Cone snail venom can be extremely painful causing localised pain, swelling, vomiting, and in severe cases muscle paralysis, vision impairment, respiratory failure, and can be fatal. Photo: Contributed
Cone snail venom can be extremely painful causing localised pain, swelling, vomiting, and in severe cases muscle paralysis, vision impairment, respiratory failure, and can be fatal. Photo: Contributed Contributed

Heron Island home to killer snails

THE KILLER snail that harpooned a teenager last week is only one of many inhabiting Heron Island, according to Gladstone fishing charter owner Bruce Stobo.

The cone snail is listed as the second most venous animal in Australia on National Geographic's top 10 most venomous animals.

Fortunately the teenage girl was released from Rockhampton Hospital unscathed after being airlifted from Heron Island lastWednesday.

It's the first known killer snail attack in the Gladstone region after a 25-year-old was reportedly harpooned at the Whitsunday three-years-ago.

RACQ CQ Rescue crew airlifts Henry Moore from a remote beach on Whitsunday Island after he was stung by a cone snail. Photo: Contributed
RACQ CQ Rescue crew airlifts Henry Moore from a remote beach on Whitsunday Island after he was stung by a cone snail. Photo: Contributed Contributed

While there have been 36 reported deaths in 90 years, the owner of fishing charter boat Kanimbla said the recent incident was a timely reminder to steer clear of snails.

"If you don't spot 30 of these cone snails on the beach in one walk it's a really bad day,” Mr Stobo said.

Mr Stobo said Heron Island was populated by the deadly creatures as well as sea snakes and blue-ringed octopus.

"These marine creatures are very poisonous and the sting tends to be quite brutal,” he said.

"They have a very pretty shell so people are tempted to pick them up and put them in their wetsuits for safe-keeping, but little do they know the snails shoot darts out.”

Mr Stobo said there are two types of snails at Heron Island including the stromb snail and the cone snail, which both have similar appearances.

"One of them is a beautiful shell, and as you can guess it's the most dangerous one,” he said.

"They both look quite similar but if you handle them you'll soon find out. The stromb has a lot of algae underneath it because it tends to eat crustacean, the other snail harpoons fish and sits on the sand, so it can fire a harpoon at humans if they get in the way.”

Mr Stobo warned Heron Island visitors to be wary of the snails.

"Follow the old adage, if you don't know what it is, leave it alone,” he said.

"It might look pretty and harmless, but it won't waste time getting a poisonous dart in you.

"There are so many things in the reefs and ocean people are unaware of.”

The Australian Venom Research Unit described the venom as paralysing.

The venom is designed to paralyse, but not much is needed for it to kill fish or humans.

Aside from the pain, cone snail's venom can, in severe cases, cause muscle paralysis, vision impairment, respiratory failure and can be fatal.