Quick facts about the pufferfish!
Few families of fish are so easy recognizable as the Puffer fish! Those cute companions in most of the warm waters around the word are known for their ability to inflate their body, for their shape sometimes resembling human faces and for their friendly and curious behavior.
We collected some information that will help you to know a little bit more about those species and having more fun recognizing the facts the next time you come dive with us!
They are part of a big family called Tetraodontidae. It is known yo have at least 120 species of puffers divided in 19 genera. Their distribution follows all the waters at the tropic zone, it’s uncommon in the temperate zone and absent from cold waters. They vary from the smallest specie growing to just and inch in length (the Pygmy Pufferfish which is found in fresh water in India) to the longest reaching lengths of greater than 100cm.
Some names they are known for are: balloonfish, blowfish, bubblefish, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, toadies, honey toads, and sea squab. The Porcupinefish, the Boxfish and the cowfish are not part of the same family but still similar and closely related.
One of the most peculiar characteristics of the Pufferfish is the ability to inhale a huge amount of water (or air if on the surface) in order to avoid predators and turn them into an unpalatable pointy ball. They are highly maneuverable by combining their pectoral, dorsal, anal and caudal fins which makes them very slow swimmers, thus an easy prey.
Puffer fish do not have scales. Their skin is thick and rough. Most of them are drab, but many have bright colors and distinctive markings. There is often relationship between the body coloration and the amount of toxin produced by the fish (brighter colors are often associated with large quantity of toxin in the fish), but this is likely an example of aposematism. The Guinea Fowl Pufferfish is one example of specie that changes its color during the life, from black with white spots to yellow or brown with white spots.
Their reaction to divers is usually a curious approach, sometimes following them during the dive.
Cute but deadly
The Pufferfish are the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog. One puffer fish contains enough toxin to kill 30 adult men. Almost all species of puffer fish contain toxin (called tetrodotoxin) that can be 1200 times stronger than cyanide.
Toxin is not located in all parts of the puffer fish, and certain cultures prepare puffer fish (meal called fugu in Japan) as a delicacy. Only specially trained chefs can clean the fish properly and prepare delicious and toxin-free meal. Just one wrong cut of the fish meat can result in the death of the customer.
Even if not visible when not inflated, all puffers have pointed spines.
Pufferfish and stoned dolphins
If you’ve ever wondered why dolphins always appear to have permanent euphoric smiles stretched across their faces, this could offer an explanation: BBC filmmakers recently caught wild dolphins on camera getting high by chewing on a toxic pufferfish.
Each member of the pod of cetacean stoners appeared to gently pass the fish around after each hit, forever redefining the notion of a “puff pass.”
“After chewing the puffer and gently passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection,” said Rob Pilley, one of the producers of the documentary. “This was a case of young dolphins purposefully experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating.”