Behavior

To some extent, tetraodontiform fishes incorporate their unique body structure and abilities into their patterns of behavior. For defense, feeding, social interaction, or reproduction, they rely variously on body armament; their fused beaks or ability to inflate with water; or their color patterns, which

An inflated spotted puffer, or guinea fowl puffer (Arothron meleagris), swimming near Hawaii. (Photo byAndrew G. Wood/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
A honeycomb cowfish (Lactophrys polygonius) by coral near Bonaire. (Photo by Charles V. Angelo/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

may advertise toxicity. Adult boxfishes utilize their body armor and ability to secrete ostracitoxin, a compound poisonous to predators (and other fishes, including themselves, if they are kept in a confined space), as defensive mechanisms. Thus, predation risk is minimized as they swim along the bottom or up into the water column. Despite reduction in risk, however, numerous species are quite cryptic as they move about in algae or corals. Boxfishes also are territorial. A majority of triggerfishes are colorful, solitary, and quite aggressive in the defense of their territories. Those species that dwell in the water column often assemble in loose aggregations of up to hundreds of individuals as they forage off walls or along deep slopes. These species quickly retreat to individual shelters when threatened, however.

Filefishes and leatherjackets are solitary or gather in small groups, but some form monogamous pairs that patrol a home range or territory. Others, such as Aluterus monoceros, form large schools. Many species are cryptic as well and take advantage of structure to mask their movements. A few species, such as juvenile Aluterus scriptus, swim on their sides and mimic floating leaves or other vegetation. Some swim openly in the water column, however. The color pattern of some file-fishes and leatherjackets may be put to a surprising advantage. For example, the mimic filefish, Paraluteres prionurus, mimics the toxic saddled puffer, Canthigaster valentini, and thus avoids predation. Another species, the diamond filefish (Rudarius excelsius) mimics benthic algae.

Pufferfishes are solitary or paired or form small groups or schools. Many species utilize color pattern to advertise their toxic nature and thus avoid predation. Others are remarkably cryptic and even bury themselves in the sand. Some frequent the water column but return to the bottom for shelter or to feed. All are capable of inflating as a defensive mechanism. When they are not sheltering in holes or caves, porcupinefishes swim openly in the water column and depend on both their large spines and ability to inflate themselves to defend against predation. They reportedly have toxic flesh or organs that may contribute toward their defense as well. Some species have been observed to bury themselves in the sand. Although they are seen swimming during daylight hours, numerous species also are nocturnal. Molas swim about sideways or upright at or near the surface in the open ocean and, despite their ungainly appearance, are relatively strong and fast swimmers when necessary. They also drift on their sides in the current. When they are inshore near kelp beds, they allow themselves to be cleaned by resident cleanerfish species. The behavior of deep-dwelling spikefishes and threetooth puffers is largely unknown. Presumably, these fishes are largely solitary and move about the bottom or in the water column. The threetooth puffer is able to defend itself by inflation.

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