Why do pufferfish "puff up"?

pufferfish at the Seattle Aquarium

Pufferfish will “puff up” as a defense mechanism if they are threatened. A shape that is more than double its original size, round and sometimes covered in spines is much more difficult to bite and isn’t very appetizing to a predator. However, just as people should stretch before exercising to avoid injuring themselves, puffers need to stretch out their muscles as well. Inflating yourself full of water so that your skin is stretched tight can be very painful, especially if your muscles aren’t used to it. Even though they sometimes do it just to stretch, puffing up often can be stressful for a puffer. So, it’s best if they do it only when they need to. This behavior isn’t a puffer’s only means of defense. Most puffers are toxic to eat. Their internal organs produce a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin (they’re part of a family of fish known as Tetraodontiformes, which includes triggerfish, boxfish and several other species). This neurotoxin, which has no antidote, can cause paralysis, seizures and even death and is another reason why puffers don’t make good meals.

Here is a great video of a pufferfish displaying its “puff up” defense mechanism in the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit at the Aquarium.

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13 Responses to Why do pufferfish "puff up"?

  1. Ryan Olsen says:

    The puffer fish is a very interesting fish i love them to death. I actually have one of my own you can check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5obuGcTpts let me know what you think thanks.

  2. Mary Prendergast says:

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  3. Jamie Rosenstein says:

    Awesome video! Puffer fish are so interesting. Is there any way I can subscribe to get updates on new articles and info. Thanks!


  4. Erik Johannessen says:

    So I saw this video of a person that took a puffer fish out of the water, and it inflated itself with air and became a big balloon. So in the water, they are actually filling themselves up with water?

  5. kimberly says:

    I have heard a rumor that puffer fish only have a certain number of puffs until they die, is this true.

    • Cameron says:

      This is not true at all, puffer fish can puff as many times as they want throughout their life. But a puffer fish can only puff 3-8 times in a row after they have spotted a predator. “Puffing up” is really taxing on the puffer fish body and after they puff just once, it was observed that they breath heavily for 5 hours and 31 minutes.

  6. Sarah says:

    This is very interesting. However I am curious as to what internally allows the pufferfish to puff up. Does it have a inflation sac or something. Thanks! Love the video.

  7. Sarah says:

    The pufferfish is capable of inflating itself since it has a highly flexible and elastic stomach which can be filled with water or air. The puffer fish might look cute when inflated, but you should never scare your fish into inflating itself. Puffing up is highly stressful for the fish and air can become trapped inside its body. If the trapped air prevents the fish from deflating, the puffer will die. If a puffer is frightened when out of water it will suck in air instead of water and this is also dangerous for the fish.

  8. klicken says:

    Du suchst Nutten Flensburg?

  9. Joseph says:

    Thank you. This information is very helpful

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