Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens)

So apparently whoever started naming fish did an amazing job of it, because this is yet another fish with an awesome name, the titan triggerfish. Also known as the moustache triggerfish, which is an even cooler name. But despite what it might look like, I usually don’t pick animals solely for their names. Most animals are pretty interesting, and the titan triggerfish is no exception.

Triggerfish are a group of fishes named for a defence mechanism these fish have. Their dorsal fin is made up of three spines, and when threatened trigger fish can erect the first two spines, making a sharp weapon that hopefully deters predators. The long first spine is held up by the second shorter spine, and can only be released by the depression of the second ‘trigger’ spine, hence the name triggerfish. The titan part comes from the fact that the titan triggerfish is big, the biggest triggerfish in its range.

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A titan triggerfish. I can see why they are also known as the moustache triggerfish. They look a bit silly, don’t they?

Being fairly large (up to 30 inches), titan triggerfish feed on shellfish, urchins, crabs and other spiny creatures. They are industrious fish, swimming around the reef and turning over rocks or stirring up sand to find prey. Unfortunately for the triggerfish, they are often taken advantage of, and littler fish follow them around to snatch up any bits of food that the triggerfish stirs up and misses. I guess that’s just the way of the world – hard work always gets exploited.

Titan triggerfish usually don’t attack intruders that wander into their territory, but during the breeding season they can get nasty. And by nasty, I mean really nasty. Not only do they not tolerate other fish in their territory, but they also object to humans entering it. Usually the fish simply tries to escort the intruder out of its home, or adopts a defensive posture. If it feels really threatened the triggerfish will wedge itself between two rocks and erect its spines. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to try and get a fish out of a crevice in that posture.

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A triggerfish and diver, sharing a moment

The triggerfish will also attack intruders, especially if it is guarding its eggs. There have been reports of titan triggerfish knocking divers unconscious and inflicting nasty bites with their powerful teeth. The problems don’t end for the divers there; triggerfish bites can be contaminated with ciguatera toxin, an unpleasant toxin that causes gastrointestinal and neurological effects in humans. The triggerfish accumulate the toxin by eating contaminated food, such as shellfish. You can also get ciguatera poisoning from eating a contaminated triggerfish, so don’t eat them!

So how can you avoid being attacked by an angry triggerfish? Well obviously abstinence is the best way – don’t go diving! However, if you absolutely must go diving, know what a triggerfish looks like, and recognize when it is acting defensively. If threatened by one of these angry fellows, swim away horizontally, not up, as the triggerfish’s territory extends upwards in a cone shape.

The titan triggerfish is a nasty piece of work, but honestly what can one expect with a name like that? The fish are probably actually really nice but have to act all tough to live up to their name. I feel bad for them, actually. Poor guys.

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