Ball fish: between pitfalls and charm

Puffers are widespread in most tropical waters around the globe

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Ball fish: between pitfalls and charm

Puffers are widespread in most tropical waters around the globe. Some species, such as Tetraodon miurus, only live in fresh water. The puffer fish feed mainly on: molluscs, crustaceans, jellyfish and coral polyps, of which they break the shells or the exoskeletal structure with their 4 very hard teeth and powerful muscles.

They manage to break even dead corals. Although not an excellent swimmer due to the rigidity of its body, the puffer fish is not an object of predation as it is equipped with two particular defense systems.
It is able to quickly swallow large quantities of water, becoming very large and difficult to swallow even for large predators; in addition, its viscera and muscles contain a very powerful poison, tetradotoxin, a neurotoxin that inhibits respiratory function, leading rapidly to death.

Puffers are morphologically very similar to Diodontidae, commonly known as porcupine fish, which have large external spines on the body unlike puffers which carry much thinner and generally hidden spines that can only be observed when the fish is puffed up.

Ball fish: between pitfalls and charm

The name Tetraodontidae comes from the Greek language with the meaning of four teeth and refers to the fact that the puffers all have 4 large teeth fused into two plates, one upper and one lower, used to break the shells and shells of molluscs and crustaceans, their natural prey.

Most puffers are venomous and some are even among the most venomous vertebrates in existence. In some species, in fact, some internal organs such as the liver, but also the skin contain tetrodotoxin, one of the most powerful neurotoxins known.

The entrails and meat of many family members are deadly due to the presence of tetradotoxin; nevertheless they are consumed in Japan, after proper preparation. The most popular dish is fugu sashimi, also called Fugu sashi or Tessa, very thinly sliced, decorated and prepared to resemble chrysanthemum.

To slice fugu and serve it there is a particular type of knife, called fugu hiki. The difficulty of preparation has made it one of the most famous dishes in Japan: the city of Osaka has dedicated a museum to it.