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Balloon fish, Porcupinefish, and Pufferfish, What’s the Difference?

Imagine that you’re about to take a bite of a sandwich and just before you put it in your mouth, it swells up so much that it won’t fit in your mouth. This is exactly what the pufferfish / balloonfish does. The pufferfish is a fascinating creature found in oceans all around the world. Known for its unique ability to inflate and deflate, this fish is a true master of self-defense.

In this article, we explore everything about the pufferfish family, from their exceptional ability to inflate and deflate to the different types of porcupine fish that exist. Discover also the habitats of these fish, what they eat, how they defend themselves, and much more.

Don’t miss it!

Check out the table of contents below and dive into the world of pufferfish.

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1. Puffer Fish Vs Blowfish

Pufferfish have the unique ability to suck in water and air to greatly inflate their bodies as a defense mechanism. These animals become round like beach balls, reaching more than double their size when viewed from the front.

However, although this family is well-known for this ability, many different names have been given to them, which can be somewhat confusing. The scientific name for the order of Blowfish is Tetradontiformes.

This order has 10 families with over 360 species.

Within these 10 families, there are two main ones:

  • Smooth puffers, which have soft, spineless skin, and
  • Spiny pufferfish, which have a layer of strong spines.

Within the spiny pufferfish, whose scientific name is Diodontidae, there are two types:


2. Types Of Puffer Fish

We are going to focus on the latter, the Diodontidae.

  • The porcupine fish, whose spines can stand up when the body is inflated, and
  • The burrfish, whose spines are always erect.

As a general description, we can say that their spiny body is robust and rounded with a slightly larger diameter at the head and narrowing towards the tail. The tail has a rather small caudal fin. Pufferfish have a total of 5 fins, including the caudal fin, two pectoral fins, a dorsal fin, and an anal fin.

Their face is very striking due to their large eyes and lips. They actually have two quite heavy teeth that are ideal for their crustacean diet.

Most pufferfish species possess a toxin called tetrodotoxin, which causes an extremely unpleasant taste in a predator’s mouth and, in many cases, is lethal to other fish.

3. What Zone Do Puffer Fish Live In

Pufferfish are mostly distributed in tropical and subtropical waters in all oceans of the world, from the east and west coasts of Africa to the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia, the Equatorial, Hawaiian, and Easter Islands, southern California, the Gulf of California, Colombia, and the Galapagos Islands. They are also found from Canada to Brazil, including Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, the eastern coast of Mexico, and of course, the Caribbean Sea.


4. Caribbean Balloonfish

Web Burrfish

web burrfish balloonfish - pez globo


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porcupine fish - pez erizo

Bridled Burrfish

5. Porcupine Fish Habitat

Porcupinefish prefer coral reefs and rocky areas, mangrove areas, and underwater grasslands.

They are generally found in shallow waters, but it is known that they can also inhabit depths of up to 200 meters (656 feet).

Juveniles, on the other hand, prefer to live in open waters near the surface and often seek refuge in mangroves, sargassum rafts, or other varieties of seaweed before moving to the reef.


6. What Does a Porcupine Puffer Fish Eat

Pufferfish are animals that primarily feed at night. Their diet consists of mollusks and hard-shelled animals such as sea urchins and hermit crabs, which they can break open with their powerful teeth. They also eat algae and invertebrates such as worms and snails.


7. Porcupine Behavioral Adaptations

Balloonfish and porcupinefish generally swim alone, although they can form small groups with juveniles during breeding seasons. They propel themselves with their five fins, which are quite small compared to their bodies, so they are slow and swim close to the bottom. However, these fins are very useful for quick turns between cracks and crevices in rocks and corals. They protect themselves in these places during the day until they come out to feed at night.

Have you ever noticed their shiny eyes? They seem to be filled with glitter. This is due to an adaptation to the low light in the nighttime marine environment. Thanks to this, they can see in the dark and search for food.

In addition to their ability to fill their stretchy stomachs with water and air to multiply their size and their sharp spines that can release poison, some porcupinefish have the ability to change color when they feel threatened.

8. Puffer Fish Life Cycle

The life cycle of the balloonfish and the porcupinefish is practically the same.

Eggs: Males carefully guide females to the water surface, where they immediately spawn. The larger females deposit their eggs in the water, which are fertilized by the male.

Larvae: After about 4 days, the eggs hatch, and the larvae emerge. Porcupinefish larvae are pelagic and live in the water column, feeding on plankton.

Juveniles: After a few weeks, the larvae become juveniles and begin to swim toward the ocean floor. During this time, they begin to feed on crustaceans, mollusks, and other invertebrates.

Adults: After several years, juveniles become adults and settle in a specific area of the ocean floor. Adults feed on a variety of foods, including algae, fish, and crustaceans.

Reproduction: Once the fish have reached sexual maturity, they can reproduce. Males and females meet and females deposit their eggs to begin the life cycle again.

While diving in the Caribbean, we often see friendly balloonfish and porcupinefish. Do you want to come and see them too? Contact us.

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