Puffer fish: Characteristics, habitat, reproduction and more.... (2024)

The puffer fish,which belong to the Tetraodontidae family are feared and admired fish, due to their ability to swell like a ball when they feel attacked by some predator. Don’t miss this chance to learn all about them.

Table Of Content

  • 1 Taxonomy
  • 2 Distribution
  • 3 Main Traits
    • 3.1 Other traits
  • 4 The Puffer fish Defense Mechanism
  • 5 Puffer fish as Pets
    • 5.1 Feeding Puffer fish
  • 6 How Do Puffer Fish Reproduce?
  • 7 The Puffer Fish’ Poison
  • 8 Treatment Against Puffer Fish Poison
  • 9 Earnings from the Cultivation and Sale of Puffer Fish
  • 10 Cooking Puffer fish.
  • 11 Puffer fish and Human beings
  • 12 Eating fugu is playing Russian Roulette


Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Class: Actinopterygii Subclass: NeopterygiiSuperorder: AcanthopterygiiOrder: Tetraodontiformes
Family: Tetraodontidae


Puffer fish live in India, Thailand, Malaysia Peninsula, Philippine Islands and Mexico. They are usually found solitary in tropical waters, not more than 300 m deep, mainly in areas of coral reefs.In China it is very common to dry them and use them as lamps. In Japan they are also well known as they prepare a dish called Fugu which is considered a delicacy.

Main Traits

Puffer fish have a sturdy body with a large, bulky and wide head. Their size can reach a length close to 20 cm, although in captivity hardly exceed 10. However, their most outstanding characteristics are the innumerable thorns which cover their body except for their mouth.

Their eyes are quite large and black, with bluish minks, being rounded by a golden or copper iris and can be confused with the ocelli that dot their body. They lack pelvic fins, and their tiny dorsal fin is located at the bottom of their back close to the caudal appendix.

On the other hand, it is important to point out that the dorsal and pectoral fins are highly effective motor organs that give Puffer fish a very agile swimming, and even quickly modify the direction of their displacement.

Other traits

There is no apparent sexual dimorphism and the dominant color of this species ranges from the yellow-green, in the upper part of their body to the brown olive on their back. The throat and belly have a uniform white silver tone, while the body possesses several black ocelli bordered of yellow and another smaller located on both sides, at the beginning of the caudal fin. We invite you to read our article the anatomy of fish to leanr more about such a topic

Let’s watch them

The Puffer fish Defense Mechanism

Puffer fish have an excellent vision, and employ the high speed provided by their dorsal and pectoral fins as their first defense mechanism in presence of any potential danger.Their second defense mechanism, but the best known by all, is their ability to swell and frighten their stalkers.

They also have an extremely elastic stomach, which they can fill with water, and even air, to make it much bigger and spherical. Despite going unnoticed at first sight, all bubblefish (as they are also known) have their body provided with a large number of thorns which scare away their potential predators.

Those who dare to confront them run the risk of dying from suffocation due to the content of Tetrodotoxin they possess in their bodies. The ingestion of this neurotoxin diminishes all vital signs, since it interferes with neuromuscular conductivity. Only one serving of Puffer fish has enough poison to kill thirty men.

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Puffer fish as Pets

Their yellow and brownish green color with black spots in the form of dots, make Puffer fish quite coveted from aquarium lovers. However, it is recommended to employ a unique and exclusive home for them.

Their temperament usually forces their owners to enable a specific aquarium to prevent puffer fish from devouring other fish species.Puffers are activefish at all levels of the aquarium, but they need plants and roots to swim in. Space is a fundamental requirement for their correct development, so we should not skimp on cubic meters when acquiring our new pet’s house.

Feeding Puffer fish

The puffer fish diet is mainly based on snails, worms, and other crustaceans. When they are in aquariums they are useful snail eaters and also quickly end up with any plague.They can adapt with some difficulty to the dry food in the form of granules, but the ideal is to feed them with snails, whose shell allows them to keep controlled their powerful teeth, which grows steadily. On the other hand, their anxiety can induce to the mistake of feeding them in excess, aspect of which one must be very careful.

How Do Puffer Fish Reproduce?

As for its reproduction, it is almost impossible to achieve it in captivity. What we can do is to distinguish sex, since females are somewhat larger than males. The puffer fish are oviparous: the females deposit their eggs among the leaves or submerged trunks.

The Puffer Fish’ Poison

This fish has become so famous, because it is one of the Japanese favorite dishes and is present in the best restaurants in this country, so it is a luxury that not much people can afford.

It is believed that the flesh of the puffer fish or fugu, is one of the most delicious delicacies in the world. But this precious food has in its body one of the most powerful lethal poisons of the whole world, which has the name tetradotoxin, and when it is consumed by man, it paralyzes all the muscles of his body dying finally by asphyxia.

The most terrible thing about this process is that the poison does not act at the neuronal level, and the person is aware of what is happening to him, but he can’t do anything but wait for his death. Since tetradotoxin is found in the liver, skin, and ovaries of this animal, its preparation is highly dangerous.

According to experts in this field, the only sure way to prepare it is by extracting such organs, because this poison remains in the flesh of the fish, even if it has been boiled.

That is why you must obtain a license granted by the government, in order to prepare the fugu fish, because there are very few who know how to do it well, and it is the lives of the people that put them in danger.

For this reason, the preparation of these people lasts around three years, so that after it they present a final exam, containing three steps; the first is theoretical, the second has to be practical, where each one of the aspirants must cookthe puffer fish or fugus, , and the third, and most difficult of all, where each aspiring chef, must eat their own preparation, under his/her sole responsibility.

Those who manage to pass this test become culinary experts of the most quoted fish, and equally dangerous in the world, which makes it a person with many possibilities to get rich quickly.

But those who do not, is because they definitely died in their attempt, since being themselves who must consume their preparation, the least mistake they make, costs their lives.

To prevent accidents that have occurred in other times, in Japan, ( the home of this practice), the necessary measures have been taken; that go from the extraction of the fish, to the people who dedicate themselves to their breeding.

This obviously is related with the people in charge of their preparation, since as mentioned above; they must have a license granted by the government of this country.

It must also regularize the authorized sites to dispose of toxic waste, since these must be placed in special containers, to avoid that they can contaminate other waste, or that some indigent or animal of the street, may die by accident, or negligence.

That is why authorized places have been created where all the restaurants that prepare the puffer fish put their remainings, and where there is a strict control of the waste that is delivered every week.

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Treatment Against Puffer Fish Poison

This toxin is stable at a pH of 3 to 8.5. The Tetrodotoxin blocks the sodium channels and their effects are at the neurological level.

It’s believed that it is not the fish itself who produces this condition but the bacterias it houses. The toxin is quite strong and there is still no medication against it so diazepam is administered to relieve the signs and symptoms. The treatment is based on the patient’s general condition, clinical history and the degree of poisoning. The intoxicated person should remain fasting until the vomiting is controlled.

Earnings from the Cultivation and Sale of Puffer Fish

Fugu sashimi is a very popular dish, especially in the best restaurants of Japan. In some of them balloons fish swim in ponds where diners can see and choose, so this represents an increase in the final bill while ensuring the freshness of the animal.

Currently, there are also stores that the government has authorized to sell the Puffer Fish already prepared, and ready to cook, with the guarantee that has been prepared by specialized people, so it does not generate any risk for diners.

Also, now there are breeding sites where these fish are raised without the tetradotoxin toxin, so they can be ingested without any risk, by those who can pay the 22.000 yen that the fish costs.

Miura-San is considered the best chef in the Japanese culinary world, since his experience began at the age of fifteen, when he demonstrated incredible skill in preparing the fish, but could not obtain a license until he was twenty years old which is when the Japanese become adults.

Although this man has prepared balloon fish for sixty years, he admits that every time he prepares it again, he does it with great caution, since the minimum mistake could cause the death of a person.

Only the finest restaurants in the country are those that are authorized to serve this exclusive dish; and Miura-San’s restaurant is one of them. Eating in such a place represents a cost of 120 dollars per diner.

However, the people who attend his restaurant are guaranteed and grateful to have the most qualified chef from all over the country, so they pay with pleasure every piece of puffer fish they consume.

Cooking Puffer fish.

The first thing to do is place the fish on a clean and dry table work.Then its head must be cut to remove its brains first, and then its eyes. These remains should be placed in a metal tray, which is only used for this purpose, since they can remain waste, and contaminate other foods.

Puffer fish: Characteristics, habitat, reproduction and more.... (11)Then proceed to carefully remove the colorful skin of the upper part of the fish, and sides.

After finishing removing all the skin, it is time to begin to remove the viscera, which is the most dangerous part of the process.

The ovaries are the most poisonous area, but the liver and intestines, are so potentially lethal, that some chefs prefer to use gloves to carry out such a procedure.

Once all the organs have been removed, we proceed to wash its meat very well, and you are ready to prepare the recipe that you like the most. Many people claim that the poison of the puffer fish is two hundred times more deadly than cyanide.

In 2016, twenty-six people died in Japan, due to the consumption of puffer fish. Most of these deaths were due to amateur fishermen trying to cook the fish in their homes, without having the slightest idea how to clean it.

Sadly, there have also been cases of people who have died having eaten this exquisite dish in one of the most expensive restaurants in Tokyo.

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Puffer fish and Human beings

At present, it has been studied the possibility of using the poison of this fish as an analgesic for people who suffer from any type of cancer, in its terminal stage. The progress made states that 75 % of patients who received drugs with a base of this toxin experienced good results.This new medicine has increased the life expectancy in these patients between eight and ten years of life.

Unfortunately, this has a contraindication for the fish, since its catches have increased jeopardizing this species.Many people take the larger specimens out of the sea to dry them and use them as decorative lamps in rooms, offices, medical clinics, and commercial stores.

This fish that is an exquisite meal according to the words of those who eat them, has been from the beginning, a real headache for the government agency of Japan, since the problem of intoxication because of its consumption, instead of being reduced, increases.

Although it is known that you must have a special license to manipulate and prepare this tasty dish, there are many hatcheries that are dedicated to the sale of this animal, without having the necessary security measures for its consumption. And many inexperienced fishermen, have been given to the task of capturing and keeping in captivity the puffer fish, for marketing them.

Eating fugu is playing Russian Roulette

Now, it is much more dangerous to taste this delicacy, especially if it isn’t done in the specialized restaurants. But since it’s such an expensive dish, people who love good food look for the places where they are offered at a lower cost.

However, although the Tokyo authorities have established stricter measures in some restaurants, they sell the Fugu prepared to take and cook at home. In the same way it is possible to get the fugu fish in some supermarkets, and if you wish, you can buy it over the Internet.Puffer fish: Characteristics, habitat, reproduction and more.... (13)

This represents a Russian roulette to which many people are exposed, because they could consume a fish that was not handled and cleaned properly.

Likewise, if you die eating the puffer fish, in a market stall, or in a fancy restaurant, no one will be responsible for your death. The only penalty that has been established when a diner loses his life due to the poison of a blowfish, is the loss of the chef’s license.

In the past it was created a legend that if the diner lost his life eating the dish prepared, the chef very honorably had to perform the ritual of suicide in front of the victim for him also to take his life.

Let’s have a final look of them

Puffer fish: Characteristics, habitat, reproduction and more.... (2024)


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