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Discovery Magazine 1/1/2004

Underwater Procupines

by  Thomas Tarpley, B.S.

What if I told you there was a creature in the sea that has big eyes, jaws powerful enough to crack the shells of crabs, one of the most deadly poisons known to man, and the ability to puff itself up into a spike-covered ball twice its size!  Believe it or not, such a creature actually exists.

This creature is a fish called the porcupine fish. You may have seen one in the movie Finding Nemo.  Its favorite places to live are shipwrecks, underwater caves, coral reefs, and ocean ledges. The porcupine fish is a spiny puffer fish. The largest species, Diodon hystrix, can grow up to 3 feet long. Diodonmeans “two teeth,” and the word hystrixis taken from the Greek word for “porcupine.”  The porcupine fish has only two teeth—one on the top and one on the bottom. The front portions of each tooth bite together to form a beak-like pair, while the back part of the tooth, being flat, forms upper and lower crushing plates. Its teeth are designed this way to help it grind and crush its food.

The porcupine fish is nocturnal, which means it comes out at night. Its big eyes are interesting because they can move different ways at the same time, helping the fish to see all around in the dark as it hunts for food. Porcu-pine fish eat sea urchins, crabs, hermit crabs, snails, shrimp, small lobsters, and coral. It definitely needs its powerful teeth for this menu.

Most fish use speed and quickness to escape predators. But what if a fish can’t swim fast?  The porcupine fish is slow, so how does it keep from becoming lunch for bigger fish?  This special fish surprises its enemies by sucking in water and becoming very big —very quickly! As this happens, the spines that normally lie flat against its body begin to stick straight out. This is enough to scare almost any predator. What fish would want to eat a big ball of prickly spines?

The porcupine fish is another example of God’s amazing creatures.  Learning about this unusual creature can strengthen our faith, especially when we think about the amazing design it has.

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