Tetraodontidae – Pufferfish vs Porcupinefish

Fact: Sometimes porcupinefish and pufferfish are collectively known as pufferfish (this is where confusion often sets in)

The Tetradontiformes are represented by 10 families with about 360 different species overall; most are marine and they are most diverse in the tropics with very few species in temperate waters, they are completely absent from cold waters. A few species are found in freshwater streams and estuaries.

This post is mostly focused on the difference between porcupinefish and pufferfish because during a conversation with a friend today we were unsure whether the fish we were discussing were called porcupinefish, balloonfish or pufferfish. So this post is for my dear friend and big brother Kana 😀

Common name Porcupinefish / Balloonfish  Pufferfish
Family Diodontidae Tetraodontidae
Defence mechanisms Puff up body by drawing in water or air through the mouth into a small chamber near the stomach.

Their body is covered with sharp spines which become upright when the fish is inflated. Their larger spines are visible even prior to “puffing up”.


Some species are also poisonous having tetrodotoxin in some of their internal organs, this toxin is more potent than cyanide


Due to these three defences porcupine fish have very few predators, yet adults are sometimes preyed upon by sharks and killer whales whilst juveniles are preyed on by tuna and dolphins.

Puff up body by drawing in water or air through the mouth into a small chamber near the stomach. 

They have tough, prickly skin that is stretched during the inflation process. Their thinner hidden spines are only visible when puffed up.


Pufferfish are generally believed to be the second most poisonous vertebrates in the world. Some of their internal organs are covered by tetrodotoxin making them very toxic to eat.


Nevertheless the meat of certain species are considered to be a delicacy in various places in the world.


The slight difference in their defence mechanisms and spines can therefore aid you in deciding whether your fish in question is a pufferfish or a porcupinefish.

You should not chase or irritate them in order to make them inflate.

You must bear in mind, however, sometimes porcupinefish and pufferfish are collectively known as pufferfish…!

Both pufferfish and porcupinefish have tetrodotoxin in their internal organs. This poison is lethal, it is about 1200 times more deadly than cyanide and currently there is no antidote. Despite this, Fugu Pufferfish are considered a delicacy in places such as Japan and Korea where they are prepared by chefs trained and specially permitted to remove the toxic organs. Incompetently prepared the fish causes several deaths every year. The Emperor of Japan is banned from eating this delicacy for his own protection.

Tetraodontidae are mostly omnivorous and eat a large variety of plants and animals. They mainly feed on algae that grows on the rocks and coral but also they will eat the invertebrates that inhabit these areas. The larger species will also eat various types of shellfish such as shrimp, crabs and molluscs.

Charles Darwin mentioned the porcupinefish in his accounts of his voyage around the world on HMS Beagle. He made a note of how well the fish can swim when it is inflated, however the altered buoyancy, when it is inflated, means it must swim upside down. Darwin also mentioned hearing from another naturalist, Dr. Allen of Forres,”that he has frequently found a Diodon {porcupinefish}, floating dead and distended, in the stomach of the shark; and that on several occasions he has known it eat its way, not only through the coats of the stomach, but through the sides of the monster”


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