||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)
||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.
|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)
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)
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.
||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.
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