7 Best Freshwater Pufferfish for Aquarium
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Pufferfish are some of the most widely beloved tank fish for a variety of reasons. One of them is their ability to inflate, but this feature caters primarily to the uninitiated.
Being more well-versed in pufferfish, you most likely appreciate them for their personalities and outstanding intelligence, among other things.
If you’re not that familiar with pufferfish, you’re in the right place. Today, we will discuss the 7 most popular pufferfish species to help you understand what you actually need for your tank.
So, let’s get it going!
1. MBU Pufferfish
We’re starting the list in style. The MBU pufferfish is a legitimate monster, measuring up to 30 inches when kept in good condition.
Its name alone is a clear indicator of the magnitude of its nature. The Tetraodon mbu sounds like a long-forgotten sea monster that used to hunt and eat whales.
The MBU pufferfish hasn’t really achieved that feature yet, but it doesn’t seem too far from it, either.
This fish is quite easy to identify thanks to its bulky-flat body with small fins and the staple leopard pattern.
The MBU pufferfish has smaller and more spread-apart eyes compared to other pufferfish, giving it a somewhat funny-looking face.
In good conditions, the MBU pufferfish can live up to 10 years in captivity. These include temperatures of around 72-79 F, a pH between 7.0 and 8.0, and water hardness of up to 25 dGH.
You need at least 500 gallons to house this water beast, but you may need to go for double that in case of extremely large specimens.
MBU puffers are not recommended to beginners for 3 primary reasons:
- The need for too much space – This fish requires more space than any novice aquarist can handle. Your typical MBU pufferfish requires in excess of 500-600 gallons to remain happy and healthy. Such a space should also accommodate the tank layout, which includes some rocks, driftwood, and several hardy plants that the pufferfish won’t hesitate to destroy.
- The extreme sensitivity to water quality – MBU puffers are very sensitive to degrading environmental conditions. This is primarily due to the fish’s lack of scales, putting its smooth and soft skin at risk of parasitic and bacterial infections. The fish is also sensitive to ammonia and nitrites, so you need to keep their habitat in pristine conditions to prevent health problems.
- The diet – MBU puffers rank as molluscivores. This is another name for carnivorous fish that enjoy shelled animals like crabs, mussels, clams, etc. Their diet is strictly carnivorous, and if that isn’t enough, these puffers will rarely accept anything other than live food. They can consume frozen food at times, provided proper preparation is ensured. But MBU puffers require shelled animals to chew on so that they can keep their beak in shape.
Only take on an MBU puffer if you’re already experienced with puffers or, at least, tank fish in general.
2. Dwarf Pea Puffer
The dwarf pea puffer sits on the opposite end when compared to the MBU pufferfish. If the MBU ranked as the largest pufferfish available, the pea puffer ranks as the smallest.
This species only grows up to 1 inch, although most specimens won’t get that far. Your typical pea puffer will remain below 0.9 inches which is amazing given the amount of water these fish need.
You require at least 10 gallons for just one pea puffer, which is a preposterous ratio when we think of the average gallon-per-fish ratio that applies to other species.
Guppies, for instance, only require around 2 gallons per fish, and they can grow up to 2.5 inches.
The dwarf pea puffer is easy to identify. The small body showcases a dark pattern to aid with camouflage, and the fish comes with oversized, independent eyes for a plus of personality.
These fish are fairly easy to accommodate in terms of water quality. The ideal temperature is around 74-82 F with a pH range of 6.5-8.0. A filter is necessary to keep the fish healthy but mind the filtration power.
These fish don’t appreciate fast-moving waters as it can cause them significant discomfort.
We’ve already determined that you need around 10 gallons of water for one puffer due to the fish’s territorial and violent behavior. Pea puffers are aggressive towards each other, especially if there isn’t sufficient space for all of them. Fortunately, there are ways around it.
You can keep a group of 5-7 puffers in a 20-gallon setup with some logistics work. Just make sure that there are plenty of hiding areas for your puffers to retreat to in case of need.
This will help them avoid conflicts and defuse tensions should they arise. And they will arise; these are puffers, after all.
Avoid keeping pea puffers with any other tank mates. These aggressive fish won’t back down from bullying and attacking other species, no matter their size. It’s not worth the risk.
3. Amazon Puffer
This is another relatively small pufferfish, although not as small as the pea puffer. Amazon puffers can grow up to 4 inches and are easy to identify.
The fish comes with a bumblebee pattern and showcases a robust and compact body with bulgy and spread-apart eyes, pufferfish-style.
These pufferfish can live up to 10 years and require approximately 30-50 gallons for optimal housing. Amazon puffers are more energetic and active than your typical pufferfish, which equals more opportunities for territorial fights.
I recommend going for 50+ gallons to minimize your pufferfish’s aggression.
Regarding water quality, the standard applies. The ideal temperature is 72-82 F with a pH of 6.0-8.0 and water hardness of 20 dGH.
Stable water conditions and high water quality are necessary to keep the Amazon puffer in good health.
The Amazon puffer is among the few pufferfish that qualify for community setups. The idea is to avoid long-fined slow swimmers that the pufferfish could bully whenever it pleases.
And it will please a lot, given that it has pufferfish blood running through its veins. This species is also aggressive and territorial, so always monitor your fish dynamics to prevent extreme tension.
As an interesting point, Amazon puffers are known for what’s called glass surfing. This behavior describes the fish swimming along the tank wall in all directions.
It isn’t unclear why the pufferfish does that, but there are some theories. Some suggest that the behavior relates to stress, hunger, territoriality, or poor water conditions.
So, you might try addressing those potential problems to solve the issue.
4. Eyespot Puffer
Eyespot puffers make up for the cutest entry on this list. These small fish, only growing up to 2.5 inches, have oval-shaped and robust bodies and bulky eyes.
They showcase a leopard pattern and very small fins, making the fish look like a colored balloon floating in the water.
Don’t let this cute appearance fool you, though. Eyespot puffers are aggressive and territorial and won’t hesitate to attack other fish on sight.
The ideal water conditions include a temperature range of 72-79 F, water hardness up to 12 dGH, and a pH level of 7.0-8.0.
You need at least 15 gallons to accommodate one specimen, preferably with a hybrid setup, mixing hiding areas with open swimming spaces.
This isn’t a great choice for novice puffer lovers for several reasons, such as:
- The need for strict hard-shelled live food
- The fish doesn’t breed in captivity, and sexing eyespot puffers is nearly impossible
- Your puffer won’t adapt to a community setup, unless by ‘adapt’ you mean ‘will kill and attack everything’
- These fish are very intelligent and require a diverse tank layout to keep them busy and entertained
Eyespot puffers rank as some of the most demanding pufferfish on this list. Their dietary needs take the first spot in terms of difficulty.
Eyespot puffers only eat live foods and nothing else. Training them to accept frozen food is nearly impossible, and flake and dried foods are out of the question.
These fish are also very aggressive eaters and often destroy plants when feeding.
5. Fahaka Puffer
Fahaka puffer is a special fish on a list of special fish. This pufferfish can grow up to 18 inches and demands at least 100 gallons of water to thrive.
Few species of pufferfish are more recognizable than the Fahaka. This pufferfish comes with an elongated and thick body paired with a large tail fin.
Fahakas showcase a stripped pattern allowing them to become nearly invisible in rocky and planted habitats.
The most noticeable feature is the fish’s mouth which is constantly semi-open due to the large and ominous-looking teeth.
This fish is carnivorous and needs to consume a lot more food than your medium-sized pufferfish. It’s also worth noting that Fahaka puffers are extremely messy eaters due to their aggression and feeding energy that they put out.
Aim for water temperatures of 75-82 F and a pH of 7.0-8.0. Good water quality and stable water parameters are necessary to keep the Fahaka in good health.
Fahaka pufferfish are poisonous animals. Their skin and flesh contain tetrodotoxin which protects the fish from predators.
This powerful neurotoxin inflicts paralysis, leading to suffocation and death. So, you should never touch the fish or, at least, use latex gloves if you need to.
Be careful about the fish’s feeding frenzy. These water monsters are infamous for their ability to destroy their environment when feeding. Plants are at great risk in this sense.
6. Red Eye Puffer
The red eye puffer is unlike any pufferfish you’ve ever seen. For one, this fish doesn’t look like a pufferfish at all.
It’s small, only capable of reaching 2.5-3 inches and comes with a torpedo-like body with various color and pattern schematics. Some red eye puffers showcase one color, while others come with intricate patterns, mixing black, green, yellow, and red.
However, they all have one main feature in common, and that’s the red eyes. The only thing that identifies this fish as a puffer is the flat head with bulbous, side-placed eyes.
Besides that, the fish looks quite innocuous, with many aquarists mistaking it for a more benign species. And that’s not a mistake you want to be making.
Ideal water conditions include water temperature around 75-82 F and a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. A filter is necessary to preserve the fish’s water quality, and so is a good and steady maintenance routine.
This puffer cannot be paired with any other fish species, including other red eye puffers.
They are far too aggressive for that. In fact, red eye puffers rank among the most aggressive pufferfish in existence which says something.
Only have one red eye puffer per tank and provide the fish with at least 10 gallons. A water tester kit is necessary to monitor and help preserve the tank’s water quality.
These fish are notoriously sensitive to poor water conditions.
7. Congo Puffer
We close this list with another special entry: the Congo puffer (Tetraodon miurus). If the name doesn’t sound familiar, try the potato puffer.
This fish can reach 6-7 inches when mature and showcase a round, bulky, and slightly elongated body that resembles a meaty potato.
All Congo puffers showcase the typical spotted pattern and a variety of colors, ranging from grey to yellow, red, and even light blue.
This fish requires at least 40 gallons per specimen with otherwise standard water values.
Aim for temperatures around 75-82 °F and a pH of 6.5-7.5. Peak water quality is vital, but you’ve probably already seen this coming.
Congo puffers can change color based on their environment, which is one of the fish’s main selling points. Another one is the fish’s anatomy and hunting behavior.
Congo puffers have mouths slightly bent upwards; a feature that turns the pufferfish into an apt ambush predator.
Congo puffers are known to bury themselves in the substrate, only leaving their heads and mouths out. They then use suction to trap any passing prey.
Pufferfish rank among the most interesting fish species but also among the most violent.
I’ve only detailed 7 of them in today’s article, but there are many more to consider; over 120, to be more exact.
If you’re interested in pufferfish, keep in mind these 4 basic facts about them:
- They are aggressive
- They only eat live food
- They require shelled prey to grind their teeth and control their never-ending growth
- They are sensitive and require pristine water quality to thrive
If you think you’re up to the task, feel free to test puffers out and let me know how it worked out.