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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Northern Puffer

Marine Fisheries

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Northern Puffer

Northern Puffer

Sphoeroides maculatus

AKA: swell toad, puffer, blowfish, blow toad, toadfish, sea squab

Description: Small to medium-sized fish with a blunt body capable of inflating with water and air. Puffers have grayish-brown backs and upper sides, but are yellowish-white on the lower sides and belly. Tiny black spots are scattered over most of the body, particularly the cheeks, and there is a row of seven to 10 vertical bars along the sides. The head and body are covered with prickles that give the skin a sandpaper quality.

Size: Northern puffers grow to 14 inches and 1½ pounds. No citations are given for Northern puffers.

Sometimes confused with: oyster toadfish, porcupine fish, striped burrfish

Habitat: Puffers are found from Cape Cod, Mass., to northeastern Florida over sand bottom near or amid sea grass in waters ranging from 3 feet to 180 feet deep.

Eating habits: Puffers have four powerful teeth that allow them to crush any small animal they capture, such as crabs, clams, mussels, shrimp, worms, sea urchins, sponges, sea plants and sea squirts.

Life cycle: Puffers reach sexual maturity between ages 1 and 2. Spawning occurs inshore during warmer months. The eggs attach to objects on the water bottom, sometimes in a clump.

Fishing tips: Puffers are caught by hook and line from piers, jetties, boats and from shore usually with two-hook bottom rigs baited with shrimp, bloodworms or squid.

The Northern puffer is not deadly poisonous like its tropical counterparts and has been eaten by humans for years. However, some scientists believe there are low-level toxins in the skin and organs. Fishermen are advised to thoroughly clean the Northern puffer of all skin and viscera before eating.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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