Puffer Fish Facts ~ Puffer Fish FAQ & Pictures

by Bob

in Sea Life

Puffer fish are small to medium size fish that expand 2-3x their natural size when feeling threatened by drawing in large amounts of water. They are popular aquarium fish. They have very expressive mouths which appear to be smiling. Puffers have large bug-eyes that move independently adding to their folksy charm.

Inflated Smooth Puffer Fish

An inflated smooth puffer fish being held by a guide in the Florida mangroves.

Here are some puffer fish facts:

What are some neat puffer fish facts?
People die every year from eating pufferfish that haven’t been prepared properly. They are very poisonous and dangerous to eat unless prepared by an experienced cook.
Pufferfish inflate their bodies 3x by gulping water into their elastic stomachs.
They can inflate 3 -7 times in a row before they become too fatigued to inflate anymore.

Is it pufferfish or puffer fish?
Both are commonly used.

What other names for pufferfish are there?
 Balloonfish, blowfish, globefish and toadfish.

Are puffer fish the same as porcupine fish?
No, but they are very similar and belong to the same order: Tetraodontiformes which include filefish, triggerfish and boxfish but are in different family. Porcupine fish have distended spikes even when deflated while puffers only show their spines when inflated. Porcupine fish have thicker spines as well.

How many types (species) of puffer fish are there?

What is the average size of a puffer fish?
The dwarf puffer aka pea puffer is the smallest at 1 inch-long.
The freshwater giant puffer can reach 2 feet in length.

dwarf puffer fish

Dwarf puffer fish hunting a snail

Giant Puffer Fish

Giant Puffer Fish

Why do puffer fish blow up (puff up)?
They are clumsy and slow swimmers thus vulnerable to predators. As a defense mechanism they developed the ability to ingest large amounts of water into their stomachs, doubling and tripling in size and along with their spines (on some species) makes them less appealing to predators.

How do puffer fish puff up?
By drawing in large amounts of water into a small chamber near their stomach which they then expel when returning to normal size.

How long can puffers stay puffed up?
Up to 15 minutes

Do pufferfish hold their breath while inflating themselves?
It was common knowledge for a long time that puffers held their breath while inflated as they appeared to keep their gill flaps closed and it was assumed the breathed through their skin. But a study disproved this and determined that they continue to breathe through their gills while inflated and do not, in fact, hold their breath nor breathe through their skin while inflated. 1

Is puffing up stressful for them?
Yes, it’s very tiresome for them to do this. They need around 5 hours of rest after puffing up before their breathing rate is back to normal. They can puff up 3-7 times in a row before they are too exhausted to puff anymore.

An almost spineless puffer puffing up (not recommended to take them out of the water as they ingest air instead of water to inflate and its not healthy for them):

A very spiny puffer puffing up:

Do puffer fish have scales?
No. They have thick, rough skin and most species have spines covering their that are only noticeable when they inflate. The underside of their body is very elastic allowing them to puff up 2-3x their original size.

How long do puffer fish live?
3-15 years depending on species. Most around 6 years. Aquarium puffers live longer than wild puffers.

Where do puffer fish live?
Primarily warm tropical waters around the world. 25 of the 120 species of puffer fish live in freshwater while a few prefer brackish water (a mixture of both)

What are teeth of the puffer fish like?
There are 4 of them that form a beak-like, powerful structure able to crush the shells of clams and oysters.

What do puffer fish eat?
Algae, mollusks, crustaceans, shrimp, oysters, crayfish and worms.

How do puffer fish catch their prey?
They are not primarily ambush hunters, instead they tend to feed on stationary and slow moving animals. They have to search out their food by carefully probing the seafloor as well as nooks and crannies in coral. They have big, sensitive lips which allows them to discern prey from rocks and other debris. They have large powerful jaws that house a formidable beak used to crush their prey. Small puffers eat snails by nibbling on them and sucking them out of their shells. There are a few ambush puffers that feed on small fish that swim within their lunging range.

Do puffer fish have any predators?
Sharks eat puffer fish and appear to be immune to their poison. Like any animal, they have opportunistic predators that can patiently weave their way around the spines. Whether they succumb to the poison after the fact is moot for the puffers.

A mantis shrimp battling a puffer (it’s possible the shrimp died from poisoning after eating the puffer):

Are female puffer fish larger than the males?

Where is their poison located and how powerful is it?
In the skin (minimal), liver, intestines and sex organs. Their poison is 1,200 times more powerful than cyanide. It’s the second most poisonous vertebrate (having a backbone) in the world next to the poison dart frog.

Is it safe to handle a puffer fish?
They have minimal poison on their skin and spines but they can inflict damage with their powerful beak.

What is fugu?
It’s the Japanese name for prepared puffer fish, primarily the Chinese puffer fish. In restaurants, only specially trained chefs with at least 3 years of apprenticing are allowed to prepare this dish. It takes skill to separate the non-poisonous meat from the poisonous organs and deaths occasionally still occur.

What is the most poisonous part of the puffer fish?
Its gallbladder.

Is there an antidote to puffer fish poison?
No. Treatment involves emptying the stomach, ingesting charcoal to bind the poison and maintaining life support until the victim recovers.

How does the puffer fish create its toxin?
It ingests poison producing bacteria that it stores in its liver and gallbladder.

What is puffer fish life cycle?
Male puffers gently push the females up to the water surface to mate. The females release eggs while the male fertilizes them. These eggs float on the water surface for 4-5 days, then hatch into a hard-shelled larvae. After about 3 weeks they more into tiny puffers that spend their time hiding in seaweed and rock crevasses.

How fast can a puffer fish swim
They are slow, clumsy swimmers but quite agile.

Are puffer fish endangered?
The Chinese puffer fish, which is the primary puffer used in fugu dishes in Japan is critically endangered due to overfishing. 2

Can puffer fish be kept as pets?
Yes. They are very popular aquarium pets.

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