The Freshwater Puffer Fish, scientifically known as Tetraodontidae, is a chubby yet cute-looking fish that are found in most parts of the world. It can be a bit challenging to keep them, but the experience is overall rewarding. They are popular for their ability to puff themselves in water as a defense mechanism. Their spine protrudes from their body once they inflate, and this prevents them from getting eaten by predators.

The Freshwater Pufferfish belongs to the family of Tetraodontidae. This fish prefers living in marine and freshwaters across the world. There are many species, but a few of them live in freshwater, and this guide seeks to focus on freshwater Puffer Fish.

These tropical fish species come in different colors and sizes. It has different species that have unusual and never seen before hunting methods that are fun to watch. They are also popularly known for their dangerous venom, which is referred to as tetrodotoxin. However, this should not get you worried since they cannot produce it by themselves, and this means in captivity, they are mostly harmless. This venom is used for defense in the wild.

They have a beautiful look, and this should not deceive you. They can be extremely aggressive, and they are best kept in a single specimen tank due to their specific feeding times, aggression, and care needs. This guide, therefore, seeks to give you an insight on where to find this species and all you need to do in taking care of this species.


Scientific NameTetraodontidae
ColorColorful and depends on the variant
SizeUp to 24 inches
LifespanTen years
Temperament Aggressive
Tank Size10 gallons
Care LevelAdvanced
Freshwater or SaltwaterFreshwater
Temperature74 to 78 degrees F
CompatibilityBest Kept Alone


As said earlier, the Freshwater Puffer Fish are extremely aggressive and territorial. During different life stages, they show different behaviors, and therefore they are not always hostile. During their young age, they are peaceful and can make great community fish, but as they grow to adulthood, they turn to be very aggressive.

This species does not do thrive in community tanks and, therefore, should be housed alone. These species are perfect fin nippers, and they get bored so easily, and their combination can turn out to be a disaster if they are paired with another fish. You cannot also keep them together with other non-fish tank mates such as shrimps and snails since they will kill and eat them.


Rohit Naniwadekar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As stated earlier, this species has different appearances depending on the species. The bodies of these fish species are long and tapered and they also have a round head with thin, hidden spikes that are visible whenever they puff their bodies. They do not have any scales on their bodies.

They have four large teeth that are fused into an upper and lower plate. These teeth are important in helping them crush hard shells of crustaceans and mollusks. They also have some filler lips that are critical in helping them taste potential food and decide if it is worth eating. They also have bulging eyes. This species depends on its fins to balance and motion. Below are some of the common species of Freshwater Puffer Fish. 


This species is also commonly referred to as Indian Malabar Puffer. It is the smallest species you will find, just as the name suggests. They are roughly the size of a pea. The average size of this species is about one inch when fully grown. This species is very good-looking, and it swims in its own unique pattern, making it fun and interesting to watch. This fish does not need a large aquarium, but you should always remember that it should be isolated from other fish.

This species is highly aggressive, and they can easily kill other fish, even the larger ones, but you should keep them in a clean and healthy environment.


This species is freshwater bred that has a sleek body that contrasts with the more club-like appearance of most Puffers. This species has a beautiful, shimmery coloration that makes the aquarium likable and brings admiration. This species is slightly larger than the dwarf, with an average length of 4 inches. It does not require a large tank either.

For this species to thrive properly, they need a clean environment with regular water changes. They also need a large canister filter In their tank. This species is more streamlined and quicker compared to other freshwater puffers. If you decide to have tank mates, you should avoid the slow-moving fins and those with long fins.


This is a popular species in the Freshwater Puffer Fish. It is also referred to as South America Pufferfish. Most of the Puffers are aggressive, cute, and funny, but this species is completely different. It is a peaceful fish, and they can be very shy, and therefore you need to avoid keeping them together with aggressive tank mates. Those species usually grow up to three inches, but some have grown up to 5 inches. They are very hardy and can live in a wide range of water conditions.


This species is also known as stripped Puffer Fish, and it has a larger, comical, and robust look. They have striking patterns and can change color according to mood. They are very intelligent and curious and can be very friendly. This special has a very sharp beak, and it uses it to remove pieces from any living thing that is the same tank with them. This species can really grow large up to a maximum length of 18 inches. This, therefore, mean they need a large tank compared to others to accommodate their size.


This is a medium-sized fish that grows to a maximum length of six inches. They are easily recognized by their turned-up nose and the black arrowhead mark on their head. This species can be very aggressive and therefore should never be put in the same tank with other fish.


Under proper care, the Freshwater Puffer Fish can live up to 10 years. This means that you need t to be prepared for a long-term commitment that will take almost a decade. To ensure that your fish attains the maximum age, you should provide the optimum conditions such as water quality, diet, and tank conditions.


Freshwater Puffer Fish are tropical fish that prefer living across marine and freshwater. This species can be spotted on the rivers and lakes of Southeast Asia, more so in India and Bangladesh. They can also be found in the Amazon River basin in South America and Congo, as well as the Nile and other major rivers in Africa.

Despite the fact that some of them are found in riverbeds with thick vegetation, some can also be seen in lakes.


Despite the fact that this species is known to be aggressive, they are also adorable due to their ability to puff their bodies on a dime and use it as a defense mechanism whenever they are threatened. They inflate themselves, and the seine protrudes from their bodies, thereby preventing their predators from eating them. Their shape is that of a ball, but they become several times larger than the actual size.

 It is known to be very aggressive to the other fish, and this intensifies during the breeding season. They are also known for their different hunting methods. Some are open water hunters, while others can swim over sand and locks as they look for their prey. Others usually hide behind the shadows waiting for to attack their prey. There is also some predators such as Congo Puffer that dig and hide themselves inside the sand and wait for their prey. When these prey come they jump upwards towards them to kill.

They are also famous for spitting water over the substrate in an attempt to uncover the prey that might be hiding there. This fish has also been reported to spit water on its owner, especially when there is no lid in order to ask for food.


It is very crucial to make your fish always feel at home. Therefore you need to ensure that you provide an environment that mimics the natural habitat of this fish species. To help achieve that, there are certain parameters that you need to keep in mind as you set the tank for them;


This species has different variants, and each of them has a different size and therefore, they will have different tank sizes. Below are some of the ideal tank sizes according to the variant.

  • Dwarf Puffer Fish  needs 10 gallons
  • Congo Pufferfish needs 40 gallons
  • Crested Pufferfish needs 55 gallons
  • Imitator Pufferfish needs 10 gallons
  • Golden Pufferfish 125 gallons.
  • Red-Tailed Dwarf Pufferfish needs 10 gallons
  • South American Pufferfish needs 40 gallons

It is important to note that the above tank sizes are meant to house one Freshwater Pufferfish only. Also, it is always advisable to keep this species alone in the tank due to its aggressive nature. The larger the tank will be, the better since they are messy and will create a lot of waste. A small tank will be overwhelmed by these waste materials easily.


As stated earlier, these species are known for squirting water from the water surface to the owner as they demand food. Additionally, their spikes make them dangerous and do not allow any kids or small pets such as cats and dogs near them. To protect them, you need to use a lid to secure the tank. Also, the lid helps in ensuring that water remains clean and does not get contaminated.


The need for the substrate is determined by the variety that you are keeping in your tank. However, the most common types of substrates include a soft, sand-based substrate. This will work just fine with most varieties.


As an aquarist, you need to invest in a good filtration system that will produce low currents but has the capacity to remove the water frequently. This is because these species are very messy, and they produce a lot of waste in a day.


This species does not need a lot of hiding since they like shadows and other hidden places where they can hide from their prey. They just need moderate lighting for between 8 to 10 hours a day.


The Freshwater Puffer Fish love having their privacy, and they need to have some decorations which will serve as hiding spots. You can include some bogwoods, stones, aquatic rocks, and caves in your aquarium.


These species are mostly carnivores, and therefore they do not prey on plants in most cases, and this makes them ideal inhabitants of a planted tank. Also, some feel more secure in a planted tank, more so the small ones. Below is a list of the ideal aquarium plants that will be more compatible either your freshwater Puffer Fish;

  • Banana plants
  • Ludwigia
  • Java fern
  • Scarlet Temple
  • Anuias
  • Red Root Floaters
  • Anacharis
  • Rotala
  • Dwarf Sag
  • Amazon Sword
  • Christmas Moss
  • Vallisneria
  • Pennywort
  • Hornwort

This species loves a tank that is planted, and it is very important to them. Also, plants are important in helping remove the nitrogenous waste, and since these fish are messy and sensitive, the plants will be helpful in battling the nitrates in the tank.


The Freshwater Pufferfish are generally messy, and this means that cleaning the tank that they live in is very crucial than even the other tanks. It is advisable to do cleaning every three weeks. You need to scrape all the algae from the walls and wipe it with a soft cloth that is dipped in lukewarm water. The ornaments, too, need to be cleaned by putting them under running water and vacuuming the substrate. You should, however, ensure that you do not use any soap-based or chemical products since they may be harmful to the fish.


You can use normal tap water for your Freshwater Puffer Fish. You should, however, ensure that this water does not contain a high concentration of iron and chlorine in it. If you find that it has some concentration, you can use filtered water. There are some conditions that the water in the  natural habitat have, and therefore they must be mimicked in captivity, and they include;


The average water e temperatures in the tank should be between 74 to 78 degrees F.

  • PH Level

The Freshwater Puffer Fish prefer slightly alkaline water. Therefore the ph. Levels should range from 7.0 to 7.6.


The carbonate hardness level should range between 8 to 12 dKH.


This species does not have scales on their bodies and therefore should not let the level of ammonia and nitrites go up in your tanks. Also, ensure the nitrates level remains below 50 mg/l.


It is important to replace the water in the aquarium on a regular basis. This is because of the huge amount of waste, and they are highly susceptible to diseases. You can choose the interval in which you will be changing water, and the amount being replaced will depend on the interval you choose. You can choose to change fortnightly and the amount of water changed should be 10 percent. You can also replace on a monthly basis and on this you should replace 25 percent of water. You should be consistent with the schedule that you have chosen to the end.

Every time you add water to the tank, ensure that this water meets all the conditions such as temperatures, hardness, and ph. Also, you should not replace the water in the tank in its entirety since this will tamper with the beneficial bacterial and ends up affecting the health of your fish.


 It is important to ensure that your aquarium is fully cycled and also ensure it is done right. Below is the process of cycling;

Once you add an ammonia source, the bacteria will start to convert it into nitrite and nitrate, and this process will take about one month. The ammonia you are using, preferably pure ammonia, should be dosed, and the ideal amount should be 4ppm until the nitrites appear, and then it can be dropped to 2ppm. You can also use other means to cycle the tank using other means, but this is the most efficient.


Despite the fact that the Freshwater Puffer Fish are Omnivores technically, their diet is dominated by a meat-based diet. In their natural habitat, they mainly feed on snails, crustaceans, shellfish, and algae. Unlike most aquarium fish, they do not constantly graze throughout the day. Mostly they only need two to three meals in a week, and this depends on the age and breed. However, there are some species that need frequently feeding, such as dwarf Puffer.

Whenever you choose which species that you are keeping in your aquarium, you need to do proper research on which food is ideal for them. Small Puffers that are 2 inches and below should be fed on a daily basis, while the mid-sized ones within an average size of 2 to 4 inches should be fed every other day, and the large ones can be fed 2 to 3 times a week. These species consist of fairly greedy fish that will eat almost everything that is given to them, but it is advisable to always stick to dried meaty foods.

The two main food that you should feed to the freshwater Pufferfish include;


The Freshwater Puffer Fish needs to the fed on the hard shelled foods throughout so as to prevent their beaks from overgrowing. This is because they help in trimming it. If their teeth grow too long, the fish will end up starving since they cannot eat anymore.


The snails, more so the rams horn and common pond snails, are an important food source for the small puffers. You can feed them on a whole shrimp with the shell still on, and also on some frozen fish food such as bloodworms.

As said earlier, these species are very messy, and therefore you need to ensure you remove any uneaten food from the tank so as to maintain the health of your tank. Always ensure that you do not overfeed or underfeed them.


 Breeding Freshwater Puffer Fish is extremely challenging, and this rarely happens in captivity. This explains why they are mainly spawned in commercial tanks. The different varieties of Freshwater Puffer Fish have different requirements for breeding. However, the most challenging for every aquarist, irrespective of the variety you have, is the process of finding compatible partners. This is because they are aggressive, and it will be hard bringing them together to breed.

You might also succeed in getting the breeding pair, but there is also another challenge; protecting the fries from hatching until they can grow is very difficult. This is because these fish are known to eat their own eggs and even fries. The fries are very sensitive to changes in water, and they need to be fed infusoria and freshly hatched brine shrimps. This is the reason why most aquarists avoid breeding these species.

However, in a case where you are determined to breed them and succeed, you need to ensure they are well fed and are kept at their ideal temperature for an extended period of time. They will breed on their own. During the courtship stage the male will chase after the female until she accepts her advances and then they will move towards a spot under cover of plants.

They choose a place that is caved with dense plant cover as a breeding spot. Some of the plants include java moss and overgrown Cabomba. Once they are under this cover, the two fish will move together for up to a minute as the eggs and sperms are being released. The eggs are scattered all over the plant, and at this point, all the fish and also the parents should be moved to a separate tank. This is to protect the eggs from being eaten.

The eggs take 24 to 48 hours to hatch, and they should be fed on infusoria and baby shrimps, as stated earlier. This should go on until they are big enough to be able to feed on frozen food or hunt small snails on their own.


The Freshwater Puffer Fish have no scales, and this makes them more prone to attacks from ectoparasites such as Protozoa, which attacks skin, fins, and gills. They also suffer from diseases such as ich. In case you notice this disease, you can increase the temperatures of water by about 3 degrees. If the problem persists, you can seek professional help from a vet.

It is important to ensure that you quarantine any fish or object before adding them into the tank. This is to ensure there are no diseases or bacteria are carried inside the tank. Most of the diseases are a result of diet and the water and tank conditions that you provide. Therefore it is important to ensure that you provide the right and nutritional diet, and also the water should be of the highest quality. All the parameters should be adhered to strictly, and that way, you will be able to fight many diseases.


Are Freshwater Puffer Fish freshwater?

Yes, just as the name suggests, these species are freshwater, but there are some other puffer species that live in saltwater too. They originate from the rivers and lakes in Southeast Asia. They prefer living in riverbeds with thick vegetation.

Can Freshwater Puffer Fish be kept with other fish?

 This species is very aggressive and territorial, and therefore they are best kept alone. This is because they will attack the tank mates and end up stressing and harming them.

Are the Freshwater Puffer Fish poisonous?

Yes, these species have a venom that they use as a defense mechanism. They use it whenever they are under attack from predators, but this mainly happens in the wild. Therefore you should not be worried about this in captivity.

Do the Freshwater Puffer Fish play well with others?

No, they do not play well with others as a result of their aggressive behavior. They do not make friends and that is why it is advisable to keep them alone. They are natural hunters, and they will hunt down other fish kill and eat them.


Freshwater Puffer Fish are among the common freshwater fish that one should consider as a pet. However, they are very aggressive despite their gorgeous and adorable appearance. This means that they can pose a serious threat to other fish in the tank, and therefore they are only ideal if you plan to house them alone.

It will also be very challenging trying to breed them in the aquarium. It is advisable to get them from reputable dealers or a pet store. With all the information this guide has provided about the care of these interesting fish, it is up to you as an aquarist to determine whether you will keep this fish or not. You should ensure you do thorough research and get to understand everything about this fish since they have some delicate needs which are not common to the other fish.

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