Sphoeroides maculatus

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Northern Puffer – Sphoeroides maculatus, Observed at Jennette’s Pier, NC on 04.21.2016

Sphoeroides maculatus – Northern Puffer

Habitat Temperature is a huge determining factor for their habitat. The larvae and juveniles prefer water at temperatures between 16°C and 26°C while adults range between 10°C to 34.1°C. Changes in temperature may lead them to migrate deeper and possibly offshore. They prefer to be in sheltered coastal waters. They are typically found in bays, lagoons, and estuaries. The Northern Pufferfish’s ideal substratum is sandy and has been seen in marsh tidal pools, mud-flats, and seagrass beds.

Range Northern Pufferfish are natively found in the western Atlantic Ocean. They range from Newfoundland, Canada all the way down to northeastern Florida. The maximum depth for the Northern Pufferfish is 274 meters but most commonly found towards the surface. In bay’s they tend to be bottom-dwellers.

Description The Northern Puffer is typically 12-18 cm in length and has a maximum length of 30 cm. The color of the Northern Puffer is yellow, brown, or olive colored on top while the underside is white. They have prickles all over their body. Their mouth is beak-like. There are black dots covering its sides and cheeks. Its dorsal fin is farther back towards its tail.

Ecological Notes The Northern Puffer uses its beak-like mouth to crush through mollusks, crustaceans, and invertebrates. When in danger, the Northern Puffer blows up into a big round ball; this deters danger by looking bigger and prickly. They are able to puff up by inhaling air or water. The Northern Puffer spawns between May and August in shallow waters near shore. The males guard the sticky eggs as they attach to the benthic zone. The Northern Puffer is not poisonous and is a delicacy.

Personal Information This species was observed at Jennette’s Pier, NC on 04.21.2016. As we were walking on the Pier, a gentlemen fishing caught the Northern Puffer and allowed the group to take pictures and hold it.


Shao, K., Liu, M., Hardy, G., Jing, L., Leis, J.L. & Matsuura, K. 2014. Sphoeroides maculatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/190246/0

DiPasquale, N. (2012). Northern Puffer. Chesapeake Bay Program. http://www.chesapeakebay.net/fieldguide/critter/northern_puffer

Additional Information

Laroche, J.L., Merriner, J.V. 1977. Fecundity of the northern puffer, Sphoeroides maculatus, from Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake Science, 18(1):81-83. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.2307/1350368

This article did an experiment on the fecundity of the Northern Puffer. They observed the differences in production of the ovaries by ovary size (length and weight) and by also treating ovary eggs for better success.

Sobocinski, K.L., Orth, R.J., Fabrizio, M.C., Latour, R.J. (2013). Historical Comparison of Fish Community Structure in Lower Chesapeake Bay Seagrass Habitats. Estuaries and Coasts, 36(4):775-794. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12237-013-9586-3

This article discusses the population shifts in Atlantic Ocean species from the disturbing threats of water clarity and increasing temperatures in the ocean. This study shows that the Northern Puffer became less abundant in disturbed waters with the threat having a direct effect on where to lay eggs.

Contributed by Holly Nowlin - 2016

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