The striped burrfish is a small Porcupine fish in the family Diodontidae and from the order Tetraodontiformes. Members of this order are highly derived ray-finned fish and include the infamous fugu-pufferfish (blowfish), boxfish, and triggerfish.
The Diodontidae (Porcupine Fishes) and the Tetraodontidae (Puffers) families are both from the order Tetraodontiformes, have many of the same characteristics, and are often collectively referred to as pufferfish.
Striped burrfish have many similarities with other members of this order, but they also have features that make them unique from other Puffers and Porcupinefish. One of the first things people notice about the beautiful striped burrfish is its stunningly unique look.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Tetraodontiformes
- Family: Diodontidae
- Genus: Chilomycterus
- Species: C. schoepfi
The striped burrfish is a small (up to 25 cm) round Porcupine fish with a large head and bulging golden-yellow eyes with blue-green iridescent specs. As these names suggest, it is covered in stripes and spines.
The wavy stripes are dark brown to black and form a beautiful turning pattern over the back and sides of its yellow-green body. The fish also has distinctive dark blotches near the base of the dorsal fin and behind the pectoral fins.
The spines, which cover its entire body, are bright yellow and sharp. The fish is not able to move the spines; unlike most other Pufferfish, they are always erect and ready for stabbing.
Striped burrfish have very powerful beak-like mouths, which are v-shaped and fused, a characteristic shared by Diodontidaes.
Like the other Puffers and Porcupinefish, striped burrfish can inhale water via a buccal pump, puffing it up to three times the size. This trick is meant to keep the fish safe by making it look menacing and impossible to eat.
As previously mentioned, striped burrfish are ray-finned fish, and it has a semi-transparent dorsal fin with 12 rays and an anal fin with ten rays. It does not have any pelvic fins. It swims by joint usage of the pectoral, dorsal, anal, and caudal fins.
Striped burrfish live in the neritic zone. This means you’ll have to explore seagrass beds in shallow coastal waters, lagoons, and even estuaries (brack water) if you want to spot one. They can also be found up to a depth of 11 meters in coastal reefs.
Striped burrfish have a wide distribution in the North-Western hemisphere, along the Eastern coast of the Americas, ranging from Nova Scotia and Maine (Canada and the United States of America, respectively) to Florida, USA.
Hotspots of burrfish activity can also be found in areas of The Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, and as far south as Brazil. The striped burrfish is native to:
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United States
Striped burrfish are solitary nocturnal hunters who feed on shallow-water invertebrates such as oysters, barnacles, shrimp, clams, and other crustaceans. Types of eel larval, jellyfish, and small reef fish are also on the menu.
Like triggerfish, striped burrfish’s strong, specially adapted beak-like mouth makes it an expert on hard shell prey. It is a mostly carnivorous fish, but occasionally it will nibble on algae.
They have also been known to swallow invertebrates and other crustaceans whole.
Another special physical feature of the burrfish is its patterned body which helps to camouflage itself at night when it’s hunting.
Burrfish hide in shallow coastal grasses waiting patiently to ambush their next meal.
To attack its prey, the striped burrfish forces water through a restricted gill opening, launching itself with precision at its victim.
Reproduction and Lifecycle
Striped burrfish prefer to be alone in their natural habitat rather than in groups. It is a solitary fish. Not a lot is known about the courtship and spawning of this fish, and more research is needed.
Despite the lack of information, certain assumptions are made regarding this. Since they are nocturnal, it is fair to assume that they release their spawn at night. It is further thought that the spawning occurs at an offshore location.
The fish’s eggs have been determined to be demersal and non-adhesive. This means the eggs are near the seafloor and do not require any kind of substrate to attach to.
Threats and Predators
The striped burrfish does not have many natural predators. This is likely what allows the fish to live a life of solitude. The lack of predators is probably due to these two unique defense mechanisms:
- It has sharp and always erect spines that cover its entire body
- Its ability to inflate itself to three times its size
The combination of these two special defense mechanisms turns these cute little fish into spiny balls of danger – even bull sharks would think twice.
Some people might consider calling this fish a meal, but it would be wise to stay away. The fish is too small and not worth being bitten by that powerful beak-like mouth or stabbed by those always-erect spines.
Unfortunately, baby burrfish don’t have the same protective gear until they are older, making them susceptible to hungry predators. Many larger fish, such as tuna and marlin, prey on juvenile striped burrfish.
They are a favorite amongst aquarium enthusiasts due to their beautiful look. It is also said they are friendly with the other fish in the tank.
Although the natural habitat of the striped burrfish (shallow seagrass beds and coral reefs) is under threat of loss and degradation, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does not believe it to be a current significant threat to the population numbers of striped burrfish.
Despite the hungry tunas, eager aquarium junkies, and loss of natural habitat, the striped burrfish population has not diminished significantly, and therefore they are listed as ‘Least Concern’ (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Facts About Striped Burrfish
- After inflating themselves, the fish can not move much. They sort of bob about in the water until they deflate and can swim again.
- Its mouth looks like a bird’s beak.
- Striped burrfish gnaw on stony corals to sharpen their fused beak-mouth/teeth.
- Tetrodotoxin is a lethal compound naturally occurring in most members of the Tratraodontidae family, like the boxfish.
- Members of the Diodontidae family (like the striped burrfish and porcupinefish) DO NOT have this toxin and are not toxic.
- The etymology of the family name Diodontidae is from the Greek, Di = two +, Odous = tooth. This accurately relates to the fused nature of its beak, which makes it look like it has two teeth.
Are striped burrfish poisonous like other pufferfish?
Stripped Burrfish do not contain the compound tetrodotoxin and are therefore not poisonous like other pufferfish.
What is the conservation status of the striped burrfish?
Despite its threats, the stripped burrfish is listed as “Least Concern” (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Is the striped burrfish a social or solitary species?
The striped burrfish is a solitary species that prefers to be alone in its natural habitat. Each individual burrfish typically occupies its own territory and hunts alone.
How long do striped burrfish live?
As the life cycle of a stripped burrfish is not well documented in the wild, it’s difficult to give an accurate lifespan. That said, based on related fish species, their lifespan is somewhere around 5 – 10 years.