This complete guide to freshwater puffer fish will show you some of the most common puffers kept as pets and how to give them the best possible care.
- Types of freshwater puffer fish
- How to care for freshwater puffer fish
- What do freshwater puffer fish eat?
- Are freshwater puffer fish aggressive?
There are around 30 freshwater puffer fish that are commonly kept as pets. However, they aren’t the best choice for a novice owner. They are very sensitive to water quality and variations, and often don’t suit aquariums with other fish. They need plenty of space, and a varied, nutritious diet. So, owners will need to do plenty of research before bringing a freshwater puffer fish home!
Freshwater Puffer Fish Information
Puffer fish are becoming popular pets for experienced fish owners! Though there are over 120 different puffer fish species, there are only 29 freshwater varieties. The other types live in either salt or brackish water (which is less salty than salt water, but more so than fresh water!).
Puffer fish get their name from their ability to puff up and increase their size almost twice over. This is a defence mechanism which makes their spines more prominent, and makes them harder for predators to attack and eat. Puffer fish also contain a toxin called tetrodotoxin and use multiple fins to propel themselves steadily through the water.
Types of Freshwater Puffer Fish
There are 29 freshwater puffer fish species. So, there are a lot to choose from! Each of them differ in size, appearance, and specific care needs. These factors can help you decide which type is best for you. Here is a closer look at a few of the different freshwater puffer fish types to get you started on your search.
Dwarf Puffer Fish
As its name suggests, the dwarf puffer is a very small fish. In most cases, this little fish will be no more than an inch long, though there will be some natural variation in size from one puffer to another. Despite their small size, Dwarf puffers need plenty of space to swim. This freshwater puffer is a little easier to care for than many other types, so it is a popular option for people looking to bring home a puffer. And, it has wonderful bright coloring, which is lovely to look at as it swims around!
The Congo puffer is a slightly larger option that comes from Africa. These fish grow to be around 6 inches, so they require plenty of space to swim in. And, since they are very sensitive to water quality, you will need a good filter system. Congo puffers come in a wide range of colors, but are best suited to experienced owners.
The Fahaka puffer fish will reach around 15 inches in length when they’re fully grown, so will need a very large tank. This puffer fish is also called the Nile puffer. These fish are very aggressive, so won’t suit novice owners or aquariums with other fish. In fact, they may even try to bite your fingers during feeding times, so it can be wise to invest in a pair of tongs!
Like all puffers, the MBU puffer fish will need to be in a tank with a great filtration system, as they are very sensitive to water quality and nitrates. Though they can be quite small when they’re young, this variety of puffer fish can grow to an impressive 25 inches! But, this means they need a huge amount of space. So, they won’t suit most homes. Generally, this variety is best for experienced puffer owners that have a lot of room to dedicate to their habitat.
Red Eye Puffer
As you might have guessed, the Red Eye puffer fish are named for their red eyes! They are similar in size to Dwarf puffer fish, often reaching between 1 and 2 inches in length. But, unlike the Dwarf puffer, Redeye puffer fish tend to be quite aggressive. So, they usually won’t be able to live with other fish. Despite their small size, they also need plenty of space.
South American Puffer
The final freshwater puffer fish we’ll look at today is the South American puffer. This puffer is sometimes called the Amazon puffer. It tends to reach around 5 inches, but still needs plenty of space to swim around in. One of the most popular features of this puffer is their bright gold and black striped pattern. The exact appearance of these will differ from one fish to the next!
How to Care for Freshwater Puffer Fish
Freshwater puffer fish aren’t the best choice for first-time fish owners, because their care needs are quite complex. Despite their varied sizes, all puffers need plenty of space to swim around in. Though some of the smaller, less active varieties will be okay in a 5 gallon tank, they will still be happiest in a larger tank. And, some of the larger species will need well over 100 gallons, which can be unfeasible in a lot of homes.
The exact tank size will depend on the puffer you choose, and the number of fish contained in the habitat. Choosing a tank that is too small can result in unhappy fish and increased aggression.
Setting up the Tank
Inside your tank, you’ll need a safe, soft substrate, since some puffer species like to dig and hide in their substrate. You can also include pebbles and rocks for some variety. On top of this, you’ll need to include plenty of safe vegetation, and hiding places, like little caves. But, make sure there is still a lot of open space for your puffer to swim in.
You will need a very good filtration system for your tank, as all puffer fish are sensitive to water quality and nitrate levels. The pH of your tank water should stay between 7.0 and 7.6. Ideal temperatures will range from 74℉ to 78℉.
What do Freshwater Puffer Fish Eat?
Freshwater puffer fish are omnivorous, though many owners report that they prefer eating meat and insects to vegetation. This is why it can be problematic to house them with other small fish. Even though they are quite slow and steady swimmers, puffer fish are likely to eat other fish you house them with – especially any slow swimmers that are smaller than them.
You’ll need to provide your puffer fish with a varied diet that fits their nutritional need. It can help to find a veterinarian who specializes in fish to help you plan this. But, make sure to remove any uneaten food from your tank, as this can impact the nitrate levels in your water.
Hard foods are important, as puffer fish teeth will continuously grow. Hard foods like snails, crustaceans and shellfish will help to grind down their teeth as they eat. If you let their teeth get too long, you may need to clip them yourself. Leaving their teeth to grow too long will cause problems such as making it hard for your puffer to eat.
Are Freshwater Puffer Fish Aggressive?
Aggression levels will vary in different puffer fish species. Some, like the Fahaka puffers or Red Eye puffers are known for being quite aggressive. They are best suited living alone, but may still bite at your fingers when feeding them! Others, like the Dwarf puffer are known to be more friendly and docile, but they could still bite at the fins of other fish.
To get a better idea of aggression levels, research the specific puffer fish you’re interested in. It’s also a good idea to reach out to other puffer owners and get their opinions on specific species temperaments.
Freshwater Puffer Fish – A Summary
Are you thinking about bringing home a freshwater puffer fish? These little fish can make great pets for experienced and dedicated owners. Some pufferfish breeds can be trained and many will start to recognise your face over time, particularly during feeding time! They have some quite specific care needs, including plenty of space. But, in the right home, this little pet can be a great choice.
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References and Resources
- Petty, B. & Francis-Floyd, R. ‘Pet Fish Care and Husbandry’, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice (2004)
- Petty, B. & Francis-Floyd, R. ‘Overview of Aquarium Fishes’, MSD Manual Veterinary Manual (2015)
- Quigley, D. ‘Puffer-Fish in Irish Waters’, Sherkin Comment (2002)
- Plaut, I. & Chen, T. ‘How Small Puffers (Teleostei: Tetraodontidae) Swim’, Ichthyological Research (2003)
- Amaral, C. (et al), ‘A New Cryptic Species of South American Freshwater Pufferfish of the Genus Colomesus (Tetradontidae), Based on Both Morphology and DNA Data’, Plos One (2013)