste to snapper and texture to grouper. Lionfish have venomous fin spines––an uncommon feature on East coast species–-making them top predators and a danger to fishermen and divers. (And more expensive than many other fish on the menu, someone has to remove those venomous spines.)

The Lionfish 1st aid kit comes with everything you need to effectively treat your marine sting.

Lionfish Kit

Information provided by eattheinvaders.org