News / Species Spotlight / Copy Cat - Saddle Puffers and their Filefish Mimic (07/09/15)

Copy Cat - Saddle Puffers and their Filefish Mimic

Saddle Puffer - Canthigaster valentini

Canthigaster valentini is a "puffer" fish common to shallow tropical seas through out the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are generally found in groups as small as 10 individuals up to more than 100. In these schools some of the mimic filefish will be present. These schools live mostly among coral heads in less than 150ft of water.

Saddle Puffers subsist on filamentous algae, tunicates, and just about any motile invertebrate they can fit in their mouths. To a smaller degree they will also consume corals and coralline algae, which makes them unsuitable for most reef aquaria.

Males are haremic, meaning they will group with, protect, and mate with several females. They will also fight with other males. Sexually mature females will be territorial. These will reach a maximum size of almost 4.5 inches, but will reach maturity at roughly half that size.

As an aquarium fish, C. valentini is exceptionally hardy and are very engaging. Keeping pairs in some aquariums and even harems in larger aquariums has been done and makes for an extremely interesting display. They generally accept processed foods very readily.

Mimic Saddle Puffer Filfefish - Paraluterus prionurus

The mimic Saddle Puffer Filefish (Paraluterus prionurus) obviously has the same range and habitat as the species that it mimics (Canthigaster valentini), though as an interesting side note, in the Red Sea it is replaced by another species, Paraluteres arquat. Whether or not these species are actually genetically distinct hasn't been clarified as of this point.

On average, roughly 5-10% of any school of Saddle Puffers will be Mimic Filefish. The Pufferfish schools offer safety in numbers. Because the Puffers are poisonous to many of the predators that would otherwise eat them, this mimicry also offers a more direct protective benefit. By looking nearly exactly the same and hiding with a group, the Filefish often go unnoticed and even when individually noticed, look unpalatable.

As an aquarium fish, the Saddle Mimic Filefish is also an excellent choice, and even a superior choice for reef aquaria. While we don't necessarily recommend either of these fish for reef aquariums, of the two fish, the filefish is less likely to eat corals, especially if well fed. P. prionurus is a quite hardy fish that readily takes frozen foods. It will be generally tolerant of most other fish, barring other filefish. It will also graze along the rock work and substrate.


When it comes down to telling these two apart, there are a couple small things you can notice. One is that the Filefish usually has somewhat "bulgy" eyes. The big difference (as is seen below) is that the Mimic Filefish (top) has a single prominent dorsal spine with a tailing extended dorsal fin, where as on the Puffer (bottom) that area is covered with one long dorsal ridge and a very small fin. While the images presented here show some fairly distinct coloration differences, those are less trustworthy as identifiers than the dorsal ridge.

Scott W. Michael, Marine Fishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2001).
QM Internal Sources: Eli Fleishauer, Adam Mangino