Pufferfish are a common sight on all of the coral reefs around Koh Lanta. They typically have round faces, tapered bodies and big eyes, ranging in size from 2 cm to around 1 m in length. Pufferfish are one of the most toxic fish in the ocean and should not be eaten.
Puffers have the ability to gulp water and sometimes air to inflate their bodies into a giant ball when threatened. It is believed that they developed this tactic as a method of self defence, due to their very poor swimming ability.
A predator that manages to snag a puffer before it inflates won't feel lucky for long. Almost all pufferfish contain 'tetrodotoxin', a toxin that makes them lethal to most predators. It can be found in their organs, skin and spines depending on species. Only a few animals are immune to the toxin, such as Sharks and Sea Snakes. To humans, it is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide and with no known antidote, there is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans!
Puffers have densely packed teeth, giving a fused, or beak-like appearance. These very sharp teeth are used to pry open molluscs, eat invertebrates and scrape algae. They are believed to synthesise their deadly toxin from the bacteria in their food.
When a puffer reaches maturity, the male will lead the female close to the shore, where they release and fertilise only 3-7 eggs. The young will stay here until big enough to join the reef.
The blackspotted, or dog-face puffer is a common sight at all of our dive sites and easy to identify. This small fish has no scales and grows up to 33 cm, but more commonly observed around 20 cm. Sometimes seen alone, sometimes in pairs. This fish has a short snout, no pelvic fin and both a small dorsal and anal fin.
Blackspotted pufferfish colouration is highly variable, greyish, bluish, blackish, yellowish, however they all have a few common markings such as black lips, black around the pectoral fin base and scatterings of different sized black spots on the body.
The starry pufferfish is the largest of all puffers, growing up to 1.2m. This fish has no scales, with the body covered with prickles. This fish has a short snout, no pelvic fin and both a small dorsal and anal fin.
Adults are white with many small black spots, juveniles have fewer, larger spots. Young fish are orange with small black spots and black stripes on the belly, becoming spots as they age.
Usually seen alone, the starry puffer feeds on sea urchins, starfish, sponges, crabs, corals and algae. Sometimes seen swimming high above the corals or seabed. The starry puffer is extremely poisonous, and tetrodotoxin may occur in the muscle, intestine, liver, gonads and skin. Do not try to eat this fish.