Puffer Fish Background
|Tetrodotoxin in Puffer Fish|
|Production Of Tetrodotoxin|
|Mechanism of Tetrodotoxin|
|Tertodotoxin in Humans|
Puffer Fish (sometimes “Blowfish” or “Globefish”) refers to a family of twenty-seven genera primarily marine or estuarine ray-finned fishes of the Tetraodontiformes order. This family of over one-hundred-twenty species of relatively ancestral vertebrates is called Tetraodontidae (tetra-4, donti-teeth) a reference to the fish’s four large teeth which are fused onto an upper and lower plate that are used to crush the shells of crustaceans and mollusks, which are a large portion of many of the species’ diets. The figure below shows the relationship of ray-finned fishes to other vertebrates .
The Ray-finned fish are where the puffer fish family (Tetraodontidae) is located. Image courtesy of 2. Bootstrap values are listed at each branch point from three independent studies.
The Tetraodontidae family is found in many habitats across the globe. Most are found in tropical and subtropical waters (see figure below), however there are several cases of estuarine puffers and even a few (29 species) fresh water puffers ranging from South America, to Africa, to Southeast Asia.
Image courtesy of http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/pufferfish/Light yellow areas represent puffer fish range.
Most puffer fish are carnivores, eating small fish, snails, crustaceans, shrimp, and/or arthropods. Because they are so slow, they rely on the their large eyes to hunt by sight. They hunt mostly slower camouflaged prey, either by being open-water hunters, stealth hunters (smaller puffers that stay hidden when hunting to avoid being eaten themselves), or ambush predators that bury themselves in sand and quickly lunge at prey above them. Puffers are prey for certain large fish, sharks, and humans in some parts of the world. Puffers produce an average clutch size of six eggs, and mating frequency depends on the species of puffer. These eggs float on water and take about four to six days to develop, once again depending on the species. Puffers range in size from tiny pygmy puffers (2.5cm) to giant puffers spanning over two feet! Their complete median lifespan can range from four to eight years, once again depending on the species.One important thing to note is that puffer fish do not have large spines! Those fish also inflate, but belong to a sister family Diodontidae, and are commonly called porcupine fish. Like inflation, these spines also make the fish harder to swallow.
Typically, puffers are somewhat slow clumsy fish; so slow that you can catch them with your hands. Yet, as demonstrated by the wide ecological habitats and number of species documented, puffer fish are a still successful family. How could this be? If we can catch them unassisted, why don’t more animals prey on them? Clearly the puffers have evolved extraordinary defense mechanisms (specifically toxicity, inflation) which have allowed them to succeed in many habitats. These defenses are discussed further on the links at the top left of the page.
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This website was created as a part of a class project in the Animal Physiology Class at Davidson College.