Animal Spotlight: Porcupine Pufferfish

By Sally Tang

We have a new addition to the Hall of Fishes that deserves a special spotlight – the Porcupine Pufferfish! Located in Exhibit 21, the new Porcupine Pufferfish can be found all over the globe in lagoons and reefs and are commonly seen in caves and holes in shallow reefs. Here are 5 quick facts about them you may not have known already! 

1) They can double in size when threatened

The most notorious fact about Pufferfish is their unique ability to inflate their body by inhaling air or water to grow in size and protrude their spines. This unique adaptation deters smaller predators and prevents them from gripping or biting the inflated body of the pufferfish and hence, it is protected from the predator. The change in size can also startle predators and make them think twice about trying to eat a spine-covered ball!

2) Pufferfish’s neurotoxins can be deadly 

Some pufferfishes’ internal organs contain a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin that is at least 1200 times more potent than cyanide. The poison is produced by several types of bacteria obtained from the fish’s diet. 

3) Pufferfish have a beak-shaped toothplate

Pufferfish have four teeth that are fused together into a beak-like form, similar to a parrot. They use this strong beak to help crush and slice their prey. These teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Because of this constant growth, parrotfish teeth grow throughout their entire life, so continued gnawing on shells or corals help file them down. 

4) Awkward swimmers 

Pufferfish’s evoluntionary advantage may have come from the fact that they are clumsy, disadvantaged swimmers. They have no pelvic fins so rely on their pectoral fins in order to mosey around the water. 

5) Sup-EYE-powers!   

One of the more distinctive characteristics of the puffer is the wide-set and bulging eyes. Puffers have very sharp vision that is an important survival strategy that helps them spot small prey and allows them to identify potential threats from farther away. Another ocular advantage puffers have is the ability to move each eye independently of the other, scanning for threats across a wide range of vision.

We have enjoyed our guests reactions about our brand new friends in Exhibit 21, make sure you keep an eye out for them on your next visit! 

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego