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Puffers

White Spotted Puffer Puffers differ from other fish in several ways: they have no scales -- their skin is covered in plates -- and they have no ribs so that they can inflate themselves with either water or air to present a larger version of themselves to would-be attackers.  If they have reached the surface and are inflated with air it is sometimes difficult for them to deflate.  They swim (poorly) by waving their dorsal and anal fins, and can turn in circles or swim backwards.  They feed on shrimp, crustaceans, mollusks, and sometimes coral.  All 100 species are known to blow on the sand to drive their prey out of their dens.  A White-Spotted Puffer Arothron hispidus (left) frequently was found under our boat in French Polynesia, especially when we anchored on a sandbank inside a lagoon, just on the edge of the drop-off to deeper water.  This is one fish to avoid eating: its tissue contains a deadly poison -- tetrodotoxin. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
The Blackspotted Puffer Arothoron nigropunctatus is extremely variable.  This one in Komodo National Park, Indonesia, is rather blah in coloration except for a few black spots.  In Tonga we saw one that was olive-grey and orange - though still with black dots. Other places in Indonesia it has another variation, a marbled blue-grey and black. Now that would have been something to see!  The black lips are consistent markings between the variations.  (Komodo NP, Indonesia) Black Spotted Pufferfish  Arothoron nigropunctatus in Indonesia
Star Pufferfish Arothron stellatus Star Puffers Arothron stellatus are white, covered with many small black spots. Larger spots or irregular blotches are characteristic around the pectoral fin base. They have a white belly and grow to 3 ft (1m). Juveniles have orange and black curving lines and look nothing like the adults. As they grow, the orange turns to irregular yellow blotches and eventually disappear, while the stripes disperse to spots. Star Puffers are solitary and range from 3-58m.  (Indonesia) Photo by Sue Hacking.
This Map Puffer Arothon mappa was sitting at a cleaner station on Crystal Rock, a dive site in Komodo National Park.  Note the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse by its tail.  It must be a tough job to clean so large a puffer, because the fish was still there when we came back half an hour later.  The Map Puffer is distinguished by the lines radiating from its eyes and continuing at random over its back.  The irregular black blotch at its pectoral fin base is a telling mark, as is another blotch on its belly (not shown).  The beak is white, though it must have caught the camera flash to shine so brightly.  They are usually solitary on seaward reefs at 15-100 ft (4-30 m).  (Komodo NP, Indonesia) Photo by Amanda Hacking. Map Pufferfish Arothon mappa

Porcupinefish Diodon hystrix

The Porcupinefish Diodon hystrix is closely related to the puffers and is covered in dark thorns instead of scales.  These fish have very large, brown-black eyes which seem to gaze sweetly at divers who approach their nooks in the coral - or stare back over their shoulder as you follow them.  If harassed they can inflict a nasty bite with a plated mouth structure capable of crushing the shells of gastropods.  So much for the sweetly gazing eyes!  They're solitary except when courting, so they must be quite the romantics within their own species.  (Society Islands, French Polynesia) Porcupinefish Diodon hystrix

Black-Saddled Toby Canthigaster valentini
Also in the family of puffers is the sub-family known as tobies.  They, like their larger cousins, the pufferfish, can greatly enlarge their bodies by drawing water into the ventral portion of their stomachs.  Here a Black-Saddled Toby Canthigaster valentini peers out from under a coral boulder. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
 Spotted Toby Canthigaster solandri
The Spotted Toby Canthigaster solandri usually has blue to green line markings on the back, but can have spots instead.  Our guide says they're solitary, but when we shot this fellow in Raiatea, French Polynesia, he was followed by a friend.

Yellowboxfish Young Adult Box fishes (also known as trunk fishes) are so named for the polygonal bony plates that cover there heads and bodies, and from which their eyes, mouth and fins protrude.  Related to the puffer fishes, they swim relatively slowly with dorsal and anal fins, saving their tail fins for times of flight.  They feed on invertebrates, tunicates and algae.  We often saw the yellow variation of the Longhorn Cowfish (a species of box fish with bony horn-like protrusions on the head, not shown), and the blue and yellow Spotted Boxfish (not shown) inside the lagoons of Tahiti and Moorea.  In Tonga and Indonesia the Yellow Boxfish Ostracion cubicus was fairly common, with the bright yellow juveniles (right) and the more elongated and green-gray-toned young adults (left) with their blue spots. Juvenile Yellowboxfish

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