Why the Puffer Fish Can Be 1,200 Times More Lethal Than Cyanide

The puffer fish is one of the funnier looking animals in the world. Their primary defense mechanism involves gulping down enough water so that its belly extends to the size of a foam dodgeball. They are also considered to be the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world (right behind the poison dart frog).

The puffer fish’s toxin courses through its skin, ovaries, gonads, and liver. It is so powerful that a single fish has enough of the stuff to kill thirty people. If ingested, the toxin moves throughout the body, slowly shutting down the nervous system. People have been known to survive this taste test, though the toxin often leaves them incapable of higher brain function – a situation akin to being a mindless zombie. Of course, there is also the possibility of death via full-body paralysis ranging from four to twenty-four hours after consumption.

In Japan, puffer fish (fugu) has become a seafood specialty. Fugu chefs train for three or more years  – often eating their own preparations – before serving the inflatable fish to customers. More experienced chefs might even use the toxin with the serving. Why? Because in small-enough doses, puffer fish toxin can bring a light-headed high.

Currently, there is no known antidote. Luckily, the Japanese do have over a dozen ways of serving this deadly delicacy.

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