Puffer Fish

Scientific Classification:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Actinopterygii
Subclass: Neoptergii
Infraclass: Teleostei
Order: Tetraodontiformes
Family: Tetraodontidae (Smooth Pufferfishes) [Wikipedia]

(Different than Porcupine fish which are in the family Diodontidae and have large external spines even when not puffed up)

Tetraodontidae is a family of primarily marine and estuarine fish. The scientific name refers to the four large teeth, fused into an upper and lower plate, which are used for crushing their natural prey.[1] The Tetraodontidae contains at least 189 species of puffers in 19 genera. Other names for Puffer fish include, Blowfish, Balloon Fish, Fugu and Globefish.



These pictures show the four large teeth Puffer fish are named for and use to crush their prey.

Most Puffer fish inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions including coral reefs. They are usually found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They are mostly found in coastal areas but some can be found in the deep ocean. Around 39% of species of Puffer fish that live in marine waters swim to fresh water in order to breed. There are also some puffer fish species that live entirely in freshwater. In the map below, the shaded yellow region shows more clearly where the Puffer fish live.[9]



The diet of the puffer includes:
Porifera: Sponges
Echinoderms: Sea Urchins, Brittlestars, Corals, Etc.
Tunicates: Sea squirts
Protists: Algae
Molluscs: Mussels, Etc.
Crustaceans: Crabs, Krill, Etc.

Puffer fish are carnivores. They mainly eat bottom dwelling invertebrates and the larger Puffer fish like to eat shellfish. They use their teeth to crush and grind up their prey. Puffers are able to eat crustaceans and molluscs because of their hard beaks.[4] There are said to be three types of Puffer hunting methods or ways in which they get their food. The groups are the open water hunters, the stealth predators and the ambush predators. The open water hunters tend to feed on oysters, clams, snails, shrimps and crabs. They swim around rocky and sandy substrates to find these prey. They will maneuver around oyster beds, mangrove roots or aquatic plants and use their excellent eyesight to scope out their prey. Their slow swimming style referred to as clumsy by many, can actually be an advantage to them upon searching for prey because they can maneuver to aid their search process. The majority of Puffer fish are said to be this type of hunter, the open water hunter. The stealth predators feed on the same types of prey as the open water hunters, but they do not like to swim out in the open waters. They tend to stay close to cover and tend to hide. The last type of hunting style a Puffer fish can take on is called the ambush predator style. This type of Puffer feeds mainly on fish. Because they lack speed to chase after their prey, this type of Puffer will hide in the sand, with only its eyes sticking out and lunge upward at fish swimming above them.[8]

This video displays how a Puffer fish attacks and eats its prey. Obviously the Puffer is not in its natural habitat, nor is this a professional video but it depicts the eating habits of the Puffer and its ability to use its sharp beak-like teeth to kill its prey (the crab in this case). (Skip to around 1:58 and end around 3:30)



Members of the Tetraodontidae family, for the most part share the same shape and general characteristics. Puffer fish generally have a torpedo-shaped body with a usually translucent dorsal fin. The anal fin is situated ventrally, in line with the dorsal fin and the caudal fin is usually rounded or sometimes moderately forked. Pectoral fins are found just behind the gills and are usually translucent. The Puffer primarily uses the dorsal and anal fins for propulsion along with its pectoral fins and caudal fin as a rudder. Because the caudal fins in Puffer fish are usually rounded, they are slow moving and usually only use the caudal tails for the occasional careless burst of speed. Their teeth are fused in a powerful jaw which allows them to crush their prey. Also the eyes of Puffer fish are large for its body, and are capable of moving independently. They are able to blink and close their eyes. These eyes bulge outwards instead of being recessed in the head. Some Puffer fish are capable of changing the color or intensity of their patterns to respond to environmental changes. Their skin is elastic, leathery, rough or spiky, may be covered with short, prickly bumps and does not contain any scales. [6]They can range in size from 1 inch long (the dwarf or Pygmy Puffer) to more than 2 feet in length.[10] The Puffer fish have large and powerful jaws and their nostrils are located on the outside of their head generally right in front of they eyes in order to make room for the muscles that operate the jaw. The lips of the Puffer provide it with information on the taste and texture of whatever it is they are trying to eat. This can be helpful to let them know whether something is worth eating or if they are mistaking a rock for the shell of a prey. These lips cover the beak except, obviously when the Puffer is eating and needs its teeth.

puffer_5.png This picture depicts the average size of a Puffer fish as compared to a tea cup.

Natural Defenses:
The puffer fish is a slow, which can make it rather vulnerable to predators. To make up for its inability to quickly escape, it will use its excellent eyesight and upon sighting an enemy, a puffer fish use its highly elastic stomach and ability to ingest huge amounts of water to turn itself into an inedible ball several times its usual size. Also all puffer fish have poisonous pointed spines, but some species only have them upon inflation. When inflated, puffer fish are only able to swim at about half of their normal speed. Predators then have to face an inflated spherical fish with pointed spines covering it. If a predator does manage to catch a puffer fish they might die from choking or if they ingest the fish, it could be lethal for them. Most puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, which not only makes them taste foul, but it is also poisonous to most creatures. Some species of fish like the tiger shark and Lizardfish are not affected by this toxin and are able to eat the puffer fish. [4]

A puffer is able to inflate its body with water through the use of an oral valve that is located on the floor of their mouth. After it has filled its mouth with water, the puffer fish uses a large muscle at the base of the oral valve to form a tight seal against the back of the front teeth. The muscle plunging forward to form this seal is able to prevent water from escaping. Another muscle located at the base of the throat forces the water to shoot down to its esophagus and then into its stomach. The fish also contains a muscle which prevents the fish from expanding too much. This puffing is all possible also due to the fact that the Puffers have highly elastic stomachs and skin, and lack ribs. [2]
Once the Puffer fish is fully blown, it is nearly impossible for its predators to grip it or bit through the thick elastic skin. It has also been said that while a Puffer is in its puffed state its skin is so strong that it remains in tact even after a grown man has stood on it.[5]



As previously mentioned, most Puffer fish contain the poison tetrodotoxin. Puffer fish are considered to be the 2nd most poisonous vertebrate in the world. The poison's full name is anhydrotetrodotoxin 4-epitetrodotoxin. It is 1,200 time more lethal than cyanide. Upon contact with this poison, a human will first begin to feel numbness in the lips and the tongue. This numbness will expand to the throat and other parts of face. Some people may experience dizziness, weakness or loss of speech. This will be followed by respiratory problems, extreme paralysis and cardiac arrhythmia. Death will ensue usually within 4 to 6 hours. There is no known cure for this toxin as of yet. This neurotoxin can also be found in a few other animals including the Blue Ringed Octopus.[7]

The neurotoxin in the Puffer is most concentrated within the liver, eyes, spikes and the ovaries, but it is also possible to find smaller amounts in the intestines and skin. There have also been extremely small amounts found within the muscles and blood of the Puffer. The Puffer produces this toxin from bacteria acquired by the food it consumes. It has been estimated that one Puffer fish has the ability to kill 30 adult humans.[2][3]

ReproductionSpawning happens after the male puffer slowly pushes/guides the female puffer towards the shore, where she will release between 3 to 7 eggs. It is the male's role to protect the eggs. These eggs are able to float because they are extremely light and will hatch in about one week. The eggs can be extremely toxic (with tetrodotoxin) which is believed to be for protection. They are referred to as Puffer fish fry in their young stage when they are not fully developed and have a hard shell that protects them as they grow. The fry have functional mouths and eyes and will need to eat within a few days after hatching from the egg. The fry under magnification actually resemble puffer fish. Eventually their outer shell will crack and the fins and tail will develop. When it is grown enough, the Puffer fish will swim down and assimilate to their community. [3][10]


Puffer fish predators are usually sharks, large fish, and humans. In Japan, Puffer fish are called Fugu and are a very expensive delicacy. Due to the fact that they are so poisonous, they are prepared only by trained, licensed Fugu chefs. Any mistakes while preparing this fish could mean death for anyone who eats it. For the most part populations of Puffer fish are considered stable, but some species are considered vulnerable because of pollution, habitat loss and overfishing. [4]

This video shows how popular Puffer Fish are in Japan as food and also further explains the toxin contained within the fish.


  1. "10 Interesting Puffer Fish Facts." Freakz Info. Web. 1 Oct. 2011. <http://freakz.info/2011/09/21/10-interesting-puffer-fish-facts/>.
  2. "PuffernetAnatomy and Physiology." Puffernet. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. <http://puffernet.tripod.com/ap.html>.
  3. Zinkova, Mila. "Puffer Fish Facts | Wild Facts." Animal Facts | Endangered Animals | Wild Facts. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.wild-facts.com/tag/puffer-fish-facts/>.
  4. "Pufferfish, Pufferfish Pictures, Pufferfish Facts - National Geographic." Animals - Animal Pictures - Wild Animal Facts - Nat Geo Wild - National Geographic. Web. 22 Oct. 2011. <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/pufferfish/>.
  5. Putatunda, Rita. "Puffer Fish." Buzzle Web Portal: Intelligent Life on the Web. Web. 1 Oct. 2011. <http://www.buzzle.com/articles/puffer-fish.html>.
  6. Marine Life Profile, Puffer Fishes. 15. Oct. 2011.<http://www.waquarium.org/_library/images/education/marinelifeprofiles/pufferfishes0909.pdf>
  7. "Puffer Fish - Info and Games." Sheppard Software: Fun Free Online Learning Games and Activities for Kids. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/content/animals/animals/fish/pufferfish.htm>.
  8. "Inside the Mind of a Puffer; Understanding Pufferfish Behaviour for Better Pufferfish Husbandry ." Wetwebmedia, Aquarium, Pond, Marine and Freshwater Fish, Reef Tanks, and Aquatics Information. Web. 29 Sept. 2011. <http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/pufferminds.htm>.
  9. "Wild Things :: Puffer Fish." Kids Chat | Teen Chat | Free Online Kids Games | Safe Kids Website | Kidzworld.com. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.kidzworld.com/article/745-wild-things-puffer-fish>.
  10. "Puffer Fish (Tetraodontidae) - Animals." A-Z Animals - Animal Facts, Information, Pictures, Videos, Resources and Links. Web. 3 Nov. 2011. <http://a-z-animals.com/animals/puffer-fish/>.

Multimedia (in order of appearance):

  1. "Joey (puffer Fish) Eats a Crab - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENkPVy7owew>.
  2. "Puffer Fish - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkXhC7yzISI>.
  3. "Eating Poison Fish - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGv2QxmaRI0>