Important General Guide to Puffer Care

pinkfloydpuffer

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The puffer: A delightful and unique fish. Generally club shaped with big eyes, round tummy, and brimming with curiosity. They look cuddly, but they’re killing machines! Well-known for their unique ability to fill up with water and puff up to over twice their natural size. Most species also have spines that will stick out when inflated.

Rules that apply to all puffers:

Food:
1. They need lots of snails and other hard-shelled foods in their diet to wear down their fast-growing teeth.
2. Puffers will beg endlessly for food like you’ve never seen a fish beg. Don’t give in though. Even though they can eat more than their weight of food into their bellies doesn’t mean they should. Their stomachs should be nicely rounded, but not bulging.
3. Puffers need meaty foods. They won’t eat veggie food, so don’t even try. Flakes and pellets will most likely not be accepted. The best diet for them is varied live and frozen crustaceans and meaty foods (such as bloodworms, black worms, etc) in addition to snails
4. Do not use feeder fish! They are riddled with disease, and don’t give the puffers proper nutrition. The only reason I’d ever justify using them is if you raised them yourself, and only used them once in a great while as a special treat.

Diseases and stress problems:
1. Pretty much all puffers are wild caught, and thus will come in with internal parasites. It is best to de-worm them right when you get them.
2. Puffers are scaleless, and as such, are sensitive to medications and water quality. Never use copper-containing products in their aquarium.
3. You never ever ever want to see your puffer puff up. They only do so when under extreme stress as a last-ditch effort. This will more than likely end in fatality for your puffer.
4. If a puffer dies in your tank, don’t let any other fish nibble at it, as they contain the infamous tetraodotoxin that kills many sushI eaters every year, so it’ll also kill your other fish.

Tank setup:
1. Puffers are messy eaters, and most times can’t have bottom dwelling algae eaters. You will have to remove algae by hand and use extra filtration to make up for the excess food waste.
2. Keep the tank covered. Puffers are jumpers.
3. Sand substrate is best. However, don’t be tempted to use Malaysian Trumpet Snails, as their extra hard shells will likely break your puffer’s teeth and make it unable to eat.
4. They are very intelligent and curious, and thus appreciate lots of planting and complex decorating for them to weave through and explore. A bored puffer will just go up and down the glass.
5. They need much more space than the 1” per gallon rule. (I personally never use that rule anyways, I think it’s too flawed)
6. Weekly waterchanges are necessary.

Tank Mates:
1. They will not take kindly to most tankmates.
2. Always be prepared to take drastic measures when keeping more than one puffer or any other fish with your puffer. Most other fish will just be killed, and some puffers don’t like to have other puffers with them.
3. Don’t mix puffers of different sizes or species. The smaller and/or less aggressive ones will soon be dead or injured.

Breeding:
1. Puffers are rarely successfully bred in captivity. Most can’t even be sexed. If you ever have success, be sure to record everything you did and observe so you can share it with the puffer keeping community and advance our knowledge of breeding these wonderful fish.

From the store to your home:
1. If you are taken by a puffer at the store, resist the urge to impulse buy. Only get a puffer after heavy research. They are not fish for the unprepared and inexperienced.
2. When selecting a puffer, look for one with clear eyes, round belly, good coloring, and good activity. A grey, shrunken-in puffer sitting on the bottom or swimming slow and awkwardly is very sick and will likely not survive the stress of being rehomed to your aquarium.
3. They should always be added to only very established aquariums. NEVER cycle with a puffer. Zero nitrites and ammonia, and low nitrates are necessary at all times.
4. When transporting puffers, do not remove them from the water. This may cause them to puff with air instead of water, which is even harder for them to expel than water, especially when they get back in the water and the water pressure pushes on them. Instead, direct them into a bag or some other container of water to transport. You can net them, place the container of water beneath the puffer, and THEN remove the container with puffer inside the water. Then you can transfer the puffer with minimal water being poured from the old aquarium to the new, by putting in the container tipped so one side is just barely not taking in water, and then slide the net with the puffer into the tank.

Companionship:
1. Give your puffer lots of attention. They love getting attention from their owners, and will come to greet you whenever they see you. They will recognize their owners and will learn quickly from you.
2. Puffers make the best companion fish a person could ask for, and with proper care many (not all) species can live 10 years or much more.

A few notes on common species:

Green spotted puffer: These fish are commonly sold as freshwater, but are certainly not. They need brackish, and slowly raising the salinity over the years will improve their health greatly. They can even eventually be brought to full saltwater, and they thrive there. They look small when first bought, but will get large and need a minimum of 30 gallons per puff.

Figure 8 Puffers: At first they seem very similar to green spotted puffers. However, they only need a light brackish tank, and stay smaller than the gsps. Minimum of 15 gallons per puffer.

Dwarf puffers: Pure freshwater fish. They are tiny and look innocent, but are very territorial. One of the few puffers that can be sexed without dissection. 5 gallons per puffer.

Amazon puffer (aka South American): The most peaceful of puffers, but it’s still a puffer nonetheless, and can get quite nasty. Their teeth grow incredibly fast compared to other puffers. Even with a daily diet of snails, they will more than likely need to have their teeth manually trimmed one to three times a year. The problem with this is the repeated use of clove oil as an anesthetic has been shown to cause serious problems and eventually death in puffers. Minimum of 15 gallons per puffer.

There are many more species of fresh and brackish puffers, but these are the most commonly seen ones in the aquarium trade, and also the smallest.

Remember to research research research when considering a puffer, and enjoy your wonderful fish!
 

Lucy

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Great job PFP.
It's full of good information for future puffer owners.
 

sticky fish

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This is another wonderful post brought to us by the Queen of Puffers
All Hail Pinkfloydpuffer
 

almightyfish

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Yup totally makes me want to get a puffer tank. Always been fascinated with them and LOVED seeing them in the wild in Australia! Maybe after I buy a house...
 

LyndaB

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What a thorough post PFPuffer! Thank you for putting together this very valuable information.

I've always loved puffers and they remain on my "wish list", however, due to some of the information here, they may stay there for a while. I don't believe I'm experienced enough to venture into puffer fishkeeping just yet.
 

angelfish5765

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I have 2 baby green spotted puffers in a 55 gallon with my african cichlids. They get along great. No probs with the puffers whatsoever. They are seriously cute and love to greet me every time I walk up to the tank.
 

JRC3

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Terrance

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Update: trimming can be done safely with clove oil or a MS222. Safe and accepted by the puffer community for puffer teeth trimming.

GSP will never reach full length and live a shorter life if kept in freshwater or low-mid brackish water. They require at least high-end brackish environment. The expense of weekly 50% pwc in brackish water will exceed the cost of monthly ~40% pwc saltwater tank. The obvious choice is to give GSP full marine water by the time it reaches at least 3inch in length. Also 30 gallon min is not big enough. 40 gallon is the new minimum.
 

Lucy

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emmynk's question has been moved to a thread of it's own for more exposure:
 

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