Skip to main content

Puffer Fish

Puffer Fish

Puffer fish or globe fish (family Tetraodontidae) are a group of tropical- and warm-temperate-dwelling species that are almost exclusively marine in their habits. A few freshwater species occur in tropical Africa and Asia. Most are typically found in shallow waters, often on coral reefs, in beds of sea grass, and in estuaries, swimming and feeding during daylight. A few species are oceanic. Their closest relatives are the similar-looking porcupine fishes (Diodontidae) and the very much larger sun fishes (Molidae). Most puffer fish are recognized by their short, stout, almost bloated appearance, their small fins, and their large eyes. These fish swim by side-to-side sculling movements of the dorsal and anal fins, while the pectoral fins assist with balance and direction.

In addition to their characteristic body shape, puffer fishes can be distinguished from most other species by the fact that their bodies are virtually covered with large numbers of spines of unequal length. These are frequently denser on the lower parts of the body. Normally these spines, which are modified scales, lie flat against the body. When the fish is threatened, however, it inflates its body by a sudden intake of a large volume of water or air, erecting its spines in the process. In this inflated stance, few larger species would be tempted to attack it and risk almost certain injury. Although puffer fish are unable to swim effectively in this position, the strategy is a deliberate anti-predator action; instead of swimming, the fish drifts with the ocean current. In addition to this impressive defensive tactic, most puffer fish also contain a wide range of body toxins, particularly in the liver, gonads, skin, and intestine. They are widely thought of as the most poisonous of all marine animals. The various toxins attack the nervous system of species that eat them and may kill the animal unless it has the ability to detoxify the lethal products. Most puffer fish are brightly coloreda system often employed in the animal kingdom to warn potential attackers that their flesh is at best unpalatable and at worst lethal.

Puffer fish feed on a wide range of items. Some prefer to feed almost exclusively on plankton, but many species also prey heavily on large invertebrates such as mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, crabs, and worms using their sharp, beak like teeth and powerful jaws to crush and sift through the defensive body armor that these other animals use in an attempt to protect themselves from predators. The teeth of most species of puffer fish are joined to form two sharp-edged plates in each jaw.

When resting, puffer fish generally seek out a concealed part of a coral reef or similar abode and hide away in a crevice. Some bottom-dwelling species nestle into the substrate; by altering the main colors of the skin, many are able to effectively camouflage themselves from the watchful eye of predators.

Although puffer fishes have an impressive arsenal of defensive tactics, some species may be threatened as a result of overfishing for resale to meet the demands of the tourist industry. On many coral reefs, puffer fish are caught and dried in their inflated position for sale to tourists. Also, despite their lethal concoction of body toxins, the flesh of puffer fish is widely sought after as a culinary delight in some countries, especially in Japan, where the dish is known as fugu. Needless to say, the preparation of this meal is a delicate process if one is to avoid lethal poisoning. Some restaurants have been known to retain specially trained staff to prepare such dishes.

David Stone

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Puffer Fish." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . 26 Jun. 2019 <>.

"Puffer Fish." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . (June 26, 2019).

"Puffer Fish." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved June 26, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.