Pufferfish belong to the family Tetradontidae and the order Tetradonitformes. There are at least 200 known species of Pufferfish. Pufferfish and Blowfish are one and the same, but Pufferfish are not to be confused with the Porcupine Fish or Balloon Fish of the family Diodontidae. Pufferfish contain a beak like formation of four teeth, and their bellies may either be naked or consist of short prickles. Mostly a marine species of fish, some do inhabit fresh and brackish waters. Marine Pufferfish tend to inhabit tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. One of the most unique identifiable characteristics of a Pufferfish is the ability to inflate itself.
Inflation is a defense mechanism to ward off predators in an attempt to appear larger and more intimidating. However, this task is very stressful for Pufferfish and cannot be performed repeatedly because of the fatigue it causes. It takes sometimes around five and a half hours for the fish’s metabolism to return to normal after inflation. It does not, however, strain the Pufferfish’s ability to breath. Air is taken in through its skin in order to inflate, allowing the pufferfish to continue breathing through its gills like normal. Pufferfish are also known for having slightly thicker skin to further deter predators. Some species are even poisonous to consume.
The tetrodotoxin of these poisonous species is the same kind found in the bite of a Blue-Ringed Octopus and is 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide. Pufferfish are most toxic immediately prior to and during the reproductive season. A small amount of tetrodotoxin is even passed from the mother to its eggs in order to protect the babies from predators. Some scientists theorize that the toxin is the by-product of a chemical reaction from certain bacteria they ingest when consuming their prey. Pufferfish themselves may be considered omnivorous as they will eat algae, but some species may have more of a carnivorous preference. Their diet may consist of small invertebrates, mollusks, clams, and crabs. Depending on the species, Pufferfish may either actively hunt using a stealth and sneak or an ambush approach, or lie in wait for their prey. Regardless of the presence of the toxin and how it came to be, Pufferfish meat is actually a delicacy in Japan. The meat must only be prepared by a specially licensed chef though. Despite this, there are still regards of about 50 Pufferfish-related deaths per year.