Pufferfish & Porcupinefish

Scientific Classification

Common Name
pufferfish, porcupinefish, puffers
Tetraodontidae (puffers), Diodontidae (porcupinefish)
Genus Species
Tetraodontidae: 29 genera, 191 species
Diodontidae: 7 genera, 18 species

Fast Facts

Tetraodontiformes have bodies that are very rounded and often tapered at the mouth and caudal (tail) fin regions. Color varies, but many species have light spots and or spines. These fishes common names reference their ability to inflate their bodies with air or water.
Up to a maximum of 90 cm (35.4 in.)
Feeds mainly on mollusks (hard, powerful teeth enable them to break through mollusk shells); also fed on other invertebrates including sponges and coral
Oviparous (egg laying)
Tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide; some puffers are found in brackish or fresh water
Ranges from oceanic to near shore/coastal to inshore; many species also found in shallow water
Global: No data
IUCN: Several species listed as Data Deficient; 1 species as Vulnerable
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. The order Tetraodontiformes (Latin for "four teeth") is a group of more than 300 fish species that includes sunfishes, spike fishes, leatherjackets, boxfishes, puffers, and porcupinefishes. As the Latin translation suggests, most of these fish have four teeth fused into their jaws. Exceptions include three tooth puffers (Triodon macropterus), as well as porcupinefishes and sunfishes, which have two fused teeth. 
  2. Members of the puffer family are not entirely covered with scales. If alarmed, they can inflate themselves with water or air and balloon up to three times their normal size. This "puffing" ploy is used only in desperation, as the inflated puffer loses most of its maneuverability. A puffer would prefer to escape predators by swimming into a crevice. 
  3. Porcupinefish can also inflate their bodies with water or air, but these fishes are also armed with well-developed spines from head to tail. These spines, which can be up to 5 cm (2 in.) long, make the porcupine fish even more difficult to attack.
  4. For more information about bony fishes, explore the Bony Fishes InfoBook.

Ecology and Conservation

Many of these fishes are highly toxic and deadly if eaten; yet some of the most dangerous species are considered a delicacy in Asian countries. Puffers are served in restaurants as fugu. The fugu chef must be careful to remove all of the poison sacs from the fish or the person eating the meal could die. Species that are highly prized as fugu include the grass puffer (Takifugu niphobles), the panther puffer (T. paradalis), and the black-backed puffer (T. stictonotus).

South Sea islanders once used the spiked skins of porcupinefishes as helmets.


Burgess, W. and H.R. Axelrod. Pacific Marine Fishes. Book 1. Neptune City, NJ. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Ltd. 1971.

Eschmeyer, W.N., Herald, E.S. and H. Hammann. Peterson Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes. New York. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1983.