You Should Definitely Know about Pufferfish Skeletons

It all started with this Tweet.

So what are you looking at other than some truly sweet evolution?

From Redditt

From Redditt

What you are looking at are the spines of pufferfish composed of nanocrystalline hydroxyapatite,  protein(collagen),  and water, the same materials as scales.  Indeed, these spines are just modified scales.  And like other scales, these spines originate during development from the mesoderm layer of the dermis or the skin.

Dr. Brian Sidlauskas, Associate Professor and Curator of Fishes at Oregon State University,  notes puffers evolved from a group of fish (Porcupines, Molids, Triggerfishes, and filefishs) that all possessed ctenoid scales, denoted by small teeth along their outer edges.  “Filefishes actually feel fuzzy.  So it isn’t perhaps too surprising to imagine those scales expanding and getting more and more spiny.”

As you might expect, these spines evolved as anti-predator defense, similar to the ability of puffers to inflate.  However, it looks like the inflation likely evolved before the spikiness.

Evolution is amazing.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

4 Replies to “You Should Definitely Know about Pufferfish Skeletons”

  1. Well this is excellent!!! And potentially solves a mystery that has had several of us stumped after some weird triangly things were discovered in the Keasey Formation (late Eocene) in NW Oregon. The fossils match the spine morphologies almost exactly.

    Other thoughts were that these might be from some carnivorous sponge. These didn’t react to acid and so they aren’t calcite. They didn’t look exactly like sponge material which is more glassy.

    We had Pufferfish in the Pacific Northwest in the Late Eocene!!!

    Casey Burns, Field Associate
    California Academy of Sciences IZG

  2. Or…… perhaps they did not “evolve”. There is 100% chance that they were originally made that way by the One who thought them up and then created them.

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