Tropical to warm temperate latitudes of the Indian and Pacific oceans
Order Tetraodontiformes (plectognaths), Family Tetraodontidae (puffers)
The guineafowl puffer is a relatively large puffer – growing to lengths of at least 20 inches (50 cm) – that lives on rocky and coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Like all puffers, this species is known for its ability to “puff up” when threatened. The guineafowl puffer gets its common name from its resemblance to guineafowl birds. It is typically black and covered with small white spots. Some individuals, however, are bright gold with only a few spots. These two morphs can be observed swimming together on the same reefs.
The guineafowl puffer, like all puffers, has powerful jaws and beak-like teeth. The teeth of the upper jaw are fused into two tooth plates, as are the teeth in the lower jaw. In fact, the family name for puffers (Tetraodontidae) means “four teeth,” reflecting the two tooth plates that these fishes have in each jaw. Guineafowl puffers are foraging predators that eat a variety of sessile invertebrates. Their preferred prey is branching coral (including lobe coral), but they also occasionally eat sponges, soft corals, and other reef organisms.
The guineafowl puffer is a poor swimmer and can easily be caught by predators. However, when threatened, this species has the incredible ability to swallow water and inflate itself to several times its normal size. Though the process takes a few seconds, it is quite effective at preventing predation. It is very difficult for a predator to swallow an inflated individual. When a guineafowl puffer no longer feels threatened, it uses muscles along its abdomen to push the water back out of its mouth. Even if successfully eaten (before it can inflate), this species can be poisonous to potential predators, as it stores toxins created by symbiotic bacteria that live inside its body. Therefore, this species is rarely eaten.
The guineafowl puffer is typically fairly uncommon but can reach large numbers at some locations. It is generally not eaten (partly as a result of its toxic nature) but is a valuable species in the live trade, where it is captured for display in public and private aquaria. Its numbers may have been reduced in some locations, but populations are generally stable, and the guineafowl puffer is considered to be a species of least conservation concern.
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