The pufferfish are fish making up the family Tetraodontidae.
They are also known as the blowfish, fugu, swellfish, and globefish.
There are more than 120 species of pufferfish worldwide.
Most pufferfish are found in sub-tropical and tropical marine waters (including coral reefs) in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Some puffers live in brackish and fresh water.
The average lifespan of the puffer fish is approximately 10 years.
They have long, tapered bodies with bulbous heads. Some wear wild markings and colors to advertise their toxicity, while others have more muted or cryptic coloring to blend in with their environment.
Puffers have tough, usually prickly skins. The spiny puffer has long spines all over its body. When it inflates, the spines stick out like porcupine quills.
The largest puffers may grow to 100 centimeters (39 inches) long. However, most types are smaller. The dwarf puffer is only about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) long.
Pufferfish diets can vary depending on their environment. Traditionally, their diet consists mostly of algae and small invertebrates. They can survive on a completely vegetarian diet if their environment is lacking resources, but prefer an omnivorous food selection. Larger species of pufferfish are able to use their beak-like front teeth to break open clams, mussels, and other shellfish. Some species of pufferfish have also been known to enact various hunting techniques ranging from ambush to open-water hunting.
The puffer’s unique and distinctive natural defenses help compensate for its slow locomotion. It moves by combining pectoral, dorsal, anal, and caudal fin motions. This makes it highly maneuverable, but very slow, so a comparatively easy predation target. Its tail fin is mainly used as a rudder, but it can be used for a sudden evasive burst of speed that shows none of the care and precision of its usual movements. The puffer’s excellent eyesight, combined with this speed burst, is the first and most important defense against predators.
They are called the pufferfish because when they are threatened, they puff up to about twice their normal size by gulping water.
Pufferfish are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog.
They use tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin. This toxin is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide.
Although tetrodotoxin can cause death, puffers are sometimes used as food. In Japan, where the fishes are called fugu, they must be carefully cleaned and prepared by a specially trained chef.
Some of the most notable types of pufferfish include: dwarf puffers, Nile puffers and Takifugu.
Dwarf puffers, are tiny freshwater pufferfish that is native to the rivers of Southwest India. These fish are popular in aquariums, resulting in severe overfishing that threatens them in particular. Dwarf pufferfish may also be known as peak puffers or pygmy puffers.
Nile puffers or Tetraodon lineatus are one of the most popular kinds of freshwater pufferfish to keep as a pet. As the name implies, the gorgeous yellow striped fish are found in the Nile river and throughout Africa.
The genus of pufferfish native to the northwest Pacific ocean are collectively known as Takifugu – these are the fish that were originally eaten as “fugu.” There are 25 different types of Takifugu, but they are all toxic.
Female puffers spawn, or release eggs, near the surface. Puffers do not care for their eggs or young.
Because they are covered in poisonous spikes, they have no real natural predators except sharks, which typically do not mind the presence of the poison.
Some species of pufferfish are considered vulnerable due to pollution, habitat loss, and overfishing, but most populations are considered stable.
The scientific name, Tetraodontidae, refers to the fact that they have four large teeth, fused into an upper and lower plate, which are used for crushing the shells of crustaceans and mollusks, their natural prey.
The species Torquigener albomaculosus was called by David Attenborough “the greatest artist of the animal kingdom” due to the males’ unique habit of wooing females by creating nests in sand composed of complex geometric designs.
If a fisherman catches a puffer fish, they will never touch the spikes because they are extremely toxic to humans and animals. However, if an animal manages to eat puffer fish, it is often poisoned by spikes or by poison when the puffer comes out of the fish’s limbs after dying.