Pufferfish vs Porcupine Fish: What are the Differences?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: July 22, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Iudex
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The pufferfish and the porcupine fish are both animals of the large phylum Chordata. Not to be confused with the porcupine, the porcupine fish belongs to the Diodontidae family while the pufferfish belongs to the Tetraodontidae family. Both animals have other individual differences and peculiarities, which we’ll be exploring in this article.  

Comparing Pufferfish vs Porcupine Fish

Pufferfish and porcupine fish differ majorly in their size, appearance, and family.

A-Z-Animals.com

PufferfishPorcupine Fish
SizeLength: 1 to 24 inches
Weight: 20-30lbs
Length: 18 to 36 inches
Weight: 4-6 lbs
Appearance Tapered bodies with bloated heads, harsh spikes, delicate spines, small fins, and large eyes Grayish-tan bodies with even black spots, white underbelly, large eyes, parrot-like teeth, and spines or modified scales all over their bodies
HabitatWarm regions of the world; secluded areas with some shelter like coral reefsTemperate regions; they also prefer areas with covers like caves, reefs, and ledges
PreyMussels, crab, and other shellfishSnails, hermit crabs, and sea urchins
Predators SharksWahoos, sharks, and dolphins
FamilyTetraodontidae Diodontidae 
Gestation period4-7 days3-5 days

Key Differences Between Pufferfish and Porcupine Fish

Although the pufferfish and the porcupine fish are so similar that they are often mistaken for each other, their key differences lie in their size, appearance, and family. Let’s explore!

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Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Size

Freshwater Pufferfish - Figure Eight Pufferfish
The pufferfish measures between 1-24 inches in length and weighs about 20-30 pounds.

Dan Olsen/Shutterstock.com

The pufferfish and the porcupine fish have a wide range of subspecies with varying sizes. The pufferfish measures between 1-24 inches in length and weighs about 20-30 pounds. Porcupine fish, on the other hand, are about 18-36 inches long and weigh anywhere from 4-6 pounds. 

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Appearance

Porcupine fish have a grayish-tan body with uniform black dots, large eyes, white underbelly, and bony spines all over their body.

iStock.com/Andrea Izzotti

The pufferfish has tapered bodies with bulbous heads, small fins, large eyes, and a set of teeth fused together like sharp beaks. They also have small fins and hidden spines that only emerge when they puff. Besides these features, pufferfish typically have different forms, faces, and sizes. For instance, pygmy puffers have an infinitesimal size and are a lot smaller than any other pufferfish species. 

Porcupine fish, on the other hand, have a grayish-tan body with uniform black dots, large eyes, white underbelly, parrot-like teeth, and bony spines all over their body that look more like modified scales. 

On the whole, porcupine fish have the more effective spine in that, when they puff, they bloat a lot better than pufferfishes ever could. Porcupine fishes also have a much sharper beak than puffer fish.  

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Habitat

The pufferfish and porcupine fish actually dwell in very similar habitats and both fishes live in warm and temperate regions. They both prefer areas with enough shelter like coral reefs, caves, and ledges.

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Diet

The pufferfish and the porcupine fish also have a similar diet, preferring crunchy foods. Pufferfish typically prey on mussels, crab, and other shellfish, thanks to their sharp beaks. Porcupine fish feed on snails, hermit crabs, and sea urchins, and they only feed at night, which makes them nocturnal predators. They also feed on algae from the rocks and coral reefs that they inhabit. 

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Predators

Porcupine fish are often hunted by sharks, wahoos, and killer whales.

iStock.com/Iudex

Thanks to their body structures, pufferfish and porcupine fish have a natural defense system against predators. When they feel threatened, both fishes can bloat by gulping water into their systems, thereby discouraging their enemies. They also secrete a toxin known as tetrodotoxin which makes them very poisonous to eat even for humans. However, while this toxin is only secreted by select porcupine species, many pufferfish species are believed to have this poison, which is why scientists regard them as the second most poisonous vertebrates. 

What all of this means is that both fishes are hardly targeted by predators. Nonetheless, porcupine fish are often hunted by sharks, wahoos, and killer whales, while pufferfish are also hunted by sharks as well as humans.

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Family

Because of the many similarities that these animals share, many people assume they are from the same family. This assumption is simply not true. The porcupine fish belongs to the Diodontidae family while the pufferfish belongs to the Tetraodontidae family. Both fishes, however, belong to the order Tetraodontiformes. 

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Gestation Period

Pufferfish and porcupine fish have gestation periods lasting under a week. However, while incubation takes 4-7 days for puffer fishes, porcupine fishes get it done in 3-5 days. 

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Lifespan

Freshwater Pufferfish - Golden puffer
Pufferfish can live up to 10 years.

Tatiana Belova/Shutterstock.com

The pufferfish and the porcupine fish also have a similar life expectancy as both fishes typically live up to 10 years. Some experts say porcupine fish can live for up to 12-15 years in captivity.

Pufferfish Vs Porcupine Fish: Conservation Status

The pufferfish and the porcupine fish are mostly listed as “least concern” in terms of their conversation status. According to the IUCN, 77% of puffer fish subspecies are listed as “least concern”, 8% are listed as threatened, and 15% are data deficient. Porcupine fish are also categorized as “least concern” by the IUCN.

Both animals are threatened by habitat loss, water population, and human consumption in some areas. However, they are not at all endangered or anywhere close to extinction.

Blow fish frontal view
A spikey blow fish or porcupine fish, isolated on a blue background.
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