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Toxicology of puffer fishes

Puffer fishes became particularly popular because of their reputation to be very poisonous.

In fact tetradotoxine (amongst marine puffers) or saxitoxine (amongst freshwater puffers) are highly poisonous and this makes some of them the most poisonous animals in the world. The poison isn’t produced by the puffer fishes themselves but by the plentiful eating of certain algaes, which contain certain bacteria that produce the poison in small amounts and pile it up in the fish’s body. That’s why, as far as we know, only certain kinds are poisonous, whilst others are not. There are also seasonal differences in the concentration of the poison. Only little is known about the toxicity of the different breeds and you should never give it a try.

The poison only works if it is taken orally, that means by ingesting it. It doesn’t take effect very quickly, often even hours after ingestion. However, when the first symptom of poisoning appears, it is often too late, because antiserum or antidote like the ones you take in case of snake bites do not exist. When a certain amount of tetrodotoxin gets into the blood stream, you die in most of the cases an agonizing death. The poison disables the muscles, it makes you unable to move and it paralyzes the heart muscle.

The only known way to save you from poisoning with tetrodotoxin is to throw up the eaten fish as fast as possible to not digest any poison. Oxygen treatments should also help in some cases.

In spite of the notorious toxicity of those fishes, a lot of Japanese die every year because of Puffer poisoning. The Japanese consider the puffer fish as delicacy.

Particularly some big and extremely poisonous kinds of the category Takifugu (which are bred in great lakes in China and Japan) are very popular.

Special trained cooks with a profound education on puffers, prepare fish meals of those breeds by removing the particular poisonous inner organs without hurting them in a way that the poison could run into the meat. Puffer fish meat seems to be very popular due to the poison that remains in small amounts in the flesh, because of its intoxicating effect. Eating puffer fish is also considered as a kind of thrill and there are said to be high bets on the own life. Puffer fish meat is very expensive because of the complicating preparation and eating it is a kind of status symbol. Due to the faulty preparation, there are several death cases every year, partial in illegal restaurants.

There are hints, that the poison is reduced after some time. So it should be only found in fresh hoydens.

Es gibt hinweise darauf, dass das Gift mit der Zeit abgebaut wird, also wahrscheinlich nur bei frischen Wildfängen vorkommt.

There are rumours, which say that puffers i.e. in harassment drain their poison into the water to defend themselves, but any researches or evidences for this do not exist. So there assumes no danger. As puffer fishes can poison human beings only by oral consume, there is hardly any danger for the aquaristician.

Except:

1.Be careful with socializing fresh caught (known as poisonous) puffers with large predators. Is a fish eating such a puffer, it will die very quickly by the highest chance.

2.It has been reported that dead and rotting puffers drain their poison into the water of the tank. In fact there are no evidences, but theoretical it seems possible. Corpses of fresh caught and notorious poisonous breeds should be removed out of the tank immediately (The same is valid for other fishes!) It is possible, that they poison the water and their tank mates.




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