In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the puffer fish, and answer a question we find many of our readers asking: Are puffer fish dangerous?
Although these fish look harmless, and can sometimes be as small as a fingernail, they are incredibly dangerous and are not to be taken lightly.
There are more than 120 different species of puffer fish, with many being found in subtropical ocean waters.
They typically reside in either reefs or sand flats and feed on invertebrates or algae.
But are these harmless-looking fish dangerous?
Let’s find out…
Are Puffer Fish Actually Dangerous?
Although puffer fish can look cute and harmless on the exterior, they are some of the most dangerous fish on the planet.
In fact, they are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world after the golden poison frog.
Some internal organs of the puffer fish such as the eyes, skin, and liver contain a lethal poison known as tetrodotoxin.
To humans, tetrodotoxin is 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide, and there is no known antidote. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 humans, so you can see why this really isn’t a fish to be messed with.
This makes the puffer fish lethal to fishermen and makes them taste foul too, however in some countries such as Japan, the fish is a delicacy known as fugu.
Some fishermen do find themselves catching puffer fish when out fishing. They will often wear thick gloves to prevent themselves from being poisoned.
They will throw the fish back into the water and avoid all contact with it. They are dangerous fish to have hooked on your line and especially brought onto a fishing boat.
How Do Puffer Fish Defend Themselves?
Besides their lethal poison, puffer fish have a pretty interesting defense mechanism to defend themselves against predators.
The puffer fish in the wild looks like the perfect snack for almost any predator, so when under threat, the fish will ingest large volumes of water (and even air sometimes) into their elastic stomachs to inflate themselves into a large ball.
Given that all puffer fish have pointed spikes, this tasty-looking fish immediately transforms into a ball of spikes that is up to seven times its original size. Not so appetizing now.
The fish does not die or harm itself by inflating, it can inflate multiple times a day and will often do so to protect its reef territory or life.
That being said, inflating is not a natural occurrence for these fish, and it can take a few hours for them to get back down to their normal metabolic condition after doing so.
This defense mechanism sometimes isn’t enough to deter predators, and sometimes the puffer fish may not have a chance to inflate before finding itself in the mouth of a hungry fish.
However, oftentimes when the fish is swallowed, the predators will end up choking, and when ingested find that the fish tastes foul and can even prove fatal due to their lethal poison.
Pufferfish also have a set of teeth that are fused together to form a sort of beak. A bite from a pufferfish can be incredibly painful and draw blood quickly.
The teeth of puffer fish continuously grow throughout their lives, and some people who keep them as pets find themselves taking their puffer fish to the veterinary office to get their puffer fish’s teeth drilled down.
Pufferfish teeth are as hard as stone, they can easily crunch through crab shells, mollusks, and sea urchins.
What Happens If You Get Hit By A Puffer Fish?
Pufferfish can be dangerous to the touch because of their poison, but even more dangerous if consumed.
If you do find yourself stepping on or somehow eating a pufferfish unknowingly, then you’ll want to seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms of poisoning will generally occur within 10 – 15 minutes of contact with the puffer fish, and they include vomiting, nausea, tingling around the mouth, and numbness.
The symptoms can progress extremely quickly into loss of consciousness, paralysis, respiratory failure, and even lead to death.
There is no time to waste if you have come into contact with a puffer fish, seek medical attention immediately.
Can You Eat Puffer Fish?
As mentioned earlier, in countries such as Japan, puffer fish are sometimes eaten and even considered a delicacy.
However, if the chef is not trained in cutting the fish correctly, this could lead to some of the toxins will being present in the fish and if ingested can lead to the above complications.
Most people who eat puffer fish do so intentionally and are being catered to by a trained chef, as it can be very dangerous if eaten otherwise.
I would advise against ever eating a puffer fish due to the risk involved, it’s not something I would ever personally do, and don’t advise you to either.
It’s also a good idea to be incredibly careful if you have a pet dog in the water where you suspect puffer fish may live.
Often dogs can run up to dead puffer fish on the beach and consume them, which can lead to fatality quickly if not recognized.
So are puffer fish dangerous? Yes, extremely!
These seemingly harmless fish are filled with a deadly poison that can kill us, humans, incredibly quickly.
If you do see a puffer fish in the wild, I recommend staying away from it and certainly do not touch it. Pufferfish come in all shapes and sizes, and with over 120 different species they can often be mistaken for other types of fish.
If you do happen to come into contact with a puffer fish and touch it or ingest it, seek medical attention immediately.
Hopefully, this post has helped give you an insight into just how dangerous puffer fish really are, and why they are not to be messed with.
Pufferfish are one of the most dangerous fish in the sea, so avoid them at all costs if you do happen to come across one of them in the wild.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, feel free to share it with someone who may find it valuable.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!