When you think of catfish, you probably don’t associate them with pain, stingers and venom — unless you’ve spent time around them and know that they can be surprisingly dangerous.
“Most species of catfish have a single spine-like fin ray at the end of each pectoral and dorsal fin,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official Melody Kilborn said, according to USA Today. “They are not true spines, but are sharp enough to cause a painful puncture if not handled correctly.”
“These spines can be locked into place when the catfish is threatened,” researchers at the University of Michigan wrote. “When a spine jabs a potential predator, the membrane surrounding the venom gland cells is torn, releasing venom into the wound.”
While there are potentially over 1,600 kinds of venomous catfish, most of the deadly ones are not located in the U.S. Kilborn added that while it’s common for people — especially anglers — to be stung in the hand while picking up the fish, she doesn’t know of any reported deaths from such stings.
But one young person almost became a statistic on Monday after experiencing a direct hit to the chest in New Port Richey, Florida.
Around 2:00 p.m., the child — whose name, gender and age were not shared, though WTVT-TV reported it was a boy — was injured and the child’s mother rushed to the hospital.
On the way, the child’s condition deteriorated, so the mother pulled over and called 911 for help, stating that the child was experiencing breathing difficulties.
First responders arrived and airlifted the child to a hospital in Tampa with critical injuries.
“A child was listed as a trauma alert after being stabbed in the chest by a catfish,” Pasco County Fire Rescue shared on Facebook.
“Firefighters responded to the area and listed the child as a trauma alert after evaluating the catfish barb lodged approximately 1-1.5 inches in the child’s chest. The child was airlifted to St. Joes in Tampa for treatment.”
Thankfully, after receiving care, the child was listed as being in stable condition.
Pasco County Fire Rescue spokesman Corey Dierdorff expressed his concern over the incident, telling USA Today that the kid was under 10 years old. Having been stung in the leg by a catfish himself, Dierdoff knew firsthand just how bad the injury can be.
“Those barbs, even to get hit in the leg is … painful,” Dierdorff said. “I can’t imagine what it feels like to be stung in the chest.”