Pufferfish have strong, sharp-edged dental plates that continue to grow throughout their lives. These plates are for cutting and crushing hard foods and look remarkably like large, paired upper and lower teeth. This is a critical adaptation for fish that eat hard-shelled invertebrates like crustaceans, molluscs and corals or scrape algae from rocks (in hopes of snacking on the tiny invertebrates that live in the algae). Puffers also pick through and move gravel while exploring sand beds. In the process of all this crunching and scraping, the teeth are kept filed to an optimal length.
At Shedd, we offer our puffers a varied diet, but it’s often limited on crunchy items. The blackedge puffers get a mix of vitamin-enriched fish food, large krill, small krill, clam, silversides, smelt, tuna, mackerel and sustainable shell-on shrimp. For added crunch we give them calcium blocks. These homemade treats are made of calcium powder and water mixed with chopped pieces of the puffers’ favorite foods and stirred into a paste. When the paste hardens, it’s a solid block that can be added to the habitat. The puffers are intrigued by the embedded food items and chew on the hardened calcium block, filing their teeth at the same time.
To make sure that the puffers’ teeth are growing properly, they have dental exams every six months with the veterinary staff. If needed, the dental plates are trimmed to keep them straight and at a proper length. This prevents injury, keeps the puffers in good health – and gives them a great smile.
You can see the pufferfish in Wild Reef.
Posted by Laura Hilstrom, fishes and Dr. Caryn Poll, animal heal