Spotfin Burrfish

Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus

The Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus, whose common Spanish name is pez erizo enano, and known locally as botete, is a species in the Porcupinefish or Diodontidae Family, known collectively as pez erizo in Mexico. Globally, there are only seven species in the genus Chilomycterus, four of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Spotfin Burrfish have rotund inflatable bodies, which feature a wide blunt head with disproportionately large eyes, strong parrot-like teeth on both jaws, and a large mouth that opens in the front. Dorsally their shading is gray, ventrally it is white, while their head, body, and median fins have scattered black spots. They have two dark vertical lines, the first just in front of their eyes and the second just in front of their pectoral fins. Their head and body are covered with numerous short, immovable, triangular, and flattened shaped spines that are tips of plates embedded just under the skin. There is a row of 8 to 10 spines starting at the snout and ending at the dorsal fin, with one or two spines on top of their caudal fin base. Their anal and dorsal fins are found toward the rear of the body.

The Spotfin Burrfish are found near the bottom in and around sheltered coral and rocky reefs and in open sand rubble bottoms at depths up to 460 feet. They are a circumglobal warm water species present in all tropical waters of the globe. They reach a maximum length of 75 cm (29.5 inches). Adults are generally found inshore near the bottom and around areas that offer shelter such as caves, shipwrecks, reefs, and ledges. They are nocturnal predators consuming crabs, snails, and urchins and are generally found hiding in crevices during the day. Juveniles are pelagic with an open oceanic lifestyle until reaching 20 cm (8 inches) in length, after which they move to coastal environments and become benthic. They are preyed upon by large carnivorous fish including dorados, sharks and wahoos. They are capable of expanding their body size by taking in water and inflating, which they use as an effective defense mechanism. They are also reported to contain the potent neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which is believed to help defend them against predators.

In Mexican waters the Spotfin Burrfish are known long to the coastal waters around the Yucatan Peninsula in the Atlantic; in the Pacific they are found in all waters with the exception that they are absent from the northern half of the Sea of Cortez. This species is exceedingly rare in the greater Los Cabos area. I have personally only seen both of which I caught by hook and line in 20 years.

The Spotfin Burrfish can be confused with the Porcupinefish, Diodon hystrix (very long spines) and the Pelagic Porcupinefish, Diodon eydouxii (dark blue with greater than 20 spines between the snout and caudal fin).

They should be considered a “catch and release” because of the presence of tetrodotoxin, thus we strongly recommend that they not be used for human consumption. For this reason, this species is NOT sold commercially.

Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus. Fish caught coastal waters north off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, April 2007. Length: 77 cm (30 inches). At the time of the catch this fish inflated into a symmetrical ball approximately the size of its length making it simply ginormous.

Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus. Photo of a dried out beach collection illustrating the unique subdermal triangularly shaped spine network.

Spotfin Burrfish (4)

Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus. Two photos of a fish collected off the beach in the Santa Rosalia area of Baja California Sur, November 2014. Photo courtesy of Vikki Kaufmann.

Spotfin Burrfish (6)

Spotfin Burrfish (7)

Spotfin Burrfish (8)

Spotfin Burrfish, Chilomycterus reticulatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, May 2016. Length: 51 cm (20 inches).  Expanded girth: 62 cm (24 inches).