The Blackspotted Puffer acts much like a dog and is a favorite!  That face looks so sweet, that you may find yourself whistling for it to come…. and it just might! 

While Blackspotted Puffers can be found in an all-yellow color with black spots or all-black with some white speckling, most are light tan to pale grey in color.  They have black spots in various places, which is different in each puffer.  They have a dark nose and eyes with a white patch on the top of their snout.  They change color with upset and their color changes somewhat as they age.  They have thick skin with prickle-like scales.  These prickers are not always visible.  Puffers lack pelvic fin and have a very small dorsal and anal fin that are directly over/under each other.  The lighter tail fin is elongated, yet they usually tuck it under or close it as they swim.  None of their fins have spines.  Blackspotted Puffers can grow to 13” and in the wild live up to 5.5 years and are best kept by intermediate aquarists.

   As the name implies, the Blackspotted Puffer can take in large amounts of water to puff themselves up to deter predators or to prevent them from fitting in a predator’s mouth.  The Blackspotted Puffer is one of the most commonly seen puffers in stores and on line.  They actually do have a DOG LIKE personality and quickly become a family pet!  They have a wide variety of color and spotting, making your puffer unique from even other Blackspotted Puffers!  The name Dog-Faced Puffer applies to the entire Arothron genus, not just one.  Oh, and they are poisonous to eat, so if they got to big, just re-home them.  When feeling uncomfortable about something, they collapse their tail and tuck it alongside their body.  While swimming, if the tail fin stays shut or collapsed and is not open or fanned, that means something is in the tank that is too aggressive for the puffer.

   These puffers are moderately easy to care for.  Most casual aquarists are not prepared for their unique needs, so resist an impulse purchase on these guys.  Blackspotted Puffers are shy at first but will become more dog like and happy to see you when you walk by!  Making your puffer inflate is not only dangerous, it is cruel, so please refrain. Protect cords, heaters or anything else that one bite can destroy or cause trouble with.  Puffers are naturally curious and will “taste” everything at least once, especially if it is dangling, shiny or moving.  The tank must be “puffer proofed” as described below in this article.

    Blackspotted Puffers can be housed with other puffers, including their own species.  Do not house with aggressive pufferfish, however.  If housing with aggressive fish like triggers who are very competitive for food, they will not become that “dog-like” puffer you wanted due to fear.  Try more mellow triggers like the Niger or any of the large planktivore triggers.  Avoid any fish that are very still, like frogfish (they will be mistaken for food) and smaller bottom dwellers like gobies.  They get along with large peaceful and semi-aggressive fish like tangs, large angelfish, larger wrasses etc.  Not reef safe in any way, shape or form.

   The tank needs to be glass and at least 150 gallons.  Acrylic tanks will get horribly scratched up by the puffer’s teeth, besides them biting holes in the sides!  An ideal tank would have no equipment in the same area as the puffer, however that is not practical for most.  All equipment and wires should be encased in egg crate and PVC for the cords and ideally screened of from the puffer.  A strong skimmer and good water movement to complement it is needed for this high nutrient producing “pooch.”

Scientific Classification


Dog-faced Puffer – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately Hardy
Minimum Tank Size:150 gal (568 L)
Size of fish – inches13.0 inches (33.02 cm)
Temperature:74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type:Carnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

   The Blackspotted Puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus was first described by Bloch & Schneider in 1801.  They are mostly known as the Black Spotted Puffer, Black-Spotted Pufferfish, Blackspotted Blaasop, Blackspotted Toadfish and Dog-Faced Puffer, however that last name is more of a descriptive name that applies to their entire genus.  They were in the Tetrodon genus before they gained the Arothron genus name.

   Blackspotted Puffers are found in the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to Micronesia, Samoa, then north to southern Japan and south to New South Wales.  They are replaced by the Masked Puffer (A. diadematus) in the Red Sea.  Their habitat includes coastal outer reef crests and outer reef slopes with a lot of invert growth.  They depths that they inhabit range from 9.8 to 82 feet (3 to 25 m), and they feed on benthic algae/weeds, benthic crustaceans, hard corals, mollusks, sponges and tunicates. Adults are found in pairs or even alone at times.  They have been known to hybridize with the Map Puffer, A. mappa (Hobbs 2009)

   These large puffers are on the IUCN Red List for endangered species under Least Concern.  This is due to habitat loss globally, not due to collection for the marine trade.  Their habitat overlaps into protected areas so their numbers are still okay.

There are various color variations such as:

  • Yellow Dogfaced Puffer:  All yellow with black edging on their fins and black spotting all over the body.  They lack the white splotch over their nose sometimes.
  • Black Dogfaced Puffer:  Completely black with some white on the edges of their fins and some white speckling on some specimens.These two colors can also be mixed as well, for example an all white with large black spots has been referred to as a “Dalmatian Puffer.”
  • Scientific Name: Arothron nigropunctatus
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Although sometimes found alone, adults are usually found in pairs.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


  The Blackspotted Puffer has a tough skin that has toxin in it, although this is not dangerous to tank mates.  They have small spines under their skin that are visible when they puff up and are referred to as spinulous scales or prickles.  Their powerful mouth has a beak-like dental plate that is divided in the middle making it look like they have 4 teeth.  They also lack spines in their fins and lack a pelvic fin.  They have a short dorsal fin directly above a short anal fin. Their large tail fin is the same color as their belly, which is pale gray to white.  The body is generally pale tan, tan, or light gray, with the exception of the black or yellow specimens. The face has a white splotch over the nose, brown around the eyes and snout area and black spots that vary in number and location in each specimen.  The Blackspotted Puffer can grow to almost 13” (33 cm) and will reach maturity at 7.87” (20 cm).  They are mature at 1.4 years and can live up to 5.5 years in the wild, possibly longer in captivity. 

   Puffer stomachs are actually folded like an accordion, with the ability to suck in enough air that will make them triple in size!  This will expand their stomach up to 10 times it’s normal size.  Their back spine is inverted to deal with any puffing they may do.  The eyes move independently from each other, until one of the eyes sees food and then they will both lock onto the object.  All puffers have an iridescence in their corneas, though scientists have no idea why. 

  • Size of fish – inches: 13.0 inches (33.02 cm) – Mature at 7.87”
  • Lifespan: 6 years – Mature at 1.4 years. Will live up to 10 years in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

   The Blackspotted Puffer is moderately easy to care for but are best kept my intermediate aquarists due to the dental care that needs to be addressed.  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. For a better explanation and links to the practice of puffer dentistry (if needed) please read here. Because they eat a meaty diet and are often messy eaters, puffers will produce a large bio-load on the biological filter of your aquarium; requiring frequent water changes and good maintenance practices.  One author describe the puffer as a cross between a human toddler, a cat and a dog.  With that being said, there are precautions that need to be taken when it comes to their home.  (See aquarium habitat)

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

   Do not worry if your carnivorous puffer does not eat at first.  Give them time and they will start to eat.  Although they are carnivores, at times they will graze on coralline or other algae. Acceptable foods include shellfish, crustaceans and hard shelled foods such as snails. A large variety of frozen or fresh meaty foods are best.  Some of the suggested frozen foods include prawn, crabs/crabs legs, bloodworms (live or frozen), black worms (live or frozen), silversides, and mussels. Be sure to wash these foods thoroughly before feeding. Live foods can include snails, crabs, crayfish, shrimp (these are good for keeping their teeth trimmed), and earthworms. Do not feed them live fresh water fish because it can cause a ‘fatty” liver.  Puffers are not picky eaters and will quickly become adapted to a variety of prepared aquarium foods, so it really is not necessary to feed them live fish.  Flake food is not recommended. Even though they may eat it, puffers will not thrive on it.  Large pellets are good in pinch,but should not be their main fare.  Feed 3 times a day or more or they can starve.  

A few more words….

   Resist the urge to hand feed, since puffers can get really excited and accidentally bite.  Resist the begging, which they learn to do very well, causing over feeding and polluting the water unnecessarily.  Yet it can be hard, those big luminescent eyes just BEGGING to be fed.  Puffers put all other “begging fish” to shame!  They shouldn’t be fed so much food that their stomach is distended.  One suggestion is to feed your puffer from the same spot at every feeding.  That way they will not turn down medicated food (eating it before they realize) if you need to administer it for some disease or protozoan.  This will also help you control how much food they are getting.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: No – Not nutritious enough.

  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Needs live marine shelled creatures to wear their teeth down.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet – 5% to 10%
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet – 90% to 95%
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Minimum 2-3 times a day or they will starve

Aquarium Care

   Large puffers produce a large bio-load and may need even larger frequent water changes, if there is more than one per tank.  Do not wear bright orange gloves when performing routine maintenance, as puffers are attracted to that color like bees to honey and will bite through them.  Partition off one side of the tank with plastic screening to keep the puffer away from hands and arms.  Or if you have help, have another person keep an eye on and keep the puffer away from you. 

Fish only tanks:

-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 30% every month depending on bioload.  Until then perform 20% bi-weekly.

   For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Regular water changes done bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up.  

  • Water Changes: Monthly – 20% bi-weekly, then 30% monthly once tank is stable and aged.

Aquarium Setup

   The tank sized needed to keep your puffer happy and healthy would be 150 gallons.  The tank should be glass, not acrylic due to puffer teeth!  They drag their teeth along the face of the tank and will bite into the acrylic as well.  Provide live rock with several crevices for them to sleep in at night or retreat to if frightened.  Make sure rock is secured since puffers will sometimes try to squeeze themselves in a cave or crevice that is too small for them.  Fine sand is the needed substrate since puffers can ingest crushed coral or rock and it can get lodged in their intestinal tract and kill them.  A strong skimmer and water movement is ideal to help keep the water quality in check.  They like temperatures between 74 and 82˚F, with an 8.1 to 8.4 pH reading.


   Avoid plastic aquarium decorations, as they have been known to chew up fake coral and other pieces, so nothing but live rock or skeletal coral should be in the tank. 

Do not have a heater inside the tank where the puffer can get ahold of any part of it.  They will bite into it or the cord and electrocute themselves and the aquarist if there isn’t a GFIC.   Like other puffers they may chew up dead/bleached/decorative coral, which is fine if you don’t mind, since it will help the puffer wear down their teeth.  Avoid sponge filters or any sponge material over power heads, pumps etc., since a puffer will bite into the sponge if there is a  piece of food stuck to it.  The ingesting of the sponge can harm them, causing intestinal blockage, or if they spit it out, can clog power heads, pumps and overflow boxes.   Air tubing will be bitten, which can be an issue if your tank has one of those emergency air driven pump that is battery powered.  Power cords need to be out of the reach of the puffer because they can electrocute themselves and/or impair operation, burning it out.  Any pumps that are disabled by a chewing puffer become a hazard as lack of oxygen is the result of a non-functioning pump.   Wave motion pumps rotating are especially attractive to puffers and they will bite intake caps and filters on pumps and power heads which can happen when a piece of food gets stuck in these filters.  Accidental ingestion of this plastic will kill the puffer.   

   What to do?  Construct an egg crate “box” to cover pumps and other equipment. Egg crate is that stuff that goes over lights and is a firm white plastic and looks like a grid and can be cut.   Only use white zip ties, since orange ones may attract the puffer.  For example, a powerhead or pump can be covered in a snug fitting “box” of egg crate with a thin piece of PVC coming out of the “box,” housing the electrical cord.   What about the emergency pump?  Easy!  Air line tubing can be put in a PVC pipe with several drilled holes to let the air out when it kicks on.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 150 gal (568 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Sand – Will eat other substrate which will block their intestines and kill them.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No – Although found in estuaries in the wild, a marine environment is needed for prolonged health.
  • Water Movement: Moderate – Also a strong skimmer.
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

   The Blackspotted Puffer is semi-aggressive but can be housed together in a very large tank.  

   These puffers will get along with other puffers in their genus, except for the more aggressive puffers (Porcupine Puffers are one).  Different genus can be housed together in a very large tank.  They are likely to try to eat smaller ground-dwelling fish like gobies.  They are fine with anything that is large enough for them to not think this new tank mate is dinner!  Tangs and large angelfish, larger wrasses and plankton-eating triggerfish are ideal tank mates since you will need a large tank anyway!  Avoid fish with long flowing fins such as batfish, Marine Bettas, Bannerfish., etc., because those long fins are just too tempting and will be tasted!   Do not house with stationary fish like frogfish or scorpionfish, because their very still nature will make the Blackspotted Puffer think they are edible treats.  They will also feed on dying or dead fish.  Avoid fish or any wrasse that bury themselves in the sand, since their breathing will attract the puffer, and one “taste” by that strong beak will be enough to severely injure or kill that wrasse.

   Not reef safe, the Blackspotted Puffer will eat stony corals, tube worms, sea anemones and anything else for that matter.

   Inverts are all on the menu.    

   We don’t usually put humans in the compatibility section, but for this genus of puffers it seemed appropriate!  They are very social with humans, almost dog like.  They will eventually welcome a belly rub or back scratch, just wash your hands well afterward!  Another delightful behavior they exhibit, if they are lonely or hungry, can be dangerous to surrounding furniture or electronics.  What?   Well Fishy Fido can shoot water out of the tank at you when you walk by, so make sure there isn’t anything that can be ruined by water nearby.  Some suggest a cover if that starts to happen.

  • Venomous: No – Although their skin has a toxin, it isn’t dangerous unless you eat the fish.
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Threat
    • Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Lionfish should be in their own tank. Aggressive Triggers should be avoided and Porcupine Puffers will attack this mellow fish.
    • Threat
    • Anemones: Threat
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Threat
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • SPS corals: Threat
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
    • Leather Corals: Threat
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat
    • Starfish: Threat
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Threat

 Sexual differences


Breeding / Reproduction

   The Blackspotted Puffer has been reported to spawn in captivity.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

   Teaching your puffer to eat from one spot in the tank is convenient.  When the day comes that you have to mix medication in with the food, they will eat it before realizing it doesn’t taste very good!  Without this training, they will likely spit out medicated food just floating around the tank. 
   Nematodes, which are an internal parasite may be the reason if your puffer is wasting away, despite eating well.  Use gelatin-based foods (49 grams) mixed with 1% fenbendazole to rid them of these parasites.  This can be obtained from your vet.  Feed them once then wait a week and feed them once more and stop.  If they are still not eating after that treatment, a shot of vitamin B-12 injected in its back muscle can stimulate their desire to eat.  Another option is praziquantel (follow directions on container).  

   Excessively long teeth can prevent your puffer from eating.  This can be avoided by feeding them hard shelled food like snails, clams crabs, etc., and dead stony coral.  Also provide them with live rock encrusted with coralline algae or teeming with yummy amphipods or other fauna.  A dremel tool or wire cutters can be used if their teeth are too long, but only after they have been anesthetized first.  

   These fish are also susceptible to crypt and are often called, like tangs, crypt magnets.  Hypo salinity is best.  Slowly bring their quarantine tank down to 1.009 or 1.010, taking 5 to 7 days, and use a refractometer for exact readings.  Keep them at 1.009 or 1.010 for 4 to 6 weeks and make sure the pH doesn’t drop below 8.1 during this time.  Monitor ammonia and do appropriate water changes as needed.  After that time, take 9 to 10 days to bring the salinity back to 1.023.  If you rush either direction, they can stress and die.

   They can become ill if they cannot expel any air they take in.  To avoid this, do not make your puffer puff up and transfer them with a container so they are not exposed to air.

   Lockjaw occurs most often when puffers are only fed freeze dried krill.  The symptoms are subtle, but once the jaw is locked, there is no cure.  They need a wide variety of foods to be healthy over all.  Freeze dried krill can be given once in a while, as a treat.


   The Blackspotted Puffer can be found on line and in stores most of the year.  The prices range from $40.00 for a 1.5” to 3” and up to $90.00 (USD, April 2015) for a 5 to 7” long puffer.



Featured Image Credit: iliuta goean, Shutterstock