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Star puffer - young juvenile

PUFFERFISH and PORCUPINEFISH

Underwater photography: images of pufferfish taken while scuba diving
Black-saddled toby | Blue-spotted puffer | Map puffer | Star puffer | Porcupinefish
Phylum: Chordata Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) Order: Tetraodontiformes

Pufferfish are in the family Tetraodontidae with 120 species in 19 genera. Porcupinefish are in the Family Diodontidae with 22 species in 7 genera.

Pufferfish and porcupinefish are often mixed together as one group. They are scientifically in different families but have many similarities and only porcupinefish have spines. Both puffers and porcupinefish are gentle creatures that only use their defences if attacked by a predator. They have an unusual defense mechanism – expanding into an enormous ball if threatened. They deploy a special valve in their mouths to suck water into a pleated stomach, expanding up to 3 times their normal size.

These prolific reef residents also harbour a dangerous secret – they are believed to be the second–most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog.

They contain one of nature's most dangerous poisons, tetrodotoxin, a naturally occurring toxin that was once assumed to be a metabolic product of the fish. Recent research now points to the production of tetrodotoxin by several relatively common bacterial species that are eaten by reef animals. Although they become immune to it, the puffers accrue the toxin in their internal organs and skin.

Tetrodotoxin is extremely potent and acts by shutting down the nervous system. The amount in one puffer is enough to kill over 30 people. The victim is usually fully aware of it’s actions as the poison cannot pass the blood-brain barrier, but turns the peripheral nervous system off. Death is via asphyxiation.

Funny then, that many South East Asian nations regard eating pufferfish as a delicacy - fugu - despite the risks
it entails.

Pufferfish and porcupinefish image gallery

Click any image to enlarge

Int. = intermediate stage
Juv.= juvenile
Var. = variation
Marine pufferfish and porcupinefish are NOT on the IUCN list of threatened species
SPECIES NAMES | Many fish can be hard to identify as they are so similar. Common names vary and even scientists disagree on what is what. If you can name anything we can't, please get in touch.

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