Beel den Stormer Presents the Only Fishery Blog You Need

Fish, Fisheries and Queryomics

Fugu. And Google, Too

Fugu, a dish prepared from the pufferfish shows up in the news from time to time, as in the recent article, “How the puffer fish gets you high, zombifies you, and kills you.”   Woo hoo, says Beel.

Of course, the reason for the recurring interest in pufferfish is that poorly-prepared fugu is toxic and, on occasion, someone dies form eating it.  Remember, the news maxim, if it bleeds, it leads.

Fugu, prepared from pufferfish, is a delicacy in Japan.  The real interest in fugu is kind of like Russian Roulette- you can literally die from eating fugu, so you must be a stud.  Or something.

Pufferfishes belong to a family of fish called the Tetraodontidae, which means four teeth, and many species host bacteria that produce a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which has no cure.  The flesh of the pufferfish is safe to eat, but the skin, liver, and ovaries may contain sufficiently high contentrations of tetrodotoxin, that even a small amount of contamination can result in a fatal poisoning. 

Tetrodotoxin is among the most potent toxins known and is about 100 times as toxic by weight as potassium cyanide.  The poison inhibits electrical signaling in the nerves and paralyzes the body muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. 

 Sushi chefs in Japan must be specially trained and licensed to prepare fugu for consumption, with only 30% passing an extremely rigorous test.  Beel says, if you’re going to eat raw fish…

But pufferfish get a bad rap.  Almost all Google searches for puffer fish relate to fugu poisioning.   Let Beel present results of a Google Insights for Search analysis of pufferfish and fugu:  there’s not much difference.  It seems people are only interested in pufferfish if someone dies from eating one.

Fishbase reports there are 188 species of pufferfish.  Most marine species are toxic.  However, 33 species of pufferfish are found in inland waters of Asia, 6 in Africa, 2 in South America, and 2 in Oceania.  Most inland species are reported by Fishbase as being harmless to humans, although the Japanese pufferfish Takifugu rubripes and African freshwater pufferfish Tetraodon mbu are toxic.  But, Beel says, you shouldn’t be eating freshwater pufferfish.

Freshwater pufferfish range in size from the diminutive Malabar pufferfish Carinotetraodon travancoricus, which is rumored to reach a whopping 1.5 inches in length, to the larger Japanese pufferfish, which reaches 31.5 inches in length.

Golden pufferfish

Many pufferfish, such as the freshwater golden pufferfish, Auriglobus modestus, are popular in the aquarium trade.  It seems there are fewer deaths associated with watching pufferfish than eating them.  Coincidence, or what?

Back to the whole toxicity thing, Beel recommends “The Wonderfully Tasty, and Deadly, Fugu” for a popular description of pufferfish toxins and Tetrodotoxin:  The Molecule of the Month for a bit more informative, but still accessible, look.
Beel notes that Medscape, reports that tetrodotoxin also is found in:
Gastropod molluscs, the eggs of horseshoe crabs, newts of the genus Taricha, the skin of Atelopid frogs, and the skin and viscera of porcupine fish, globefish, balloon fish, blowfish, ocean sunfish, toadfish, blue-ringed octopus, and some species of salamanders.  
Finally, as a public health warning, Beel points you to a somewhat older news article, Blowfish testicles poison seven in Japanese restaurant: Police question chef after unlicensed restaurant serves up deadly delicacy.   Beel says, lay off those blowfish testicles!

One comment on “Fugu. And Google, Too

  1. Pingback: The Mysterious Ocean Sunfish « denstormerpresents

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2012 by in Conservation, Fish versus Man, Google Stuff and tagged , .
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