The oyster toadfish is an ugly fish that lives year-round in oyster reefs and other shallow parts of the Chesapeake Bay.
The oyster toadfish's scaleless, flattened body grows to about 12 inches in length. It has an olive-brown back with dark blotches or bars, and a pale belly. Fleshy flaps or “whiskers” appear on its cheeks and jaws. Big, bulging eyes rest on the top of its large, flat head. Its broad mouth is filled with strong, rounded teeth.
A bottom-dweller, the oyster toadfish is found primarily within and around oyster reefs. It also lives among wrecks, debris, rocks, vegetation and other dark, secluded spots in the shallows during warmer months, moving to the Chesapeake Bay’s deep channels in winter.
Abundant throughout the Bay year-round, the toadfish is most common in the middle and lower Bay.
The oyster toadfish feeds mostly on small crabs and other crustaceans but will also eat mollusks and small fish.
Toadfish may be eaten by sharks. They protect themselves from predators with strong jaws and spiny dorsal fin, and will hide from predators within oyster reefs, rocky areas and other debris.
Spawning males make a distinctive “foghorn” call to attract a mate.Oyster Toadfish courtesy of Sciaenid Acoustics Research Team, East Carolina University
Spawning occurs in April through October in the Bay’s shallows. Males make a nest in a dark, secluded location, then call for a female mate. The female lays sticky eggs on the top of the nest, then leaves. Oyster toadfish eggs measure about one-fifth of an inch in diameter – the largest eggs of any fish in the Bay. The male protects the eggs and keeps the nest clean by using his fins to fan out debris. After about one month, the eggs hatch. The tadpole-like young remain attached to the nest by a yolk. Once the yolk is fully absorbed, the male guards the young toadlets for a few more weeks, although they are free to swim in and out of the nest.