Pufferfish commonly traded in aquaria
information all potential owners should know
Many people will have seen pufferfish offered in pet stores. They're an attractive family of fish, and people can easily fall for their human like faces and their cute appearance. However, there are some steps you need to take to look after puffers correctly; these aren't your typical run of the mill fish, and they require particular care.
So, this covers what you should know before you buy a pufferfish.
Puffers require excellent water quality. Cycling a tank with a puffer will inevitably lead to stress, poisoning, and likely death. So, only add puffers to fully mature aquariums, showing 0 ammonia, and 0 nitrite. This is essential. Low nitrate is welcomed, but not essential. If you can keep it low, all the better for your fish.
Some fish should be kept in brackish water as well. That means they need salt adding to their water, and some require varying amounts. More about that later.
Puffers rarely accept flake food. Of all the different puffers I've kept (20+ by now I imagine), only 2 have ever accepted pre-prepared food, and one of those would only eat one specific type of preprepared food. So, do not intend to feed your puffers flake food, because inevitably, it won't happen. Consider bloodworm, snails (these are good for trimming puffer teeth, these should be added to the diet of all puffers), krill, gamma shrimp etc. What does not make good food for puffers are feeder fish. You can read more about feeder fish in the thread pinned at the top of the oddball forum. Some puffers are dedicated piscovores, but these are few and far between, and even then, they will readily take frozen food such as cockles and mussels, which can also be added to any puffers diet.
As a general rule, puffers are best kept alone. Puffers which can be mixed are done so at your own risk, all puffers have different temperaments. That isn't each species, that is each puffer itself.
If you must insist on keeping tankmates with puffers, smaller species do well with Pygmy suckermouth catfish, (oto. sp) and the larger ones with armoured plecs. Fast moving tetras/barbs are ok with only the most placid of species, and of course, don't keep puffers with any fish small enough to be eaten.
Overfilter with puffers, as they eat meaty foods, and are messy eaters. Consider oscars, they often leave just as much as they eat from a feeding, and puffers are the same. Paired with the fact you need impeccable water quality, you can see why some of these fish require tanks quite large (compared to their size).
Listed here are the typical puffers species (of fresh and brackish water) typically traded.
The puffers typically offered in stores are -
Figure 8 puffer
Green Spotted puffer
Dogface puffer (typically marine but can be kept in high brackish)
South American Puffer
The top 4 are suitable to be kept in brackish water. The rest are Totally freshwater. That means they require no salt whatsoever.
So, a quick overview of each species -
Auriglobus modestus - The bronze puffer. keep in a tank of around 20 gallons. This is definitely not one to mix, it's primary diet are fins and scales of other fish.
Carinotetraodon irrubesco - the red eye red tail puffer - These fish max out at 2 inches, and are shy.
Carinotetraodon lorteti - Red eye puffer - Same as above but considered more aggressive. Tetraodon cochinchinensis is also sometimes called the red eye puffer, beware!
The above 2 species can be kept in tanks around 15 gallons. Mix at your own risk. Other fish that need similar requirements are Carinotetraodon salivator and Cariontetraodon borneensis (both newly traded in the UK). These fish are considered to be far more aggressive though, and are best kept alone, or presumably in a hareem of one male to 3 or 4 females. In order to do that, give a tank size in accordance with that, and plant well, with lines of sight broken. I'd be very interested to hear of other people's experiences with these fish, PM me if you've kept them, and if you have any knowledge you could impart.
Carinotetraodon travancoricus - Dwarf puffer. They max out at around an inch, and my pinned topic on them is at the top of this forum.
Colomesus asellus - South american puffer. Max out at 4" and are mostly timid enough to cohabit with other creatures. They're considered to be the most "community compatible" of all puffer species, and in my experience I would agree. However, their teeth grow very fast. Well worth feeding them a diet mainly of snails. In the wild they school together, so keeping them in schools is preferred if possible. a 30g tank could house 3, but I wouldn't keep one in less than 20g. They're fast moving and very active. If you see these fish in a store, you will recognise them as swimming bumblebees.
Tetraodon cochinchinensis - Fangs puffer. Max out at 4" also, and are quite often shy fish. Don't mix these with anything at all. Very aggressive for it's size, one of the most aggressive fishes I've kept. It will attack my hand in the aquarium. These recommendations also suit most target puffers.
Tetraodon Miurus - Congo puffer. Gets up to 6inches, very aggressive, but as it is an ambush fish, won't swim around a whole lot. Come in red morphs, and bury themselves. Can be tricky to start feeding. If you can, offer it mussell or cockle on the end of a blunted skewer.
Tetraodon palembangensis - - King kong puffer. Also an ambush fish. Come in different colour morphs ranging from red to black. 30g and upwards for these. Long shallow tanks are better tan tall thin ones. Don't keep with anything edible.
Tetraodon suvattii - The arrowhead or pignose puffer. These fish are very aggressive also, and are ambush predators. Similar care as king kong puffer.
Tetraodon lineatus - The fahaka puffer. These are considered to be the most aggressive of all puffers, but as ever, temperament can be different. Certainly don't keep on with anything you value. They grow up to 20" long, and you'll need a tank at least 100g for these, 4x2x2.
Tetraodon mbu - This fish can reach 24" in length, are very active, and are very popular. Sadly few people can provide the tanks they need. Tanks 3 feet wide are a prerequisite for these fish in the long term.
Tetraodon nigroviridis - Green spotted puffer (GSP)or leopard puffer. These fish grow to around 6", and require high brackish water as they get bigger. A lot of people keep them in seawater, because it means they can also use protein skimmers, live rock etc to clean their water up. Look at tanks 55g and up.
Tetraodon fluviatilis - Ceylon puffer or Topaz puffer. These fish have similar requirements to the GSP, and get to around the same size.
Tetraodon biocellatus - Figure 8 puffer. Figure 8 puffers live in fresh water in the wild, but do best in brackish water tanks in aquaria. These fish can do well in tanks of 15g or more, and get on well with bumblebee gobies as tankmates.
As you can see, there are far more freshwater species traded than brackish. In brackish water, tankmates are even more limited, as the previously listed tankmates typically don't do well in brackish water.
So, in short, most puffers are aggressive, need species tanks, and won't eat prepared food. They typically need to be overfiltered, in large-ish tanks, and need to be given specific care. While this might sound like a big deal, all of this is wiped out by the joy you can get from keeping these great fish. They're personable, cute, and real conversation starters with people who aren't even into fish.
Thanks for making it this far,