Stonefish and Bullrout in Australia: It’s Not That Bad

If you think Australia is a dangerous land to live in, and some people do call it “Venomland”, wait till you hear about the sea. We’ve probably got more creatures living in water that can kill you than we have that live on the land.

A few years ago, I ran a little series on dangerous sea creatures, covering the likes of:

And I haven’t even started on Sea snakes!

Anyway, something happened just last week that has made me return to this subject with a slight amendment an update to one of those sea dwelling killers.

The Stonefish

stonefishIn my post called Dangerous Australian Sealife Continued: Stonefish, I mentioned that you would need to be “on the North-East coast, probably past Fraser Island” to encounter one of these fish.

I did mention though that there had been possible sightings of stonefish further south, at Redcliffe, then at the beginning of this month story emerged of a woman being stung and hospitalised over at Wynnum, a coastal suburb on the East of Brisbane.

I’m not sure why I thought they were only found further north, I know I did some research at the time, but clearly that information is now known to be incorrect. So, I thought it was important to do an update; I’d hate somebody to be gaily skipping along in shallow waters somewhere East of Brisbane without a care in the world until…..

AAAARRRGGGH!!!! Gosh, how can this be? I’ve trod on a stonefish and Bobinoz said they didn’t have them here!

The rest of the information on that previous post is true, the stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world, it can kill a human, but, you’ll be pleased to know, there is no evidence to show that one ever has.

According to today’s video, coming up, something like 30 people a year are stung by stonefish in Australia, but the antivenom is highly effective. If ever you or anyone in your company is stung by a stonefish, placing the affected area, normally the foot, into hot water can help break up the venom.

Call for an ambulance immediately, and it’s almost a racing certainty that everything will turn out just fine.

It is though, without doubt, a concern as most of our kids, my daughter included, just love going into the sea and running about. For anyone unlucky enough to get stung by one of these critters, the pain is apparently completely unbearable. I have also since discovered that this danger isn’t restricted to the sea.

The Bullrout

The Bullrout is known as the “Freshwater Stonefish” and can be found in streams and estuaries from southern New South Wales right the way up to northern Queensland.

The Bullrout also has an excruciatingly painful sting, but again, hot water eases the pain as does morphine, and medical treatment can bring almost instant pain relief. From what I’ve read about this fish, it’s not as venomous as the stonefish and, again, no deaths have been recorded.

Both of these fish though are very ugly.

You can see what a stonefish looks like by clicking on the link in the above list; this is also a stonefish, but what’s called a reef stonefish. Very similar, and just as scary…

…an here’s a bullrout

Happy paddling!

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{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Brenda Gibb January 16, 2022, 9:42 pm |

    My 13 year old son was stung by a bullrout at the Bunyaville waterhole (Drapers) today in Albany Creek. The agony he endured was immense. Morphine eventually worked alongside hot water and laughing gas.

    • BobinOz January 17, 2022, 8:55 pm |

      Every single person who has commented here about been stung by one of these things has talked about the immense and intolerable pain. Must have been heartbreaking to see your son suffer like that and it must have been horrible for him. Hope it’s all under control now and the pain has gone. Good old morphine 🙂

  • Chuzz Bot September 11, 2021, 5:41 pm |

    The thing that’s not being mentioned hear is the long term pain that follows and bullrout sting..
    I had this and I’ve heard others mention the same thing.
    If you tread on it there’s the initial intense pain ( morphine worked fine) in the toe but also another deeper, weirder pain in the thigh/groin.
    I have heard that on hand stings you get the same ache in the inside front of the shoulder.
    This nagging pain continues for years after the fact and is noticeably weird feeling for something like fifteen years,
    Beware the Bullrout.

    • BobinOz September 13, 2021, 8:42 pm |

      I don’t think that has been mentioned here in this conversation before, and yes, it is something we need to know. Interestingly it’s been mentioned many times on my post about getting bitten by a redback spider, with lots of people saying the pain comes back sporadically or that they’ve had ongoing problems since been bitten that have lasted many years.

      So it is definitely a thing with venomous bites and from what you’re saying, it happens with the bullrout too. As you say, beware!

  • Mick July 26, 2020, 6:22 am |

    Morphine doesn’t work on Bullrout stings, they inject lignocaine directly into the sting site. When I was 12 I was catching shrimp in the Hastings river at Hartys plains where we lived, and fell over walking through the rapids. I thought I had put my finger on some broken glass or something sharp but when I looked at my finger there’s was 4 tiny puncture marks in a perfect square, I knew from stories dad had told me that it was a Bullrout I ran home about 500m and my parents put my hand in hot water but the pain still got worse so they drove me 20 minutes to wauchope hospital and I got the injection in my finger and a tetanus shot for good measure. I have been shot and the pain was nothing compared to the sting of a Bullrout

    • BobinOz July 28, 2020, 7:25 pm |

      Yes, quite a few people have said that morphine doesn’t work, and although nobody else has mentioned being shot :-), quite a few have said the pain of the bullrout sting is the worst they’ve ever suffered.

      Seems it’s not an experience people ever forget, no matter how many years pass by. Certainly put me off of wading through rivers barefooted.

      Running home half a click must’ve been fun back then after that had happened, NOT.

  • Josh June 19, 2017, 4:32 pm |

    Im trying to create a presentation on the Bullrout but there isnt enough information. I really need to know its current population and possible endangered status. I also need to know whether this fish is a pest. Somebody please help!

    • BobinOz June 19, 2017, 9:13 pm |

      I’m not sure anybody would have accurate population figures for the bullrout Josh, I don’t think anybody knows. I’d be surprised if they were endangered though, but that’s just my humble opinion. Good luck with your presentation though, Bob

  • Ted July 3, 2016, 9:47 am |

    I stood on a bullrout some 40 years ago (I was 14 – 15). Even today hearing about them brings a shudder. While crossing a creek yesterday near Townsville I was even debating whether to leave the shoes on.

    The pain is excruciating ! If stung do not hesitate to get medical assistance.

    • BobinOz July 4, 2016, 2:08 am |

      I know what you mean, if I’m crossing a creek I like to use a bridge. Otherwise, turning back is another option 🙂

  • Sarah December 23, 2015, 7:11 am |

    I was stung in a creek near Kempsey a few days ago-on the finger in shallows extreme pain came on slowly (thought maybe it was a bee or wasp at first) but increased as it spread into palm, other fingers and whole hand over an hour. Very red, throbbing swollen and yes really painful, immersed in hot water after 20min trek back to house, not what you imagine will help but eventually does help pain but be prepared to wait (45 minutes until any relief for me). Stopped hot water and returned to normal after an hour and half-phew -some swelling and redness remained overnight. Two days later still tightness in bite finger. Have heard if you’e bitten again-bite is not as bad the second time and have found that myself with wasps.

    • BobinOz December 24, 2015, 2:55 am |

      Seems these stings are more common mean you would think. Glad to hear that your pain hasn’t seemed to last too long. Interesting to know that if you were to get done again, it might not be so bad the second time around, but I suspect you’re hoping that doesn’t happen anyway 🙂

      You say that seems to happen with you with wasps, it happens to me with mosquitoes as it probably does everyone. Maybe the answer is getting bitten and stung more?

  • Philip Macrae December 15, 2015, 5:06 pm |

    I stood on a Bullrout on Friday in the Bellinger River (freshwater), since then I have become a bit of an expert. There’s no mention on the NSW Health website and I have written to them about the omission. CSL (makers of stonefish antivenom) who have published an extensive book on Australian stings and bites have also omitted the Bullrout.

    I didn’t see the fish but found the best identification is the 3-4mm cut from 1 or more of its’ 15 barbs. Pain is excruciating. I found laying down, elevating and icing the area helped. For nearly 2 hours I was in severe pain. I took an antihistamine as that’s what I always carry in the bush.

    Fortunately I had heard of the bullrout, but never encountered one. I didn’t attend emergency but went to my GP yesterday and he had to Google as I did. Today it’s been 4 days and still I feel discomfort, numbness and tingles in my foot and very lethargic.

    My GP went to the same article as I had by Dr Michael Patkin form 1965. There is very little public (or medical sector) awareness of this fish, so thanks for allowing people to post on your website.

    Philip (Byron Bay)

    • BobinOz December 15, 2015, 9:34 pm |

      Sorry to hear about your encounter with a bullrout Philip, sounds like you’ve had an extremely painful experience. I’m quite shocked about the lack of information on how to treat these things, it’s not as though this fish is rare.

      I did find a magical figure of 30 stings per year which I think was for the stonefish, but may have been for the stonefish and bullrout combined. Either way, I would have thought the numbers were high enough to have more updated information available than that 1965 article.

      I hope you make a full recovery and I also hope that your requests to the state and to CSL result in more up-to-date information readily available for times like this.

      Cheers, Bob

  • Leo Clifford June 4, 2015, 2:24 pm |

    I am a Sydney-based underwater photographer and I had photographed a STONEFISH in Sipadan. You may have a look at it:

    See link for more underwater photos:

    • BobinOz June 4, 2015, 9:18 pm |

      Wow Leo you have some seriously good photos on your website, very impressive. If you fancy it, maybe you could put together some Australian underwater photos for me and I’ll write an article about it, obviously I will link back to your website and give you full credit.

      I would love to have some of your pictures on my website, just let me know if you’re interested, either as a comment and I’ll get back to you directly or you can email me and we’ll take it from there.

      Cheers, Bob

  • Kym March 7, 2015, 8:02 pm |

    Annicka, not much point reporting, what can they do about it anyway. Natural sea creature just doing what comes naturally. Usual advice is to wear leather soled shoes in shallow water but who is going to do that? Glad you are over it now.
    One of my many uncles (my parents had 21 siblings between them) stood on a bullrout when he was sixteen and his brothers had to run him down and sit on him while his mother anointed the injury with nicotine from inside his fathers pipe. That was bush medicine for it in the old days.

    • BobinOz March 9, 2015, 4:00 pm |

      Nicotine was thought to have soothing powers or something? Gosh, those were the days 🙂

  • Annicka March 7, 2015, 2:29 pm |

    I was in the shallow point at Woodsman Point WA Perth and stepped on a Stone fish most agony I have ever been though in my life. Got to the Hospital in a hour put on pain killers and Morphine, And needles to numb the foot. After that foot in bucket of Hot water. The pain is nothing I’m ever going to forget.. And couldn’t stop thinking if it had been a small child how devastating.. Who do I report it to? So no one else goes though it?

    • BobinOz March 9, 2015, 3:59 pm |

      It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? It’s the kind of pain no child should ever have to go through. All we can do is warn people of the dangers, spread the word, which is what I’m doing by writing these kind of articles.

  • Kym Kelly-Taylor January 28, 2014, 5:20 pm |

    Did it “stop” you up something chronic too? They gave me oxycodone to take home when I was released and apparently that’s worse for butt troubles! I didn’t take it. I can’t say I noticed much difference with or without the morphine but I suppose I was already walking by day 3 and improving heaps so maybe it did work. And yes, my 4yr old is now 32 and has stopped whining about it. “Eat cement and toughen up” I told him! LOL

    • BobinOz January 28, 2014, 6:23 pm |

      Can’t remember if it stopped me up or not, long time ago. It takes a lot to stop me up 🙂 Good to hear your boy is okay and the cement treatment worked.

  • Kymmaree January 26, 2014, 11:12 am |

    I agree about the morphine Bob. I had major surgery removing a kidney and gallbladder and needed up with a foot long abdominal incision. Day 2 I opted for no more morphine! The vomiting was worse than the pain of the incision etc.

    • BobinOz January 28, 2014, 4:13 pm |

      I actually asked my nurse if it was working, it didn’t make me feel sick but it didn’t seem to stop the pain whatsoever!

  • Kymmaree January 26, 2014, 11:00 am |

    Yes, I read that morphine is pretty poor analgesia for bullrout envenomation. Novocaine/lignocaine apparently works very well and of course, hot water soak. I wish I had known that 28 yrs ago when my then 4yr old son stood on one at the weir in Logan City! The screaming and distress was terrible and he ended up with multiple shots of local anaesthetic in his foot. Then he had to have his foot massaged for ages because the circulation went very poor. He was exhausted afterwards and so were we. The ambulance guy said he has seen grown men repeatedly bang their heads on concrete trying to cope with the pain!

    • BobinOz January 28, 2014, 4:12 pm |

      Oh my word that sounds absolutely horrendous! Nothing worse than seeing your child in such pain and not knowing what to do. I hope he is alright now 🙂 🙂

  • dave January 8, 2014, 3:35 pm |

    Bob, Medical opinion is that morphine in normal doses is ineffective for Bullrout stings. Initial treatment is to immerse the affected area in hot water followed by medical people flushing the wound with local anaesthetic. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to cause scolding.

    • BobinOz January 8, 2014, 9:38 pm |

      Hi Dave

      Well, as you probably know, I’m not a doctor. I did glean that information about morphine from the wonderful World Wide Web, but if you are Doctor, and you say that morphine is ineffective, I’ll agree with you all day long.

      I know this stuff did very little for me when I had my cruciate ligament operation 🙂

      Cheers, Bob

  • obi August 30, 2013, 10:47 am |

    The bullrout looks like a grouper.

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