Tetrodotoxic fishes

Stars and Stripes Puffer, Arothron hispidus (Photo: Ian Banks). Starry Puffer, Arothron stellatus (Photo: Ian Banks). Milkspot Toadfish, Chelonodon patoca Cheeseman’s Puffer, Lagocephalus cheesemanii (Photo: D. Roy).Smooth Golden Toadfish, Lagocephalus inermis - belly inflated (Photo: E.M. Grant) Banded Toadfish, Marilyna pleurostictaCommon Toadfish, Tetractenos hamiltoniWeeping Toadfish, Torquigener pleurogramma Threebar Porcupinefish, Dicotylichthys punctulatus (Photo: Ian Banks). Freckled Porcupinefish, Diodon holocanthus Longspine Porcupinefish, Tragulichthys jaculiferusPufferfish (or tetrodoxin) poisoning is caused by eating fishes of the families Tetraodontidae (pufferfishes and toadfishes), Diodontidae (porcupinefishes) and Molidae (Ocean Sunfishes). The vast majority of cases are attributable to puffers or toadfishes. Species of the other two families are very rarely eaten due to their grotesque or unpalatable appearance. Species from both tropical and temperate regions carry the toxin. Most species and individuals of the family are likely to have it, regardless of size, location, or season.

Some restaurants in Japan have specially licensed chefs that prepare what is known as “fugu” from very thin slices of the flesh of certain species of pufferfishes. The skin is removed and the flesh carefully separated from all internal organs, minimising the amount of toxin in the portion to be consumed. Fugu is regarded as a delicacy, but despite the care taken in its preparation it often produces mild symptoms due to minute traces of tetrodotoxin remaining in the flesh. In Japan serious poisoning and death from eating fugu is not uncommon.

Most cases of pufferfish poisoning in Australia have involved poorly informed anglers who have caught fish for home consumption, having no knowledge of the species or the likely consequences of eating them. Blowfish, pufferfish, toadfish or toados should never be eaten.

Fishes of the family Tetraodontidae (pufferfishes) may be distinguished by a combination of:

  • Skin without scales (but sometimes with numerous tiny prickles)
  • Four sharp-edged tooth plates, divided centrally to form powerful beak-like jaws
  • Belly inflatable
  • No ventral fins
  • Dorsal and anal fins without spines and situated far back on the body

There have been 57 species of pufferfishes recorded from Australian waters and 48 of these are known from Queensland. Some of the more common species occurring in Queensland include the following:

  • Stars and Stripes Puffer, Arothron hispidus
  • Starry Puffer, Arothron stellatus
  • Milkspot Toadfish, Chelonodon patoca
  • Cheeseman’s Puffer, Lagocephalus cheesemanii
  • Smooth Golden Toadfish, Lagocephalus inermis
  • Banded Toadfish, Marilyna pleurosticta
  • Common Toadfish, Tetractenos hamiltoni
  • Weeping Toadfish, Torquigener pleurogramma

Fishes of the family Diodontidae (porcupinefishes) are similar to pufferfishes in many respects, but may easily be distinguished by the numerous large spines that cover the head and body. Twelve species of porcupinefishes have been recorded from Australian waters and 10 of these are known from Queensland.

Several of the more common species occurring in Queensland include the following:

  • Threebar Porcupinefish, Dicotylichthys punctulatus
  • Freckled Porcupinefish, Diodon holocanthus
  • Longspine Porcupinefish, Tragulichthys jaculiferus

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