Picture yourself suddenly ballooning into a spiky sphere whenever you feel a mix of nervousness and curiosity. That's just a typical day in the life of a puffer fish. And while they may be the world's most poisonous fish (when eaten) they're romantics at heart. Ready to learn more about their interesting traits and abilities? Read on for our top ten puffer fish facts…

underwater photo of a pufferfish looking at the camera

120 species

The pufferfish family is large with over 120 species falling under the name. They're all known to puff up in times of excitement or stress and live in a variety of locations ocean-wide. While most are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters, some species can be found living in fresh or even brackish waters.

underwater photo of a pufferfish puffed up swimming in sky blue water

All shapes and sizes

Pufferfish vary widely in size, ranging from the diminutive freshwater pygmy puffer fish, which measures just three-and-a-half centimetres, to the much larger giant puffer fish that can grow up to 67cm.

Poison powers

An important fact to know about pufferfish is that, if consumed, they are deadly (if you just come across them while swimming, don't worry as they pose no threat). Within the puffer's liver, intestines, gonads and skin, lives the toxin Tetrodotoxin, which is incredibly potent - over 1,000 times more deadly than cyanide, making it one of the most toxic substances found in nature.

Japanese folklore

In Japanese folklore, the pufferfish, or fugu, is respected and feared due to this potent toxicity. Legend tells of a samurai who, unaware of fugu's dangers, consumed it and faced near death. Saved by a quick-thinking villager, the samurai thereafter prohibited commoners from eating fugu, deeming it suitable only for the brave or foolish. Nowadays, fugu is considered a delicacy in Japan when prepared by skilled chefs who remove the toxic parts.

a puffed up pufferfish resting on a a sandy bottom.

Masters of self-defence

Of course, no pufferfish fact file would be complete without their defining characteristic, puffing themselves up. Not being content with being extremely deadly, when under threat, pufferfish demonstrate their unique defence: rapidly inflating themselves with water to appear significantly larger than their usual size. They do this by swiftly ingesting water into their expandable stomachs, transforming into a spiky ball that can be three to four times larger than their typical size. While effective for deterring predators, this defence mechanism is taxing on the poor puffer and is reserved for moments of serious danger.

Dolphins use them to get high

One of our favourite pufferfish facts is that dolphins appear to use them to get high (without harming the puffer). In footage from the BBC documentary series 'Spy in the Pod,' dolphins were seen playing with the fish, passing it between themselves for extended periods of 20 to 30 minutes. Afterwards, the dolphins seemed to be in a dreamlike state, drifting through the water while the startled puffer went on its merry way.

a spotted pufferfish is swimming through blue water

They can close their eyes

Another interesting fact about pufferfish is their ability to close their eyes without eyelids, an adaptation not found in other bony fish. They do this by retracting their eyeballs deep into their sockets, reaching depths up to 70% of the eye's diameter. They then seal the surrounding skin to protect their eyes.

Bucktoothed beauties

Pufferfish have two teeth on the top and two on the bottom that form into a beak. These teeth will continuously grow and turn into a rather large overbite. To manage the growth, pufferfish munch on hard structures like clam shells or shellfish that naturally trim their teeth.

inflated pufferfish showing off it's size facing the camera

Romantic artists

When a male pufferfish seeks to attract a female, he constructs intricate geometric nests up to two metres in diameter, a process that can take a week or longer. These nests are adorned with shells, serving as elaborate displays to court potential mates. Like a true romantic, a male will never repurpose a nest. Each breeding season they will put in the effort to court a new female with a design made for her.

Baby pufferfish are cannibals

Our final pufferfish fact is slightly sinister. While puffer fish are unbelievably adorable, baby puffers can be very aggressive. Once the larvae of certain puffer fish species, such as the tiger puffer fish, develop their first teeth, they may start attacking their siblings. Due to their small mouths, instead of swallowing their siblings whole, they bite chunks out of them, leading to numerous deaths within the brood.

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