Science Says Pufferfish Don't Actually Hold Their Breath While Inflated

A Finding Nemo sand sculpture in Ocean City, New Jersey. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Pufferfish, faced with danger, blow themselves up into a spiky ball by rapidly gulping water into the stomach.

As seen in the movie, Finding Nemo, the remarkable defence strategy to make themselves look bigger is generally thought to mean pufferfishes hold their breath while inflated.

And that effectively prevents oxygen uptake and places limitations on how long the fish can hold the expansion.

However, a study at James Cook University in Queensland shows that pufferfish have an excellent capacity to breathe while inflated.

But the researchers found pre-inflation exercise and the act of gulping water appear to be very tiring, consequently increasing the risk of an attack by predators while recovering from previous inflation events.

Making itself appear bigger isn’t the pufferfish’s only defence. Most of the fish is poisonous, making them a risky meal for a predator.

The findings are published by the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal.

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