Puffer fish blowing up as a defense mechanism


the Facebook picture

Yesterday I noticed a disturbing photo on Facebook and judging by the comments I believe these people had no clue what they had done.  Other people were commenting on how cool this was as well, so I am going to try and explain the behavior of a puffer fish blowing up. We already did a post on pufferfish behavior, so if you want to read more click here: pufferfish There are many types of pufferfish and here in the Papagayo Gulf in Costa Rica we see so many different types and in big groups as well, they seem very friendly with an ever lasting smile and not shy to divers at all.  The picture I saw was a  guineafowl and is one of the most beautiful ones I personally believe.puffer

To blow itself up, a pufferfish takes in a lot of water, holding it in place in the stomach with two sphincters located where the stomach connects to the esophagus and to the intestine. To deflate, the fish lets out the water.

Throughout that process, scientists found the fish are taking in oxygen through their gills. They’re not holding their breath and they’re not breathing through their skin. Pufferfish know how to inflate themselves instinctively from hatching, even if they cannot utilize it to its full effect until they grow to adulthood. When frightened, the puffer unhinges his jaw in order to widen his mouth. This allows him more room to suck in around 35 large gulps of water in approximately 14 seconds.  It takes an average of 5.6 hours for the pufferfish’s oxygen consumption to come back down to normal levels.

That long recovery period is necessary after a few seconds of frantically trying to avoid a predator and taking in huge gulps of water. In some pufferfish species, scientists have documented severe fatigue  that the fish require more time to recover after each inflation or become completely unable to inflate after multiple blow-ups.puffer fish

Just as people should stretch before exercising to avoid injuring themselves, puffers need to stretch out their muscles as well. Inflating yourself full of water so that your skin is stretched tight can be very painful, especially if your muscles aren’t used to it – When we take the puffer out of the water it inflates with some water and air. Too much air trapped in his stomach can prevent a puffer from expelling the water, which can be fatal. 😦

Moral of the story: Don’t toy with a pufferfish just because you want to see it inflate. You may cause it to get so tired out that it won’t be able to handle a real threat when it comes along or in cocothe worse case it might DIE!

information found on:  sciencenews.org, seattleaquarium.org and wikipedia.


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