Freshwater Puffer Fish Guide

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If you are a dedicated fish owner and are looking to expand your freshwater home aquarium, you may want to consider a freshwater puffer fish.

True freshwater puffers are a brilliant specialist fish and are very worthwhile to keep as pets, provided that they are looked after properly.

Unfortunately, puffer fish are relatively misunderstood.

Many of the fish sold as puffers are not freshwater fish at all, and therefore it can often be difficult to choose and own the right kind. If you are interested in keeping a puffer fish, you will need to know all the important specifics to help you provide the best care for this creature.

We have created a detailed guide, containing all the puffer fish facts, to help you offer the right care for your freshwater puffer.

Puffer Fish Facts

Puffer fish have a plump appearance and can look very comical.

They are mainly branded for their ability to ‘puff up’ like a balloon. This happens when they gulp air or water and their whole body will transform into a ball-like figure.

Puffer fish are marine inhabitants are can be found in most tropical oceans.

There are several types of puffer fish but only 29 can be classed as the freshwater variety. Unlike typical fish, the body of a puffer fish is rigid, and they rely on their fins for motion and balance.

Puffer fish are covered with small and thin prickly spines, which are sometimes only visible when they inflate.

Freshwater puffers are considered hardy as they usually adapt to aquarium foods and have a long life in a premium environment.

In order to successfully keep a puffer fish, you need to ensure top water quality, giving them plenty of room and – most importantly – providing an adequate diet.

puffer fish facts

Freshwater Puffer Fish Types

Even though they all share that adorable, fascinating, and sometimes concerning trait of turning into a balloon when startled, there is a great deal of variety in freshwater puffer fish breeds.

When it comes to the prettiest look, the most interesting behavior, and the key aspects of their care, they couldn’t be more different.

So which one is right for you? Here are five of the most popular with all their best assets and disadvantages broken down.

Dwarf Puffer Fish

(Carinotetraodon Travancoricus)

The dwarf puffer – also known as the Indian Malabar Puffer – is the smallest type you will find.

They are roughly the size of a pea and will reach one inch in length when fully grown. Beyond being unbearably cute, this breed swims in its own unique pattern, making it entertaining to observe.

The dwarf puffer can be kept in a small aquarium, but it’s vital that they’re isolated from any other fish.

Due to their highly aggressive nature, they’re prone to killing tank mates, even ones larger than themselves. Be sure to place them alone in an environment with good water quality, filled with plants and retreats.

Avocado Puffer Fish

(Auriglobus Modestus)

The Avocado Puffer is a freshwater breed with a sleek body, contrasting with the more club-like appearance of most puffers.

It has a beautiful, shimmery coloration that adds life and fascination to your aquarium. As it’s only slightly larger than the dwarf puffer when grown, at four inches in total, it does not require a large tank.

However, they do require large canister filters and weekly water changes as they require a very clean aquarium environment to properly thrive

As this puffer is more streamlined and quicker than other puffers, you will need to think carefully choosing tank mates.

With the avocado puffer’s aggressive nature, it is best to avoid fish that are slow and long-finned.

Fahaka Puffer Fish

(Tetraodon Lineatus)

The Fahaka puffer – also known as the striped puffer – is commonly recognized for their large, robust, and comical appearance. They have striking patterns and can change color depending on their mood.

The Fahaka Puffer has an intelligent and curious nature and can become a very friendly pet.

However, they can also be incredibly aggressive and kill any other fish within their reach.

All puffers have a sharp beak in their mouths and the Fahaka will use it to remove pieces from any living thing that is in the tank with them.

This type of puffer fish can grow quite large, reaching up to 18 inches, so it will require a tank with enough room to accommodate its size.

fahaka puffer fish

Amazonian Puffer Fish

(Colomesus Asellus)

The Amazon Puffer – also known as the South American Pufferfish (SAP) – is a very popular member of the family of puffer fish.

Although many puffers look cute and comical, most of them have a very aggressive nature – yet the Amazon Puffer is completely different. It is a peaceful fish and can be very shy, so it is best to keep them away from aggressive tank mates.

The passive nature of this puffer makes it a great choice for a community tank.

The Amazon puffer is constantly on the move, and is an active, intelligent, and curious fish. They enjoy a well planted aquarium with open swimming space. This breed usually grows up to three inches long, but some have reached up to five inches.

They are very hardy and can live in a wide range of water types.

Here’s a closer look at this awesome puffer:

Pignose Puffer Fish

(Tetraodon Suvattii)

The pignose puffer is a medium-sized fish and can reach up to six inches in size.

They are recognized by their turned-up nose and the black arrowhead mark on their head.

This breed can be very aggressive, so you shouldn’t keep it with other species – especially those of its own kind.

Pignose puffers have the ability to chop most fish into bite sized pieces using their beak-like mouth. If you try to keep more than one or keep other fish, it would be useful to ensure there are plenty of hiding places, such as caves and roots.

These puffers are very inactive, and if the tank has fine gravel, they will often bury themselves, leaving only their mouth and eyes exposed, only appearing when food enters the tank!

Freshwater Puffer Fish Care

Once you have decided on what kind of freshwater puffer fish you would like to keep, you will need to ensure that you have the right environment prepared for them.

This section will cover all the details relating to the care of freshwater puffer fish, including tank and water requirements, dietary needs, as well as what tank mates are suitable for these types of fish.

It is important to note that if you want to keep a freshwater puffer, you should have some experience with keeping tropical fish tanks. A puffer does not make a good impulse purchase, and due to their complex nature, you will need to be an advanced fish owner to give them quality care.

Puffer Fish Aquarium

The minimum tank size for most of the smaller types of puffers is 30 gallons, while some of the larger freshwater species will need tanks as large as 1,000 gallons.

The more active species of puffer fish need a bigger tank, as they require extra swimming space to prevent boredom.

Another way to prevent boredom can be to add different decorations and hiding places in the tank for the puffer fish to explore.

All puffers are very messy eaters, and due to their protein-rich diet, they will release a lot of ammonia into the water through their waste. Therefore, you will need a double filtration system within the tank; external canister filters would work for this.

Puffer fish are especially sensitive to their environment: as they don’t have scales, they are more susceptible to elevated levels of ammonia and nitrite.

When keeping a freshwater puffer fish, you will need to regularly change the water to keep the nitrate levels down.

Your tank water temperature should be between 22 and 26°C/72 and 79°F.

what does a puffer fish eat
By Michelle Jo (CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

What Does a Puffer Fish Eat?

Unlike most aquarium fish, freshwater puffers do not graze constantly throughout the day.

Most of them only require two to three meals per week, depending on the age and breed.

However, there are some that require frequent feedings, like the dwarf puffer.

It is important to research the best foods and the frequency of meals for your chosen puffer. Small puffers (under two inches) should be fed daily, while mid-sized puffers (two to four inches) should be fed every other day. Large puffers (over four inches) can be fed just two or three times a week.

As puffer fishes are mainly predators, they will eat a variety of snails, crustaceans, and shellfish.

They are fairly greedy fish and will eat whatever is given to them, but you should stick to dried meaty foods. The two main foods that should be given to freshwater puffers are:

Hard-Shelled Foods

All puffers require a consistent diet of hard-shelled foods to help prevent their “beaks” from overgrowing.

If their teeth grow too long, puffers will end up starving because they can’t eat anymore.

Snails and Shrimp

Snails, especially Ramshorn and common pond snails, are a great food source for smaller puffers.

You can use whole shrimp with the shells still on, as well as frozen fish food like bloodworms.

Puffer Fish Tank mates

In most cases, freshwater puffers are not suited to a community tank setting.

Due to their aggressive and predatory nature, they are likely to eat other fish or nip at their fins, so it is best to avoid putting them with others.

Some species can be kept in a species tank, which is a tank that only houses fish of the same species.

The most suitable puffer for a community tank would be the Amazonian puffer, but as a general rule, freshwater puffer fish should be kept separately and individually to ensure long quality life.

That’s everything you need to know about freshwater puffer fish — will you be adding any to your aquarium?


Featured image is by Lindy de Bruyn (CC BY-ND 2.0 licence)

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