Bullrout are responsible for most fish stings that occur in upper tidal reaches and freshwaters of New South Wales and Queensland. They are well camouflaged and sluggish, preferring to stand their ground and erect their spines when disturbed, rather than to retreat as most other fishes do.
Bullrout are most commonly found at the foot of dams and weirs and close to the limit of brackish water, or tidal influence. They usually shelter among water weeds, rocks or sunken logs. Stings often occur at popular swimming spots such as river crossings and causeways.
The fish is armed with 15 sharp, strong dorsal spines that readily penetrate the feet or hands of unwary swimmers. When the spines enter a wound, venom is transferred up the spine into the flesh, and causes the victim excruciating pain. The best preventative measure is to wear sturdy footwear in areas likely to be frequented by Bullrout and to avoid diving among stands of aquatic plants and submerged tree roots.
Bullrout, Notesthes robusta
Notesthes robusta (Gunther, 1860)
Total length to 30 cm, common to 20 cm. Head, body and fins are irregularly mottled with dark brown, olive-brown and yellowish-tan. There are spiny ridges on head. The dorsal fin has 15 strong spines.
Bays, estuaries and especially lower freshwater reaches of rivers and creeks. Found in coastal streams from the Annan River, north-east Queensland, to the Clyde River, NSW.
The venomous fin spines can cause painful wounds. It is an ambush predator of small fish and crustaceans, waiting among snags and aquatic plants.