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196. Firm like a rock, the Reef Stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa)


The Indian philosopher Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote: "Stand firm through life like a rock in the sea, undisturbed and unmoved by its ever-rising waves." Something the Reef Stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) takes quite literally.

The Reef Stonefish is so well camouflaged that it takes even the trained eye several seconds to recognise this rock-like object as a living creature. Usually, small facial movements and the stonefish's breathing activity reveal its presence among the rocks and corals of a coral reef.

A couple of Clear Cleaner Shrimps (Urocaridella antonbruunii) are venturing right in front of the stonefish's huge mouth. Are they aware of the potential deadly threat hiding in plain sight? Stonefish are known to prey on shrimps, but it's uncertain if cleaner shrimps are on their menu.

It's not the first time that I've observed cleaner shrimps in the vicinity of a stonefish on one of my dives. However, I have never witnessed any form of predation on cleaner shrimps by the world's most venomous fish. Is the stonefish hoping for a treatment by the shrimps, or is lying in ambush on a cleaning station a hunting tactic of the stonefish? To make a case, one must actually witness a strike by the stonefish to prove this theory. Limited bottom time for scuba divers or underwater videographers makes it difficult to jump to conclusions without actual observation of this behaviour. We must also note that aquarium observations can't be regarded as true or accurate. Jacques-Yves Cousteau said: "There's about as much educational benefit in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be in studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary."

For an unknown reason, this species of stonefish is abundant around Mauritius' western reefs. Having dived in many different seas and oceans of our blue planet, I have never seen such a large number of Reef Stonefish. I have observed and spotted this beautiful creature on nearly every dive site in Mauritius and on many different occasions.


Due to their intriguing appearance and dangerous reputation, Stonefish always make great and interesting photographic subjects. Underwater photographers and videographers are always attracted to strange and weird underwater creatures. Any animal that is out of the ordinary or is surrounded by a mythical aura is considered photogenic. Frogfish, ghost pipefish, seahorses, rhinopias, sea moths, and stonefish all belong to these "holy grails" of underwater photography.

As I have done in many of my underwater video clips, I like to start by showing a beautiful detail to reveal the entire animal and its environment at the end of the video. A great way to do this is by zooming in on the predator's eye. The brownish-red eyeball reminds me of a polished carnelian gemstone still in its parent rock.

By doing this, the viewer is directly confronted with the subject. If one were to start this underwater video clip by showing the complete stonefish blending into its environment, chances are that, due to its incredible camouflage, the stonefish would go unnoticed by most viewers, and people would wonder what exactly they are looking at.

To emphasise the sinister look of the stonefish, I added a subtle vignette and accompanied the images with an eerie tune.

Filming location:

This short underwater videoclip has been filmed in Mauritius 🇲🇺

More on this topic:

For other in-depth descriptions about the Reef Stonefish please go to our vlog post 72 or click on https://www.beyondscuba.com/post/utile-dulci-strategy

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