The freshwater puffer fish species are 30 in number. They are difficult to care for and they are aggressive too. In the wild, they produce poison by gathering the bacteria from their environment. However, in captivity, this is not possible as they do not have that kind of bacteria. This beginner’s guide will give you an overall insight of how to take care of these freshwater puffer fishes.

PufferFish – Overview

Common NameThey are called Puffers, balloon fish, blowfish, blowies, bubblefish, toad fish, swellfish, etc.,
Scientific NameAll the Puffer fishes belong to the family Tetraodontidae.
Habitat or OriginThey are found in South East Asia, India, Africa, and Bangladesh. Their habitat is tropical freshwater like rivers and lakes.
Average SizeThere are different species. The smallest of the species- dwarf Puffers grow up to 1 inch whereas the Mbu Freshwater puffer can grow up to 24 inches.
ColorationThese fishes come in a variety of colors like grey, yellow, white and blue, and brown.
Life SpanUnder proper condition, Puffers can live up to 10 years. They also need a proper diet for their healthy survival.
DietThey are omnivorous. They can be fed with live or frozen food and also dried meat. Lancet fish or whitebait fish can be given to them. 2 inches species should be fed every day. 2-4 inches fishes should be fed once in two days. 4 and above inches fishes should be fed 2 or 3 times a week. Do not overfeed the fishes.
Gender IdentificationMale puffers have a yellow belly and dark belly stripe. These features are not seen in females.
BehaviorThey have the ability to puff up to defend themselves from being attacked. Once they puff up, spines come out from their body. Their most typical behavior is predating. They hunt their prey by hiding themselves or ambushing and then attacking or just swimming over the substrate or other decors. They are also fin-nippers. They also have the habit of spitting water over the surface of the decors to find hidden prey. They also spit at the owners so as to ask for food.
CompatibilityPuffers of any species are really aggressive. Hence it is best to keep them alone in the tank. Some Puffers like South American and Ceylon puffers can be kept in small groups of their own kind.
Ideal Tank ConditionsThe tank should be kept really clean as these fishes produce a lot of waste. They need a proper filtration system that can produce a low water current. A double filtration system with heaters and special lighting is preferable. It is better to have rocks and plants in the tank. But for Ambush predator species, the soft substrate is a must. The size of the tank depends on the size of the species. This starts from 10 gallons for dwarf puffers, red tailed dwarf puffers, and Imitator Puffer to 500 gallons for Mbu Puffer fishes. In between, 40 gallons can be used to accommodate Congo, South American, and crested Puffers. Golden Puffer can be kept in 125 gallons of the water tank.
Water ParametersThe water temperature can be from 74 – 78 degrees F. the pH level can be 7.0 – 7.6. The water should be free of nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. Hence 50% of the water should be changed weekly.
BreedingBreeding Puffers are really difficult. Every species require different parameters. Even if all the parameters are met, the breeding pair is really difficult to find. Fortunately, if the breeding pairs are available, the frying needs extra care and those fries require special conditions again. Feeding the juveniles with infusoria and brine shrimp is the only easy task in breeding.
Common DiseasesPuffers do not have scales on their body. Hence they are susceptible to ich. They are also prone to ectoparasites. Any new addition to the aquarium is a potential carrier of bacteria. Hence it is important to sanitize them well.
Approximate CostThe most expensive specimen of Puffers is the Mbu pufferfish which costs around $100. They are also pufferfishes which cost only a few dollars.
What to look when buyingJust check if the puffer looks healthy. As these fishes are fin nippers, check if their fins are in proper condition.
Species in the MarketMbu puffer fish is the most expensive one. Crested puffer, Dwarf puffer, and red-tailed dwarf puffer are other species available in the market.

Gallery of PufferFish


  1. Moelants, T.; Ntakimazi, G. (2010). Tetraodon mbuIUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  2.  doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-3.RLTS.T182314A7857179.en.
  3. Froese, Rainer, and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). Tetraodon mbu