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Striped burrfish, Chilomycterus schoepfii. Illustration Maryland DNR.

Species Name: Chilomycterus schoepfii
Common Name: Striped Burrfish
Synonymy: Chilomycterus schoepfi Walbaum, 1792
Diodon schoepfii Walbaum, 1792

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Tetraodontiformes Diodontidae Chilomycterus

    Species Description

    The striped burrfish, Chilomycterus schoepfii, a member of the family Diodontidae, is striking in its appearance. The body is light tan to yellow-brown above and white to yellowish and sometimes blackish below, and is covered with fixed and erect spines that give the animal a pincushion appearance as well as the name burrfish. Dark, wavy and roughly parallel lines cover the sides of the body. Most specimens also have large dark spots above and behind the pectoral fins and at the base of the dorsal fin. Ray counts are as follows: dorsal = 12; anal = 10 (Hoese and Moore 1977, Robbins et al. 1986).

    Thrust in C. schoepfii and other tetraodontiform fishes is produced through the coordinated action of the pectoral, dorsal, anal, and caudal fins (Arreola and Westneat 1996), in contrast to typical pisciform locomotion which Is accomplished primarily via flexion of the body and caudal fin.

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    The burrfish or spiny puffers that make up the diodontid family are easily distinguished from other tetraodontiform fishes by the presence of conspicuous body spines. Within the family, the striped burrfish is distinguishable from other burrfish by its color pattern and its fixed erect spines; other diodontids in the region have spines that fold back against the body when the animal is not inflated (Hoese and Moore 1977).


    Regional Occurrence

    Chilomycterus schoepfii can be found as far north as Maine and Nova Scotia, although it is uncommon north of North Carolina. To the south, it occurs throughout the Florida coast and further south to Brazil. It is common in the Gulf of Mexico and less common in the Bahamas and West Indies (Breder 1922, Schwartz 1960, 1964b, Robbins et al. 1986, Monteleone 1992).

    IRL Distribution

    The Florida distribution of the striped burrfish includes the entire IRL system.


    Age, Size, Lifespan

    Individuals can grow to reach a body length of 25 cm (Robbins et al. 1986).


    Robbins et al. (1986) note that striped burrfish are very common in seagrass beds in bays and coastal lagoons.


    Information on courtship and spawning in Chilomycterus schoepfii is scarce, but published work detailing the spawning behavior of the diodontid Diodon holacanthus indicates spawning in the family may be nocturnal. Spawning is thought to occur offshore but supporting evidence is lacking (Maryland DNR undated).


    Developmental details are sparse for this species. Whereas the eggs of some diodontids (e.g., of genus Diodon) ar pelagic and buoyant, those of Chilomycterus schoepfii are demersal but non-adhesive (Thresher 1984).



    Although Chilomycterus schoepfii as a species tolerates a broad range of temperatures, temperatures of 5-7°C and below have been shown to induce mortality (Schwartz 1964). Moore (1976) and Holt and Holt (1983) report C. schoepfii among the fishes killed as a consequence of a cold fronts that dropped water temperatures to freezing in Texas estuaries in 1973 and again in 1982.


    Juveniles and adults as large as 15 cm have been collected far upstream within the Patuxent River, Upper Chesapeake Bay, where salinities are often les than 15 ppt (Schwartz 1960).

    Chilomycterus schoepfii may persist in water with a salt content of less than 7 ppt to as much as 47 ppt (Maryland DNR undated).


    Trophic Mode

    Striped burrfish are predators on a variety of benthic invrtebrates, including crabs, shrimp, mussels, and miscellaneous crustaceans (Breder 1922). It is a predator of sea whip ( Leptogorgia virgulata ) epibionts such as the amphipod Caprella penantis within northwest Florida Thalassia seagrass meadows.

    Ralston and Wainwright (1997) state that C. schoepfii is a specialist on hard-shelled prey.


    The ability of puffers to take in water to inflate their body size is an important adaptation to minimize the risk of predation, although some predation certainly occurs.


    The trematodes Prosorhynchus sp., Sclerodistomum sphoeroides, and Diploproctodaeum plicitum are among the parasites known to infest Chilomycterus schoepfii (Hutton and Sogandares-Bernal 1960). Pearse (1947) also indicated that this species is also susceptible to infestation by parasitic copepods, but did not provide details. Norris and Overstreet (1975) report the nematode Thynnascaris reliquens from C. schoepfii as well.


    Striped burrfish are widely reported as coastal and estuarine sagrass community residents (Orth and Heck 1980, Heck and Thoman. 1984, Robbins et al. 1986, Sedberry and Carter 1993).

    Activity Time

    Southern puffers are primarily active by day, settling into sand bottoms at night (author's personal observation).


    No information is available at this time


    Arreola VI and MW Westneat. 1996. Mechanics of propulsion by multiple fins: Kinematics of aquatic locomotion in the burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi). Proceedings: Biological Sciences 263:1689-1696.

    Breder CM, Jr. 1922. Notes on the summer food of Chilomycterus schoepfi (Walbaum) . Copeia 104:18-19.

    Caine EA. 1983. Community interactions of Caprella penantis leach (Crustacea: Amphipoda) on sea whips. Journal of Crustacean Biology 3, No. 4:497-504.

    Heck KL, Jr and TA Thoman. 1984. The nursery role of seagrass meadows in the upper and lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries 7:70-92.

    Hoese HD and RH Moore. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters. Texas A&M University Press, College Station TX. 327 p.

    Holt SA and GJ Holt. 1983. Cold death of fishes at Port Aransas, Texas: January 1982. The Southwestern Naturalist 28:464-466.

    Hutton RF and F Sogandares-Bernal. 1960. A list of parasites from marine and coastal animals of Florida. mTransactions of the American Microscopical Society 79:287 -292.

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Undated. Maryland Fish Facts: Striped burrfish. Available online.

    Monteleone DM. 1992. Seasonality and abundance of ichthyoplankton in Great South Bay, New York. Estuaries 15:230-238.

    Moore RH. 1976. Observations on fishes killed by cold at Port Aransas, Texas, 11-12 January 1973. The Southwestern Naturalist 20:461-466.

    Norris DE and RM Overstreet. 1975. Thynnascaris reliquens sp. n. and T. habena (Linton, 1900) (Nematoda: Ascaridoidea) from fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico and aastern U. S. Seaboard. The Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Apr., 1975), pp. 330-336.

    Orth RJ and KL Heck, Jr. 1980. Structural components of eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows in the lower Chesapeake Bay: Fishes. Estuaries 3:278-288.

    Pearse AS. 1947. On the occurrence of ectoconsortes on marine animals at Beaufort, N. C. The Journal of Parasitology 33:453-458.

    Ralston KR and PC Wainwright. 1997. Functional consequences of trophic specialization in pufferfishes. Functional Ecology 11:43-52.

    Robins CR, Ray GC, and J Douglas. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes. The Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 354 p.

    Schwartz FJ. 1960. Recent additions to the Upper Chesapeake Bay fish frauna. Chesapeake Science 1:210-212.

    Schwartz FJ. 1964. Effects of winter water conditions on fifteen species of captive marine fishes. American Midland Naturalist 71:434-444.

    Schwartz FJ. 1964. Fishes of Isle of Wight and Assawoman Bays near Ocean City, Maryland. Chesapeake Science 5:172-193.

    Thresher RE. 1984. Reproduction n Reef Fishes. TFH Publications, NJ. 399 p.

Report by: J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: October 1, 2008

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