The intimidating Titan triggerfish

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Le baliste titan

Doesn’t the sight of a fin near your fins frighten you more than that ? In fact, danger doesn’t always come from where you expect it… And those who have already made the acquaintance of Balistoides viridescens know this more than anyone. Without disrespecting the impressive fish in its environment, it regularly gives divers a cold sweat… A “safe” encounter with the Titan triggerfish !

L'impressionnante dentition du baliste titan
L’impressionnante dentition du baliste titan

In the collection of “weird” fish, it’s certainly well placed. With its unusual appearance and stocky body, the Titan triggerfish is a real eye-catcher. It can be seen in the waters of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific as far south as Polynesia. Or avoid it, it’s up to you. For it is one of the most feared species among divers. Some of you have no doubt already paid the price, when you come face to face with one on a coral reef… And then the anguish !

With a body like this, swimming isn’t easy. It’s therefore amusing to see it move through the water, just undulating its symmetrical fins (pelvic and second dorsal) placed at the back of its body, and generally in a… tilted position. Its caudal fin is only used in emergencies, for terrific accelerations that you’d better not be the target of !

This triggerfish feeds in coral reefs, where it digs for small animals that few other fish can eat. Thanks to its powerful teeth, it can feed on hard corals, sea urchins, molluscs whose shells need to be broken and crustaceans. It is also one of the few predators of the starfish Acanthaster placii.

6 facts about the Titan triggerfish

A massive body: the most imposing of the triggerfish has extraordinary dimensions. It can reach over 80cm in length and weigh more than 5kg.

An imposing head: at around 1/3 the length of its body, the Titan triggerfish’s head is quite simply impressive!

Impressive dentition: certainly the most impressive part. Despite its small mouth, its jaw is equipped with powerful, cone-shaped teeth that point slightly forward.

A trigger as a warning: one of the characteristics of the triggerfish, the first dorsal fin, above the head, has a very robust spiny ray. When the animal feels threatened, this “trigger” locks into a vertical position… translation: Get the hell out!

Panoramic vision: thanks to its eyes high up on the head, and their globular shape giving them freedom of movement (each eye moves independently of the other), the triggerfish has a 360° view.

Etymology of its name: “Balistoides” is Latin for “ballista-shaped”. The fact that the backbone rises with a blow is reminiscent of the ancient war machine. “viridescens” refers to the greenish/olive color of the fish. Reminiscent of a trigger, triggerfish are called Triggerfish.

When the Titan triggerfish protects its nest…

When you come across it, your heart rate tends to increase. The first question that comes to mind is whether he’s protecting his nest or not! During the breeding season, the males take care of the nest, which they dig in the ground. It’s very interesting to observe them. Very meticulously, the male shapes the nest into a crater and lays out pieces of broken coral, one by one, with his mouth. You can also see him rubbing himself on the crater’s slopes to shape it. It takes a long time to convince a female to come and lay her eggs. It’s easy to see why the nest is so closely guarded. Get too close, and you’re sure to have a bad time! In a quarter of a second, you could see him hurtling towards you. By entering his territory, you represent a threat that the Titan is determined to ward off. And if he charges you, it can be very painful, even if it’s often just intimidation.

So when you see this fish, keep an eye on its backbone. The first sure sign is when it straightens out. Like a rattlesnake that wags its tail before attacking, it’s a warning signal. Change direction, but above all, don’t lose sight of it, and don’t turn your back on it. Its territory is cone-shaped, with the nest at the tip and widening towards the surface. So don’t try to pass several meters above it, thinking you’re doing the right thing. Get out of the way and follow the bottom…

Outside of the breeding season, it is sometimes possible to approach it without any fear!

The triggerfish family

The olive triggerfish (Titan) belongs to the order Tetrodontiformes (like balloonfish, limefish, boxfish and even moonfish!), and to the family Balistidae, which includes 40 species of triggerfish. They all share the same laterally compressed shape, characterized by a dorsal spine that locks in a vertical position above the head. Used to intimidate a predator before a lightning attack, this spine also enables them to remain trapped in a hole if attacked while sleeping, or to prevent a large predator from swallowing them! Among the best-known are the Picasso triggerfish, the Clown triggerfish and the Blue triggerfish. Most live in tropical waters, but one species inhabits our Mediterranean and Atlantic waters, the common triggerfish (Balistes capriscus).

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