Chemical Ecology (Session I 2001)
Home Units Defensive Mechanisms The Puffer Fish
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 The Puffer Fish

 Fahaka Puffer Fish (Photo, A.Komarisky)   Ceylon Green Puffer Fish (Photo, A.Komarisky)


Puffer fish are a delicacy in Japan with a single serving in a restaurant costing hundreds of dollars. Only trained and licensed chefs may prepare puffer fish in Japan taking particular care with the gonads, skin, liver and intestines. Chefs are required to pass a strict written exam and demonstrate their technique by preparing puffer fish (fugu) and then eating it. On successful completion of the test, which only has a 25% pass rate, a license is issued by the Department of Health.

Despite the care taken in preparation, in some cases the diner experiences numbness in the tongue and lips, sensations that often disappear. In other cases these symptoms are followed by more serious events such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and paralysis of the face and extremities. Extreme cases will experience acute paralysis, respiratory distress, convulsions, cardiac arrhythmia and speech impairment and finally, death.

Death usually occurs within hours but some patients exist in zombie like states of suspended animation for days before experiencing complete recovery. During all of these events the patient remains completely lucid. Estimates are that as many as 200 cases of such poisonings a year with half of the victims dying. The culprit in these cases is a deadly poison found in the puffer fish-tetrodotoxin.

See the FDA, Bad bug Book 1  and Bad bug Book 2