People visiting beaches in the southwest are being warned to be on the lookout for fish with a nasty sting that may be lurking in the sand.
Over the past month, there have been reports of swimmers spotting weevers — small venomous fish — on beaches around Munster.
Most often grey or brown in colour, the 15cm fish can be quite difficult to spot as it tends to bury itself in the sand, leaving only its eyes, mouth, and its stinging spine exposed.
It hides in the sand waiting for its prey to pass by, and to avoid being preyed upon.
"We have two types of weever in Ireland — the lesser and the greater,” said Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist at Oceanworld Aquarium in Dingle.
"The greater is offshore, but it’s always been the lesser one onshore that people have come across.”
The vast majority of stings from the weever are the result of unsuspecting beachgoers accidentally stepping or placing their hands on them.
"They tend not to like places where people would walk, but you do sometimes find them if you go off the beaten track," Mr Flanney said.
Weevers are more likely to be seen in the hours before and after low tide, especially in late summer.
Mr Flannery said the fish’s sting - which comes from a syringe-like spine on their fin - can be "severely, severely painful."
A sting from a weever can cause itching, swelling, numbness, nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, and abdominal cramps.
In rare cases, the sting can lead to respiratory problems, seizures, anaphylactic shock, and unconsciousness.
Depending on the severity of the sting and the individual’s reaction, it can take anything from a few hours to a few days to fully recover.
To treat the sting, Mr Flannery said the best thing to do is to apply hot water to the affected area as soon as possible — up to 40 degrees or as much as the sufferer can bear — to aid in the breakdown of the weever's venom.
If more severe symptoms and resulting pain persist, medical attention should be sought.
So what can you do to stop yourself from falling foul of the weever fish?
Mr Flannery's advice is to wear flip-flops or other footwear if venturing to a more out-of-the-way area of the beach, particularly before or after low tide.
"The fish have always been found in Irish waters. If you are going wandering, keep an eye out and avoid them, and do not try to pick them up under any circumstances," he said.