The Pufferfish: More Than Meets The Spiky Balloon

The pufferfish is widely known for its ability to balloon up with spikes whenever it feels threatened, or in the case of  "Finding Nemo’s" Bloat, whenever it’s surprised or having panic attacks. But did you know that there’s more to this fish than meets the, well, spiky balloon?

In fact, pufferfish are pretty odd sea creatures, all things considered. For one thing, certain species of them love chilling on sandy beaches at night. In fact, it’s actually their favorite dating spot, complete with romantic moonlight. For a few well-lit nights every year, the Japanese grass pufferfish (Takifugu niphobles) actually flock to Asian shores to find their mates. Furthermore, around 200 or so of their species go this extreme when it comes to courtship and impressing that lady pufferfish.

And they do it in the most amusing ways as well.

“A big ball of these pufferfish, maybe 400 fish, will sort of rise up on the rising tide and beach themselves,” said Gareth Fraser, an evolutionary developmental biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

According to him, that “ball” contains around one female puffer fish and around several hundred males. The mating ritual then happens when the males start jumping around to release sperm in the sand, where the female would then release her eggs as well. A wave will then finish the cycle once it hits the shores high enough to take them all back to sea.

But it’s not just sandy beaches that these self-bloaters are famous for, but the sand under the sea as well. A 2014 study revealed that the male white-spotted pufferfish makes intricate looking underwater “crop circles” to welcome females and potentially attract them.

Moreover, they also have a parrot-like beak that they use to chop fish in half and then feast on it. It’s even used to fight other males during courtship rituals. Pufferfish reportedly need to eat hard foods to “trim” down their beaks since they can’t feed if it overgrows.

Still, pufferfish are best known for turning into a spiky ball whenever it’s angry, which is pretty dangeous, amusing as it may be.

fish-3816488_960_720 A small "puffed-up" puffer fish. Photo by Pixabay (CC0)