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Juvenile Striped Burrfish, Puffers, and Lookdowns


Above is a juvenile striped burrfish Chilomycterus schoepfi, a relatively common type of porcupinefish of the Family Diodontidae, meaning “two teeth” found in the Bay. They have the ability to inflate their bodies like “puffers” Family Tetradontidae or “four teeth” also found in the Bay, but have several physiological differences including “burrs” or spines that help define porcupinefishes, and as their family names indicate burrfish have one upper tooth plate and one lower tooth (2 total), while puffers have two on top and two below (4 total). Striped burrfish and northern puffers both use these beak-like teeth plates to crush the shells of crustaceans and scrape invertebrates off rocks, pilings and vegetation, so naturally both species are often found in grass flats and near structure.

A juvenile northern puffer

Despite their ecological and physiological similarities, the two species display very different behaviors in a captivity. Northern puffers Sphoeroides maculatus are extremely aggressive and often bully much larger fishes, using their beak-like teeth to nip at skin and fins. They usually must be separated from fishes with long fins or appendages, as puffers will eat them off. Burrfish however are usually docile and reclusive, at least in comparison to puffers. Because of their unique look, small size (less than a foot as adults) and interesting behavior, both puffers and burrfish are a favorite for aquarists and guests alike.

Juvenile lookdowns Selene vomer can be very ornate and are patterned to mimic sea grass

Lookdowns, a type of jack, have very elongated, elaborate fins as juveniles to help disguise them in vegetation. Puffers however, will eagerly nip at fins such as these and must be kept separately from most species.

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