Weird Gramma
Previous Editions
Oyster toadfish resting in a rocky reef.
Photo by Andrew David and Lance Horn, NOAA.
WeirdFins
THE NOISY TOADFISH
Oyster toadfish used on NASA Space Shuttle
Photo by National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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“WeirdFins” again, all about strange stuff in the sea, and I’m Weird Gramma. My friends Rachel and Liam, in Virginia, want to know about an ugly fish that lives along the Atlantic shoreline and sounds like a foghorn. Well, this is the oyster toadfish, also called “oyster cracker” because it loves to break open oysters and devour them. We are talking world-class loud and ugly, but this fish turns out to be pretty important to humans!

Toadfish are only about a foot long, and shaped like a big tadpole, with a really big head and mouth like a frog’s. These guys are camouflaged to look like their surroundings—usually shell or rocky bottoms, or shallow-water garbage dumps—so they can just lie still and ambush small fish or crabs if there aren’t any oysters around. Both males and females use an air-filled bag next to their backbone to make a loud grunting sound. But it’s the male in mating season that sounds like a booming foghorn to attract a female to lay eggs in his nest. Then he guards the eggs until they hatch.

Toadfish are common, but not very meaty, so few fishermen try to catch ‘em for food. The reason they’re important to us is that they’re used in medical studies, because their ear canals are similar to ours. So they’ve been used in studies of diabetes, hearing, dizziness, and seasickness, and in fact, NASA sent two toadfish on a space shuttle mission with astronaut and Senator John Glenn in 1997 to study how gravity affects balance.

If you go fishing and catch an oyster toadfish, be real careful when removing the hook. Those powerful jaws that can crush an oyster can do some major damage to your fingers!

You can see pictures of toadfish on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.

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