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Eli’s Fish Facts: Oyster Toadfish!

Eli’s Fish Facts: Oyster toadfish!

Opsanus tau   

Possibly the strangest looking fish in the Hudson River, the oyster toadfish is also definitely one of my favorites. Most notably recognized by their large, flat head, bulging eyes, whisker-like growths on their lower mouths, and scaleless, slimy skin, these omnivorous ambush predators lie in wait at the bottom of the river for their prey to get close before they chomp down with their incredibly strong jaws and teeth. Some consider them lazy fish, as they can lie in wait for hours, but they can also survive in heavily polluted waterways, as well as in open air for much longer than most fish, thanks to the layer of mucus on their squishy skin. 

Toadfish are endlessly fascinating (at least according to me!). When angered, these “oyster crackers” emit a grunting noise, while males attract their mates with a loud foghorn-like call that can travel quite a ways underwater. After mating, the males guard the nest, sometimes for a whole month, and then take care of the young for 3-4 weeks after hatching until the babies are free-swimming. Scientists also apparently find toadfish fascinating, as they were brought to space in 1998 as part of a study by NASA to study the vestibular, or balance system, of the fish, since it is extremely similar to that of humans. Because they’re such hardy fish, they turned out to be the perfect live specimens to study motion sickness as experienced by astronauts. 

Though CURB doesn’t often catch toadfish - they are fully endemic to the estuary but generally prefer higher-salinity brackish waters - we gained one large resident this September after visiting our friends at The River Project in lower Manhattan. Come check it out in our lab this winter - most likely lying in wait, while perhaps contemplating its own existence in Yonkers.