Beware of a little (> 10 cm) sandy coloured fish that lives in the English Channel. It spends most of the time actually buried under the sea bed with just its venomous dorsal fin showing above the sandy bottom. On the rare occasions when it is plentiful, rows of erect black triangles decorate the sandy floor of the sea bed.
Woe betide a bather who steps upon a buried fish. The pain is usually described as excruciating as the spines embed into the human flesh and discharge their venom. The pain is at its most intense for the first two hours when the foot goes red and swells up and is then it feels numb until the following day with irritation and pain that may last for up to two weeks. Sometimes, the spine breaks off in the foot and it will cause discomfort until it is removed.
The venom is a type of protein and is heat labile. This means that the only treatment is to put the effected limb in water as hot as the victim can stand without causing scalding. (In tests, the protein denatured above 40°C.) This is meant to bring about rapid and permanent relief, but I have fortunately not needed to put this treatment to the test. Most reports of stings occur during the month of August. This does not mean that this fish are particularly prevalent inshore during this month but merely reflects the greater numbers of bathers as the sea temperature reaches the highest of the year. The fish is also encountered by shrimpers pushing their net along the sandy shallows in the first half of the year. The front beam of the net dislodges the fish that may be completely buried under the sand. They are also caught by anglers. Many of these rod and line fishermen do not know what they have caught and may be in for an unpleasant surprise. The only death I have on record after someone being stung by a Weever occurred as long ago as 1927, (this could be 1933, the original file has been mislaid) when an angler suffered multiple stings whilst fishing off Dungeness. (As this is the only death recorded, the suspicions are that the victim may have died of other medical causes exacerbated by the multiple stings. Another report of a death, I have been unable to confirm.)
Weevers in your Wellies
Weevers have occasionally been found at toddler bathing depth (a few reports have been received) but swimmers usually do not need to worry unless they put their foot down. The Weever is a naff swimmer: it its sort of wobbles about as it leaves its sandy hiding place. It spends most of its life buried waiting for a passing small fish before suddenly emerging from the sand to engulf its prey in its large mouth. The Weever has to be quick to catch is prey though, and for half a metre it has a fair turn of speed, before sinking to the sea floor. It then dives straight down to the sand gain burying itself with its rear end first. If it cannot hide in this way it will panic and it is conceivable that in the unlikely event it jumped into your wellies it would thrash around stinging the occupant on multiple occasions. This fish does not have a swim bladder, the device used by most bony fish to keep buoyant.
fish's mouth itself is in an unusual position on its head, oblique and
almost vertical and contains some of the most sharp and vicious looking
teeth in the undersea world. Luckily it only reaches about 15 cm long.
The species found in shallow waters is called the Lesser Weever with the scientific name of Echiichthys vipera. There is a larger (>25 cm) species called the Greater Weever, Trachinus draco, found in deeper water and occasionally seen on the fishmongers slab. The word 'weever' was first found used in the English language during the 17th century and comes from the Old northern French word 'wivre'. The venomous fin spines are a defensive armament and the Weever does use them to capture prey.
Dangers on the Channel Shore
By far the greatest danger on the shore is by drowning. The Stingray, Dasyatis pastinaca, can cause an even more painful injury than the Weever, but it will take really careless fisherman to get pierced by the serrated spine that contains the venom glands underneath the whip-like tail. This fish will swim into shallow water shared by bathers.
SCUBA divers should learn not to reach out and touch a ray swimming slowly in mid- water. Most true rays are competent enough swimmers using their 'wings' to flap rapidly away from a divers hand. However, the electronic rays of the genus Torpedo do not use their 'wings' and are slow swimmers. When touched even small specimens will 'zap' the curious, and a large specimen can deliver a shock of 220 volts at 8 amps. This is a rare fish in Sussex seas. There are no records of shark attacks in British seas.
Jellyfish are responsible for more stings than any other marine animal in the seas around Britain. Not all species are stingers and the two species most often seen in Sussex, the Moon Jellyfish Aurita aurita and the attractive Compass Jellyfish, Chrysoela hysoscella, are reckoned to be harmless. Jellyfish have limited swimming abilities and there is always a chance of a dangerous species getting washed up between the tides. Even washed up they can sting!
A final warning on the coast of the busy shipping route. Containers containing dangerous substances can get washed off merchant vessels like the cyanide canisters on Brighton beach a few years ago.
To put everything in perspective, thousands of people visit the beach each year and are more likely to come to grief from broken glass or sunburn.
Fishbase Entry: Lesser Weever
Fishbase Entry: Greater Weever
Rock Pool Fish
Sea Anemone Stings (British Seas)
Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia
Developed by The Learning Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1997 TLC Properties Inc.
Fish caught with Sand-eels at Hayle, Cornwall (June 2003)
If it is the Lesser Weever, Echiichthys vipera, you are talking about, the lice may be the oral parasite Ceratothoa steindachneri (an isopod).
Rappé on the Cornish
Tammy Horton of the School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, The University of Reading is doing her Ph.D. on a cymothoid isopod, Ceratothoa steindachner, that parasitises the Lesser Weeverfish in UK waters. This isopod lives in the buccal cavity. One of her papers on this creature was in the JMBA.
Distribution Of Ceratothoa Steindachneri (Crustacea: Isopoda:
Cymothoidae) Parasitic In Echiichthys Vipera In The North-East Atlantic
Tammy Horton, Beth Okamura
distribution of the recently discovered association of the parasitic
isopod Ceratothoa steindachneri (Isopoda: Cymothoidae) with the lesser
weever fish (Echiichthys vipera) is reported. Ceratothoa steindachneri
appears to have colonized the south-west coast of the UK between the 1960s
and the 1980s, possibly as a result of range expansion due to climate
change. The occurrence of C. steindachneri in E. vipera from Arcachon,
France, indicates that this association has been occurring for over 100
years. Our data confirm that C. steindachneri is able to parasitize a broad
range of fish hosts.
South Wales Evening post Reported 08/08/00 Five weever stings over that weekend and around 40 reported from Swansea and Gower every year. People are told to report to the beach lifeguard for treatment.
I'll have to ask them what they recommend. Torrential rain today.
I was stung by a Weever
on Porth Ceriad beach near Abersoch in North Wales. As I was limping away
to the Doctor's surgery , loads of other people came over to tell me that
they also been stung ( or knew someone ) on that particular coastline.
This was confirmed at the Abersoch Medical Centre, where they told us that they sometimes have two or three ' victims ' a day
The sting happened a week ago (17/8/00 ) , but the site of the sting is still quite sore and it throbs !
The treatment was immersion in a large bowl of hot water - this got rid of the terrible pain , although the site of the sting is still a bit sore . The G.P had a look at it , and said that no further treatment was required , but I think I might have, as you suggest , a bit of Weever spine embedded in my foot ,so I'll see how it goes !
Weever fish (Trachinus species) stings are frequent summer accidents in the coastal towns of Italy. Patients usually present with intense pain in the affected part (usually the foot, or less frequently, the hand), followed within a few hours by spreading erythema and edema. Rarely, systemic symptoms occur, including hypotension and depressed respirations. Death is possible, but extremely rare. The authors noted Raynaud's phenomenon only on the affected finger occurring some weeks after the weever fish sting. A rare complication - We should see if it occurs after jellyfish stings.
from the Jellyfish Sting Newsletter No. 15 (July 1996)
Foster (Nottingham) put her foot down on Crantock Beach, near Newquay,
in a metre of water over sand, and received an excruciating sting from
what was certainly a Weever fish, leaving three puncture marks in her toe.
The pain responded to hot water treatment subsiding not immediately but
after 20 minutes. However, the wound swelled up and after 2 operations,
the second requiring a 6 day stay in hospital, the second toe is still
inflamed and swollen on 11 September 2000.
While looking for information on the weever fish, I have just come across your website and have something to contribute. I've been fascinated with weever fish ever since I was unfortunate enough to have encountered one in 1994.
happened on a beautiful quiet beach on an idyllic, hot sunny day, around
9.00am in County Wexford, Ireland (Rosslare Strand). I waded out to around
calf depth and suddenly felt "punched" on the side of the foot.
Almost instantly, the pain became very severe. I walked (staggered, more like) back to my mother and son, the only other people on the beach and collapsed. While hyperventilating, my mind began trying to work out what had happened. I decided that I'd been stung by some creature with a nerve toxin venom and that I would soon begin to die.
My mother and son couldn't do anything for me as we were well off the beaten track - we had walked well away from the beach's access points before stopping. Both were scared to leave me in case I died.
hours later, I noticed that the pain began to reduce and two hours after
that again, I was able to stand. We made it back to the car and back to
our holiday accommodation. The next day, I began to have a huge allergic
reaction with my nose and eyes streaming constantly. This lasted for two
days before subsiding. I didn't seek medical attention but did ask around,
for the rest of our holiday, for information on any stinging sea creatures in the area. One man said, "That would be the Wexford stinger fish".
Two weeks later, I had to seek medical attention because the site of the sting became redder and sore and seemed infected. A course of antibiotics sorted me out finally.
As a zoology graduate, I'd be interested in knowing if anyone has characterised this venom. However, I hope this account is useful for something. I'd also be keen to join your society, if that's possible.
very interested to read the article about weeverfish in Saturdays Telegraph.
About four years ago I was unlucky enough to step on a weever at Dawlish. I was trying to get onto my nephews windsurfer and stepped off into about three feet of water. I had never heard of weever fish before so I thought I had stepped onto a piece of glass or got caught by a jelly fish. I walked up the beach and as the pain got worse I decided it was time to go to the first aid, who immersed my foot in water as hot as I could stand it, for about 20 minutes. Fortunately I had only just caught one or two spines so the pain subsided fairly quickly and I was able to walk to our car with nothing worse than a sore foot. However a few months later I was stung by a bee, a relatively common occurrence as we kept them at the time. (This normally had no greater effect than localised pain and a small swelling). On this occasion I suffered an anaphylactic shock reaction and probably was saved by the sheer luck of being at a doctors house at the time. I now carry an epipen. I have asked my G.P if there is any connection and he thinks it's unlikely but I have a strong suspicion that it may have had the effect of heightening my body's' defence response. I should be very interested to hear if there have been any other reports of similar situations. Or if you know of anyone who could advise me.
I read your article in the Telegraph on Saturday. V interesting.
I was stung on the tip of my right index finger by a Greater Weever three years ago in Tenerife. After spending four days in the local hospital in intense pain, with my whole arm swollen to the size of my thigh, I have lost the use of this finger: I cannot bend it nor straighten it, it is always cold to the touch and any slight scratches take five to six weeks to heal.
I spend many weeks in Tenerife on holiday where I try to warn as many people as I can of the dangers of this fish. Even the locals do not mess with them although they are delicious!
to hear of your misfortune.
>1) How was the injury incurred? Caught on a fishing line ?
>2) If by another method, how do you know it was a Greater Weever ?
Thanks for your sympathy.
I was fishing with rod and line, casting about 50 yards, from the rocks at
Puerto Colon, near Playa De Las Americas. It was high tide around midday. The
sea was calm and the light level high. The Weever was about 13/14 inches long;
I did not recognise it as anything dangerous because, being a coarse angler, I
had never even seen a Lesser Weever although I did see the dorsal spines. I
had a small towel which I used to stroke these down, and held the fish across
the back, just behind the head so that I could remove the hook. The fish then
shook its head and one of the spikes on the gill-cover dug briefly into the
tip of my right index finger, causing it to bleed slightly. There was a local
Spaniard sitting near me who recognised it as “Pez Arana”
(Spider Fish). He told me to get to the Clinic fast. Stupidly, as it did not
hurt at first, I packed up in no great haste and walked up the beach to wait
for my wife, who I had arranged to meet in about ¾ of an hour. While waiting
for her I had a beer or two, by which time my finger was starting to swell
and sting. I thought the best thing to do would be to calm it down by putting
my hand in the ice bucket! Within 40-45 minutes of being stung I started
shaking and sweating. Luckily my wife came early and we got a taxi to the
clinic where I was put on a drip with three different bottles connected to it.
I believe I was given Morphine, but it did not seem to do much. For the next
18 hours I was in the most excruciating pain one can imagine: my whole arm
swelled to the size of my thigh, I bit into my arm to try to relieve the pain,
biting down to the bone. At one point at about 2.30 am. I seriously
considered biting my finger off. I remembered that pain is easily forgotten,
so I tried to compare it to something. The nearest I could get was to imagine
I had put my whole arm in the red-hot coals of a fire, and was unable to
Although I told the nurse “Pez Arana” they did not give any of the treatment
you described. Maybe it was my accent (South London Spanish).
My arm remained quite swollen for some months afterward and my hand is still
inflexible after 3 years. I cannot make a fist.
At the time of the incident I was 49 years old, 10 stone 6 lb, 5 ft 8 ins tall
and in good health.
A short while after, Jonathan Wickings, 18, from Portsmouth was stung in Palma
while swimming. He began foaming at the mouth and died.
I have done some research on Greater Weevers now, and carry long scissors when
fishing. Once bitten……Incidentally, the Chef Rick stein compares Weever to
Sea Bass for flavour. I agree.
I hope this is of some use.
29 July 2002
A week ago I was stung by a weever fish in the shallows of
Sandown Beach on the Isle of Wight. I agree with your case study
providers on the level of pain this causes. My toe (foot) was
affected and without prior information and a nearby treatment service
I was in great pain, fear and confusion for about a couple of hours
about what had actually happened. Then we noticed two puncture marks.
Much later the local tea bar staff finally advised me as to diagnosis
and hot-water treatment but by this time the pain was going off. My
toe is still puffed up and stiff and I will (since a week has passed)
be seeking medical help.
concern is that I was walking in just about 30 cm (12 inches) of water
(shallows), contrary to your report, at a paddling depth for children
and toddlers. Clearly from talking with the teabag staff they treat
many children for this affliction during the season - with hot water
and an ice-cream! I was a visitor to this area and wonder whether
sufficient importance is being given to this situation in what is a
tourist area and a busy tourist season. I would be pleased to know if
reports sent to you are passed on to local councils.
Guildford, Schools and Colleges Liaison, Sussex House,
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9RH. UK
Tel: (01273) 606755 ext.2148 (+voicemail) FAX: (01273) 877456
Email ADDRESS: J.E.Guildford@sussex.ac.uk
Shoreham Weever Stings 2003 (Link)
My partner was walking her dog on Castlerock beach on the north coast of Northern Ireland, when she saw a small fish in a beach pool, She thought she was doing the right thing by putting it into deeper water she lifted it and immediately screamed out in pain. She was stung on the thumb, that was three weeks ago and she still has pain in it. We have only just found out it was a Weever fish which I have never heard of before but I will certainly be looking out for in future.
Lesser Echiichthys vipera
3 oz 04 92g Weymouth, Dorset B Hedges 1986 (This seems to be very small ?)
David Thompson at Shambles Bank, Weymouth Dorset caught a specimen of 95.67 grams (3 oz 6 drm). Accepted by the British Record (rod-caught) Fish Committee, in October 2001.
This is the first time I have seen such a phenomenon in over 40 years angling.
far we have been unable to id the beasts.
Guido on the Cornish Wildlife net has come up with Ceratothoa steindachneri to which I can find little reference
I have taken *10 and *60 digital photos which may aid id.
If the photos are of interest I will send them on
Centre for Science
On 14 June 2008, a Lesser Weever, Echiichthys vipera, spat out the uneaten parts of a Common Goby almost as long as the small fish.
NB: This means the fish could manage the smaller shrimps of the same size, although by mid-June most of the Brown Shrimps would have died.
NB2: The Lesser Weever has not been observed eating dead food in aquaria.
A Lesser Weever is captivity had a voracious appetite feeding on pieces of dead prawn, usually swallowing them whole. The fish would consume at least its own weight in prawns in one feeding every day.
Sting Pain Index
Notes: 40°C is
about half boiling water and half tap water