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Puffers & Boxfishes

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General Information

This grouping of fishes represents three distinct families: the Boxfishes (or Trunkfishes), true Puffers (including Tobies and Sharpnosed Puffers), and Porcupinefishes. These species are similarly shaped, lack pelvic fins, stay close to the base of coral reefs in shallow water, and most are omnivores, eating a varied diet of crabs, shrimps, polychaete worms, clams, and algae.

Puffers, Tobies, and Porcupinefishes all are capable of inflating their bodies to varying degrees when threatened by predators or if they are alarmed for any reason. To accomplish this, they suck water into their abdomens to literally “puff up” to twice their normal size. Porcupinefishes, specifically, can expand into an almost perfectly round ball and have large spines on their bodies which stand up in their sockets when the fishes are fully inflated. Puffers are smaller than Porcupinefishes, have smooth scales, fused jaws, and a divided bone(s) that serve(s) as the front teeth. Boxfishes have armored bodies made up of bony plates, sensitive skin, weak fins, and are very poor, slow-moving swimmers. If approached by a diver, a Boxfish will frantically move its pectoral fins, rocking back and forth to keep an eye on its pursuer. These fishes are capable of emitting toxic mucus when threatened.

Aquarium Care & Feeding

Puffers and Boxfishes usually eat readily in the aquarium. Once accustomed to captivity they prefer meaty foods and have a bold feeding manner. Tobies and Sharpnosed Puffers are omnivorous and may benefit from eating algae or algae-enriched foods. Puffers are generally peaceful fishes but some individuals have been known to become aggressive toward other fishes once they are established in aquaria. Do not keep any of these species with invertebrates as they will become a quick meal.

The toxic mucus secreted by a panicked Boxfish is strong enough to kill virtually everything—including themselves—in an aquarium. Understanding how to properly care for Boxfishes is crucial to any hobbyist thinking about purchasing one.