One unique species of fish commonly found in Tampa Bay and the Gulf is the amazing puffer fish. What other creature has the ability to blow up two or three times their size to scare off predators? The puffer fish, also known as blowfish, is similar to the porcupinefish which can also inflate but is covered in sharp quills. They are small to medium is size with tapered bodies and bulbous heads with big doll-like eyes. They vary in appearance, but are often grey or yellow with spots or stripes. Some species have pointed spines which are visible when they are inflated.
The scientific name Tetraodontidae refers to the four large teeth, fused into an upper and lower plate, which are used for crushing the shells of crustaceans and mollusks, their natural prey. Puffer fish are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog. Certain internal organs, such as liver, and sometimes the skin, are highly toxic to most animals when eaten; nevertheless, the puffer fish is considered a delicacy in Japan known as fugu. It is extremely expensive and only prepared by trained, licensed chefs who know that one bad cut means almost certain death for a customer.
There are at least 120 species of puffers worldwide; they are commonly found in tropical and subtropical waters, but some species live in brackish and even fresh water. Puffer fish are slow moving and not aggressive, which makes them vulnerable to predators. Their large eyes provide excellent eyesight, however, and the ability to fill or "puff" its extremely elastic stomach with water to appear balloon-like helps in its ability to thwart off sharks and other enemies. Other interesting facts: Puffers are able to move their eyes independently, and many species can change the color or intensity of their patterns in response to environmental changes.
Warning: Eating puffer fish can cause saxitoxin poisoning which can lead to neurological symptoms such as tingling, burning, numbness, drowsiness, incoherent speech and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, the poisoning can cause death. This toxin has no taste, color or smell. Florida has banned the harvesting of puffer fish in Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin Counties.
Despite their dangerous reputation, their gentle nature makes puffers excellent - and entertaining - aquarium fish.