Pufferfish vs Blowfish – What’s The Difference?

When selecting a fish for your saltwater aquarium, it is critical to know the ins and outs of that fish. Whether you are adding a pufferfish vs blowfish to your aquarium, you may be wondering if they are the same, different, or somewhat in between the two. 

When selecting aquarium fish, common names can get very confusing, and you want to avoid adding the wrong fish into your aquarium thinking that it is reef-safe, when in fact it is not…

Pufferfish and blowfish typically get mixed up in the aquarium niche, but they are not the same. The main difference between the two is their appearance. While pufferfish have smooth skin with no spines, blowfish have prickly spikes on their skin. Another big difference is their classification. Both the blowfish and pufferfish are from the order Tetraodontiformes, but pufferfish are in the family Tetraodontidae and blowfish are in the family Diodontidae.

Are Pufferfish And Blowfish The Same?

Pufferfish and blowfish are not the same species of fish. However, they are often confused as the same fish because the two names are used interchangeably within the aquarium hobby. 

If you are an experienced aquarist, you may have noticed this if you have searched for an image online and thought, hang on, that says it is a pufferfish, but it is actually a blowfish – trust me, I did the same in the beginning!

So, for people that don’t know the differences, what exactly distinguishes them apart?

What Are Pufferfish?

A pufferfish is part of the Tetraodontidae fish species, containing freshwater, brackish, and marine species. 

Their name comes from their tendency to ‘puff up’ when they feel threatened or are being hunted. Their threat-response happens when they ingest water, stretching their elastic stomachs, making them bigger and scarier in the hope to warn off predators, and also to make them more difficult to consume. 

Pufferfish are fairly large fish even before they puff up, and they can be identified by their skin, which is smooth without any spines. 

In addition to their puffing abilities, pufferfish are also fairly poisonous. Pufferfish contain the toxin tetrodotoxin. The toxin is created from the food they consume by synthesizing deadly toxins from the bacteria in their prey – cool right?! 

FUN FACT: The toxin tetrodotoxin is up to 100x more deadly than the venom of a black widow spider and over 1000x more deadly than the chemical cyanide.

Despite their poisonous tendencies, pufferfish is a common delicacy in Japan, served in various ways from sushi to hot pot. While pufferfish can be served raw, it must be prepared by a specially trained chef to ensure there are no deadly levels of the poison left in the pufferfish’s flesh. 

So, next time you are in Japan and want to try this delicacy, skip the street food stall and order it in a restaurant that has trained professionals to ensure you make that plane trip home!

What Are Blowfish?

If you’ve ever watched Finding Nemo (who hasn’t…) you will be familiar with the character Bloat, a porcupinefish displayed in the dentist’s tank alongside the ‘Nemo-gang’. Bloat is in fact a blowfish not a pufferfish despite being called a pufferfish by many people. 

Anyway, back to the question at hand! 

Blowfish are very similar to pufferfish, but they are not the same species of fish. Blowfish are part of the Diodontidae fish family, more commonly known as porcupinefish and sometimes balloonfish or globefish. 

Similarly to pufferfish, blowfish can puff themselves up by filling their stomachs with water to warn off any potential threats. But, the skin of a blowfish is not smooth like pufferfish, instead, blowfish are covered in prickly spikes, hence the ‘porcupinefish’ name.

Even though they are from a completely different family of fish, blowfish are still poisonous, and the tiniest mistake when preparing the flesh can quickly become fatal. If you look at a Japanese menu you may not notice blowfish because pufferfish are preferred, but if you travel to Tahiti, Hawaii, or the Philippines, blowfish is a common delicacy. 

The most popular blowfish is the long-spine porcupinefish, which can reach up to 20” in length, so a large aquarium display is needed should you be lucky enough to get your hands on one!

What Are The Main Differences?: Pufferfish Vs Blowfish

Pufferfish and blowfish are thought to be the same species of fish because of their similarities. However, they also have some differences which can help to distinguish between the two.

Below is a summary of the main similarities and differences between pufferfish and blowfish:

PufferfishBlowfish (Porcupinefish)
Smooth skin & no spikesPrickly spikes on the skin
Contains tetrodotoxinContains tetrodotoxin
In the order Tetraodontiformes In the order Tetraodontiformes 
In the family TetraodontidaeIn the family Diodontidae
Eaten as a delicacy in JapanEaten as a delicacy in Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Tahiti
Popular small aquarium fishPopular aquarium fish, but they are known to grow large

Are Pufferfish And Blowfish Aquarium Safe?

Both pufferfish and blowfish are suitable for aquariums. Yet, there are a few things we should mention if you are thinking of adding them to your aquarium display. 

Pufferfish and blowfish are truly spectacular fish that are intelligent, plus they have a unique feeding behavior that is fascinating to watch. 

For those that are slightly less inexperienced, pufferfish may not be a great option as they have a high waste output and specific diet, which means they require much more care than other popular aquaria fish like bettas or clownfish. 

The same goes with blowfish, and also, as these fish are known to get very large, they require a display tank that holds at least 100 gallons of water – at Reef Tank Advisor, we actually recommend a minimum of 200 gallons to home these unique fish. 

Another important note… If your aquarium contains many invertebrates and small fish, pufferfish and blowfish may not be the best new addition for your current tank mates. As pufferfish and blowfish love to munch on marine invertebrates and nip on the fins of small fish, they may not be reef-safe inside your aquarium. 

Can Pufferfish And Blowfish Be Kept Together?

Pufferfish and blowfish are typically solitary fish, so we recommend keeping the two species separated. Also, only a handful of types are compatible. 

When adding a pufferfish or blowfish, always check with your local fish store for more information on how to properly care for your specific pufferfish or blowfish species. This ensures you provide the best aquarium husbandry skills possible.

Pufferfish And Blowfish Diet

Pufferfish are omnivores, which means they eat both animals and plants. Their prey includes small fish, mollusks, crustaceans (crabs and shrimp), coralline algae, corals and sponges, starfish, and sea urchins.

FUN FACT: Pufferfish and blowfish use their intestines to digest their food, as the stomach cannot start the digestion process. The inability to digest food in their stomach is thought to be from evolving their stomach to absorb water and puff up. 

Blowfish will eat meat such as small fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans, but they are primarily herbivores, seen scavenging along coral reefs and every corner of aquariums for algae, turfgrass, and any aquatic plant they can find. 

To catch prey, the blowfish extends its unique, folded tongue, sucking up water in the process. Blowfish also have a cool spiracle (breathing organ) located on the top of its head, used to inhale air from the surrounding aquatic environment.

Are Pufferfish And Blowfish Dangerous?

Pufferfish and blowfish are only considered dangerous because of their poison. As mentioned, you should only consume pufferfish or blowfish if a specially trained chef has prepared the dish, particularly if you are consuming it raw.

Conclusion

Pufferfish and blowfish (porcupinefish) are often confused as the same species, despite distinguishing factors such as spines or no spines being present and their size differences. 

Hopefully, after reading this article, you now know how to tell the difference between the two, know a bit more about the popular fish, and how to consume them safely should you want to try the delicacy in Asia. 

Whether you select a pufferfish or blowfish to add to our aquarium, both species will provide your aquarium with a unique and fascinating display!

  • Roy Lee

    I have an unhealthy obsession with reef keeping and maintaining successful tanks. If you haven't noticed from the website, I love everything related to saltwater tanks like coral, fish, and everything else in between.

Leave a Comment