puffer or pufferfish, common name for some tropical marine fish of the family Tetraodontidae. The puffers and their allies, including the boxfish, the porcupinefish, the triggerfish, and the marine sunfish form an odd group (order Tetraodontiformes). The puffers, or blowfishes or swellfishes, named for their ability to inflate their bodies to three times normal size, are found all along the Atlantic coast, e.g., the northern puffer (Sphoeroides maculatus), and in the Pacific. Their prickly skin is exaggerated into stout spines in the porcupinefish (family Diodontidae) and the related spiny boxfish, or burrfish, which are also able to inflate themselves. Like the puffers, they feed on marine invertebrates.
The ocean sunfish, or headfish, and its relatives (genus Mola, family Molidae), occur widely in all seas, though the southern sunfish, or bump-head sunfish, is found only in the Southern Hemisphere. Their appearance is that of a huge silvery to gray head with fins attached, as the body does not taper. Sunfish move clumsily and are usually seen basking in the sun. The sunfish are among the largest of all fishes; the southern sunfish can exceed 5,000 lb (2,300 kg). Considered threatened, sunfish are used for food in some East Asian countries.
Puffers and their allies are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Actinopterygii, order Tetraodontiformes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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