Guineafowl Puffer, Arothron meleagris
The Guineafowl Puffer, Arothron meleagris, whose common Spanish name is botete aletas punteadas, and known locally as botete, is a species in the Puffer or Tetraodontidae Family, known collectively as botetes in Mexico. Globally, there are thirteen species in the genus Arothron, two which are found in Mexican waters, both in the Pacific.
The Guineafowl Puffers have heavy rounded bodies that are uniformly black with numerous small white spots (Black Puffer or Botete Negro), bright yellow spots (Golden Puffer or Botete Dorado) or a mixture of the two morphologies with bright yellow spots and black patches. They have large blunt heads with short snouts and are equipped with a set of massive teeth. They have small and similarly shaped anal and dorsal fins that are well back on their body. Their caudal fin base is long and deep and their caudal fin is rounded. Their body is covered with small denticles that resemble coarse sandpaper.
The Guineafowl Puffers are found in and around rocky coral reefs at depths up to 240 feet. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They feed on coral, small sea animals, sponges, seaweed, crown-of-thorn starfish, and detritus. They have the ability to blow themselves up like balloons, presumably as a defense mechanism to deter predator attacks. Although very common, they are a poorly studied species and very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.
The Guineafowl Puffer are widely distributed across the central Indian and Pacific Oceans from Africa, throughout Micronesia, and to the Eastern Pacific south to Ecuador. In Mexico, they are found on the east coast of Baja from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas and along the coastal mainland from Guaymas to Los Mochis, and from Mazatlán to Guatemala; they are also common to all offshore islands including Tres Marias and the Revillagigedos.
The Guineafowl Puffer is not easily confused with other species in the wild with the possible exception of the female Spotted Boxfish, Ostracion meleagris, however, the Boxfish is easily distinguished by its rigid structure.
The Guineafowl Puffers are of limited interest to most and are considered a “catch and release”. They are a curiosity and can put on an interesting show as they can inflate, however, they have no structure, no rigid backbone, and resemble a “tube of goo”. They are also visually interesting as they paddle back to deeper waters post release. They can be caught off the beach with some regularity if the bait is allowed to sit quietly over a sand bottom. If the line is severed it is most likely a Guineafowl Puffer or a Porcupinefish, Diodon hystrix.
Note: Like many Puffers, the Guineafowl Puffer is reputed to be highly poisonous, even fatal, if eaten, due to the presence of the toxin tetrodotoxin, which is found in their skin, viscera, and gonads and is believed to protect them from predation by larger fish.
Guineafowl Puffer, Arothron meleagris. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Kailua-Kona, HI, July 2014. Length: 26 cm (10 inches). Photo and identification courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.