Crunch, crunch, crunch… That sound is coming from this fish – the Cross River puffer (Tetraodon pustulatus). Don’t let the dainty little mouth at the end of its snout fool you. This tropical freshwater fish has four strong teeth that can crunch down and crack open clams.
It lives in the West Africa Rivers exhibit in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Tropic Zone gallery (watch the video below and make sure you have the volume on).
The Cross River puffer is found in Nigeria and Cameroon, in the river for which it is named. Like other puffers, this species has the ability to inflate rapidly into a sphere (with water or air) in order to thwart predators – but the Aquarium’s senior biologist Jen Reynolds says that with no enemies in sight, this puffer hasn’t done any puffing up on exhibit.
Puffers are also known for having toxins in various parts of their bodies (such as the skin), though Jen says there’s evidence that puffers lose this characteristic after spending time in human care.
The Cross River puffer’s abilities to poison, crunch with its teeth and puff up are cool enough, but it has one more very fascinating feature: just like a chameleon, it has two eyes that move independently of each other. One eye can look forward and the other backward – at the same time. It’s a great way to keep a lookout for predators. A Cross River puffer? More like a Cross EYED puffer!
Predators are not the only thing that these puffers have to fear. Dams and oil exploration in West Africa are threatening the Cross River puffer’s natural habitat. For this reason, this species has been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.