Porcupinefish Family Photos and Information – Diodontidae

The Porcupinefish Family – Diodontidae

Balloonfish, Diodon holocanthus, a representative member of the Porcupinefish or Diodontidae Family. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ward, Davis, California.

The fish of the Porcupine or Diodontidae Family, also collectively named Burrfish, are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as peces erizo. There are a total of twenty-four global family members in eight genera of which six species in three genera are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and four in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Porcupinefish are small to medium-sized fish that range in size from 20 cm (7.8 inches) to up to 1 meter (39 inches); most are less than 50 cm (18 inches). They are a widely distributed species that is found circumtropically (in all global tropical seas). They have wide bodies that are covered with massive spines, some of which can be quite long. Their heads are broad and blunt.  They have large eyes and a wide mouth with strong fused parrot-like teeth. Their gill openings are small vertical slits that are immediately before their pectoral fin base. Their anal and dorsal fins are without spines and set far back on the body, and like their caudal fins, they are generally rounded. They do not have pelvic fins or scales and their lateral line is inconspicuous. They are a light brownish green in color with yellowish to black spots, however, pelagic species are a deep blue dorsally. They have white bellies with yellow overtones. The Porcupinefish have spines that are erectile or fixed in space; these are covered with skin which continues the color pattern.

The Procupinefish are benthic and found around coral and rocky reefs at depths up to 475 feet. Juveniles are pelagic. They are mainly nocturnal and retreat to caves or beneath ledges during the day. They consume shelled crabs, mollusks, and urchins using their strong teeth and powerful jaws for crushing. They are capable of inflating themselves when disturbed, thus presenting a potential predator with a large spiny ball. They spawn via pelagic eggs which normally hatch within five days. The juveniles are preyed upon by large pelagic predators such as dorados, tunas, and billfish. As they mature, Porcupinefish transition to shallower waters where they take up permanent residence.

The Porcupinefish cannot be confused with any other family of fish due to the large spines on their bodies, the absence of pelvic fins, their inflatable bodies, and the fused teeth within a single beak-like unit in each jaw. Porcupinefish are collected as a by-catch of deep water bottom trawlers. They are used by humans in fishmeal, in the aquarium trade, and on a limited basis they are sold as curios in the inflated and dried state. Thought to contain the poisonous neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, they are of limited value as a food substance, however, a few species are eaten by some cultures of the south Pacific.

Four Porcupinefish reside in Mexican waters of the Pacific and three are included in this website.

Balloonfish, Diodon holocanthus
Porcupinefish, Diodon hystrix
Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus