Research

The Japanese Pufferfish

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If you’ve ever dived or snorkeled over a sandy lake or ocean bottom, you’ve probably seen some neat patterns there. But it’s hard to compete with the Japanese pufferfish for pure artistry. This small fish creates enormous and elaborate designs in the sand in order to attract a mate. The male fish moves the sand into place by flapping his fins very close to the surface. Above a critical flapping velocity, his fins generate vortices capable of picking up sand, as seen below. With repeated passes, the fish is able to excavate the trough that is key to his creation. It’s a constant fight against the current, though. 

Puffers aren’t the only ones who flap their fins to move the sands. Rays and flounders use this technique to bury themselves and hide (Video credit: BBC Earth; image credit: A. Sauret, source; research credit: A. Sauret et al.)

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