Many people get the pufferfish and the Spotted Porcupinefish, also known as the Diodon hystrix, confused because they both puff up when threatened.
However, these two fish are not the same; they are cousins of each other. Pufferfish belong to the family Tetraodontidae, whereas the Porcupinefish belong to the Diodontidae family.
You may know the spotted Porcupinefish by other names such as the spot-fin Porcupinefish, blowfish, and balloon fish.
Although Porcupinefish are considered poisonous, they are a delicacy in Hawaii and Tahiti. Dried and stuffed Porcupinefish are sold to tourists as novelties on some Pacific Islands.
When Spotted Porcupinefish remain unprovoked, they have thin, oval-shaped bodies which hide their spikes.
However, the Porcupinefish will bloat three times its size when threatened, revealing the spines that give them their name.
When fully grown, Spotted Porcupinefish reach about a foot and a half in length, with some species growing as long as three feet.
At a maximum, the Spotted Porcupinefish can weigh up to 6 pounds, although on average, they’ll weigh no more than 4 pounds.
Of course, when a Porcupinefish bloats under a perceived threat, they become three times their size.
The Porcupinefish has an elongated body with thousands of black spots. The black spots hold spiky spines that align with their relaxed bodies until they bloat.
A set of large black eyes is located on either side of the Porcupinefishes rounded head, accompanied by a large mouth typically left open. Their mouths contain two teeth used for eating prey.
Most Spotted Porcupinefish are sandy-yellow with black spots, while others have been seen with a dull brown color and even a blue-grey hue. Each Porcupinefish has a set of pectoral, dorsal, and anal fins.
Although Porcupinefish can bloat to scare off predators, this is not their only defense mechanism.
The Spotted Porcupinefish excretes a poisonous toxin from their skin called tetrodotoxin which is 1200 times more toxic than cyanide.
The Spotted Porcupinefish live mainly alone throughout their ten years of life. When it comes time to breed or mate, the species will excrete germ cells known as gametes which fuse together, creating zygotes.
When a male Porcupinefish wants to mate with a female, they’ll strive to push the female close to the water’s surface.
At the surface is where both species gamete. Five days after fertilization, the eggs hatch, and only two days later the larvae form mouths, eyes, and full color.
The mating season for Porcupinefish happens when the water’s temperature is warmer (25C) between the months of May and August.
While it’s still unknown how many eggs a Spotted Porcupinefish can produce at one time, they leave their young to survive the open waters alone.
Their young stay within the coral reef until it grows eight inches in length and will remain in shallow waters for the remainder of their solitary lives.
The Spotted Porcupinefish typically lives in coral and rocky reefs located in tropical waters. They have been spotted in the Pacific Ocean from San Diego, California, to Chile in South America. Other places a Spotted Porcupinefish reside include:
- Atlantic Ocean – Massachusetts to the Northern Gulf of Mexico
- Carribean and Bermuda
- Azorean and Seychelles Islands
- Western Indian Ocean – Kenya and South Africa.
- The Mediterranean and the Red Sea in New Zealand.
As you can see, the Porcupinefish can be found in all parts of the globe, as long as there are coral and rocky reefs to hide in, inhabit, and survive.
Around the globe, you’ll see Spotted Porcupinefish inhabiting holes and crevices found in coastal areas around the world.
Coastal areas include lagoons, underwater caves, reefs, ledges, and seamount areas. Porcupinefish young survive in the upper layers of the open sea (pelagic) until they reach 20 centimeters or eight inches in size.
Some Porcupinefish have been found as deep as 20 meters below the surface, where they feed off tiny invertebrates and microscopic germs found within the coral reef where they live.
Spotted Porcupinefish find their food within sandy areas of their inhabited reef and on coral and plant matter.
Because they are omnivores that eat plant and animal matter, they fall under the primary and secondary consumerism in the food chain.
Spotted Porcupinefish are omnivorous and durophagous, which means they eat meat, specifically organisms with hard shells or exoskeletons.
Their strong jaws and beaked mouths rip into sea urchins, crabs, snails, and clams. Their rubbery lips help protect them from getting injured from spiky shells and broken matter.
Porcupinefish feed during the day; however, they are nocturnal fish. They spend most of their days scavenging and searching for prey in sandy areas, crevices, and underwater caves. They sleep within coral reefs and in caves at night unless disturbed by predators.
The Porcupinefish uses its strong jaw and beak-like structure to attack its prey, such as clams and oysters, and often swallow their food source whole.
The Porcupinefish find their food within their habitat or wide-open sandy areas where exoskeletons and invertebrates dwell.
Due to the spiny defense mechanism and the toxic poison the Porcupinefish releases, they are reasonably good at getting away from predators.
However, other threats include climate change and human hunting or bycatching for food or entertainment reasons.
The main human threat to Porcupinefish is bycatching. For entertainment reasons, humans will catch Porcupinefish and gut their insides for stuffing and then selling.
Porcupinefish can be eaten, but if the fish is prepared wrong, death occurs within seconds. Many foreign countries have specialized cooks trained to make porcupinefish delicacies for food reasons.
Porcupinefish help keep reefs healthy by cleaning up the “garbage” – exoskeletons and invertebrates.
Without these reefs, the ocean floor will have no quality of life, leading to a decrease in the Porcupinefish population.
The Porupinefish has few predators due to their defensive mechanisms. However, killer whales and sharks will eat adult Porcupinefish.
Young Porcuipinefish are preyed upon by dolphins, tuna, and Lysiosquillina maculata, also known as the Zebra Mantis Shrimp.
Other threats for the Spotted Porcupinefish include habitat loss brought on by global warming and pollution.
Ocean acidification is another threat to the Porcupinefish. Ocean acidification is a chemical process that changes the pH level in seawater. The main reason for ocean acidification is the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
There is no evidence that the Spotted Porcupinefish is under conservation status. Nor is there any conservation status relating to any other species of the porcupinefish or pufferfish families.
Interesting facts about the Spotted Porcupinefish include:
- Spotted Porcupinefish swallow air and water, making it easier for them to bloat or “puff” up.
- A healthy Porcupinefish can go two weeks without eating.
- They are considered a delicacy in many cultures.
- Porcupinefish have excellent eyesight
- Their teeth never stop growing.
- Porcupinefish can communicate with other fish using smell and sound.
- Porcupinefish posion is 1200 times more toxic than cyanide.
- You can buy a Porcupinefish to keep as a pet
- Porcupinefish and pufferfish are not the same as they come from different but related, families in the fish kingdom
- The Australian Porcupinefish species is the smallest subspecies in the world.
- It takes about fifteen seconds for a Porcupinefish to puff up.
- Spotted Porcupinefish are poor swimmers.
- Mollusks are the Spotted Porcupinefish’s favorite snack.
- Spotted Porcupinefish are nocturnal.