Bandtail Puffer

Bandtail Puffer, Sphoeroides spengleri

The Bandtail Puffer, Sphoeroides spengleri, whose common Spanish name is botete collarete, and known locally as botete, is a species in the Puffer or Tetraodontidae Family, known collectively as botetes in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty three species in the genus Sphoeroides, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Bandtail Puffers have moderately elongated bodies whose width is 29 to 33% of standard length. They have an overall olive-brown coloration with mottling. Their ventral side is flat and uniform white in color. They have a sharply defined row of round black spots that extends along their lower sides from the head to the caudal fin base. They also have a slightly rounded caudal fin, with two dark bars, after which they are named. Their head has a long narrow snout and is concave between their large elevated eyes which glow like gold-lined emeralds. They have four large teeth which are used to crush their prey. Their anal and dorsal fins are small and similarly shaped, have short bases, and are found well back on their body with the anal fin being slightly behind the dorsal fin. Their body is covered with small sandpaper-like denticles and is scaleless.

The Bandtail Puffers reside on the bottom and are abundant in all inshore habitats associated with reefs where adequate cover, such as seagrass beds and reef flats are found, at depths up to 225 feet. They reach a maximum length of 30 cm (12 inches), but are more commonly around 12 cm (4.7 inches) in length. They feed on crustaceans, echinoderms, mollusks, polychaetes, and plants. They are exceedingly well camouflaged and have the ability to blow themselves up like balloons, presumably as a defense mechanism to deter predator attacks. They are a rare poorly studied species and very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.

The Bandtail Puffers are widely distributed in both the Eastern and Western Atlantic Ocean. In Mexican waters they are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bandtail Puffer is an easy fish to identify due to its coloration, however, it is almost identical to the somewhat larger Longnose Puffer, Sphoeroides lobatus, found only in the Pacific Ocean.

The Bandtail Puffers are very accessible via hook and line and caught off the bottom in shallow waters utilizing small hooks tipped with cut squid. They are a “catch and release” that quickly return to the deep. They are most definitely one of the fish with the greatest personality in the ocean. They are a favorite of divers and also a commonly-traded aquarium fish. Note: Like many Puffers, the Bandtail Puffer is reputed to be highly poisonous, even fatal, if eaten, due to the presence of saxitoxin and/or tetrodotoxin, which is found in their skin, viscera, and gonads and is believed to protect them from predation by larger fish.

Bandtail Puffer, Sphoeroides spengleri. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, August 2014, Length: 26 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.