As the invasive lionfish species spreads throughout our seas, ocean lovers may worry about getting stung.
But getting stung by a lionfish is actually not as common as you'd think.
As NatGeo reported, lionfish sting on a defensive basis — which means if you leave it alone, you'll probably be fine. They're sort of like floating cacti.
You don't want to touch them, but they're not out to get you either.
Even if you do happen to get stung, you won't die. But ... you will probably be in a lot of pain.
As Mike Ryan put it to NatGeo, "It won't kill you, but it'll make you wish you were dead."
Lionfish venom lives in glands on their spine, and getting pricked by one of their needle-like spines compresses the venom gland. This sends the venomous liquid up into the fresh hole that the spine just poked in your skin.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, most victims can expect pain, swelling and redness, and some report "headaches, chills, cramps, nausea, and even paralysis and seizures."
Though the worst of the pain ends after a couple of hours, some symptoms can last days. Scuba Diving magazine reported that swelling goes down after two or three days and redness around five.
While death isn't the main concern of a lionfish sting, if you get pricked you should seek medical attention ASAP.
As Scuba Diving noted, getting stung (especially in the hand) can decrease blood flow, which could kill your tissues — aka, you could lose part of your finger if you don't get medical help.
If you do get stung, experts recommend applying hot water to the wound site to control pain until you're able to make it to the emergency room.
Also, be sure to note that, much like bees, dead lionfish can still sting you.
All that's to say, though, that lionfish are not nearly as much a problem for swimmers as they are for the continued health of the reef. They have no predators in the Atlantic Ocean, which means nothing is controlling their rising population.
According to NOAA, the fish are native to the southern Pacific Ocean but have found their way into the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast U.S. and Caribbean seas. They're multiplying at a pretty unstoppable rate because they have babies all year long and produce up to 2 million eggs per year.
NOAA reported the lionfish competes for food with native species and disrupts the delicate reef balance. For example, experts fear it will kill off algae-controlling parrotfish, leading to unchecked seaweed swallowing reefs.
So, while their spines may be used in self-defense only, lionfish pose a much more sinister threat to our seas: