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Oyster Toadfish

Opsanus tau

Oyster toadfish have big, bulging eyes on top of a large, flat head and fleshy
Oyster toadfish have big, bulging eyes on top of a large, flat head and fleshy "whiskers" on the cheeks and jaws. (Templarion/Flickr)

The oyster toadfish is an ugly fish that lives year-round in oyster reefs and other shallow parts of the Chesapeake Bay.


  • Scaleless, flattened body
  • Olive-brown back with dark blotches or bars
  • Pale belly
  • Fleshy flaps or “whiskers” on the cheeks and jaws
  • Big, bulging eyes on the top of a large, flat head
  • A broad mouth filled with strong, rounded teeth
  • Grows to about 12 inches long


  • Bottom-dweller
  • Found primarily within and around oyster reefs
  • Also lives among wrecks, debris, rocks, vegetation and other dark, secluded spots in the shallows during warmer months
  • Moves to the Chesapeake Bay’s deep channels in winter


  • Abundant throughout the Bay year-round
  • Most common in the middle and lower Bay


  • Feeds mostly on small crabs and other crustaceans
  • Will also eat mollusks and small fish


  • May be eaten by sharks
  • Protects itself from predators with its strong jaws and spiny dorsal fin
  • Hides 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

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns in April-October in the Bay’s shallows
  • Males makes 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

Other Facts:

  • An oyster toadfish will quickly take an angler's bait. But be wary of catching this fish — it has powerful, snapping jaws and sharp spines on the dorsal fin.

  • The hardy oyster toadfish can tolerate litter and polluted water, and can survive out of water for a lengthy period of time
  • Although it is edible, oyster toadfish are rarely eaten because of their grotesque appearance

Sources and Additional Information:

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