THE most venomous fish in the world is more common on the Sunshine Coast than most realise.
Ever since Coolum mum Ali Morris shared her story on how her family spotted a stonefish swimming near the shore at Cotton Tree at the weekend, others have been coming forward where their close encounters.
One Brisbane woman had to be hospitalised on Sunday after she ended up with the venomous spike from a stonefish in her foot at Caloundra.
Anna Spanner wrote on Facebook her husband found one at Caloundra a "few weeks ago".
"Teach kids to not just pick up anything on the beach especially something that resembles a rock like this," she wrote.
Sam van der Stoep said the Maroochy River was "full of them".
She picked up a baby stonefish (not realising what it was), but "there was at least 15 others in the net".
Indie Rose was only "one step" away from standing on one at Currimundi Lake.
Leigh Mellon shared a video of one picked up in the Noosa River.
WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE
Queensland Museum Ichthyologist (a zoologist who deals with fish) Jeff Johnson said stonefish were common across the Sunshine Coast and in Moreton Bay and "always have been".
They may however be moving down river to areas where people frequent because of "dry conditions".
"You can find them virtually anywhere in a bay from time to time," he said.
"Estuaries are the hot spots. You don't normally find them in clean sandy swimming beaches.
"They like the more sheltered areas such as in rocks and weeds, where they can sit down on the bottom half and bury themselves in the substrate.
"They are fairly sluggish swimmers and don't like to be buffeted around by the waves."
His advice to stay safe if playing in rocky areas was to wear good foot protection.
"The thin rubber sole variety aren't ideal for stonefish as the spines penetrate through," he said.
"But they will provide better protection than bare feet."
HOW DO STONEFISH STING YOU?
It's not actually the spike of the stonefish that hurts, Mr Johnson explains.
It's the venom the fish injects through the spike that causes "excruciating pain" that will require hospitalisation.
"They half bury themselves in the substrate and if someone comes along, they won't swim away," Mr Johnson said.
"They stand their ground, sit there and erect their spines. There is a thick sheath of skin around each spine, where the venom gland is based.
"If you stand on one, the venom gland is depressed, the venom squirts up through the groove in the back of the spine into the wound.
"The more the spine penetrates, the worse it will be.
"The spines don't break off. There are a lot of species that have venomous spines, but the stonefish is the most venomous of them all."
HOW WILL I KNOW ITS A STONEFISH THAT HURT ME?
If you are stung by a stonefish, you will "know about it very quickly".
"In seconds the pain builds up, it becomes excruciating in minutes," Mr Johnson said.
I'VE BEEN STUNG, WHAT CAN I DO?
The immediate first aid for stonefish is "hot water" and then "get medical assistance as soon as you can".
"The pain is excruciating and can carry on for days," Mr Johnson said.
"They do have an anti-venom (in hospital) which will block the venom.
"The venom can cause necrosis (death of body tissue), but it varies from person to person and how many spines penetrated the wound and how deeply.
"You may be in hospital for three or four days."
ARE THEY FOUND ALL OVER AUSTRALIA?
No, stonefish are not found all over Australia.
They are found in the northern part of Australia from "Shark Bay in Western Australia, to the Tweed River border on the east coast."
"They are not a tropical fish though, they are very common in Moreton Bay," Mr Johnson said.