Interesting Facts About Puffer Fish

Puffer fish

There are about 200 species of fish belong to the puffer fish family (Tetraodontidae = four teeth). The smallest of these is the dwarf puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) which measures just 2 cm, while the giant puffer fish (Arothron stellatus) can reach a diameter of 120 cm. Puffer fish belongs to the bony fish.

Appearance of the puffer fish

The puffer fish has a rounded shape, exactly like a ball, which clearly differentiates it from other fish. It has an oval and compact body. Head and eyes are very prominent, the mouth forms a beak and has two rows of upper and lower teeth. The skin is completely smooth, without plates or badges, but with very short spines arranged in longitudinal series.

The puffer fish moves forward via the thoracic fins, while the dorsal and anal fin act as a rudder, directing the movement forward. Use your side fins to propel yourself. The movement of the puffer fish fascinates aquarists, especially for its ability to suddenly change from forward to backward movements.

The best known species of puffer fish

The best known species of puffer fish suitable for aquarium life are:

South American freshwater puffer fish (Colomesus asellus)

Congo puffer fish (Tetraodon miurus)

Figure 8 puffer fish (Tetraodon biocellatus)

Dwarf puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

Fahaka puffer fish (Tetraodon lineatus)

Tetraodon kretamensis is difficult to distinguish from Tetraodon nigroverides, the green puffer fish, and is considered in some books as a species in its own right.

The different species of puffer fish are born in fresh waters, although the adult specimens live in brackish waters and close to coral reefs. For this reason, it may happen that a seawater puffer is marketed as a freshwater puffer or as a green or Palembang puffer.

The freshwater puffer fish, Tetraodon Palembangesis, is very aggressive and could kill its tank mates. Palembang puffer fish is 6cm long and is definitely the most beautiful and popular pufferfish. In nature it lives in fresh and brackish waters, but in the aquarium it should be kept in brackish water, since fresh water is more prone to the spread of diseases. It is a peaceful fish and a lover of snails.

The South American puffer fish is a freshwater species very suitable for coexistence with other fish. This peaceful-natured puffer is relatively small and reaches a length of 8cm. However, it should not be confused with Colomesus psittacus, the Amazonian puffer fish, which is instead a brackish water fish that can reach 30 cm in length. Its natural habitat is the Amazon basin.

Tetraodon cochinchinensis is a fascinating freshwater fish that however has special needs: it is very aggressive towards its peers and therefore requires a large aquarium. In nature it populates the waters of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Poison of the puffer fish

Most puffers are toxic. It is, in fact, one of the most poisonous marine species due to a toxin present in the animal's entrails, the tetrodotoxin, which paralyzes the muscles leading quickly to death by asphyxiation. The victim, despite being completely paralyzed, can be conscious until shortly before death. This powerful neurotoxin is used by the animal exclusively as a defense mechanism and is synthesized not by the fish itself, but by some bacterial species contained in the crustaceans and molluscs it feeds on. It is mainly present in the liver and gonads and its concentration can differ from specimen to specimen, although it is greater during the egg-laying period.

Natural habitat of the puffer fish

In nature, the puffer fish is widespread in tropical areas, where it inhabits coral reefs and marine areas along the coasts of Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia and India. Only a few species live in fresh or brackish waters.

Feeding of puffer fish in nature

The puffer fish is a shy animal that avoids contact with humans. It only bites if it feels threatened. With its very strong beaked teeth it can easily break corals, the carapace of crabs and the shells of molluscs. In addition to snails, it also feeds on worms and sponges. By emitting strong jets of water, it is able to find prey hidden under the sand. The puffer fish moves slowly, but it is also very smart. 

When it feels threatened, in fact, it is able to swell, considerably increasing its volume. To do this, it quickly enters water through the mouth and pushes it thanks to its powerful muscles into the diverticulum, a sort of closed pouch located in the stomach. At the same time the quills, usually adherent to the body, open, transforming the fish into a ball of thorns capable of inflicting serious injuries on any attackers. It is an exceptional defense technique that usually dissuades predators from attacking it. 

Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau discovered that puffers manage to swell even in the mouth of sharks, remaining anchored there and thus leading the enemy to death by asphyxiation. On the other hand, if the puffer fish swells out of the water, taking air into the diverticulum, it could quickly suffocate. For this reason, humans should not provoke this reaction, which causes enormous stress for the animal.

Feeding the puffer fish in the aquarium

Puffer fish has a fairly varied diet that requires some little effort. Snails are the main source of nourishment of this species which with its beak manages to break the shell of crustaceans and the shells of molluscs. If you don't like taking snails in your hand to put them in the aquarium, then puffer fish are definitely not the right animal to adopt. Puffer's teeth are growing all the time and they need hard food to help keep them the right size. Otherwise they would grow excessively, risking starving the animal.

Puffer fish are not particularly fond of flake food and prefer live or frozen food. It is advisable to give him mixtures of krill, shellfish pulp, brine shrimp for fish and other small crustaceans as well as red mosquito and other insect larvae. Some species also feed on fish. Even more important is choosing a tank that is adequate for the needs of the puffer. Coexistence in the aquarium with cichlids is absolutely not indicated, as the puffer fish would tend to inhibit itself and become inappetent.

Raising puffer fish in the aquarium

Depending on the variety, this fish must be kept in sea, brackish or fresh water.

Being greedy for snails, one might think that introducing it in an aquarium populated by these animals represents the ideal solution but, in reality, it is advisable to look elsewhere for the causes of the increase in the presence of snails in the aquarium and remedy them differently. The ideal temperature for puffer fish is between 22 ° C and 28 ° C, the pH value should fluctuate between 6.0 and 7.5 and the water has a hardness of 5 and 15 ° dGH. For freshwater puffers, the pH should be neutral and the water hardness between 8 and 15 ° dGH.

For beginners it is advisable to start with an easy-to-manage variety, such as Palembang. The South American freshwater pufferfish (Chelichthys asellus or Colomesus asellus) and the Indian pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) are also easy to keep in the aquarium. Puffers should, as a rule, be kept in a species aquarium dedicated only to them, in which snails are kept separately. The latter can of course also be collected in nature (for example with the help of traps).

Puffers need a lot of hiding places, consisting of aquarium decorations. It is recommended to recreate a substrate of sand in your aquarium as these fish like to create hillocks and dips in the sand. Since they are not suitable for being placed in community aquariums, connoisseurs usually tend to set up a mono-species tank.

The breeding of puffer fish in the aquarium, except for some subspecies, is not suitable for beginners. In fact, it is necessary to already be familiar with the world of fish. This species has very specific needs that will be less complex for those who already have experience. The composition of the water is essential for the growth of the puffer fish. A brackish water specimen that is kept in a freshwater aquarium will invariably tend to atrophy. However, there are species that live both in freshwater biotopes, both in seawater and brackish water, such as Tetraodontidae fluviatilis and Tetraodontidae biocellatus. In this case, we recommend that you vary the salt concentration, even if this is not strictly necessary.

Specimens acclimatized and kept permanently in fresh water may be prone to aquarium fish diseases such as fungal eye infections. If changes in salinity are made, it is important to ensure that the availability of oxygen in the fresh water phase is high, by moving the surface of the water or by using special oxygenation systems for aquariums.

Puffer fish health

The puffer fish is not a very delicate fish, but it can become apathetic following stressful events or if the conditions of the environment in which it lives are not optimal. Setting up the aquarium is essential when adopting one of these fish, as the characteristics of each subspecies must be taken into account. The green puffer fish tends to become aggressive and therefore needs a tank of at least 120 m in length, able to offer it full freedom of movement and various hiding places. Furthermore, it is important not to let the puffer fish lack snails: in the absence of this food source, it tends, in fact, to nibble the fins of other fish to file its teeth. If raised correctly, puffer fish can have a life expectancy of 20 years or more. Dwarf puffer fish lives an average of 5 years. The fish will live longer if placed in an aquarium with high water quality and fed correctly.

Remember that the presence of black spots on the belly is a symptom of deteriorating health. Like many of its peers, the Palembang puffer has a very fast metabolism. Always keep in mind that if the aquarium water is not filtered properly, the fish could get sick.

Inflated Puffer Fish

Suitable puffer fish for your aquarium

Puffers can be purchased in various stores and also from online retailers. The Carinotetraodon, the Tetraodon and the Colomesus are among the most widespread and suitable varieties for life in the aquarium. These fish quickly become familiar and easily accustomed to the daily rhythms of feeding.

If kept in groups they can develop different social behaviors. For some species, brackish water is better suited to ensure a longer life expectancy. Other species and subspecies prefer fresh water, although most of the animals on the market are brackish water fish; they live in fresh waters during their youth and then move on to brackish waters in adulthood. In these waters or in marine waters they reach sexual maturity. Coexistence with own peers or with other fish can work if the aquarium is well set up and maintained correctly. Their tank mates must be peaceful, but also able to defend themselves. For example, large puffers can coexist well with Corydoras and spotted silver dollar fish. The smaller species are compatible with poeciliids and carpiforms.

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