Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Venomous Saltwater Catfish

Updated August 29, 2014, below.

**

Came across this fella dead at the tide pools yesterday:


It was about 26 inches long. It looked like a catfish: you can clearly see the barbels around the mouth. I never knew there were saltwater catfish, but hey, what do I know?

Much, much weirder: The head looked like a catfish, but it had one long fin that went from its back, around its pointy tail, to its belly—like an eel. That's weird. Was it an eel? Was it a catfish? Was I hallucinating?

Here's a good shot of the tail. (Click on pic to enlarge.) The pink spots are where the fish had been chewed on by something.



Christine and I did some googling when we got home. After that we did some research. (Ba dum.) We found the Cobbler fish, or Eel-tail catfish:

Cnidoglanis macrocephalus

The cobbler is yellow to dark brown with pale mottling over the back and sides, usually progressively darker towards the tail. It has a large flattened head and a long eel-like body that tapers to a pointed tail, with continuous dorsal, caudal and anal fins, attaining a maximum length of up to 91 centimetres. The broad mouth is surrounded by four pairs of barbells (feeler-like tentacles), with a fifth pair of barbells present above the snout...
You can actually see the fifth set of barbels, up there on top of is head in the first pic.

More:
...and venomous serrated spines at the front of the pectoral and dorsal fins, which can inflict a painful wound.

I had picked that fish up before I read that. Note to self: Don't pick things up. Just don't.


A little more about those spines, and catfish in general:
All catfish, except members of Malapteruridae (electric catfish), possess a strong, hollow, bonified leading spine-like ray on their dorsal and pectoral fins. As a defense, these spines may be locked into place so that they stick outwards, which can inflict severe wounds. In several species catfish can use these fin rays to deliver a stinging protein if the fish is irritated. This venom is produced by glandular cells in the epidermal tissue covering the spines. In members of the family Plotosidae, and of the genus Heteropneustes, this protein is so strong it may hospitalize humans, those unfortunate enough to receive a sting; in Plotosus lineatus, the stings may result in death.

The Cobbler fish is, of course, from the family Plotosidae.

We can even get a look at those bony spines on our fish:


You see that white spike out its back that looks like someone stuck a plastic toothpick in him or something? That's the dorsal fin's venom delivery spine. On this shot, of the fish's underbellly, you can see one of the pectoral spikes, and you can even see the serrated edge:


Here's a closeup of the spike:


A few more picks. Full fish:


Belly, with what might be eggs poking out:


And that strange mouth. (That's top-side-up.):



Update, August 29, 2014: Someone down a bit south in Manly found another one of these guys yesterday. Linked at Reddit.

And I'll add what is now the third comment from anonymous folks added below, all along the same lines, this one added in June 2014:
Caught 3 of these at Mooney Mooney on Friday went to take one out the bucket and it got my thumb and the web in between my fingers. Unbelievable pain for hours. X-ray showed a 5mm barb in my thumb needed to be surgically removed, been in hospital for the last couple days should be leaving tomorrow. Word of warning be very Careful not just with catfish but all fish.

30 comments:

  1. I hope you take your own advice about picking things up. That thing is wicked looking.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Man that mouth ain't pretty! I've known about those stinging fins for years. Even little aquarium catfish have 'em and definitely our local bullheads. Hurt like Hell when you get nailed! I'm sure the Ozzie version will kill you in 15 seconds!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just came to this site to find out how to stop the burning pain in my thumb. Just picked up a small cobbler (25-30cm) here in Perth, my son caught it. It squirmed around and nailed me as I de hooked it. Lots of bleeding for a few mins, then the burning pain started. Tried not to make a big deal of it as my son was really enjoying the fishing. He then proceeded to pull up another 3 of them! I was much more cautious/scared with them. After about a half hour we had to leave as the pain was becoming unbearable. I had heard that all marine toxins are protein based and that putting the wound in hot water helps; it does, a bit. But the water needs to be as hot as you can stand. I have had hot running water on it for 20mins now, still hurts like hell when I stop. Definitely dont want to get stuck by a full grown cobbler. Nice eating though I hear.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I caught one of these bad boys in port stephens today.. he wasnt happy and them barbs looked nasty. It was massive, put up a good fight!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn! So sorry it tool so long to reply! Wish I coulda seen it!

      Delete
  5. Caught one of these a couple of weeks back in Pittwater (Sydney), put me in hospital for three days as the little bugger' spine broke off inside the bone of my finger.
    Absolutely the most painful experience of my life, the fact that Morphine, endone and many others were not even taking the edge off of the pain is testament.

    Lesson to be taken - cut the line.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dahamn. Where were you? I'm just down the road!

      Delete
  6. Caught 3 of these at Mooney Mooney on Friday went to take one out the bucket and it got my thumb and the web in between my fingers. Unbelievable pain for hours. X-ray showed a 5mm barb in my thumb needed to be surgically removed, been in hospital for the last couple days should be leaving tomorrow. Word of warning be very Careful not just with catfish but all fish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! Thanks much for the report!

      Delete
  7. 21 Dec 2014 fishing off Mooney Mooney. Tried to remove catfish off hook (about the tenth catfish). Got the spine into my left thumb. Pain was unbelievable. Managed to drive home but in absolute pain. Doctor was useless and said to place ice on it.
    After 3 hours of pain and no relief from normal pain relievers, googled and found the tip for hot water. Spent the night in the bathroom with my hand in hot water.

    Next day off to a different doctor with finger swollen to the diameter of a 50 cent piece. Long story but lots of antibiotics, super concentrated pain relief and a finger that went black and skin peeled off.

    2 months later finger is still very sensitive and have a hole in my finger... Watch out for those catchfish

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's just crazy. I had no idea. I hope it's all come good for you.

      Delete
  8. stepped on one of these when I was 7. Way back in the 80's. What I remember: Having to shake the fish off my foot, and the excruciating pain the hot water bath gave...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Had a barb go through my index knuckle last night have never felt that kind of pain before in my life was in hospital overnight

    ReplyDelete
  10. Had a barb go through my index knuckle last night have never felt that kind of pain before in my life was in hospital overnight

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, just two weeks ago! Yikes. Where was this? And has it healed up yet?!

      Delete
  11. I love that I'm still getting comments about this crazy fish! Thank you everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I caught one today at Batemans bay. Very ugly fish. I put him back with the hook in his mouth. No injury to me.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hey man, just caught one of these freaks a few hours ago in Bateman's Bay NSW. I got it over the rocks and realised in was about 50cm long half eel and half catfish..I wasn't game to touch it as it looked too strange and cut the line. Ugliest fish ever.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just got one in double bay Sydney. What a relief I had to cut the line as hook was lodged too far down throat

    ReplyDelete
  15. Got one last night off the Bermagui breakwater. Dog wanted to chomp it but kept him well away (for his & the fishes sake). It Looked a lot like one of my mother in laws :).

    ReplyDelete
  16. That was called Sembilang fish in both Malaysia and Indonesia. It is a famous local delicacies in here.

    ReplyDelete
  17. That was a died one, the fresh one looks aggressive and so handsome.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Caught 2 of these this year in Batemans bay both from 50 to 60 cm long first time I was going to grab it lucky they guy I was fishing with told me not to touch it apparently the barb normally has to be surgically removed and the stinging pain is unbearable

    ReplyDelete
  19. Just got done in my little toe. The worst pain i have ever encountered. Im off to hospital for an xray after reading these comments. Fingers crossed there is no barb show up but i have a very very very bad feeling (especially in my toe) that the barb has broken off...stay tuned........

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, man! Good luck and get back to us, alright?

      Delete
  20. Just got done in my little toe. The worst pain i have ever encountered. Im off to hospital for an xray after reading these comments. Fingers crossed there is no barb show up but i have a very very very bad feeling (especially in my toe) that the barb has broken off...stay tuned........

    ReplyDelete
  21. So cool, seeing all these comments (on this blog I hardly look at anymore!). thanks for coming here, and I will keep checking back on this post.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Just got done. Mindarie Marina, WA. Got me on my left index finger. Lots of blood and immediate pain. Went hospital, got xray done and no barbs stuck in. Hospital discharged me with Morphin, Codein and 9 hours later still in pain...

    ReplyDelete