Puffer Fish are adorable looking fish with a comical, chubby appearance. They are particular curious because they have the ability to gulp air or water, puffing up until they look like a round ball. A number of common names used to described these unusual fish including Blowfish, Balloonfish, and Globefish; along with Toadies, Sugar Toady, Honey Toady, and Sea Squab.
The majority of the Puffer Fish are marine inhabitants and are found in most of the tropical oceans of the world. Less than 40 types of puffer fish can be found in brackish waters, and only 29 species are truly freshwater Puffer Fish. Puffers belong to the Tetraodontidae family, which is one of 10 families in the Tetraodontiformes order. Tetraodontiformes are ancient fish, emerging from coral-dwelling species about 40 million years ago. Well-known saltwater relatives of the Puffer Fish also in this order are the Porcupine Fish (Diodontidae family), Boxfish (Ostraciidae family), Filefish (Monacanthidae family), and the Triggerfish (Balistidae family).
Unlike more typical fish, the body of the Puffer Fish is rigid, so they rely on their fins for motion and balance. Puffer Fish, along with their close cousins the Porcupine Fish, have a few unique methods of defense. They can both inflate their bodies and both are covered with prickly spines. The spines are large and prominent on the Porcupine Fish but on Puffers they are smaller, thinner and practically hidden, sometimes only visible when the Puffer Fish is inflated.
Puffers can win your affection, yet they are not a fish for the novice. They require special care and feeding. They are considered hardy only in the sense that they will almost always adapt to aquarium foods and are long lived in a premium environment. To successfully keep Puffer Fish means maintaining top water quality, providing plenty of room, and most importantly providing an adequate diet. They love to eat and look forward to seeing the person that feeds them like a puppy waiting for their owner to get home! Even though they seldom starve in an aquarium, they have special dietary needs that you must be aware of in order to keep them healthy.
The Puffer Fish species list below includes popular varieties as well lesser known puffer fish species. Each fish guide has in-depth pufferfish information including their places of origin, habitats and behaviors as well as the fish care needed for successfully keeping aquarium puffer fish. Puffer Fish pictures are also provided within each fish guide to help with identification, and to aid in choosing Puffer Fish pets.
The Puffer Fish, also commonly called Blowfish, Balloonfish or Toadies, are rather club shaped. They have a large round body with small rounded fins sticking out. Puffers generally move awkwardly using their pectoral fins for locomotion and the tail fin only when they need to move quickly, as in the case of an emergency or newly arrived food.
These toadfish have large heads with widely spaced, often mobile eyes. The gills are soft openings located close to the pectoral fins, and there are four fused teeth in the jaw. Puffers have no scales, rather their skin is covered with spines, though they are not always apparent. The spines are small and thin and are often not visible when the puffer is not inflated.
As their name implies, Puffer Fish have the ability to 'puff' themselves up with water or air if threatened. When they inflate, their spines protrude outward and this helps keep them from being eaten. Another defense of many puffer species is to harbor toxic substances in their flesh that is poisonous if eaten. Predators that do not head the danger signals, and eat puffers anyway and may die from choking, or from toxic poisoning. There are also usually several deaths reported in Japan each year from humans eating puffers which are not prepared properly.
The powerful neurotoxin found in the organs of some puffer fish is called tetrodotoxin, but not all puffers are poisonous. It is believed that puffers don't actually produce this toxin however, because those kept in the aquarium or on fish farms are totally toxin-free. Rather they most likely accumulate the toxins in the wild as they feed on shellfish prey that may be carriers.
The Puffer Fish can be quite long lived in the aquarium, many living for 10 or more years. They range in size reaching from about 1" (2.54 cm) to over 24" (61 cm), though some of the marine species can reach close to 48" (122 cm).
Puffer Fish Care
Since puffers do not have gill covers or scales, they are thought to be more susceptible to diseases, nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels. Consequently they are not a good fish to cycle an aquarium with. Also because they usually don't eat all of their food (messy eaters!), these fish will usually put more load on the aquarium filtration requiring more frequent water changes and better maintenance in general. A 50% weekly water change is the standard recommendation for a puffer aquarium.
Puffer Fish need plenty of room to maintain water quality and they will most likely need to be kept singly. The temperament of these fish can vary greatly from one puffer to another, not only between species but often within a single species as well. These fish are predators and can be aggressive. For tank mates too large to eat in one bite, puffers can be extreme fin nippers. Sometime juveniles will be reported as good community fish, only to turn aggressive upon maturity. A single specimen tank is the safest route, and extreme caution should be taken when choosing tank mates at any time.
In the wild Puffer Fish are predators eating a variety of snails, shellfish, crustaceans, and other fish. In captivity they will eat almost everything that is offered and should be fed a variety of live, frozen and freeze dried meaty foods. Though puffers are fun to feed and will become quite adept at 'begging' for tidbits from their keepers, keep in mind how often to feed and the resultant load on the aquarium. Feed small puffers (under 2") daily, mid sized puffers (2 - 4") every other day, and large puffers (those over 4") can be fed just two or three times a week.
As an interesting note, many puffers in the wild will blow or 'spit' at the substrate to uncover hidden crustaceans or other foods. In an aquarium some keepers have experienced their puffer spitting water at them from the surface of the water in an attempt to earn some tidbits of food. Be careful not to be fooled into overfeeding them.
Puffers have strong teeth that grow throughout their lives. They need to be offered hard shelled live food often to keep their teeth worn down. Acceptable foods include shellfish, crustaceans and hard shelled foods such as snails. If the teeth get too long, they will be unable to eat, requiring the owner to clip the teeth.
Types of Puffer Fish
There are approximately 150 Puffer Fish species but only 29 species are truly freshwater Puffer Fish. The majority of the puffers live in a marine environment with less than 40 of these found in brackish or freshwater. These species are found primarily in estuaries, where river mouths meet the ocean, or in freshwater streams. Some will enter periodically for feeding or breeding, and possibly stay as juveniles, while others spend their entire lives in brackish conditions.
The chart below provides a guide to type of environment each Puffer Fish species needs. For Information about strictly Saltwater Puffer Fish, see Puffers, Boxfish and Porcupine fish.
Freshwater and/or Brackish Puffer Fish
Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia
Asia: Mekong basin
Northbornean Golden Puffer
Gold Green Puffer
Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia