Naturalist Fact: Striped Burrfish

Two of the four burrfish in my home aquarium. (photo: B. Morrison)

The striped burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfii) is striking in its appearance, with the body being light tan to yellow-brown above and white to yellowish and sometimes blackish below, and is covered with fixed and erect spines that give the animal the name burrfish.  The spines are sometimes bright orange.  Dark and wavy lines cover the sides of the body and most individuals also have large dark spots. Burrfish are in the diodontid family, along with other pufferfish.  The striped burrfish has a defense system in the form of an organ known as a buccal pump which allows it to inflate its body considerably when threatened to minimize the risk of predation.  These fish can be found as far north as Nova Scotia, although it is uncommon north of North Carolina.  To the south, it occurs throughout the Florida coast, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and further south to Brazil.  Individuals can grow to reach a body length of 25 cm.  As a species, burrfish are hardy and may persist in water with a salt content of less than 7 ppt to as much as 47 ppt and tolerate a broad range of temperatures.  Juveniles and adults have been collected far upstream within rivers and bays.  They can be easily found off docks and floating at the surface of tidal creeks as juveniles in the warmer months.  They are not as common in the pet trade as other puffers, but burrfish are excellent aquarium fish.  Striped burrfish are predators on a variety of benthic invertebrates, including crabs, shrimp, mussels, miscellaneous crustaceans, and even sea whips and amphipods.

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