Porcupinefish: Profile and Information


The porcupinefish looks like its relative, the balloonfish, but its body is uniformly greyish-tan, evenly speckled with black spots and a white belly.

The spines all over the body are modified scales, and when challenged, they take water, puff up, and make the spikes stand out.

It prefers living alone near the reefs, caves, or ledges, hunting crustaceans, and mollusks at night. It can grow to about 36 inches but is typically found to be about 16 inches as an adult.

Since it secretes a toxin, it’s not considered a food catch, although some are captured in the aquarium trade.  

Scientific Classification

  • Domain: Eukaryota
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Tetraodontiformes
  • Family: Diodontidae
  • Genus: Diodon
  • Species: Hystrix

Other Names

Porcupine, jargon, hedgehog, hedgehog fish, porcupine, mole, spotted porcupine, spotted porcupine, spotted porcupine fish, spotted porcupine fish.

Porcupinefish is a shy creature and will flee when confronted by divers. They secrete a poisonous skin material so that they are generally considered toxic, but they have been known to be eaten in Hawaii and Tahiti.

Dry, inflated bodies are sold as tourist novelties in the Orient. And on some of the Pacific Islands, dry skins have been used as war helmets in the past.

Porcupinefish are also collected for private and public display aquariums. Normally, they are not captured for human consumption.

Porcupine and balloonfish are widely distributed species, occurring circumtropically and sometimes in temperate marine environments.

Porcupine is the only member of its genus to be present in the Mediterranean Sea. It stretches from San Diego, California (US) to Chile, including the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), in the eastern Pacific.

It is also present in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts (US) to the northern Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil. It’s even happening in Bermuda.

It is usually located between 30 ° N and 23 ° S in the eastern Atlantic.


Adults typically linger at the bottom of the water around areas that provide covers, such as caves, shipwrecks, reefs, and ledges.

They are nocturnal and solitary animals, usually found in holes and crevices within the reef complex. The juveniles are pelagic until they exceed 8 inches (20 cm ) in length, after which they become benthic.

The pelagic zone is the water column, where swimming and floating organisms live. The benthic zone is the bottom, and organisms living on and in the bottom are referred to as the benthos.

Characterizing features

The porcupinefish (Diodon hystrix) is named for the numerous long spines that are found all over the head and body.

There are about 20 spines in a row between the snout and the dorsal fin. He is a member of the Diodontidae family of pufferfish. These fish are capable of raising their body size by taking in water and inflating when threatened.

The spines of the porcupinefish only stick out when the fish is inflated, and the spines lie flat against the body at all other times. When fully inflated, the fish has a tremendous appearance that makes predators think twice before taking a bite.


The body is greyish-tan with tiny black streaks, but with no broad dark blotches. The underside is white, surrounded by a dusty ring.

The porcupinefish closely resembles the balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) which is also coated in the spines. They can be distinguished from each other by observing the various shapes of the body and the different patterns of spots on the skin.

The porcupinefish is bigger than the balloonfish, has a broader head, and has tiny black spots covering the body and the fins. Balloonfish skin is dominated by larger spots or dark blotches that occur only on the body, not on the fins.

See the key to the species of Diodon for further detail.


Adults can reach lengths of up to 36 inches (91 cm), making them the largest spiny buffer species.

The teeth are fused together into one assembly, producing a strong, beak-like mouth capable of cracking the shells of snails, sea urchins, and hermit crabs.


They are nocturnal predators, with heavy jaws to feed on snails, hermit crabs and sea urchins. Much like some birds are able to break open nuts with their strong beak, the porcupine will crack the outer skeleton of the sea urchin with its strong beak-like jaw.


Its broad distribution can be related to the pelagic or open ocean, the egg stage and the larvae.

Eggs are spherical, drifting with the current, and hatching after around five days. Early planktonic larvae have significant quantities of yolk still present, lack of functional mouth, and have not developed complete eye pigmentation.

It takes a few days for the yolk to be used and for the body to grow to where the larvae really resemble fish.

Pelagic young ones are often associated with large colonies of floating algae called sargassum and are often eaten by a dolphin and billfish. The length of this pelagic stage is uncertain, but at some point, young people travel to shallower waters to become adults.


Porcupinefish are eaten by large carnivorous fish, including dolphinfish, wahoo and sharks.


The porcupinefish was first described as Diodon hystrix by Linnaeus in 1758. The Diodon genus is derived from the Greek words “di” = two and “odous” = teeth, while the name of the species hystrix is translated from Greek as a porcupine.

Synonyms include Diodon brachiatus Bloch and Schneider 1801, Diodon punctatus Cuvier 1818, Diodon spinosissimus Cuvier 1818, Diodon nudifrons Jenkins 1903, Diodon armillatus Whitley 1933, Diodon totara Curtiss 1938.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like