10 Facts About Puffer Fish (2024)

By Vanessa Voltolina

When we think of puffer fish, most of us conjure an image of a bloated-looking fish with 360-degree quills. But if you look beyond the spikes, you’ll find a fish with a fascinating background. If you’re considering adding a puffer fish to your aquarium, or just want to learn more about these fish, here are ten facts about this exotic fish species:

Fact #1: Species Abound!

There are more than 120 different species of puffer fish, said KristinClaricoates, DVM at Chicago Exotics AnimalHospital. The majority of them are marine-water fishes (read: require a salt water aquarium).However, she said that there are 40 types of puffer fish found in brackish waters (a mix of salt and fresh water), and 29 species are found in freshwater. Pufferfish can vary from two inches to up to several feet in length.

Fact #2: Puffer Fish are a Delicacy…

Did you know that most puffer fish, when eaten, are toxic to predators—and even humans? According to Claricoates, despite this risk, countries such as Korea, China and Japan consider puffer fish a culinary delicacy and only specially-trained chefs know how to serve them safely.

Fact #3: … That can be Deadly

The toxin in the puffer fish, called tetrodotoxin, is found throughout its body, and is actually produced by bacteria, said Dr. Nick Saint-Erne, Certified Aquatic Veterinarian from PetSmart. Puffers that have been raised in a bacteria-free environment experimentally did not produce the toxin in that instance. However, the the chefs who prepare Fugu, or puffer fish fillets, were not interested in serving a fish that did not have the toxin, as the numbing effect from the toxin when the fish is eaten is the appeal of eating puffer fish, he said. Even with proper preparation by a trained chef, about a half dozen diners die every year from the paralyzing effects of eating puffer fish, so they should generally not be considered food.

Fact #4: Puffer Fish are a Multi-Threat Fish

Despite using their fins to help them swim (with a tail fin acting as a rudder), puffer fish are notoriously slow-moving. However, they do have other methods for deterring—or defeating—predators out to get them, said Claricoates, including:

  • Excellent eye sight, which is helpful scouting food or detecting predators early.
  • A burst of energy which they can muster to swim quickly away from predators (albeit in a poorly controlled direction).
  • If they are unable to get away, they enact the process they are known for: they gulp in a large amount of water (or if out of water, air) to make themselves large and unappealing, she said. This puffing, in addition to their spines and quills, makes them tough for a predator to swallow (and may get stuck in a throat).

Even if a predator successfully eats a puffer fish, it may die from the toxin in the puffer fish’s body.

Fact #5: Spines vs. Scales

Puffer fish do not have scales, but instead havespines (which you may not be able to get a good look at until they puff up), said Claricoates.Because puffer fish don’t have scales, they are very sensitive to water variations and tend to be more at-risk for diseases.As a fish owner, you have to be sure that the water quality is excellent—specifically nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels in your tank. If these levels are high, it often indicates a dirty tank, and can create health issues for your fish, she said. “Routinely do water quality checks to ensure the ideal health of your fish,” she said. Water checks can be done by fish stores for you on a monthly basis or you can purchase a home kit to test your water, she said.

Fact #6: Puffer Fish Require an Experienced Owner

“Puffer fish are not the ideal fish for a new fish owner,” said Claricoates, “nor should they be an impulse purchase.”These fish require top water quality, lots of space and a good diet.Additionally, if you have dreams of a fish tank filled with all species, these aren’t your fish. Puffer fish aren’t community fish, and must be kept alone, as they are carnivorous.

“They will either eat the other fish that are small enough, or they will bite at the other fish’s fins if they are too big to eat,” she said. “If, however, the puffer fish is very small, they will likely starve because they’re too small to compete with better and faster swimmers in the tank.A puffer fish, if kept in an ideal environment, can live up to ten years.”

Fact #7: They are What They Eat

In the wild, puffer fish are predators, and eat a variety of snails, shellfish, crustaceans and other fish, said Claricoates.In captivity, puffers will eat almost anything, so a variety of foods should be offered to allow for a healthy mix, she said.

Claricoates recommends a diet consisting of foods with shells, including blue crab, mussels, clams, shrimp, live snails and bloodworms. “At home, finding something that is human-grade food quality is important to keep your puffer fish healthy,” she said. “Live food is good for enrichment, and preferable, but freshly-killed or frozen food will work as well as long as it is human-grade fresh.”

She also advised that when or if you are offering live food, it must be quarantined (in a separate aquarium) for a month prior to feeding it to your puffer fish. This ensures the food is healthy and prevents puffer illness from unhealthy food.

Fact #8: A Puffer Fish’s Teeth Never Stop Growing

Many fish species have teeth that stop growing at some point, but puffer fish do not. Because they eat hard foods, they have teeth (also called beaks) that continuously grow throughout their lives, said Claricoates. This makes it paramount to offer your puffer fishfood with hard shells to help organically trim their teeth. Without snails or the like, your puffer fish may require veterinary dental attention.

“Otherwise, [a puffer fish’s teeth] can grow too long and result in the inability to eat, and even starvation,” she said.

Fact #9: High-Quality H20 Required

How much you feed your puffer fish—and what is left over—will cause elevations of the nitrates and nitrites in your tank.Additionally, puffer fish are very messy eaters. Both of these issues can cause a lot of ammonia to be released into the tank, said Claricoates, which places a higher demand on your tank’s filtration system.

Saint-Erne recommends changing 10 to 25 percent of the water in new aquariums each week, using dechlorinated water, then a 25 percent water change every two-to-four weeks after the aquarium nitrogen-cycle has been established and there is no more ammonia detected in the water.

Remember, while many puffers are saltwater fish, there are a few species available in fish stores that are freshwater, and it will be important to determine which species your fish is as you set up your tank.

Fact #10: You’ll Need to Super-Size Your Tank Space

When it comes to tank size, puffer fish require a significant step up from that of a goldfish. The tank size for a small puffer fish should be 20 to 30 gallons, said Claricoates, and a large puffer fish can require a tank up to 100 gallons or more in size.

10 Facts About Puffer Fish (2024)


10 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.

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.

What are some interesting facts about balloon fish? ›

It is a member of the family Diodontidae, the spiny puffers. This fish, along with its close relatives, has the ability to inflate its body by taking water or air into portions of its digestive tract, increasing its diameter size by as much as three times.

How big can 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.

How many teeth do pufferfish have? ›

Puffer fish have four teeth, two at the top and two at the bottom, both fused to look like one large tooth, making Puffer fish seem like they have beaks. They use their teeth for opening mussels, clams and shellfish.

What are some fun facts about puffer fish for kids? ›

6 Fun Facts About Puffer Fish
  • There Are Over 190 Different Species of Puffer Fish. ...
  • Puffer Fish Don't Have Scales … or Spines. ...
  • Puffer Fish Have Teeth. ...
  • Puffer Fish Are Poisonous. ...
  • Puffer Fish Require an Experienced Pet Parent.
Feb 21, 2024

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.

How rare is the pufferfish balloon? ›

The Balloon Pufferfish is an accessory that increases the player's jump height from 12 feet (6 blocks) to 21 feet (10½ blocks), functioning the same as the Shiny Red Balloon. Has a 1:625 (0.16%) chance of being caught when fishing in any biome.

Why do puffer fish have spikes? ›

Predators are animals that hunt and eat other animals. But pufferfish have ways to protect themselves from predators like sharks and other big fish. Sharp spines and puffing up help pufferfish stay safe.

What is the rarest fish in existence? ›

But perhaps its most famous occupant is one that keeps fighting against all odds: the Devils Hole pupfish, a tiny endangered vertebrate that also happens to be the rarest fish on the planet.

How smart are puffer fish? ›

Pufferfish are among the most popular oddball fishes for freshwater and brackish-water aquaria. They are very entertaining fish, full of life and constantly on the move. Most also seem to be quite intelligent, quickly learning to recognize their owners and often becoming tame enough to be hand fed.

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.

How many times can a puffer fish puff before it dies? ›

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.

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.

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