An Impressive Squirrelfish – is it Venemous?

Sargocentron spiniferum is a large-ish fish I’ve occasionally photographed in the Red Sea.  It reaches a little over forty centimeters and is easily approached.  Does this confidence come from having a powerful defense?

These anthias provide a useful indication of the squirrelfish’s size. This is a typical sheltering spot.

The longjawed squirrelfish, like most of the holocentrids, spends much of the day sheltering under coral heads or in cave entrances, waiting for the night before it disperses to feed on crustaceans and smaller fish.  It tends to return to the same spot every time, so it has a reluctance to leave its favourite hidey-hole, making it quite a good subject for a portrait or two.

Like the rest of its clan it is reddish in color, often an indication it is active at night.

My ID guide – made more for divers than specialists – notes the large preopercular spine and how reports suggest that getting ‘stung’ by this impressive weapon is associated with extreme pain.  This was news to me, and I thought I’d look into it.

That’s an impressive spine!

Every entry in FishBase for a Sargocentron agrees the spine is venomous, one report on another website for an Australian species, describes it is ’mildly venomous’.  Another reference says wounds are not as painful as those from scorpionfish, but I couldn’t find any first hand accounts.  Every reference I found online confirms that it is venomous, but I cannot find any information which explores the subject further.  Are they just referencing each other?

To, that end, could anyone with any direct knowledge of this fish or the rest of its kin, please let me know more?  Perhaps there is an interesting account in a journal somewhere?

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