What Are Weeverfish (Weever Fish)?
The pain of the sting is instant can spread to involve the entire leg (or arm) from where the puncture occurred.
- The weeverfish (weever fish) is the most venomous fish found in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Eastern Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and European coastal areas. It is often referred to as the sea dragon, sea cat, stang, and adder-pike.
- Weeverfish are small (4 to 21 inches long), and usually live in the sand or mud, often burying themselves, along with coastal areas. They are usually docile, however, when provoked can strike with pinpoint accuracy.
- Weeverfish inject their venom from long "spines" that number from four to eight and are needle-sharp along the back of the fish. Each spine can measure up to 1 ¾ inches in length. When provoked to attack, they extend these spines to strike at prey.
- Weeverfish can survive for extended times (hours) out of the water and the venom can still be active for hours as well in dead animals.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Weeverfish Stings?
Professional fishermen or vacationers are often those that receive the sting from a weeverfish. Envenomation often occurs when wading in sandy, muddy coastal waters or swimming, and accidental contact or threat to the fish occurs inviting the sting to occur.
- The spine of the fish is strong enough to penetrate through a leather boot.
- The pain of the sting is instant and spreads to the entire leg (or arm) from where the puncture occurred. Pain typically peaks at 30 minutes then resolves by 24 hours, but can persist for many days.
- The puncture site itself can show redness, bruising, and warmth over a 6- to 12-hour time period.
- Swelling can increase in the affected limb for up to a week. Infections are common due to the depth of the puncture and the "dirty" nature of the puncture from murky, sandy, or muddy water.
- There have been cases of gangrene due to infection.
- Occasionally, a wound is left at the site of the puncture that can take months to heal.
- While symptoms of the weeverfish sting occur at the site itself, total body (also called systemic) symptoms can occur such as fever, chills, seizures, fainting (syncope), nausea, low blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular or extra heartbeats), headaches, sweating, and difficulty breathing.
- While not common, death can occur due to complications from the venom.
How Do You Treat Weeverfish Stings?
Treatment for weeverfish stings include:
- Soak the puncture site in non-scalding hot water (to 110 F or 43.3 C) for 30 to 90 minutes or until significant pain relief occurs. The belief is that that heat may have to make some of the venom (toxins) inactive. It may also help to reduce some of the spasms that occur in the surrounding blood vessels.
- Vinegar, urine, ammonia or other substances added to the hot water have shown no benefit.
- Pain medications such as narcotics may help but oftentimes do not. A doctor or health care professional may inject the puncture site with an anesthetic (such as lidocaine) to try to numb the area and relieve pain. Sometimes a nerve block (which is injecting around the nerve that controls the pain of that region) is helpful.
- The spines rarely break off in the wound; however, if they do, they should be carefully removed by an experienced health care professional to assure no pieces remain in the tissue, risking infection.
- The puncture site (or wound) should be left open and should not be covered with tape or sutured (stitches) to allow for drainage of the wound. Closing the wound or covering it with tape increases the risk of the wound getting infected.
- Antibiotic use is controversial, however, due to the possibility of infection occurring, and the deep puncture wounds that the weeverfish spines make, preventative antibiotics are generally given.
- There is no antivenin available at this time for a weeverfish sting.
- Be sure to monitor the area for the first signs of infection which include but are not necessarily limited to:
- Increased redness
- Pus (thick drainage from the wound)
- Increased pain
- Increased swelling
If stung by a weeverfish, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications.
Tips to Prevent Weeverfish Stings
- Since weeverfish live in the sandy muddy bottom, shuffling of feet is recommended whenever one is walking to swimming in coastal areas. Not only to avoid weeverfish, but also many other coastal marine species.
- Scuba divers should avoid contact or approaching these fish.
- Caution must also be used even around dead fish as the toxin (venom) can remain active for hours.
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Reviewed on 9/30/2021
Auerbach, P., et al. Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine, 7th Ed. Elsevier. 2016.