Taking care of your Freshwater Puffer fish

Puffer fish are cute scaleless fish that come in both freshwater and marine varieties. Puffer fish are most known for their ability to rapidly inflate two more than twice their size!

Puffer fish come in a big variety of colors and sizes. They have unique personalities and can be a lot of fun to watch.

Another notable quality of Puffer fish is their toxin. Puffer fish toxin, known as tetrodotoxin, is not actually produced by Puffer fish themselves. Puffer fish toxin is produced by bacteria that live inside them. On the small chance that your pet puffer fish has the venom in it, you don’t need to worry about it – unless you eat your puffer fish!

In this post, we will talk about taking care of your freshwater puffer fish, and everything else you need to know about this cute and unique type of fish.


An Overview of Puffer fish

There are over 150 species of puffer fish in the world! About 30 of them are freshwater varieties, and the rest are found in marine and brackish waters. Brackish waters are where saltwater and freshwater meet. We will specifically focus on the varieties of puffer fish that do well in freshwater.

When you think of puffer fish, you probably think of them inflating themselves up. Puffer fish inflate themselves as a defense mechanism. When puffer fish inflate, little spines pop out of their bodies. Because of their spines, they won’t be eaten.

Puffer fish require a lot of care and attention. They also can be a little aggressive, even though they look cute and cuddly. Because of this, puffer fish should be kept in a single specimen tank.

As we stated earlier, puffer fish often contain the deadly neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. If you have a pet freshwater puffer fish from the pet store, you shouldn’t need to worry about this toxin. Puffer fish often eat food that contains the bacteria that produce the toxin. These food sources are found in the wild.

If you take good care of your puffer fish, it can live up to 10 years old!

Varieties of puffer fish can cost anywhere from $5 to over $100 – as long as you have the proper tools to care for your puffer fish, there is a puffer fish for any budget.

Freshwater Puffer fish Behavior

Puffer fish are defined by their territorial and aggressive behavior. This behavior is especially apparent during the breeding season. This may come as a surprise, but puffer fish are predators. They have several different hunting techniques.

  • Open Waters Hunters: Some puffer fish swim out over rocks and sand, scanning plants and oyster beds for small clams, snails, and other crustaceans. They swim around in the open looking for their prey.
  • Stealth Predators: Other varieties of puffer fish like to stealthily hunt for their prey. They’ll hide among rocks and crevices patiently waiting for prey. When the time is right, they’ll strike and get their meal.
  • Ambush Predators: Ambush predators are a lot like stealth predators. When it comes to puffer fish, they’ll dig themselves into the sand waiting for small fish to swim by. When their prey comes by, they’ll lunge out of the sand and make their kill.

Puffer fish have a reputation for being fin-nippers. Fin-nippers are fish that will nip and bite off small pieces of other fish who live in the same environment. Think twice before putting puffer fish in the same aquarium with other fish!

Puffer fish sometimes cleverly spit water at the substrate at the bottom of their environment to look for hiding prey. In a tank, they might spit water at you when they are hungry!

Varieties of Freshwater Puffer fish

Out of the 150 varieties of puffer fish, about 30 are freshwater.

Out of these 30 species, there is a huge amount of variation. The smallest can be just one inch long, to over two feet long.

Visually, puffer fish are rounder, with big eyes and a large mouth. Puffer fish have four large teeth in their mouth. Their teeth are covered by lips. Puffer fish use their lips to test potential food.

Most puffer fish are different shades of light grey but can come in a variety of other colors. Puffer fish usually use their coloration for hiding and camouflage.

Here are some of the most common freshwater puffer fish:

  • Dwarf Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) These tiny puffer fish can grow to only one inch long! They are green, with black polka-dots. Dwarf puffers can be kept in aquariums with other small fish, just be careful to not crowd the tank, or put in too many territorial male dwarf puffers.
  • Fahaka Puffer (Tetraodon lineatus) Fahaka puffers are a bit larger than dwarf puffers. These puffer fish can grow up to 17 inches! When they are young, they can have bright, contrasting colors. Fahaka puffers often have long stripes down the side of their bodies.
  • Golden Puffer (Auriglobus modestus) Golden puffers come in a variety of beautiful yellow. Golden puffers are sleeker than other puffer fish. These puffers usually don’t get larger than 4 inches long.
  • South American Puffer (Colomesus asellus) South American puffers, also known as Amazon puffers, are another variety of small puffers that usually won’t get longer than 3 inches. They are quite cute, but still a little aggressive.
  • Congo Puffer (Tetraodon miurus) The Congo puffer fish, sometimes called a potato puffer, comes from the Congo River in Africa. They grow up to 6 inches long.
  • Mbu puffer (Tetraodon mbu) The Mbu puffer is by far the largest species of freshwater puffer fish. Mbu puffers can grow up to 24 inches long! Mbu puffers also originate around the Congo river in Africa. They are a great fish for a large tank.

Some puffer fish, such as the Spotted Green Puffer, is incorrectly labeled as being freshwater fish when they are actually suited for marine or brackish waters. They may spend their juvenile years in freshwater but migrate to the ocean when they are older.

Before you get a freshwater puffer fish, research the best conditions for your fish so that you are prepared to take the best care of your fish as possible.

Puffer fish Habitats and Conditions:

Some species of puffer fish are quite hearty and can live in a variety of conditions. However, many other puffer fish are susceptible to disease and sickness if they are in improper conditions. It is important to provide the best care for your puffer so that it can be happy and live a long time.

Puffer fish need water with a pH between 7.0 and 7.6. They need a temperature between 74°-78°F. For other conditions, such as water hardness, look up the specifications for your individual fish, however, most will do well with a dKH between 8-12.

You need a great filter in your tank, as puffer fish make a lot of waste. Your filter should change 50% of the water in the tank weekly. Puffer fish are also sensitive to nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia.

Furnish your puffer fish’s tank with lots of plants, rocks, and places to hike. Larger puffer fish won’t like coral and other reef-like features. Some predators will like a rocky and sandy substrate to dig around in.

Different puffer fish need different sized tanks:

  • Dwarf Puffer: 10 gallons
  • Fahaka Puffer: 100 gallons
  • Golden Puffer: 125 gallons
  • South American Puffer: 40 gallons
  • Congo Puffer: 40 gallons
  • Mbu Puffer: 500 gallons

It always helps to get a tank on the larger side. This will make better conditions for your puffer fish because of all the waste it creates. Please note that all these recommendations are for just one fish.

Freshwater Puffer fish and Tank Mates

All puffer fish are aggressive and territorial, so be careful when finding tank mates to live with your puffer fish! A puffer’s aggression can depend on their age, health, species, and whether or not it’s mating season.

Don’t keep puffer fish with not-fish tank mates either. They will even be aggressive to animals like shrimps, frogs, and snails.

There are a few species of puffer fish that can be kept in a small group, such as South American puffers. Most, however, do best alone.

Caring for your freshwater puffer fish

Puffer fish can be really susceptible to parasites. This is because they are not protected with scales.

The best way to care for your puffer fish is to do everything possible to prevent disease. Anything new you put in your fish tank is a potential carrier of bacteria. Think twice before you stock your fish tank with rocks and sand from your local lake – try to make sure everything is as clean as possible.

The most common ailment of freshwater puffer fish is the Ich disease caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. If your puffer fish comes down with Ich disease, you can treat it by raising the temperature of the fish tank.

Puffer fish feeding and diet

Puffer fish are technically omnivores and live off a plant-based and meat-based diet. However, puffer fish love to eat meat more than anything else.

Puffer fish are not picky eaters and will eat any kind of meat you put in the tank. Ask your pet shop for different kinds of live, frozen, and dried meat to feed your puffer fish. Large puffer fish can even eat whole frozen fish, like lancetfish and whitebait fish.

If you want, feed your puffer fish plant-based food as well a couple of times a week.

Like some rodents, puffer fish teeth grow their whole life. Occasionally feed them some food that will help them control their teeth growth, such as small shellfish, crustaceans, and snails.

You don’t want their teeth to grow too long, or they’ll stop eating. If their teeth do grow too long, it is possible to clip them.

Small species of fish need to be fed every day. Medium puffer fish need to be fed every other day. Large puffer fish (over 6” long) need to be fed large portions two to three times a week.

Don’t overfeed your puffer fish! They’ll eat anything you put in their tank. After a while, your puffer fish will learn how to let you know when it’s hungry, such as by squirting water.

Breeding puffer fish

Breeding puffer fish breeding is extremely difficult and not always worth the effort and resources. Every species of puffer fish needs different water and tank conditions.

If you want to breed puffer fish, you also need to find a male and female that get along with each other. This can be difficult as well.

However, the most challenging part of puffer fish breeding is raising the fry of baby fish. While puffer fish are protective of their eggs, once they hatch, the parents often eat the babies. It is important to provide food to the fry and the parents. Baby puffer fish like brine shrimp and infusoria.

While puffer fish breeding is very challenging, it can also be very rewarding.

More  puffer fish facts

  • Due to pollution, overfishing, and habitat loss, puffer fish are becoming more and more vulnerable.
  • Puffer fish are slow swimmers and have trouble darting away from predators. Because of their slow movements, scientists think they evolved the ability to inflate.
  • In some countries, people eat puffer fish and consider it a delicacy. It is an extremely expensive food and needs to be prepared by experienced and licensed chefs. Chefs need to carefully prepare puffer fish so that none of the toxins get in the final prepared food.
  • The poison inside of the puffer fish helps them relieve stress! This stress relief also helps them grow longer and larger.

Is a freshwater puffer fish right for you?

Pet owners look for lots of different qualities when it comes to pet fish. Some fish owners like having large, beautiful aquariums with a large variety of colorful and varied fish. Other fish owners like having lots of smaller tanks with odd specimens with different personalities.

Puffer fish sometimes need quite large aquariums, though smaller puffer fish do fine in smaller aquariums. If you want a lot of puffer fish in one tank, then puffer fish aren’t right for you.

However, puffer fish have great personalities, live a long time, and are very intelligent fish. They live a long time and are a great long-term aquatic companion. They will start recognizing you overtime during feeding time.

Puffer fish might not be the best for inexperienced fish-keepers. Experienced fish owners, however, may come to love their pet puffer fish just as much, if not more, than other kinds of fish.

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