Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Ugliest Fish in the World

This description from says it all, "toadfish common name for the sluggish, bottom-feeding fishes of the genus Opsanus, found in the shallow waters from New Jersey to the Caribbean. Toadfishes feed almost entirely on crustaceans and small fishes. The head of a toadfish is broad and flat, with barbels and fleshy fringes, sharp gill covers, and spiny protrusions on the cheeks; the mouth is enormous and has many sharp teeth. The scaleless, slimy body tapers to a slender tail."   Honestly, if cow poop had fins, eyes and teeth it would look exactly like a toadfish.

I went on many fishing trips as a kid and the one thing we were taught to fear wasn't a shark... it was the toadfish.  In fact, if I or any of my cousins were unlucky enough to have snagged one on their line, we were allowed to even try to take it off the hook.  Actually, if we ended up catching one, the hook was lost as no one attempted to take it out of the fish's mouth.  What would happen is that Pepop would grab the line and flop the fish on the cutting board.  Taking his old used knife, he would stab through the toadfish's head pinning it to the board.  Then he would try to get the hook out.  Usually though the line had to be cut and the toadfish went overboard. 
The danger came with what it has in its mouth- rows of stiletto knife shard needle teeth that might take off a finger (everything dangerous might take a finger, or even a hand or foot- I'm sure you'll hear me say this more than once).  Afterall, toadfish are designed to crack open an oyster, so think of what it could do to little fingers. 

As scary as they might have been, we still liked the excitement of catching one. 

And before all you animal lovers and PETA people and Fair Treatment of Ugly Slimy Fish people jump on me over killing them... remember that they feed primarily on oysters.  Oysters are declinging.  Toadfish were not declining at the time.  Oysters are the lungs of the Bay and its tributaries- very important.  So the fewer things out there eating them, the better. 

Here's an interesting tidbit- In 1997, NASA sent the Oyster toadfish into space to investigate the effects of microgravity on the development of otolithic organs (whatever they are).  I hear they ended up using them as part of the "star wars" program.  We'll be sending them into Afghanistan and Iraq should the need arise. 


  1. O.M.G.

    We used to catch these SOBs in the Piankatank and referred to them (perhaps incorrectly) as blow toads, but no matter what you called them they were HIDEOUS.

    Yet memorable.

    I'll have to remember the proper term of "toadfish" in future references.

    Once again, I learn something new here!

  2. I'm just full of useless information :) I think they call them oyster toadfish as there are many types...