A huge head with big, bug eyes. A body covered in prickly spines, shaped like a rugby ball. Tiny fins, suitable for slowly propelling through the shallows. In the fish world, the Starry Pufferfish is not going to win any beauty contests. But these fascinating fish, often seen by passengers aboard Passions of Paradise, are key players in the reef ecosystem, and make for an interesting photo to show your friends back home.
This interesting fish is found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, such as the Red Sea, Polynesia, and the western, northern and eastern coasts of Australia. The Starry Puffer is a relatively uncommon species, and lives close to external reef slopes and sheltered lagoons with clear water, but mainly in close proximity to sandy areas, such as those around Passions of Paradise’s location of Michaelmas Cay. These homely looking fish feed on a variety of creatures, such as benthic invertebrates, sponges, algae, the polyps of corals such as Acropora, crustaceans and molluscs. It is also a known predator of the infamous Crown-of-Thorns starfish.
What makes the Starry Puffer such a remarkable fish are its defence mechanisms, which are used to protect itself from predators. The Starry Puffer secretes a violent poison, known as tetrodotoxin, which protects it from voracious predators. Cousins of the Starry Pufferfish are famous worldwide for this toxin in the most surprising way: In Japanese cuisine, species of pufferfish, known as Fugu, are a delicacy, and are served in thin slices called sashimi. Fugu can be lethal, and the restaurant preparation is strictly controlled by law in Japan and several other countries, and only chefs who have qualified through rigorous training (of three years or more) are allowed to deal with the fish.
In order to ward off potential enemies, Starry Puffers can also inflate their bodies by swallowing air or water, and this ability to swell in size is what gives this family of fish their quirky name. Rarely, divers will encounters sharks, groupers, and other fish with various pufferfish stuck in their mouths. It is unknown how long a pufferfish will remain swelled-up inside a predators mouth, but often the predator will struggle to feed with the puffer stuck in its mouth, and may die as a result.
So when you come to the reef, keep your eyes peeled for these quirky, shy fish. Often, they will blend right in with the corals and the sandy bottom. If you are lucky, you may even be able to witness the Starry Puffer feeding. As always, avoid touching or harassing this fish, or any of the marine wildlife, and take care not to damage the coral or leave any rubbish behind.
Remember: We have one planet; let’s take care of it!
Image taken by Christian Miller, Cuckoo Crew Productions