What is a Porcupinefish?

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  • Written By: Nicole Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2018
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The scientific name of the porcupinefish is Diodon hystrix and is a member of the puffer fish family. Porcupinefish typically prefer the temperature of tropical waters. Specific characteristics, such as long spines along the body and their habitat preferences, help identify this fish.

Porcupinefish can be found throughout the world. They exist along the western coast of North America from San Diego to Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and can also be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists also have found these fish in the Mediterranean Sea, around Bermuda, and in other places throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

These fish have some distinctive characteristics. This includes approximately 20 long spines in a single row running from the snout of the fish to the dorsal fin. When threatened, the fish inflates by taking in water. As this occurs, the long spines of the porcupinefish go from lying flat to sticking out, discouraging attacks by potential predators.

The coloring and markings of the porcupinefish help differentiate it from other fish. These fish range from gray to tan in coloring and have small black spots. In comparison to the closely related balloonfish, the porcupinefish has a larger head and has small black spots cover the entire body.

Other characteristics help distinguish this fish from others. Their teeth are a solid unit and are able to crack open the tough outer shells of certain sea creatures and mollusks. Due to the strong teeth, their diet includes crabs, snails, and sea urchins.

Porcupinefish typically use various ocean features as their habitat. This includes seeking cover in caves and reefs. They also tend to stick towards the shore and are nocturnal. Holes and other crevices, such as those found in shipwrecks, also offer a perfect hiding spot for the fish.

Various predators feed on the porcupinefish. Sharks and wahoo are among the predators of these fish. Smaller fish, such as mahi mahi and billfishes, often prey on the fish during their juvenile stage.

Fish in the puffer fish family aren’t typically consumed by humans and are mainly used for scientific purposes. The skin of the porcupinefish secretes a toxic substance and they are considered poisonous. Those interested in studying the fish may collect them for private collections or place them on display in museums. The fish are not currently listed on any endangered species list or considered vulnerable to extinction according to various agencies, including the World Conservation Union.


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