Toadfishes are a large, easily recognised group of about 100 species, of which 25 species are found in Western Australia. They have characteristic torpedo-shaped bodies, rounded dorsal and anal fins set at the back of the body, soft skin lacking scales but sometimes with small embedded spines, and teeth fused into a beak. Another characteristic of this family is a lethal toxin, tetrodotoxin, which is present in the skin and internal organs of most species. Blowfish derive their name from their ability to inflate their abdomens with either air or water, an effective defensive mechanism to appear much larger to potential predators.
The ringed toadfish has a rounded body that is white below and dusky above, with a blotched pattern over the sides and a broad dusky band from the eye to the chin. They are easily identified due to a distinctive black circle around the base of the pectoral fin. Larger males have fine blue spots covering the body, which are absent in juveniles and females. The ringed toadfish are opportunistic feeders, feeding on a variety of benthic invertebrates such as crustaceans and marine worms as juveniles, then moving to a diet of bivalve molluscs, such as mussels as they mature. The ringed toadfish grow to a maximum length of 25 centimetres.
The ringed toadfish is endemic to Australia, occurring from Lancelin, WA to Botany Bay, NSW and around Tasmania. This species tend to be moderately common in the shallows of large open estuaries in the northern section of their range in Western Australia, then tend to move to deep coastal and offshore reefs to depths of up to 146 metres in cooler, south eastern Australian waters.
Despite being widely regarded as a nuisance, the banded toadfish play an important role in marine ecosystems by consuming waste scrap, bait and berley due to their scavenging nature. Removing individuals from a population may have adverse effects, where the population will breed to overcompensate for their loss.
Occurrence at the Busselton Jetty
The ringed toadfish are easily recognised by the large black line encircling the base of their pectoral fin. They may be observed on a daily basis from the underwater observatory, often as individuals hovering over the seafloor rubble and around the base of jetty piles.
Image by: S. Teede