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Pufferfish in Costa Rica

Here in Playas del Coco we have some unusual underwater creatures that not many people know about. The small coastal town located in the province of Guanacaste is blessed with an underwater paradise that attracts divers and snorkelers from all over the world. And among the enchanting inhabitants of its warm waters are the captivating puffer fish and star of the Netflix movie hit called Puff. In this blog we will share some of the facts and secrets of these little under water creatures and their unusual behavior that is specific to the Costa Rican puffer fish living in the waters of the North Eastern Pacific.

1. Meet the Tetraodontidae Family

With approximately 120 species, these remarkable creatures vary in size, with the Pygmy Pufferfish measuring just an inch (the Pygmy Pufferfish which is found in fresh water in India) and larger species reaching lengths of over 100 cm. Mostly found in tropical waters, they are relatively uncommon in the temperate zone and absent from cold waters.

In every country or region the people give them a different name; balloonfish, blowfish, bubblefish, globefish and swellfish. Here we call the pufferfish. In case you are wondering about the Porcupinefish, the Boxfish and the cowfish. Well they are not part of the same family but still similar and closely related.

Have a look below at some of the Pufferfish and related species on our local dive sites here in Plays del Coco. Spotted sharpnose puffer, Longnose puffer, Spotted Porcupine fish, Balloon fish, Guineafowl Puffer, Honeycomb puffer.

Start practicing your fish identification skills with our Online Fish Guide Costa Rica and Fish ID Quiz !

2. Don't puff the Pufferfish !

The pufferfish unique behavior lays in their ability to inhale water or air to avoid predators, transforming into unpalatable pointy balls. In moments of fear, the pufferfish adopts a remarkable defense strategy by unhinging its jaw, expanding its mouth for increased capacity. This enables the swift intake of approximately 35 large gulps of water within a mere 14 seconds. It's crucial to note that, whether submerged or out of water, the ingested water (or air) doesn't reach the puffer's stomach during this period.

Should the pufferfish determine that the threat persists after absorbing as much water as possible, it seamlessly transitions into the inflation stage. With an exceptionally stretchy stomach and skin, and the absence of a hindering rib cage, the puffer employs a unique mechanism. Concluding the water-sucking phase, it seals its mouth with a specialized valve designed to close the esophagus. Leveraging muscles developed through evolution, the pufferfish effectively "coughs" the water forward, guiding it down the open esophagus and into the stomach. The result is a remarkable inflation, causing the puffer to expand up to three times its usual size.

Upon inflation, pufferfish become higly immobile compared to its initial state. Interestingly, the puffer inflates defensively precisely because it lacks the ability to outpace its adversaries. Once the perceived threat subsides, the pufferfish gradually calms itself and initiates a series of steps to expel the water from its stomach. This process continues until it regains its original size. It's crucial to note that an excess of trapped air in the stomach can impede the puffer's ability to expel water, posing a potential threat to its well-being.

While the image of a puffed-up fish is captivating, it comes at a cost. Inflating their bodies is an energy-intensive process that leaves them vulnerable and exhausted. The return to normalcy can take multiple hours, during which the fish faces heightened risks. As responsible divers, it's crucial to appreciate these creatures without provoking unnecessary stress. Remember, in the underwater realm, it's best to take only photos and leave only bubbles.

3. Pufferfish and Stoned Dolphins: A Surprising Connection

In a twist of marine intrigue, BBC filmmakers captured wild dolphins engaging in an unusual pastime – getting high by chewing on toxic pufferfish. These cetacean stoners passed the fish around, creating a new perspective on the underwater world's recreational activities. It seems even dolphins appreciate the unique properties of the charismatic pufferfish.

4. The Pufferfish Diet

Omnivorous by nature, pufferfish have a diverse diet, ranging from snails and insects to algae and invertebrates. Their tooth or hard beak allows them to tackle even the toughest shells, making mussels and clams fair game. You may be familiar with the concept of rabbits and other rodents having continuously growing teeth, a feature that enables them to gnaw on tough foods without worrying about excessive wear. However, it might be surprising to discover that rabbits share a common trait with pufferfish! Much like their rodent counterparts, pufferfish boast powerful, fused, beak-like teeth that make light work of their natural diet – mollusks and other invertebrates. The perpetual growth of their teeth ensures that the wear and tear from consuming hard shells pose no hindrance to these resilient pufferfish.

Puffers are omnivores which means that they are not very picky eaters, feasting on a diverse array of foods. Their menu includes, but isn't limited to, mollusks, crabs, shrimp, (coralline) algae, corals, sponges, (bristle)worms, starfish, and even urchins. If it fits in their beak, it's fair game. However, considering the toughness of these natural foods, it's no wonder puffers have ever-growing teeth.

5. Pufferfish Reproduction and Mating rituals

In the realm of pufferfish parenthood, females deposit their eggs, and the males take on the responsibility of caring for the offspring. It's a delicate dance of reproduction that unfolds in the tropical and temperate seas they call home. As they grow, the young pufferfish gain independence under the watchful eye of their dedicated fathers.

off the coast of Japan the white spotted pufferfish have developed some very interesting courtship behavior ! Watch David Attenborough narate this underwater spectacle.

6. Pufferfish Diving or Snorkeling Spots

We love diving with these wonderfull little creatures and some of the best sites where you will find large schools of puffer fish are located in the Papagayo Gulf. Divesites like Estudiantes, Tortuga and Punta Argentina are only 15 minutes away by boat and offer a great opportunity to withness the schooling pufferfish. Check the map below for the best diving and snorkeling spots with Pufferfish !

Pufferfish Snorkeling and Divesites in Costa Rica

7. Pufferfish Specialty Course and Pufferfish Conservation Program

We love puffer fish so much that we developed a PADI distinctive Pufferfish Specialty Course. This course consists of two days of diving and a classroom session. During this course you will learn everything there is to know about pufferfish and its conservation status. You will do four dives and start your own mini puffer fish research. During the dives you collect data about the pufferfish population in Playa del Coco.

And for those who can not get enough of diving with puffer fish you can join our 2 week Pufferfish Monitoring Program. This interesting program includes several certifications and lots of diving !

Pufferfish Conservation Program Costa Rica

If you want to participate or know more about our Pufferfish activities. Then contact us directly at:

Rich Coast Diving

Mrs. Céline Monfort

WhatsApp +506 8610 0914

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From the vibrant coral reefs of the Pacific coast to the rich marine biodiversity of the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica offers ample opportunities for snorkelers and divers to encounter pufferfish in their natural habitat. Exploring the waters of Costa Rica can reveal a mesmerizing world teeming with colorful marine life, including these charismatic creatures.

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