The Amazon Puffer, with its bright colors and a beautiful pattern, is one of the most sought after members of the puffer fish family!

The Amazon Puffer, also known as the South American Pufferfish (SAP), is a very popular member of the Tetraodontidae family of puffer fish. Although many puffers look cute and comical, most of them have a mean streak and will at least do some kind of damage to tank mates that are slow or that have long fins. The Amazon Puffer is the exception to this rule. It is a peaceful fish, almost to the point of being shy so they cannot be kept with aggressive tank mates. Even so it is a puffer and can nip fins, though usually just at feeding time.

The peaceful nature of this South American Freshwater Puffer, and the fact that it is one of the few puffers that naturally exists in pure freshwater makes, it a good choice for a community tank. Constantly on the move, this is an active, intelligent, and curious fish. They appreciate a well planted aquarium along with some open swimming space.

Because of the puffers habit of nipping, long-finned slow moving fish like angelfish and gouramis are not recommended. Most other fast moving community fish will do fine. Keep in mind that puffers need much more space then typical community fish so the 1 inch a gallon rule does not apply. Amazon Puffers will need 15 gallons per puffer, so keep that in mind when stocking your tank.

The Amazon Puffer normally grows to around 3 inches, but they have been recorded to reach around 5 inches. They are very hardy and can live in a wide range of water types. Puffers are recommend for intermediate to advance fish keepers. This is because of the possible need to have to trim your puffers teeth to prevent overgrowth.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Amazon Puffer Fish

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A young and healthy Amazon Puffer in a beautifully planted community tank.

Watch the video to see how an Amazon Puffer might interact inside a well populated and nicely planted community tank. Though the video doesn’t always focus on the Amazon Puffer, it does for a while and the fish can be seen clearly many times and can also be seen flitting through the plants and decor in the background.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Tetraodontiformes
  • Family: Tetraodontidae
  • Genus: Colomesus
  • Species: asellus
Amazon Puffer – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 5.0 inches (12.70 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Amazon Puffer Colomesus asellus was described by Müller and Troschel in 1849. It is found throughout the Amazon River basin in South America. One thing that is unique to the Amazon Puffer is that it migrates up and down rivers to flooded estuaries in the Amazon, which makes them a harder puffer because of their tolerance for different conditions. Other Common names it is known by are South American Pufferfish, SAP, South American Freshwater Puffer, Bee Puffer, Bumble Bee Puffer Fish,Brazilian Puffer, Brazilian Freshwater Puffer, and Asell’s Puffer.

In their natural habitat the Amazon Puffer feeds on benthic crustaceans, fish, planktonic invertebrates, and plants. Colomesus asellus differ from other fresh water puffers in that they do not guard their eggs. They spawn in rivers during the wet season leaving their in eggs on the river bottom and the larvae drift downstream. Breeding has not yet been successful in captivity.

  • Scientific Name: Colomesus asellus
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They get nervous when kept solitary, so groups of 3 or more are preferred.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – Not endangered


The Amazon Puffer looks a bit like an overstuffed bumblebee, thus its alternate common name ‘Bee Puffer’. These fish may have a golden cast to the upper parts of their bodies getting lighter and whiter on the underside, and with several dark bold partial bands. Like many of the pufferfish however, the coloring of the Amazon Puffer can vary. Not all will be as bold in coloration; some may be more uniform in color and the band patterning may be faint.

The most prominent identification of this puffer is a large dark spot on the underside just before the caudal fin. This dark spot is how to tell the difference between the Amazon Puffer and the Banded Puffer Colomesus psittacus. Also when mature, the Colomesus psittacus is larger then the Amazon. Amazon Puffers have been record to grow to a maximum length of around 5 inches (14cm). The Pufferfish can be quite long lived in the aquarium, many living for 10 or more years.

Puffer fish have the ability to ‘puff’ themselves up with water or air if threatened. This is a defense mechanism to help keep them from being eaten. Another defense of many puffer species, including this puffer, is to produce toxic substances in their flesh that is poisonous if eaten.

  • Size of fish – inches: 5.0 inches (12.70 cm) – Normally these fish reach around 3 inches in length, but have been recorded to grow up to 5 inches (14 cm).
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Amazon Puffer is for the most part an easy fish to keep. Because they are a migratory fish caught in the wild, they can be kept in many different environments and be healthy and happy. But these fish are not for everyone! They are scaleless so are prone to more diseases. They also have a fast growing teeth that will at one time or another need to be physically clipped. Even with the proper diet in an aquarium setting it is inevitable that you will need to clip their teeth.

The Amazon Puffer needs more space the most “community” type fish. They require 15 gallons per puffer, so take space may become an issue. They also require bigger filters and more frequent water changes because they are such messy eaters. But if you are up for the challenge, these guys will make for an exciting and attractive addition to your tank.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Intermediate due to teeth clipping

Foods and Feeding

The Amazon Puffer is an omnivore, but with the majority of their foods coming from meat sources In an aquarium setting. Puffers enjoy live insects, earthworms, brine shrimp, blood worms, shellfish, some plants, peas, algae wafers, and spirulina flakes. Experiment with your puffer, they are tenacious eaters and will try a variety of things. Do take care to not over feed even when these little guys are begging like starving puppies. Puffers will over eat if allowed. Their bellies should never bulge, but should be nice and round.

It is very important to feed your puffer shelled foods daily as this will help to keep their teeth from overgrowing to often. Do not introduce Malaysian Trumpet Snails; there shells are much to hard and will break the puffers teeth. This being said it is still likely that a Amazon Puffer owner will still need to trim their puffers teeth one or 2 times a year. If their teeth become overgrown they will not be able to eat and will starve.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – However their diets will consist mostly of meats.
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Be careful with feeder fish however, as they can pass disease when introduced to your tank.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet – Offer algae wafers, peas, and some plants.
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet – Feed bugs, worms, snails, and shellfish.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Be careful not to over feed, these fish will beg constantly.

Aquarium Care

Since puffer fish do not have gill covers or scales, they are thought to be more susceptible to diseases, nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels. Like all puffers, the Amazon Puffer is 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 generous weekly water change of 30% to 50% is the standard recommendation for a puffer aquarium. A larger then normal canister filter will be required and should turn the tank over 6 – 10 times per hour. This South American Freshwater Puffer is especially sensitive upon arrival to a new aquarium, though once it is acclimated it is quite hardy.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water change should be 30-50% weekly.

Aquarium Setup

The Amazon Puffer doesn’t require a large aquarium, so a 15 gallon aquarium will work fine. However if you want to keep more than one or some other species with them, a well planted 20 – 30 gallon aquarium is better. This puffer fish is a freshwater species that migrates into brackish to fresh water areas. It can do well in low salinity environments up to SG 1.005.

The setup of you aquarium is extremely important in keeping your curious puffer healthy and stress free. It is important to remember these puffers are wild caught and swim up and down currents in nature. This makes it important to have some rotating power heads to create current. Puffers are very messy eaters so providing a larger canister filter that will turn the tank water over 6 to 10 times per hour is recommend. This type of filtration will also help with water movement.

The substrate for the tank should be made up of sand; puffers enjoy rooting around in the sand. You will notice when the Puffer Fish see their reflection they frantically go up and down the glass. To stop their anxiety planting the tank with tall plants with twisted rooted plant throughout the tank and especially each corner will cut down the reflection. These plant will also provide needed cover and a swimming area to weave in and out of to keep them entertained.

In the wild these puffers can be found floating in small groups under logs and plants. So have some floating drift wood in the tank to make them feel secure. The top of the tank should have a secure complete cover, these guys are great jumpers.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L) – Provide 15 gallons per Amazon Puffer.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes – A Nano tank is fine as long as it meets the size requirements and has proper filtration.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 0.0° F – Not known.
  • Range ph: 5.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 20 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Up to SG 1.005.
  • Water Movement: Moderate – Amazon Puffer fish need a good current.
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Amazon Puffer fish are peaceful so they can be kept with other non-aggressive species in a community tank. Even so this is still a puffer and will nip fins, though usually just at feeding time. It is always good to have 3 or more Amazon Puffers together. Slower moving long-finned fish are not recommend(Angel fish, gourami, long fin tetras).

With a properly setup aquarium that does not cause the puffer boredom it can be a great tank mate. Amazon puffers are none to enjoy the attention of their owners and get excited when they see you. They can be taught little tricks with food reward systems which also helps keep them from getting bored and feeds their natural curiosity.

  • Venomous: Yes – The Amazon Puffer is venomous if it is consumed, as these fish harbor toxic substances in their flesh.
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Peaceful for a Puffer.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Like groups of 3 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Monitor – Puffers will nip fins and tails during feeding.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive – These puffer fish feed on benthic crustaceans in the wild.
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Sexual differences are unknown.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Amazon Puffer fish has not been bred in captivity. In the wild, Colomesus asellus differ from other fresh water puffers in that they do not guard their eggs. They spawn in rivers during the wet season leaving their in eggs on the river bottom and the larvae drift downstream.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown – Has not been recorded in captivity.

Fish Diseases

The Amazon Puffer does not have gill covers or scales which make it more prone to disease. Puffers are normally the first fish in a tank to show signs of ick and will twitch and rub around the tank. They respond well to most medication and normally heal quickly. NEVER use copper in an Amazon Puffer tank.

Another common issue, though not a disease; Puffer’s teeth grow very fast and if not wore down or clipped will lead to overgrowth and starvation. In an aquarium; even when feeding snails and other shelled foods, there is still normally a chance you will have to trim their teeth. This sound much worse then it is. To accomplish this carefully place puffer in a container of water without exposing them to the air. Add 3 drops of clove oil per liter of water; this will temporarily sedate the puffer so you can hold the puffer in your hand more easily. You will need cuticle clippers; use these to clip bottom and top teeth. Once done put puffer in a container or net that will have the current flowing over them. Once awake release back into tank.

Because the Amazon Puffer is wild caught it could carry internal parasites, so if it hasn’t been done a de-worming would be smart. For more information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


Amazon Puffer fish are commonly available from pet stores and online, and are moderately priced.


Featured Image Credit: PxFuel