News / Species Spotlight / Reticulated Pufferfish (Arothron reticularis) (12/12/18)

Reticulated Pufferfish (Arothron reticularis)

Species Spotlight - Reticulated Pufferfish (Arothron reticularis)
Despite their large size and prominent color patterns, the dogface pufferfishes are some of the most frequently confused and misidentified fishes found in the tropical Indo-Pacific. Morphologically, they arent easily separated from one another, so their external appearance is relied upon heavily to separate the dozen or so recognized species. Some, like Arothron mappa, are easy enough to figure out, but others, like A. reticularis, regularly cause confusion, even among the researchers who study them.

The Reticulated Pufferfish has been known for more than two-hundred years, though its initial scientific description certainly leaves much to be desired, consisting of nothing more than the briefest of sentences, without even a single drawing to help clarify things. In it, this species is highlighted as having a series of brown reticulations that traverse the body, though the details are left to the imagination. And, unfortunately, these reticulations are highly variable, which can result in color characters that blend into those of its closest cousin, the Stars & Stripes Pufferfish (Arothron hispidus).

Telling these two species apart is no easy feat, and there are occasional specimens that seem to sit somewhere in the middle. A good Reticulated Pufferfish should have some amount of reticulation along its sides, whereas A. hispidus will only ever be spotted, sometimes densely (as in specimens from the Red Sea and Polynesia) and sometimes only sparsely (like those in the Indian Ocean). There are more often than not heavy bands that encircle the eyes and fill much of the head in A. reticularis, while these are again only spotted in A. hispidus (with the exception of the Red Sea population, which has concentric rings around its eyes).

There is also stated to be a key ecological difference between these two. In A. reticularis, adults are associated with estuaries, while juveniles are said to be common in mangrove forests. For A. hispidus, there is a broad range of environments where specimens might be encountered, including more typical reef habitats, but also muddy bays, lagoons, seagrass beds, etc. But these distinctions are probably not mutually exclusive. Do these two ever occur alongside one another? Do they ever hybridize (a seemingly common occurrence elsewhere in this genus)? These questions are mostly unstudied.

Aquarium care for this species is no different than for its congeners. Specimens can be expected to reach football-sized proportions. Thats American football, though an inflated specimen does get near to the volume of a soccer ball. Speaking of, it is wise to avoid removing Arothron from their aqueous home, as they are prone to gulping air, which can easily get stuck inside them. Nothing is quite so frustrating as attempting to burp a pufferfish thats feeling gassy.

Be sure to feed a mixed diet of crunchy foods, like unshelled shrimp, whole crabs, and snails and bivalves. This will help to grind down the ever-growing beaklike teeth found in Arothron. The natural diet for many in this genus consists of live coral, often Porites, which they have adapted their dentition for. Without this wear and tear, the teeth can eventually overgrow and need to be filed down manually (by a veterinarian).