14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (2024)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (1)

Pufferfish are some of the quirkiest and most adorable fish you can add to your very own freshwater system. Rearing them can be quite challenging for beginners, but the chance to see them grow and thrive is extremely rewarding. Naturally found in pristine rivers, lakes, and streams in Asia, South America, and Africa, they stay close to submerged vegetation in tropical to subtropical zones.

Freshwater puffers look similar to their saltwater counterparts, but they rarely grow to large sizes. Most species have a petite adult size, making them ideal for ornamental tank setups. In terms of their behavior, they can be fairly aggressive towards other species and may even be predatory if many smaller fish are present. Some of the larger puffers need to be raised as solitary fish, whereas smaller ones may be housed with fast-moving tankmates.

To keep these fish comfortable, they need to be provided with suitable hiding places and vertical vegetation. Grottos, makeshift caves, and complex bottom structures should keep them comfortable and should help prevent them from inflating their bodies due to potential threats. If you’re lucky enough to raise one or more of the puffers listed below, make sure to provide them with optimal water conditions and high-quality food in an adequately sized tank.

Freshwater Pufferfish

1) Dwarf puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (2)

Native to Southwest India

Perhaps the most popular of all pufferfish in the aquarium trade, the dwarf pufferfish is aptly named. One of the smallest freshwater puffers in the world, it is also fondly referred to as pea puffer, pygmy pufferfish, and Malabar pufferfish. If you have a small tank (with a volume of at least 3 gallons) and would like to try your hand at raising puffers, this is a great species with which to start. Adults rarely grow to more than 3.5 cm (1.4 inches) long, with most fish averaging at just 2.5 cm (1 inch).

Both male and female dwarf puffers are greenish-yellow in color. Although patterns can vary considerably, these fish are distinguished by a generous distribution of dark patches along their sides and back. Some of the spots are iridescent and are best enhanced under aquarium lights. The ventral portion of their abdomen is usually white and free of patches.

The fins of the dwarf puffer are short and oriented towards the posterior part of their rounded bodies. Females are usually more rounded than males, even if they are not puffed up. To keep both sexes happy in a captive setup, they will need to be fed with a variety of live or frozen treats. These include small snails, bloodworms, and shrimp.

2) Congo puffer (Tetraodon miurus)

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Native to the Congo Basin

Definitely much larger than the dwarf pufferfish, the Congo puffer can grow to a maximum length of about 15 cm (6 inches). Among the more commonly kept puffers, this species is considered an oddball for many reasons. Many puffer hobbyists equate them to dogs as they are full of personality despite their relatively inactive disposition. To keep them comfortable, they require a sandy substrate through which they can burrow or “wallow”.

Congo puffers are morphologically set apart by their potato-shaped body and their upward-facing mouth. They are able to alter their coloration as a means to keep themselves hidden from prey. Considered a piscivore, it feeds on smaller fish in the wild. In captivity, it can be fed with partly thawed fish, isopods, and earthworms.

As it will likely attack any tank mates, the Congo puffer is best raised as a solitary fish in its own dedicated setup. Even its own conspecifics are subject to its aggression. Due to its size and sensitivity to water conditions, a mature specimen will require a tank volume of at least 20 gallons.

3) Fahaka puffer (Tetraodon lineatus)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (4)

Native to Africa

Also called the Nile puffer, lineatus puffer, and globe fish, the fahaka puffer can grow even larger than the Congo pufferfish. The second largest of all freshwater puffers, it is able to reach about 43 cm (1.4 feet) in length. This fascinating fish is found in tributaries, ponds, and lakes associated with several basins in West and Northeast Africa. There, it favors the complexity of vegetated shores and weed beds.

Known for being particularly feisty, this puffer must be kept on its own as no fish is safe from its strong bite. Even caretakers must be careful when handling adults, which may be strong enough to inflict painful wounds. Fahaka puffers have a stocky body with several dorsal and anal spines and rays. Their mottled coloration may develop with age. Colors are intensified in older fish, with some parts of the body becoming a deep red. This coloration is complemented by a pair of orange-red eyes.

Fahaka puffers are able to live up to ten years in captive conditions. To maximize their lifespan, they need to be fed high-quality food. Tank water conditions also need to be kept in tiptop shape, which can be challenging given this species’ tendency to be a messy eater.

4) Imitator puffer (Carinotetraodon imitator)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (5)

Native to India

Once thought to be identical to the dwarf puffer (C. travancoricus), especially due to their overlapping distribution, the imitator puffer can be quite tricky to identify. It differs from the former in that its patterned blotches are smaller and more faintly colored. The average size of both species, however, is practically the same (around 2.5 cm). When purchasing this puffer, be aware that it is often mistakenly sold as the dwarf puffer.

In its native environment, the imitator puffer is considered a rare fish. Fortunately, captively bred individuals are not too difficult to find due to their popularity in the aquarium trade. In the wild, this species favors shallow and moving bodies of freshwater with a sandy or gravelly substrate. Unlike many aggressive puffers, it has a social disposition and can be kept in a tank with a few of its conspecifics.

5) Redeye puffer (Carinotetraodon irrubesco)

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Native to Indonesia and Borneo

This tropical freshwater pufferfish is known as the redeye puffer or red-tailed dwarf puffer. One of the smaller-sized puffers, it grows to a maximum length of just 4.4 cm (1.73 inches) and can thus be reared in a 5-gallon tank. In the wild, it thrives in slightly acidic and turbid waters alongside many other species of tiny fish (e.g. gobies, rasboras, and pipefish).

Male and female redeye puffers are sexually dimorphic, with females being markedly smaller than males. Both sexes have distinctly red eyes and stripes along the ventral portion of their abdomens. Interestingly, only the males possess a red caudal fin. This makes them fairly easy to distinguish from the females.

Tanks with redeye puffers need to be equipped with ample vegetation. The substrate, ideally fine, should have a depth of at least 2 cm (0.8 inches). This species needs these components to rest at night, hide from potential predators, and breed. With moderate care, healthy individuals should be able to live for up to 5 years in captive conditions. They may also tolerate tank mates, though occasional fin nipping may occur.

6) Golden puffer (Auriglobus modestus)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (7)

Native to Southeast Asia

Synonymous with Tetraodon modestus and Chonerhinos africanus, A. modestus is an attractive ornamental pufferfish that can grow to a modest length of about 12.7 cm (5 inches). It is commonly known as the golden puffer, bronze puffer, or avocado puffer. Compared to its close relatives, its body shape is quite unusual due to its streamlined and sleek form. This allows it to navigate more smoothly through water and swim faster than other puffers.

The golden puffer needs to be raised as a solitary fish due to its tendency to nip the fins of other fish. It is perfectly suited to being on its own in a 20-gallon tank, however, because its iridescent coloration and translucent fins are enough of an attraction on their own. Intelligent and endlessly curious, this fish’s tank setup should be decorated with vegetation, a soft substrate, and many points of exploration.

Lacking gill covers and scales, the golden puffer is highly sensitive to water conditions and can quickly become stressed by low concentrations of ammonia and nitrites. It is also prone to having excessively long teeth (like other puffers), which keep growing throughout its life. A diet with live-shelled treats should help wear down its teeth. If these get too long, they may need to be shortened manually.

7) Arrowhead puffer (Pao suvattii)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (8)

Native to the Mekong Basin

P. suvattii is one of the most aggressive and consistently hungry puffers to raise in captivity. This fish definitely requires its own personal tank as it readily consumes smaller fish and may attempt to nibble on the fins of larger ones. It is markedly voracious as it feeds, messily consuming food as it sinks down. Eating a large amount can cause it to seemingly double in size.

The arrowhead puffer is also referred to as Mekong puffer, hognose puffer, and pignose puffer. Able to grow to a maximum length of about 11 cm (4.3 inches), it is considered a medium-sized pufferfish. Its snout-like nose, dorsal V-shaped marking, and speckled appearance set it apart from other puffers.

In the wild, this species favors rocky waterways where it can hide in the substrate and imitate the appearance of boulders as it patiently waits for prey. Outside of feeding time, it is not known for being particularly active in tanks. In fact, it may spend the majority of its time burrowing into and hiding in sandy substrates.

8) Mbu puffer (Tetraodon mbu)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (9)

Native to Central Africa

Widely regarded as the king of all freshwater puffers, the Mbu pufferfish can grow to about 75 cm (30 inches) long. Many aquarists have likened rearing one to caring for the aquatic counterpart of a dog. Fairly peaceful despite its impressive size, this species has an intriguing personality and can be kept with other smaller fish in large, aquascaped tanks. Tetras, guppies, and danios can be kept with them as long as they are provided with many hiding places.

In the wild, Mbu puffers are found in large lakes and rocky rivers. Unlike other puffers, this species prefers to spend most of its time in open water. It may move toward heavily vegetated areas in search of food. With a mouth and teeth that become quite large at maturity, these fish are able to consume crabs, crayfish, mussels, and clams. Their young are more likely to consume shrimp, small snails, and worms.

To keep an Mbu puffer comfortable in captivity, it will have to be housed in a tank with a water volume of at least 125 gallons. It is advisable to acquire a large tank prior to purchasing one of these fish due to their rapid growth rate. Healthy individuals can grow as much as 2.5 – 5 cm (1 – 2 inches) per month during the first 1 – 2 years of their lives.

9) Palembang puffer (Pao palembangensis)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (10)

Native to Southeast Asia

Known as the humpback dragon puffer or the Palembang puffer, P. palembangensis is a beautiful addition to ornamental fish tanks because of its eye-catching patterns. With its chocolate-brown dorsal coloration and mottled abdomen, it can easily blend in with complex substrates in its native environment. This puffer’s eyes, which are usually distinctly orange, are quite large relative to its head.

The Palembang puffer can grow to a maximum length of about 19 cm (7.5 inches), making it the third-largest of all known freshwater puffers (after the Mbu and fahaka puffers). It is a nocturnal predator that tends to attack its prey while they are sleeping. Although these puffers are not generally active throughout the day, they need to be kept in tanks with a water volume of at least 30 gallons. They are antisocial and can expand to thrice their size when stressed, so they are also best reared as solitary fish.

10) Emerald puffer (Leiodon cutcutia)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (11)

Native to South and Southeast Asia

Once a member of the Tetraodon genus, this species was recently re-classified under Leiodon, in which it is the sole valid member. Apart from being known as the emerald puffer, it may also be referred to as the ocellated puffer. With eyes that are iridescent under bright light and with skin that can change color depending on its environment, this ornamental fish is endlessly enthralling.

Despite its attractive appearance, it is considered quite rare compared to puffers that are frequently carried by fish shops. This is likely due to its tendency to be aggressive even towards its conspecifics. If you are interested in cultivating the emerald puffer, you will need to house it in its own dedicated tank. Fortunately, it is small for a puffer (about 9 cm or 3.5 inches) and should be comfortable in a 10-gallon setup.

11) Fang’s puffer (Pao cochinchinensis)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (12)

Native to East and Southeast Asia

Although fang’s puffer is relatively small, growing to a maximum length of just 7 cm (2.8 inches), it is an extremely aggressive pufferfish. Black-spotted and greenish in color, it cannot be housed with any other types of fish, including its own kind, because it is likely to attack them. With a disposition that is likened to a piranha, this puffer is known for attacking humans by taking bits of flesh with every bite! This is one fish that will definitely make you want to keep your hands away from the tank.

In the wild, fang’s puffer occupies calm bodies of freshwater and brackish water. It favors warm conditions, thriving best in temperatures ranging from 24 – 28˚C (75 – 82˚F). If you intend to keep one in a tank, make sure to optimize water conditions as this fish is highly sensitive to fluctuations in nutrient concentrations. It must also be provided with ample vegetation and a complex bottom structure.

12) Hairy puffer (Pao baileyi)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (13)

Native to the Mekong river

As its common name suggests, the hairy pufferfish truly looks like it is generously covered in strands of thick hair. Formally called dermal cirri, the hairs are actually epidermal outgrowths that become increasingly absent with age. This means that younger fish tend to be hairier than their older conspecifics (just like humans)! Beneath the cirri is a complex pattern of dark blotches and spots. The abdomen is usually yellow and free of markings.

P. baileyi is often considered unattractive and inactive compared to other freshwater puffers. In spite of this reputation, individuals fetch a fairly high price and are sought after by collectors. They are supposedly quite intelligent and, if raised in captivity, should be able to recognize the face of their caretaker.

Like many other puffers, this species is considered an aggressive fish and will need to be housed in its own tank. Adults may measure up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) long and can live for 5 years or more in a well-maintained setup. At the minimum, their tank volume should be at least 20 gallons.

13) Amazon puffer (Colomesus asellus)

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (14)

Native to tropical South America

One of the only puffers found in the freshwater systems of South America, C. asellus is a common ornamental fish for aquariums because it can be kept with its own kind and with other fast-moving species. If it is housed with slow-moving fish, such as Corydoras and angelfish, it may, unfortunately, nip at their fins until there are none left to nip. Its teeth are remarkably fast-growing, even compared to those of other puffers, so it will need to be fed with a diet of shelled organisms.

Like other puffers, this species contains neurotoxins that can be lethal when ingested. When it is threatened by potential predators, it is able to inflate its body. Unlike other puffers, the Amazon pufferfish is generally non-territorial and may undergo migration in the wild as its larvae drift downstream.

Mature Amazon puffers can grow to about 12.8 cm (5 inches) long, though captive specimens tend to max out at 7.5 cm (3 inches). They should be kept in small schools of about 6 conspecifics. An aquascaped tank with a volume of at least 40 gallons is ideal for good growth. This is a great species for beginners who would like to take their knowledge of rearing freshwater fish to the next level.

14) Crested puffer (Carinotetraodon lorteti)

Native to Southeast Asia

The crested puffer can easily be mistaken for the redeye pufferfish for several reasons. These include the red coloration of both species’ eyes, their overlapping distribution in the wild, and similar mature size (though crested puffers are slightly longer on average). In the wild, this fish favors slow-moving freshwater bodies.

To distinguish between the crested puffer and other red-eyed puffers, pay close attention to the dorsal fin of males and the ventral region of females. Adult males have a distinctly red dorsal fin, while adult females have relatively clear abdomens and a reticulated pattern on their backs. Due to these differences, the males and females may sometimes be described as wholly separate species.

Crested puffers that are sold in aquaria are usually captively bred. They are unsuitable for multi-species tanks due to their aggressive and fin-nipping nature. It is normally recommended to keep these fish on their own. Nonetheless, if you are an experienced hobbyist and have a large, well-decorated tank with driftwood and vegetation, it may be possible to raise a small group of conspecifics.

14 Freshwater Pufferfish (Facts, Pics, & ID) - Pond Informer (2024)


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