Tag Archives: Pufferfish

Whitespotted Toby and urchin

A Whitespotted Toby and a sea urchin in Hawaii

The Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby is a small pufferfish that’s endemic to Hawaii. Like many small fish, and juveniles of larger fish, they will use the quills of sea urchins to shelter from predators. Not that tobies need too much help. When attacked they inflate themselves like a balloon, making them hard to swallow. In addition, this toby secretes a nasty skin toxin which will deter most predators.

Spotted pufferfish and squaretail filefish

Spotted Pufferfish and Squaretail Filefish

These two very distinct fish that are regularly seen near shore. The squaretail filefish on the left is distinguished by the white patch above the base of its tail fin, while the spotted pufferfish is black or brown and covered with small white spots.

These two aren’t traveling together, as some other types of fish do, to hunt or feed. They just happened to be in the same vicinity.

Spotted pufferfish

A spotted pufferfish in the waters off the Big Island of HawaiiA spotted pufferfish in the waters off the Big Island of Hawaii

Spotted pufferfish can come in a variety of colors, but around here they’re mostly black or brown with white spots. Their defensive strategy is to inflate into a ball when threatened, thus making it very difficult for a predator to make a meal of them.

Actually, they’re probably doing the predators a favor since pufferfish are extremely toxic. Even very small amounts of the toxins in pufferfish can kill a human. Not surprising then that it’s illegal to serve pufferfish commercially in Hawaii, though it’s considered a delicacy in Japan. There, “fugu chefs” are licensed by the government. The properly-prepared flesh still contains trace amounts of toxins that are supposed to give the diner a warm glow. Goodness only knows what kind of liability insurance a fugu restaurant has to carry.

Stripebelly pufferfish

A stripebelly pufferfishA stripebelly pufferfish
Most pufferfish are extremely toxic and the stripebelly pufferfish is no exception. The stripebelly differs from other pufferfish in that its skin is unusually high in toxins, rather than being concentrated in internals organs.

These pufferfish will eat most anything and have a powerful beak (see the second photo) that can inflict a nasty bite. People have lost fingers and toes to these fish, so they aren’t to be messed with. That said, they mostly hang around just above the sea bottom and, as a result, I’ve never actually seen the striped belly that gives them their name.

In my attempts to identify what I see in the water, I use John P. Hoover’s book The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. His website is hawaiisfishes.com.