6 Fun Facts About Puffer Fish (2024)

Puffer fish are well-known for their ability to puff themselves up. This defense tactic involves sucking water into their stomach, rendering them too large for predators to eat. Yet, the intrigue surrounding puffer fish goes far beyond their inflating skills.

We took a deep dive with expert fish curators to explore six fun facts about puffer fish.

1. There Are Over 190 Different Species of Puffer Fish

Most puffer fish species are round in shape, but a few are more box-like, says Lizeth Webster, curator of fish and invertebrates at the Long Island Aquarium. If you have a saltwater aquarium, there are plenty of puffer fish species to choose from because most puffers thrive in saltwater. In comparison, there are less than 30 species of freshwater puffer fish.

2. Puffer Fish Don’t Have Scales … or Spines

Puffers are relatives of the spiny porcupinefish. However, where the two species differ is that porcupine fish are covered in spines.

“Puffers in fact do not have spines [or scales] on their bodies,” says Webster. “They have rough, textured flesh.” When it comes down to it, though, the spines of porcupine fish and the rough skin of puffers serve as good protection.

3. Puffer Fish Have Teeth

Puffer fish have two upper teeth and two lower teeth, both sets fused together to form a pointed beak-like structure. But they’re no ordinary teeth—puffer fish teeth form an overbite and continuously grow without routine care.

“To keep their teeth healthy and prevent them from overgrowing, puffers and porcupine fish chew on hard structures like clam shells or shellfish that naturally trim their teeth,” explains Webster. When they’re not fed a diet that includes hard substrates, a puffer fish’s teeth eventually become too large, which prevents them from properly opening their mouths.

Wild puffer fish eat crustaceans and bivalves, such as crabs, shrimp, and mollusks. In home tanks, puffers are commonly fed prepared diets like fish meal-based pellets.

While convenient, a diet of pellets alone can lead to tooth and lead them to gnaw on aquarium decor. Therefore, Webster recommends adding frozen shrimp and clams or snails to your puffer’s diet.

Puffer fish have two upper teeth and two lower teeth, both sets fused together to form a pointed beak-like structure.

Just as intriguing as what puffer fish eat is how they eat it. “Many people who keep large puffers at home often hand-feed them,” says Nathan Farnau, curator of fishes and invertebrates at the Georgia Aquarium.

You can also feed your puffer fish live food to give them something to chase. They’re not the fastest swimmers, but they’re agile. Just be sure to keep live food in a separate tank for quarantine before feeding them to your puffer fish.

5. Puffer Fish Are Poisonous

Puffer fish are indeed poisonous and some even pose a lethal threat if eaten or touched.

All puffer fish have a chemical called tetrodotoxin in their liver, sex organs, and skin, although some species of puffers are more toxic than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tetrodotoxin is an “extremely potent poison” that causes paralysis of the muscles. Webster says the northern puffer fish is among the few species with minimal levels of tetrodotoxin.

In general, handling most fish is not recommended because it can stress them out and disrupt their immune system. However, if you must handle your puffer fish, “always wear latex gloves and use a hard container that can accommodate a puffed-up fish,” says Webster. Never ingest aquarium water and ensure other pets can't access it.

6. Puffer Fish Require an Experienced Pet Parent

Puffer fish may not be the ideal fish for beginner aquarists. Farnau describes puffer fish as “very high maintenance.” Here are some important care considerations to keep in mind before bringing a puffer fish home:

  1. They require a specially tailored habitat. Puffers do best in an interactive habitat with caves, arches, and plenty of sturdy structures they can chomp on. Webster says that while coral tanks are nice to look at, puffer fish will simply decimate the structures.

  2. You might need a bigger aquarium than you think. Puffer fish come in a surprising range of sizes. There are minuscule 1-inch cuties like the pea puffer, which require a 20-gallon tank for exploration. Then, there are the giants like the Mbu puffer, which can exceed a whopping 2 feet in length and require much larger tanks. Thoroughly research the mature size of your ideal puffer fish species and purchase an appropriately sized tank for their adult size; these fish continue growing even if the tank is too small.

  3. You’ll need a top-notch filtration system. Puffers are notoriously messy eaters. It’s recommended to remove any uneaten bits of food after mealtime to help keep the water clean. Even with the best filtration system, expect to clean your filter often and change your puffer’s water frequently.

  4. Always commit to a pet for the span of their life. The lifespan of a puffer fish in captivity averages about 10 years, depending on the species. Farnau urges pet parents to "never acquire a fish without the commitment to meet [their] long-term needs.”

6 Fun Facts About Puffer Fish (1)6 Fun Facts About Puffer Fish (2)

WRITTEN BY

Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

6 Fun Facts About Puffer Fish (2024)

FAQs

What are some fun facts about puffer fish? ›

Pufferfish can inflate into a ball shape to evade predators. Also known as blowfish, these clumsy swimmers fill their elastic stomachs with huge amounts of water (and sometimes air) and blow themselves up to several times their normal size. Some pufferfish species also have spines on their skin to ward off predators.

How many teeth do pufferfish have? ›

They are scaleless fish and usually have rough to spiky skin. All have four teeth that are fused together into a beak-like form.

How big can a puffer fish get? ›

They range in size from the 1-inch-long dwarf or pygmy puffer to the freshwater giant puffer, which can grow to more than 2 feet in length. They are scaleless fish and usually have rough to spiky skin. All have four teeth that are fused together into a beak-like form.

How many times can pufferfish puff? ›

They can inflate many times throughout their lives as needed. So, it is not true that they can inflate just twice in a lifetime. If the fish is inflated on the surface, it is likely to ingest air. The air can be difficult to expel and can cause the death of the fish, since the fish floats and can not leave the surface.

How fast can a puffer fish swim? ›

Puffer fish swim exclusively with their pectoral fins accompanied by dorsal and anal fin oscillation up to speeds of 3.0 BL s1, at which point they begin to beat their tails as well.

Do pufferfish lay eggs or give birth? ›

The puffer fish has a unique reproduction method. The females lay eggs at the shore after the males have pushed them to a certain place. These are spherical in shape and usually float on the surface because of their weight. The babies usually hatch within a week.

Do pufferfish bite hard? ›

The answer to your question is yes (depending on the particular species of course), the puffer does have a stronger bite than a piranha. I can attest to this because I saw a rather large puffer fish bite a man's finger clean off which is pretty hard to do.

How many eggs do puffer fish lay? ›

They breed throughout most of the year, with spawning pairs producing 1–5 eggs in 1–4 day intervals. Habitat loss and overharvesting for the aquarium trade threaten wild populations of dwarf pufferfish.

Do pufferfish have teeth? ›

Puffer fish have teeth that grow continuously and need to be continuously worn by proper hard food items found in their wild diet. In captivity they will often have problems with overgrown teeth due to soft captive diets.

Is puffer fish blood poisonous? ›

Although pufferfish is considered an Asian delicacy well known as Fugu in Japan, only trained and licensed chefs are allowed to prepare it in restaurants. Much of the fish such as its eyes, blood, liver, and intestines contain the poison.

How long do pufferfish live? ›

The lifespan of a pufferfish can range from three to 20 years, with an average of 10 years. Their lifespan can depend on many things, including the species and their environment. Pufferfish are very sensitive to their environments and can become easily stressed.

Can pufferfish pop? ›

About 120 species fall under the puffer category, and all of them have the ability to rapidly fill their belly with water or air, expanding like a balloon to two or three times their normal size.

Are puffer fish OK to touch? ›

The pufferfish's skin is covered in spines and spikes, which are exceedingly hazardous. Carry a toxin called tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is deadly to other fish and humans. You should avoid touching a pufferfish, especially if it is "puffed out." Your hands could be damaged and you could die.

Is it safe to Swim with puffer fish? ›

Pufferfish may look slow and steady and even “cute” when swimming around on the reef. However, these are one of the most deadly species of fish. When pufferfish inflate, they release a dangerous chemical on their skin known as TTX (tetrodotoxin).

How smart are puffer fish? ›

Out of all the oddball fish, we've always had a fascination with puffer fish because of their highly intelligent nature, helicopter-like maneuverability, and large, inquisitive eyes.

Do puffer fish have teeth? ›

Pufferfish have teeth fused together into a beak-like structure worked by powerful jaw muscles. Pufferfish jaws are strong enough to crush snails and crack open crabs, but in feeding this way their teeth are constantly being eroded.

Can pufferfish close their eyes? ›

Pufferfish are the only bony fish that can close their eyes, and now we know how they do it. They sink their eyeballs deep into their sockets and then pucker the skin surrounding the eye together, like a camera's aperture closing.

How long can puffer fish live? ›

The lifespan of a pufferfish can range from three to 20 years, with an average of 10 years. Their lifespan can depend on many things, including the species and their environment. Pufferfish are very sensitive to their environments and can become easily stressed.

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