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Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name: Kitamakura
The upper half of the brown-lined puffer's body is dark brown; the lower half is white with pale brown speckles. A light-brown line runs from the mouth to the tail. Puffers grow up to 18 cm long and weigh up to 20 grams.
* Where to find them: Around the coast of Japan near reefs and rocky areas, especially from Honshu on south. Brown-lined puffers swim at anything from 1 to 350 meters deep.
* Food: Puffer fish are carnivorous and will eat worms, snails, urchins, starfish, mollusks, crustaceans and sponges. They also consume algae.
* Special features: The gonads, skin, liver and intestines of many puffer species contain a potent neurotoxin that can kill if the fish hasn't been properly prepared. Part of the pleasure for humans eating fugu is a tingling in the lips and mouth caused by tiny doses of the toxin.
But puffers, also called blow fish, have a remarkable defense tactic. They can rapidly inflate their bodies into fat balloons by filling an internal sac with water. They have no ribs and seal off the stomach when sucking in water and expanding. If a predator is not daunted by the sudden change, it will still have trouble biting into it as the skin is hard to grip and covered in spines that usually lie flat in pores. When the fish wants to deflate, it expels water through the gills and mouth. Males may also puff themselves up during territorial disputes with rivals.