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Poisonous weever fish are found in shallow UK sea water during the summer and here's what to do if you get stung



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It's been described as the 'wasp of the sea' and a fish that can make 'grown men cry' and beach goers are being warned to do all that they can to avoid stepping on one this summer.

Weever fish, also known as sting fish, are found in both sandy and muddy sea beds around the UK and despite their small stature they are arguably one of the most dangerous fish in our waters because of the nasty venom they can release.

And with coastal spots now filling up with families enjoying their school break, those taking a paddle through the shallows are being warned to take extra care and here's why.

Spines on a weever fish can sting you if you stand on them. Picture: RNLI.
Spines on a weever fish can sting you if you stand on them. Picture: RNLI.

What is a weever fish?

The lesser weever fish, Echiichthys vipera, is only between 10 and 15 cms long but it is its dorsal fins of venom-laden spines that are the reason this tiny creature can cause someone an uncomfortable injury.

In the winter months lesser weevers tend to live in much deeper waters but during the warmest summer months and early autumn, they come into the shallow spots where they tuck down into the sand and lay in wait for a passing meal, often with only their eyes, upturned mouth and spines showing.

The weever fish has spines on its back that can deliver a nasty sting. Photo: Stock photo.
The weever fish has spines on its back that can deliver a nasty sting. Photo: Stock photo.

Website British Sea Fishing says now is the time of year when the weever fish poses the most risk to bathers dipping their feet in the sea or anglers who may not recognise what they have caught.

It explains: "It is during the warm weather that weever fish are most likely to come into contact with humans. Commercial fishermen are stung by weever fish that are caught in nets which are being hauled on board, and bathers sometimes step on weevers which have buried themselves in sand near to the shore.

"Anglers who are unaware of the lesser weever and mistake it for a sprat or other small fish may swing the fish into their hands to unhook it and receive a deeply unpleasant surprise if the spines of the lesser weever pierce their skin."

Avoiding weever fish

Weever fish are hard to spot and you'll most likely feel it before you see it if you're unlucky enough to step on the spines of one.

And while some seaside areas carry warnings on the edges of beaches about the risks of coming into contact with a weever fish many heading for the coast this summer may be unaware.

The RNLI says injuries caused by weever fish are one of the most common incidents lifeguard teams usually deal with at this time of year.

Weever fish release their sting if they're stood on, usually in very shallow water. Image: iStock.
Weever fish release their sting if they're stood on, usually in very shallow water. Image: iStock.

Advice currently being circulated on a number of social media groups, popular in particular with sea swimmers and paddle boarders, suggest people heading for the sea wear beach/swimming shoes or some form of other rubber or plastic sandal when wandering about in the water, particularly the shallows, while those who are fishing are recommended to use gloves if catching small fish with a fishing rod.

One recent warning posted on a group for paddle boarders reads: "It's time for the usual public service announcement.

"For a fish that's only two inches long you wouldn't think it was a threat however many adults and children step on them. Unfortunately they have a poisonous spine on their backs and the pain? Well lets say it will be holiday spoiling."

RNLI lifeguards also suggest dragging your feet when walking on the beach into the shallows as the movement disrupts the sand and should scare any lingering fish away.

RNLI lifeguards often see large numbers of weever fish stings
RNLI lifeguards often see large numbers of weever fish stings

What to do if you're stung

The severity of the sting will differ from person to person, often depending on how the fish was stood on and how much venom from a spine was released into the skin.

Some people experience relatively mild discomfort and others can be left with excruciating pain.

The pain, often compared to a significant bee sting, should subside after a few hours and be completely gone within 12 to 24 hours but there is one thing people who think they've been stung by a weever can do to relieve the discomfort.

Placing the injured limb in water as hot as you can stand - without any risk of scalding - can help stop the pain as the venom is destroyed by heat.

While most people should only experience pain and no lasting or significant side effects, close attention should be paid to children or vulnerable adults that think they've been stung by a weever fish, and while for most the pain should ease off, you should always seek medical advice if you're in doubt.

If you're at a beach with a manned lifeguard station and you've been stung, it is also worth paying them a visit too to get checked over.



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