Animal of the Month
September 2021

Name: White-spotted Pufferfish

Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Tetraodonitformes
Family: Tetraodonidae
Genus: Torquigener
Species: T. albobomaculosus

Size: About 4 inches long from nose-to-tail.
Weight: N/A.

Round, pudgy body, two large black eyes on either side of the head, transparent fins and tail.
Color(s): Brown and white speckled on top of body, white belly.
Behavior: Solitary, constructs sandy nests.
Preferred Habitat: Reef environments about 33-89 feet deep.
Range: Ryuku Islands, Japan, possibly other regions of the Pacific.
Diet: Most likely shellfish, snails, and other small animals.
Lifespan: N/A.

Status: Not Evaluated

In 1995, people began to notice strange sand patterns on the seafloor near Japan. For decades, no one could explain who or what was creating them. Finally, in 2011 divers were able to catch the culprit in the act: a new species of pufferfish! The white-spotted pufferfish was first discovered in the waters of the Ryuku Islands.

The white-spotted puffer is the twentieth species found in the genus Torquigener, which includes other pufferfish It's important to note that the white-spotted pufferfish (Torquigener albobomaculosus) should not be confused with the white-spotted puffer (Arothron hispidus), which belongs to a different genus of puffer altogether! The recently discovered white-spotted pufferfish is small, only about four inches long. They are patterned with brown and white speckles, blending in perfectly with the sandy bottom of the ocean. They live in waters about 33-89 feet deep, in or near reef environments.

Little is known about the white-spotted pufferfish. They likely eat what other pufferfish eat-shellfish, snails, and other small creatures. They may live in other parts of the Pacific Ocean, beyond the Ryuku islands. They presumably can inhale water inflate into a defensive ball like other puffer species, but this has yet to be observed. There is much more to learn about this little fish.

What we do know about white-spotted puffers is that they are natural artists! Males slide through the sand to create grooves and move rough bits with their mouths. They are meticulous, working tirelessly until the structure is exactly the way they want it. Each circle pattern is about six feet in length. To keep the ocean current from destroying the structure, a male must work for 7-9 days without stopping until it is complete!

So, what in the world are these little fish up to? Scientists discovered that males go through all this trouble because the sandy structure is, in fact, a nest! The circles attract females, and after spawning the eggs are laid in the center of the circle. All the little grooves and rings buffet the ocean current and channel fine sand particles, protecting the eggs from harm! The male will guard the eggs for about six days. Once they hatch, the male will build a new nest and start the process over.

The white-spotted pufferfish's conservation status is not currently evaluated. Like all marine species, they do face pressure from rising ocean temperatures and pollution. Hopefully, more research can be done on these fish, their habits, and what they need to survive. In the meantime, helping to preserve the ocean for all marine species will ensure that white-spotted pufferfish keep using the seafloor as their canvas.

To read more about these pufferfish, follow the links below!

College of Environmental Science and Forestry. "Pufferfish: 'Crop circles under the sea"-Read how the ESF included the white-spotted pufferfish in its top ten new animals back in 2015! https://www.esf.edu/top10/2015/10.htm

BBC Earth, "New pufferfish species named"-Check out the BBC's feature on the white-spotted pufferfish, which includes a video of a male making his nest (narrated by David Attenborough!) http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141205-new-pufferfish-named

Photo Credit: Yoji Okata


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