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Venomous – Proceed with Caution

  • Marine Depot
  • Dec 1, 2020
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The oceans are unparalleled in their diversity of life and we are so fortunate to be able to tap into that color, shape and variety of marine life that it provides. Despite the immense beauty and variety of coral reefs, they are actually battlegrounds with many creatures reverting to biological warfare in order to protect themselves. Sharp fin barbs protect some species from being eaten, while others have loaded spines with injectable venom, which over millennia have caused would-be predators to recognize and avoid them. Yet, did you know that some of these venomous species of fish are available to keep in the home aquarium?  Here we provide you a list of species that may be available at your local fish store which can pack a punch – VENOMOUS: proceed with caution!


Illustrated example of venomous lion fish - handle with caution

Lionfish are probably the most familiar of Venomous fish in the tropical oceans and all species carry venomous spines in their dorsal fins. Confront a Lionfish and it turns head on and head down towards you, so that if you try to grab or eat it, those dorsal spines are one of the first things you’ll make contact with. It’s because of their highly predatory nature and venomous spines that Lionfish have become so invasive in non-native waters.

When in captivity Lionfish are no less venomous. Some commonly available species at your local fish store (LFS) can include: Volitans, Dwarf fuzzy, Radiata, Antennata and Fu Manchu. So, if you decide to keep one, care should be taken when putting your hands into the tank especially when performing maintenance or if feeding them a meaty piece of silversides by hand. Keep an eye out for them so that you don’t inadvertently hit them with your arm or run your hand into one hiding behind a rock – like a lion in a bush, but venomous – proceed with caution.

If you get stabbed by a dorsal spine run the affected area under hot water, the hottest you can stand, as the venom is broken down by heat. The pain affects different people in different degrees and most avoid hospitalization but keep a record of the scientific names of the species you keep in case a reaction to a Lionfish sting ever escalates and you need to call emergency services.


Illustrated example of venomous  waspfish - handle with caution

Although rare, some Waspfish do appear in the LFS and brightly colored species appeal to marine oddball collectors. The dorsal spines are highly venomous and are erected when the fish feels threatened. What’s more, they like nothing more than to hide and camouflage themselves, so there is a significant risk of being stung while lifting rocks or feeling around a dirty aquarium.


illustrated example of a venomous scorpionfish - handle with caution

Scorpionfish are like more sedentary, more cryptically camouflaged Lionfish, lying in wait for live prey and capable of engulfing fish and shrimp up to half their size. Scorpionfish and sea goblins are available, and too possess highly venomous dorsal spines. This includes leaf fish, a beautiful specimen of laterally compressed Scorpionfish which sway in the current like a decaying leaf – pink ones are highly sought after. The upside to bright scorpionfish is that they are easy to spot and keep an eye on while cleaning, but the downside, like waspfish and lionfish, it’s those front, erect dorsal spines which carry the venom, so be warned.  Weigh up the pros and cons of owning a venomous fish which likes nothing more than to sit and blend seamlessly into its surroundings. And again -proceed with caution – be alert when cleaning a scorpionfish aquarium.


Illustrated example of venomous rhinopias

Rhinopias are highly desirable type of scorpionfish that may be available with the most sought-after specimens being bright pink or purple, with tassels to mimic algae, sponges and gorgonians. Quite bold, they will often sit out in full view to the delight of their owners but don’t let those pastel colors fool you as they are highly accomplished predators. They almost have an arrogance about them as they sit out, safe in the knowledge that they are protected by venomous dorsal spines – take caution.


Illustrated example of extremely venomous stonefish

Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, with stings delivered from their dorsal spines causing immense pain and even death. Despite this they are available and kept in the home aquarium by some aquarists. A master of disguise, stonefish are so cryptically camouflaged, that they look like anything but a fish, and stings most often come from people treading on them in shallow waters. If your LFS has one, you’ll most probably walk straight passed it, mistaking it for a rock. Due to the potency of their sting (with antivenom being necessary in some cases) they are not recommended for any home aquaria, but if you assume the risk, just know how extremely venomous they are – proceed with caution.

Coral Catfish

Illustrated example of venomous coral catfish

Coral Catfish are well known for being one of the few saltwater catfish (a mainly freshwater fish family) and for the way juveniles shoal, moving together like one bewildering giant organism. They grow to a foot long however and have venomous pectoral spines. They are also banned from import into some countries now due to invasive populations appearing in waters that they are not native to. Although you’re less likely to get tagged by one while cleaning like you would with most of the above, the risk is still highly probable when catching them with a hand net or moving them in or out of the aquarium.


Illustrated example of venomous rabbitfish

Rabbitfish are useful algae grazers for larger aquariums, although owners should beware as they also have venomous spines which offer them protection against predators in the wild. You are at much less risk of being stung by a Rabbitfish or Foxface, even when cleaning, fragging or doing maintenance, but the risk lies when catching with a hand net and transporting to and from plastic bags or buckets. All rabbitfish have the same venomous protection on their dorsal and anal fins, so handle with care.

Fang Blennies

Illustrated example of venomous fang blenny fish

Few people are aware that blennies of the genus Meiacanthus are actually venomous. As their name suggests these fish have venomous fangs which, if ingested, they use to bite the predator from within causing them to be spat out! Risk of being bitten is low, although it’s worth knowing and individuals are best kept as the only one of their species in a reef aquarium so they don’t quarrel amongst themselves.

General Guidelines

Due to the risk of being stung by Lionfish and Scorpionfish, they may not be suitable for all marine aquarium situations. Lionfish tanks should definitely be out of reach of children, and should have cover glasses and a hood, even a hood with a lock if there is any perceived risk of anyone being stung. They aren’t advised for aquariums in public spaces which are largely unattended, so a risk assessment should be undertaken.

Aquatic stores and suppliers should make all their staff aware of the venomous species stocked along with having procedures in place with what to do if someone gets stung. If the risk is high or there are vulnerable individuals in the mix, its best to leave them out altogether.

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  • Spiny devilfish, Inimicus didactylus
  • Barbfish, Scorpaena brasiliensis
  • Spotted scorpionfish, Scorpaenopsis macrochir
  • Barchin scorpionfish, Sebastapistes strongia

Leaf fish

  • Leaf scorpionfish, Taenianotus triacanthus Rhinopias spp.


  • Fu Manchu Lionfish, Dendrochirus biocellatus
  • Dwarf fuzzy lionfish, Dendrochirus brachypterus
  • Zebra lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra
  • Spotfin lionfish, Pterois antennata
  • Deepwater lionfish, Pterois mombasae
  • Radiata lionfish, Pterois radiata
  • Russell’s lionfish, Pterois russelli
  • Volitanks lionfish, Pterois volitans


  • Foxface rabbitfish, Siganus vulpinnis
  • Coral rabbitfish, Siganus corallinus
  • Goldspotted rabbitfish, Siganus guttatus
  • Magnificent rabbitfish, Siganus magnifica
  • Masked rabbitfish, Siganus puellis
  • Onespot rabbitfish, Siganus unimaculatus
  • Virgate rabbitfish, Siganus virgatus

Fang blennies

  • Yellowtail fang blenny, Meiacanthus atrodorsalis
  • Bundoon fang blenny, Meiacanthus bundoon
  • Striped fang blenny, Meiacanthus grammistes
  • Mozambique fang blenny, Meiacanthus mossambicus
  • Blackline fang blenny, Meiacanthus nigrolineatus
  • Canary fang blenny, Meiacathus ovalaunensis
  • Smith’s fang blenny, Meiacanthus smithi


  • Striped eel catfish, Plotosus lineatus


  • Stonefish, Synanceia verrucosa

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