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The oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau, also known as the ugly toad, oyster cracker and "bar dog", is a toadfish native to the western Atlantic in shallow waters between Massachusetts and Florida. A tadpole-shaped bottom dweller with a large mouth, its cryptic coloration make it well camouflaged in crevices on rocky/sandy/muddy substrates and reefs, jettys or wrecks from which the oyster toadfish ambushes its prey of a diverse range of fish and invertebrates. Like most toadfishes (family Batrachoididae), males of this species are known for attracting females to a nest by generating a deep grunting sound by vibrating their swimbladder. Oyster toadfish are hearty fish, able to withstand being out of water for up to 24 hours, and can live in polluted waters. They commonly grow to about 30 cms. While edible, they are not commonly eaten, perhaps because of their grotesque appearance.

Opsanus tau has been used as a lab research animal to investigate such topics as muscular contraction (the muscles wiring its swimbladder twitch faster than any other known vertebrate muscle), diabetes, drug metabolism and toxicology. The species is also a valuable neurological model for vestibular system disorders, including balance disruption, dizziness, and motion sickness; this research involved sending two fish into space on shuttle mission STS-95 in 1998 to examine the effect of gravity on the vestibular system, a topic important to astronauts. The oyster toadfish’s species name, tau, derives from the shape of one of the fish’s vestibular canals which resembles the Greek letter tau.

(Marine Biological Laboratory Labnotes 1997; Wikipedia 2012; Woods Hole National Oceanographic Institute)


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