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Warning: Blowfish is already in the Mediterranean!

Since some time ago, newspapers are talking and warning about the arrival of the blowfish in the Mediterranean. This post expects to describe these famous animals and explain which the danger is for humans. 

HOW IS  THE BLOWFISH OF THE MEDITERRANEAN?

Blowfishes are a group present in the Mediterranean because they have accessed through the Suez Canal, so blowfishes are an exotic species. The species in the Mediterranean is the silver-cheeked toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus). Quickly, they established in the Eastern Mediterranean, but recently they have been found in the Adriatic sea (east of Italy). In this article published in the Mediterranean Marine Science, you may find a map with the concrete places (we cannot publish here for copyright). The silver-cheeked toadfish is native to tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, including Red Sea, where lives in muddy and sandy sea bottoms close to coral reefs between 10 and 180 m deep. They feed on a wide variety of animals and plants thanks to its powerful beak.

Their colouration is greenish with dark spots above, silver band from mouth to caudal fin and white belly. They can be distinguished from other blowfishes of similar colouration for their symmetric tail. The spines of the fins, moreover, are all soft. Their body is not covered by scales, but some small spines in the belly and in the dorsal part of the body. With two big teeth in each jaw, they constitute some kind of beak. When they feel in danger, they absorb water in a lateral cavity in the stomach to swell the body. The biggest animals can measure more than one metre long, but in average, they measure 40 cm.

Lagocephalus sceleratus (Foto: Il Giornale dei Marinai).
Lagocephalus sceleratus (Picture: Il Giornale dei Marinai).

WHICH IS THE DANGER?

Like other fish with a powerful jaws and big enough, the blowfish can produce a deep injury. Some species of blowfish can be specially aggressive. Most of the accidents are produced when manipulating alive animals.

However, this fish is poisonous and, in fact, it has caused some human deaths due to the presence of the toxin tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. This toxin can paralyse the muscles, so it stops breathing and produce death by suffocation. It is known that with 0.009 mg for each kg of body weight is lethal. To give an example, a person with 70 kg who ingest 0.63 mg of the toxin may die (yes, in mg!). Most curious is the fact that the toxin is not produced by theirselves, but bacteria that ingest through food.

REFERENCES

  • Bergbauer, Myers & Kirschner (2009). Guía de animales marinos peligrosos. Ed. Omega
  • FishBase: Lagocephalus sceleratus
  • IUCN: Lagocephalus sceleratus
  • Nader M., Indary S., Boustany L., 2012. FAO EastMed The Puffer Fish Lagocephalus sceleratus (Gmelin, 1789) in the Eastern Mediterranean. GCP/INT/041/EC – GRE – ITA/TD-10

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