Is It Safe To Touch A Puffer Fish?- Precautions Explained

The Puffer Fish, also known as a blowfish, is from the Tetraodontidae family. They are carnivorous fish that reaches up to three feet. There are many types/species of pufferfish; Congo, Dwarf, Golden, Red-Eyed, and Fahaka just to name a few.

The pufferfish have many spines/spikes on their skin, which are extremely dangerous. Also, carry a substance named tetrodotoxin fatal to other fish and humans. You do not want to touch a pufferfish, especially if they are “puffed out.” If you need to touch a pufferfish, make sure you are wearing a pair of heavy-duty, thick gloves. If you do not have gloves on, your hands could be harmed and you could die. 

Pufferfish are marine-water fish, they would need to be kept in a saltwater aquarium. But there are also freshwater species of pufferfish. So, you have the option, if you want to keep a pufferfish in an aquarium.

Pufferfish are very poisonous fish, and it is not safe to touch them.

The pufferfish is a unique fish. Today, we will explain the pufferfish and its habitat. I will also explain how they defend themselves against predators, what they eat, and how to care for them in an aquarium.

Puffer Fish Basics

Tetrodotoxin– is the poison in the pufferfish that can potentially kill predators and humans. Tetrodotoxin is not solely produced by pufferfish. It is actually synthesized by bacteria that are found in the habitats of the pufferfish. 

A large portion of pufferfish is among some of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. They are a very toxic species of fish. In specific species of pufferfish, the internal organs contain tetrodotoxin. Even though pufferfish is highly toxic to animals, China, Korea, and Japan consider it to be a delicacy. But know exactly what part of the pufferfish is safe to eat.

Puffer Fish On Japan Cuisine

Japanese chefs go through 2-3 years of training and extensive testing to make sure they know how to prepare a pufferfish so that no harm comes to the consumer. 

The scientific name, Tetraodontidae, refers to the puffer fish’s four large teeth. They fuse the teeth into an upper and a lower plate, which the pufferfish uses to crush their prey. Natural prey for the pufferfish is mollusks and crustaceans. They use their upper and lower plates to crush their shells. There are, however, some species of pufferfish that are non-toxic; like the northern puffer.

Pufferfish are slow-moving fish that have excellent eyesight. This helps them to recognize their predators early. The pufferfish, using their tail fin, can muster up a burst of energy to escape from their predators. If they cannot escape their predator, then they will take in a bunch of water (or air) to increase their size. The puffing up makes the pufferfish hard to get a hold of and even harder to swallow.

If you are going to have a pufferfish in your aquarium, the water has to be kept in excellent condition. This is partly because the pufferfish do not have scales. They have the spikes/spines for defense. Because they do not have scales, like most other fish, it is easier for them to contract a disease.

You especially need to check nitrate, ammonia, and nitrite levels regularly. As these will cause the water to too dirty, and dirty water leads to illness and/or disease. 

Puffer Fish Defense

The puffer fish’s natural defenses compensate for their slow swimming ability. Pufferfish use their dorsal, anal, caudal, and pectoral fins to swim. This allows them more maneuverability. As mentioned above, their excellent eyesight and sudden energy burst is their first option for defense.

Their second defense option is to fill their stomachs, which are highly elastic, with water or air. This makes them spherically shaped and much larger.

If a predator is unlucky and gets a hold of a pufferfish before they fully swell up, they are going to choke on the pufferfish. If they swallow the pufferfish, then they are most likely going to die from the poison in the spines. Some sharks will survive swallowing a pufferfish because they are such a larger predator, but most other predators (and humans) are not so lucky.

Northern pufferfish have a minimal amount of poison in the viscera, and therefore not considered poisonous. I actually considered them a delicacy in North America.

Puffer Fish Precautions

Everyone needs to take these precautions seriously. These fish are not fish that you want to mess with or not be careful around. Whether you are going to have them as a delicacy, or as an aquarium pet. There are serious consequences if you are not careful.

As mentioned earlier in the text, pufferfish are dangerous to fish. They are extremely poisonous when they puff up, their spines drip the toxic poison; tetrodotoxin. In fact, to humans, a pufferfish is 1200 times more deadly than cyanide.

One pufferfish has enough of the deadly toxin to kill 30 adults. It takes only 2 milligrams of the toxin to kill a person. There is no known antidote for this type of poison. 

  1. Because pufferfish are so toxic, I highly suggest that you do not eat them or touch them without extremely thick gloves. In 2014, the FDA warned restaurants and fish markets not to buy or sell pufferfish, unless it was from/to a very reliable and credible source.
  2. The toxin in a pufferfish hit the central nervous system. You will start experiencing symptoms within 20 minutes, but it can take up to 2 hours before symptoms begin. Illnesses have been found because of the consumption of imported pufferfish. Pufferfish are not safe to eat, but if you choose to consume them, you have got to make sure that the chef knows exactly how to handle and prepare them.
  3. The initial symptoms of being poisoned are as follows; tingling of the mouth or lips. Then you will feel dizzy, have tingling in your extremities, off-balance, weakness of muscles, trouble speaking, vomiting, and diarrhea. You could also go through paralysis. Respiratory paralysis will most likely result in death.
  4. You cannot see the spikes on a pufferfish until they puff themselves up. They do this if they feel threatened by predators (or humans). We recommend you do not touch a pufferfish without having on a pair of thick gloves.
  5. The internal organs, specifically the ovaries, eyes, liver, and skin, contain vast amounts of the poison. Therefore, you do NOT touch them without heavy-duty gloves.
  6. Do not forget that, out of the water, the pufferfish will gulp in an enormous amount of air in order to puff themselves up. Your best bet is to just not touch them at all. No matter the circumstances.


As you can see, it is NOT safe to touch a pufferfish, under any circumstances. Before you purchase one for an at-home aquarium, you need to do extensive research on them. Make sure you know all there is to know about them; how to handle them, feed them, what water conditions they prefer, water temperature, etc.

Remember, there are saltwater and freshwater species of pufferfish. If you have no other choice and you have to touch your pufferfish, please use a very thick, heavy-duty glove to do so. Not only does this keep your hands from harm, but it also keeps you from getting stuck by a spine and poisoned.

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I'm passionate about fish pets and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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