News / Species Spotlight / Guineafowl or Golden Pufferfish (Arothron meleagris) (09/12/18)

Guineafowl or Golden Pufferfish (Arothron meleagris)

Guineafowl or Golden Pufferfish (Arothron meleagris)
The Guineafowl Pufferfish may very well be the perfect pufferfish for a large marine aquarium. The species grows large, but not TOO large its beautifully patterned and sometimes extraordinarily colorful and its hardy and generally quite peaceful. Theres very little to be said against it, though it is, in typical pufferfish fashion, not safe around most invertebrates and corals.

Arothron meleagris is a widespread species in the Indo-Pacific, and only one other species in its genus, the Stars & Stripes Pufferfish (A. hispidus), has a broader distribution. Youll find both of these throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as far east as the Mexican coastline, but A. meleagris happens to be absent from the Red Sea for reasons unknownyoull find A. hispidus there.

But across this vast distribution, there is surprisingly little variation in its markings. The standard Guineafowl Pufferfish is black, with numerous white polka dots across its body and fins. This patterning is nearly identical to females of the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)a chickenlike bird native to Africa that has been domesticated and widely introduced around the worldand the species name meleagris comes from the Greek for this spotted fowl.

Occasional specimens have appeared which have their white spots merged into meandering stripes. There are a few names in the scientific literature that might refer to these aberrant individuals (e.g. A. carduus, A. multilineatus), or, alternatively, these may be hybrid specimens with some of the other species in this genus.

But the most sought after variation are xanthic specimens, referred to as the Golden Pufferfish. These have been spotted all across the Indo-Pacific, but they seem to be especially abundant in the Eastern Pacific.

These can easily be confused with the similar yellow morph of the Dogface Pufferfish (A. nigropunctatus), but that species differs in having a narrower space between the eyes and a black dorsal fin and mouth. There are also some differences in the number of fin rays between these two, but theres also enough overlap to make fin counts unreliable on their own.

The cause of this intense yellowing of the body is not understood for either species, though it doesnt seem to relate to the different sexes and not all adults develop it. Only about 10-20% of A. meleagris show the yellow coloration, and that number is <10% of A. nigropunctatus, with only around 1% showing the full golden phenotype. Furthermore, the coloration is reversible; ichthyologist John Randall reporting that a specimen of A. meleagris kept in an outdoor pool changed from a yellow phenotype to a black phenotype in just a matter of weeks. But while this is apparently possible, it is not especially common to see such a reversal in captivity, and a Golden Pufferfish is likely to keep its golden complexion. Its actually far more common to see a spotted specimen turn yellow, but, again, the cause of this is unknown.

The natural diet of this species is heterogenous, as per usual for pufferfishes, but is noted to include a heavy component of live corals. In particular, Pocillopora, Porites, and Psammocora are noted to be on the menu in the wild, but its likely unwise to mix this species with any stony corals. Soft corals, corallimorphs, and zoantharians might be safe, but some trial and error is likely. The vast majority of aquarists avoid mixing Arothron pufferfishes in reef tanks, but its certainly not impossible to pull it off, though doing so will likely eliminate the ability to keep shrimps, crabs, snails, clams, sea stars, brittle stars, etc.

Fully grown, A. meleagris usually measure in at around a foot in length, though exceptional specimens collected in the wild come in at just under two feet. They are girthy, and have a VERY healthy appetite, necessitating a large water volume and significant filtration to keep up with their metabolic waste (this is another reason why they are less than ideal in reef aquariums). Its best to avoid mixing different species of pufferfishes together, or attempting to keep multiple specimens of a single species, but, aside from that, Arothron tend to get along peaceably with most other tankmates.

Crunchy foods (e.g. whole shrimp, whole crabs, whole clams) are necessary to keep the beaklike teeth of this fish from overgrowing. Remember, this pufferfish chomps on coral skeletons in the wild, and failing to replicate this wear and tear can result in a costly trip to the fish vet to get their teeth filed down.