Pufferfish Video Goes Viral Because It Bursts Everyone's Strange Belief About How They Inflate

James Felton 09 Oct 2017, 14:26

A video of a pufferfish deflating has gone viral, largely because it's really, really cool to watch, but also because everyone seems to have the same misconception about these wonderful fish.

These strange creatures can inflate themselves to be impressively large when threatened, almost doubling their original size. This makes them much more difficult to eat, especially in species that have sharp spines that show through the skin when they are inflated.

So far, so cool. However, the reason that this particular video has gone viral is that everyone appears to be under the misconception that pufferfish inflate themselves with air, like a balloon.

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The initial video, showing a pufferfish letting out a lot of water as it deflates, drew a lot of attention, but it went viral over the weekend because literally everybody was under the impression that pufferfish were somehow filling themselves up with air.

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Clara was not the only one with that belief. Aside from the 130,000 people retweeting her, there were others who made the same admission.

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In fact, it seems that no matter how many times the video gets posted, people are shocked to learn that pufferfish aren't filled with air when they're in panic mode.

So what is happening? 

Well, as you can see in the video, pufferfish inflate by gulping water rapidly into their stomachs. This inflates their extremely elastic skin and causes their spikes to stand on end. They then try and stay inflated for long enough for the predator to lose interest in eating them. 

For a long while, scientists thought that pufferfish were "holding their breath" when they did this (just like in Finding Nemo), due to their gills being hindered. Some species of pufferfish even look like their gills have entirely disappeared when they are inflated.

However, in 2014, researchers at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that pufferfish continued to take in oxygen through their gills when inflated.

Whilst they are out of the water, they can fill their stomachs with air, which may have led to the misconception. However, if they're out of the water, they are quickly suffocating and have much bigger problems to deal with than teaching you interesting facts about pufferfish.

One more cool fact about pufferfish before we go: Dolphins have been filmed using them to get recreationally high with their toxins.

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Dolphins gently chew on the pufferfish to get them to release their toxins, which have a euphoric effect on them. They have even been observed doing a "puffer pass," taking a chew on a pufferfish before passing it to another dolphin.

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