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Striped Burrfish: The Not so Common Creature

If you’re lucky enough, when visiting Ocean City, and Maryland’s Coastal Bays, you may spot a Striped Burrfish!!

Photo by Zach Garmoe, DE Center for the Inland Bays

Is it a pufferfish? What is the difference?

When looking at the Striped Burrfish, you might think that you are looking at a Northern Pufferfish, a similar fish found in the Coastal Bays. While they are eerily similar, there are some key features that differentiate the burrfish from the pufferfish. The first major feature that makes the Striped Burrfish stand out are its spike-like spines sticking out all over its body. These spines stay fixed in place, meaning they are always protruding out, protecting the burrfish from predators. The burrfish actually have very few predators because most animals cannot get past these spines.

Other features that make the Striped Burrfish unique are the dark and wavy stripes that run across its entire body, and the various large dark spots present on its yellowish-brown skin.

The Striped Burrfish has green and blue colored pupils and a small beak-like mouth with impressively strong jaws that allow them to crunch through crabs, snails, and many other hard-shelled creatures. Striped Burrfish typically grow to be a maximum length of 10 inches.

Photo from MCBP seining program

And don’t worry- neither the local burrfish nor the pufferfish species are poisonous!

Where are they Found?

Striped Burrfish can be found in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as Nova Scotia and down through Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. Striped Burrfish can even be found as far south as Brazil!  Although they are uncommon to find north of North Carolina, they are found in Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as right here in Maryland’s Coastal Bays! The number one habitat for Striped Burrfish in the Coastal Bays (as well as other regions) is sea grass beds. During spawning, it is believed that burrfish travel offshore, though little is known about their breeding.

Photo by MCBP Environmental Scientist, Carly Toulan

Interesting Facts

Like pufferfish, the Striped Burrfish can take in water to inflate its body when it feels threatened. It does this with the help of an organ called the buccal pump. The spikes of the burrfish are an additional defense mechanism that the pufferfish does not have. Another interesting thing about burrfish is that rather than relying solely on their fins, Striped Burrfish use their gills like jets and push water through them to propel themselves forward. Striped Burrfish are not popular for consumption or harvesting in the seafood industry, but they are common in the pet and aquarium trade, due to their interesting appearance! Despite their popularity in this industry, it is encouraged that if you encounter one of these awesome creatures, that you let it stay wild!

Author Background

Collin Ludwig was the 2020 summer science intern with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Collin is originally from Mount Airy, Maryland and is currently studying environmental studies and urban and regional planning at Salisbury University. Collin spent the summer working with the MCBP science department on various monitoring projects, restoration site maintenance, and data entry and analysis.

For more information on the Maryland Coastal Bays Program science and education programs, please email cjoiner@mdcoastalbays.org.

Maryland Coastal Bays Program
Maryland Coastal Bays Programhttp://mdcoastalbays.org
All Creature Features are written by a Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) staff member.  MCBP is a non-profit and National Estuary Program that exists to protect and conserve the waters and surrounding watershed of Maryland’s coastal bays to enhance their ecological values and sustainable use for both present and future generations. MCBP works with stakeholders on the local, state, and federal level to protect the five main bays within the watershed; Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Newport, and Chincoteague, through restoration, environmental education, scientific monitoring, and targeted community outreach.

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