Ouch! Know Your Enemy

Lion Fish

Last week I was helping my neighbour move a broken up concrete garage base to make way for a new one. Because the lumps of concrete were pretty rough I wore protective gloves.

Without warning a pain similar I suppose to having a red hot needle stuck into me occurred on the inner wrist. The pain didn’t last long, about a second, so it wasn’t severe. The only word I uttered was ‘Ouch!’ I saw the wasp leave, somehow or other it had got caught between my wrist and the glove. Over a couple of days my wrist did swell to an extent, but there wasn’t a problem though the itching was an annoyance.

When it happened I tried to recall the standard remedy. I knew that a wasp and bee had opposite sting make-up, one being alkaline and the other acid. Should I dose the sting spot with milk or vinegar? I wasn’t sure so I did both.

Later I found that a bee sting is acid, so milk would be appropriate, and a wasp sting is alkaline, so vinegar would be appropriate. Pretty straightforward really and seldom a real problem unless the person involved is likely to severely adversely react and/or is stung many times.

Australians often take a bottle of vinegar to the beach in case of stings. There are some nasty life forms that could make their presence felt. Another way if vinegar isn’t present is to use urine so I’m told (so perhaps those few beers on the beach could help in more ways than one!).

Vinegar, milk and urine are not the correct medications for all venomous stings and bites etc.

Marine aquariums are to be found in many places around the world. In the US and EU they are very numerous. Considering livestock, there’s a few that could cause problems.

In the sea there are some dangerous creatures and some of these find their way into aquariums. For example the blue ringed octopus is kept by a few aquarists. This little octopus, properly called Hapalochlaena maculosa, is around the size of a golf ball and is attractive, though the rings only turn blue when it is about to attack or as a warning to another life form considered too close. The size makes it a possibility for inclusion in a suitable aquarium. However, it has a deadly bite because it injects toxin.

Another dangerous creature is the stonefish (one type is Synaneichthyes verrucosus). I have seen a stonefish for sale, though only once, but why anyone would want to keep one I don’t know. The fish is sedentary, sitting still waiting for prey. They look very like a rock. On the back of the fish are 13 grooved spines which inject toxin if they penetrate the skin, somewhat like hypodermic needles. The intensity of pain and subsequent problems is subject to an extent on the number of spines that penetrated the skin. The pain is stated to be excruciating.
A problem caused by a blue ringed octopus or a stonefish needs immediate medical attention or death could occur. There are other dangerous creatures in addition to the two mentioned.

Most of us marine aquarists don’t keep such life forms. There are a similar few that are kept but are not as dangerous perhaps, but dangerous nonetheless.

One such fish, and well known, is the common lionfish, properly called Pterois volitans. There are other types but the common lionfish is the most readily available. The body markings are quite striking and the finnage beautiful. In the aquarium they need careful selection of companions or the companions could be eaten! The fins are the problem to the aquarist; they are able to inject venom that causes great pain.

Another well known and commonly kept fish is the foxface, properly called Lo vulpinus. These fish are also colourful and are a ‘different’ addition to the aquarium because of their head shape, though why they should be called foxface I don’t know. The danger with these fish again lies with the venomous fin spines which are capable of injecting venom which could take a long time to heal.

Another commonly kept life form is not a fish this time, but a coral. It’s very innocuous looking and kept in very many aquariums from beginner to advanced. It is quite tolerant and is usually able to resist some errors made by beginning aquarists. They are the zoanthids or button polyps which come in various polyp sizes and colours, normally covering the upper surfaces of a rock. Who would think there could be any danger from these? The danger comes from the species Palythoa, Protopalythoa and related species. Many aquarists handle zoanthids without any problem – in fact, problems from handling are rare. The fact is that the mucus of these zoanthids contains a neurotoxin which could be very dangerous or deadly to the aquarist. It is known that some tribes used to dip their spears in the mucus for use in battle and hunting*. So when one of these polyp groups is to be handled at the very least the aquarist should be sure there aren’t any cuts and abrasions on the skin. Wearing suitable gloves would be better.

The aquarium inhabitants mentioned above aren’t the only potential dangers that could appear. What is necessary is that the aquarist knows the potential problem(s) that could be introduced with newly purchased livestock to ensure he or she is happy with the situation. More important the knowledge should ensure the aquarist takes precautions and exercises caution when carrying out maintenance etc. The knowledge about livestock comes from some simple pre-purchase research.

In addition it is necessary, like a good scout, to be prepared. So as the potential problem is known the aquarist can find out from the internet or other sources what course of action should be taken should a mishap occur. Obviously medical assistance could be required, but it is important to be able to take initial action, if any, to help control the problem before medical help is available. It is also important to be able to advise the medics what it is that has happened, for example a puncture from X fish that is known to carry venom. At the extreme it could save your life.

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