Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Beware the Triggerfish

Wilderness Medicine is a colorful magazine published quarterly by the Wilderness Medical Society, and features society news, editorials, announcments, and interesting articles by members and others with an interest in wilderness medicine. While it is written predominately at the health care provider level, the prose is often quite understandable for layperson readers and usually very entertaining. The Summer, 2007 issue is no exception, including such interesting pieces as "Reach Out: Things That Fly, Slither, Drop, and Crawl," "Fit to be Wild: Backpacking Without Back Pain," "Rabies Considerations for Travelers," and "Off the Beaten Path: The Best Little Clinic in the Amazon."

One accounting that I really enjoyed is entitled "Beware the Vicious Triggerfish!" by Yvonne Lanelli. It is the account of an attack (bite on the leg) by a triggerfish upon a diver off Sipadan Island in Borneo. The knowledgeable explanation for this attack was offered by a local divemaster, who remarked that triggerfish are known to nest and guard their eggs during periods of the full moon.

Triggerfish may be gregarious or unimposing, but during mating season (and during the full moon) the females of at least two species (Pseudobalistes fuscus and the larger Balistoides viridescens) can become extremely territorial in guarding their nests and thus aggressive, inflicting painful bites. The strong jaws each carry eight long, protruding, and chisel-like teeth in an outer row, backed by an inner row of six teeth. Usually the fish “bites and runs,” but the orange-striped triggerfish Balistoides undulatus has been reported to bite and not release. It is common to have to strike the fish in some manner to get it to release. In the Gilbert Islands, a release technique is to bite the fish on the top of the head.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.