If you’re ever tempted to order puffer fish in a restaurant, here’s something to chew on instead:

The puffer fish-belongs to a family of marine fish called the Tetraodontidae, which translates as the fish with four teeth, referring to the four teeth fused into their upper and lower jaws. If I had been responsible for classifying fish I might have called them “the fish that puff themselves up” or “the fish which shouldn’t be eaten because they will poison you,” but I suppose “the fish with four teeth” is good too.

The puffer fish’ poison is found in parts most people discard: the skin, liver, ovaries, and testicles. You’ve probably never seen fish ovaries or testicles on a menu, but if you do, you’ll know now to avoid them.

The poison, because it’s found in tetradonts, is called tetrodotoxin. It kills by blocking the sodium channel in cells. It binds to sites on the outside of the channels and blocks them. If you get the poison on your hands or lips, you’ll experience mild numbness. If you swallow the poison, you’ll experience mild death.

Only chefs with years of training are supposed to serve puffer fish, but a few diners are killed each year anyways, despite their preparer’s training.

Just something to think about the next time you’re ordering sushi.

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