Amazon Puffer (Colomesus asellus) Keeping, Breeding & Feeding

I think almost everyone in our hobby will agree that no fish has risen so much in popularity over the last 10 to 15 years as the freshwater pufferfish have.

There is now a pufferfish to suit every tank size and every budget. From the tiny Dwarf Puffers, which may only grow to 1″ (2.5cm) to the huge Mbu Pufferfish which can easily grow to 30″ (75cm) or more!

When I first started keeping fish, it was unheard of for someone to have pufferfish. These days I have many different species in my own fish room including Dwarf Puffers, 2 Fahaka Puffers, a Hairy Puffer, and a group of Amazon Puffers.

Overview of the Amazon Pufferfish

The Amazon Pufferfish (which is also sometimes referred to as the Peruvian Puffer or the South American Puffer) is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of pufferfish because they are happy living in a community tank with other fish.

These small fish, which usually reach around 3″ (7.5cm) long have a golden back with green to black stripes, bands, or blotches across it. They have a pale underbelly and large yellow and black eyes that always seem focused on whatever is going on outside the aquarium.

Amazon Puffers are inquisitive, continually active, and cause little to no trouble in the aquarium, making them an ideal fish for those who have some experience in fish keeping but want to take their hobby to the next level.

Characteristics

Common Name:Amazon Pufferfish, Peruvian Puffer, South American Pufferfish
Scientific Name:Colomesus asellus
Family:Tetraodontidae
Origin:Amazon basin in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador
Tank Distribution:All over
Adult Size:3″ (7.5cm)
Life Expectancy:5 to 7 years
Care Level:Medium
Minimum Tank Size:40-gallons (150 liters)
Breeding Method:Unknown
Temperature:68°F – 78°F (20°C – 26°C)
pH:5.5 – 7.8
Hardness:36 – 268 ppm

Amazon Pufferfish Common Names

As with so many fish, Amazon Pufferfish are given different common names. These names often vary by location. Some of the names I have heard used to describe this fish are;

  • Amazon Pufferfish
  • Peruvian Pufferfish
  • South American Pufferfish
  • Bumblebee Pufferfish
  • Asellus Pufferfish

Amazon Puffer Habitat

Amazon Pufferfish Range Map

The Amazon Puffer is found across a huge range of northern South America. It has been recorded in Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. Naturally, due to this vast range, Amazon Puffers are found in a wide variety of waterways.

Researchers have recorded Amazon Pufferfish in fast-flowing rivers with gravel river beds and huge boulders as well as slower flowing rivers with beaches and sand bars. Amazon Puffers have also been found in flooded parts of the forest where there is much overhanging vegetation.

One thing we can take from the large area the Amazon Puffer chooses to call home is that they are adaptable fish. Although, there are two points we should note from the locations all Amazon Puffers are found in.

Firstly, they are almost always found in areas where the water is highly oxygenated, suggesting they may be sensitive to low oxygen conditions. Secondly, they are very rarely found in acidic, black-water parts of the Amazon Basin.



Are Amazon Puffers Wild Caught?

To the best of my knowledge, the Amazon Puffer is not being bred regularly in captivity, which means almost all Amazon Pufferfish we find in local fish stores are wild-caught.

What Do Amazon Puffers Eat In The Wild?

In the wild, Amazon Pufferfish eat a lot of snails and small freshwater crabs and well as other shellfish they come across.

Like other members of the Pufferfish family, Amazon Puffers have teeth that grow continually and have to be worn down by eating through hard-shelled food such as snails.

I suspect their diet also includes worms, waterborne crustaceans, daphnia, and mosquito larvae.

How Large Do Amazon Puffers Get?

Amazon Pufferfish are at the smaller end of the scale when it comes to pufferfish size. In our aquariums, Amazon Puffers usually reach around 3″ (7.5cm) in length. There are reports that Amazon Puffers may reach 5″ (12.5cm), but it seems Amazon Puffers rarely reach this size in captivity.

Housing Amazon Pufferfish

Amazon Puffer Tank Size

Whilst an individual Amazon Puffer doesn’t grow very large, this fish is definitely best kept in a small group (ideally 6 or more Amazon Puffers). As such, a minimum tank size of around 40 gallons (150 liters) should be considered.

I keep my Amazon Pufferfish in a 55-gallon tank which is heavily planted and all the fish seem to be doing really well.

Substrate In An Amazon Pufferfish Tank

As mentioned above, Amazon Puffers come from a wide range of streams and rivers, and as such, they are found in waterways with a variety of different substrates.

In my experience, pufferfish do best when kept on a sandy substrate. Although I have never seen my Amazon Pufferfish bury themselves like my Humpback Puffer or Redeye Puffer do, they do hunt in the sand, especially pulling out snails that have partially buried themselves.

In almost all my pufferfish tanks I use Super Naturals Aquarium Sand which I order from Amazon (see more on the sand here). It looks natural and I know if any of my puffers accidentally end up eating some of the sand with their food, it will just pass through them without causing any impaction.

Decorations In An Amazon Pufferfish Tank

Amazon Puffers themselves are not bothered about what decorations you put in their tanks. Rocks, wood, or a ceramic castle, they don’t care. Amazon Puffers do however like some decorations in their tank. They are active, inquisitive fish who spend a lot of their day exploring their own space.

In my own Amazon Puffer tank, I have a couple of large rocks, some pieces of aquarium safe wood, and a lot of live plants.

Many other puffer species like to carve out their own territories in the aquarium, but Amazon Puffers are not too territorial. They will however occasionally appreciate line-of-sight blocks, just so they can get away from one another when they need to.

Amazon Puffers do seem to benefit from live plants in their aquarium. Not only does it look more natural, but they do enjoy swimming in and out of the plants. I have Amazon Sword, Vallisnarina, and lots of Java Fern growing in my Amazon Puffer tank.

Lighting an Amazon Puffer Tank

Amazon Puffers themselves do not need any special light. It makes no difference to them. If however, you are growing live aquarium plants, having proper lights is important.

I like to use the Fluval Aquasky over my Amazon Puffer tank. The fish look great and the plants grow well.

Filtering an Amazon Puffer Tank

Filtration is extremely important in an Amazon Puffer tank. Amazon Puffers are intolerant of poor water quality, meaning it is important that any ammonia from the pufferfish’s waste is quickly converted to nitrate by the aquarium filter.

I use an external canister filter (like this one on Amazon.com). It keeps the water really clean and helps keep the tank well oxygenated as I return the water to the tank via a spray bar, which draws air in as it sprays back into the tank.

Whatever filter you choose to use on an Amazon Puffer tank, make sure the flow isn’t so fast it blows the pufferfish all around the tank. Whilst Amazon Puffers are found in some fast-flowing waterways, they don’t want to be fighting the flow 24 hours a day which can happen when a filter is too powerful!

Heating an Amazon Puffer Tank

Amazon Puffers come from tropical regions and need their aquarium water to be anywhere between 68°F – 78°F (20°C – 26°C). For most of us, this means we will need an aquarium heater to keep the water at the right temperature.

I can not recommend the E-Series of aquarium heaters from Fluval enough. Whilst they are a little more pricey than some other heaters, for me, the digital display on the front telling me the temperature of the water is invaluable. Check out the price of the Fluval E-Series heater on Amazon!


https://youtu.be/-Vuu9l7AGyQ

Are Amazon Pufferfish Aggressive?

Amazon Pufferfish are not aggressive, well, not aggressive for a pufferfish!

Compared to many other members of the pufferfish family, Amazon Pufferfish are fairly mild tempered. In my experience I would describe Amazon Puffers as mildly aggressive.

The good news is they can be housed either with other Amazon Puffers or with other, fast swimming, community fish.

Please bear in mind, that whilst not overly aggressive, Amazon Pufferfish do have sharp teeth, so be careful when carrying out tank maintenance. I can tell you from personal experience, Amazon Puffers can you a nasty bite if you let them!

What do Amazon Puffers Eat in Captivity?

As mentioned previously, Amazon Pufferfish need a diet largely based around hard-shelled food. It is imperative they wear their teeth down on a regular basis, overwise their teeth will grow to the point they can no longer open and close their mouths.

Amazon Puffers are carniores. They do not want any vegetable matter in their diet. The won’t eat plants and they certainly won’t eat pellet or flake foods, so don’t waste your time trying them.

I have read articles on other websites where people say ‘Amazon puffers will eat algae wafers or peas’. As someone who has actually kept these fish, believe me, they won’t!

With that said, they do still need variety in their diets so they get a full range of vitamins and minerals. It is important to feed them as many different foods as you can.

I feed my Amazon Puffers a mixture of the following;

  • Ramshorn Snails
  • Pond Snails
  • Mealworms
  • Small Clams and Mussels
  • Shrimp
  • Worms
  • Bloodworms
  • Mosquito Larvae
  • Daphnia
  • Other frozen foods such as Mysis shrimp and cockle meat

Amazon Pufferfish, like all pufferfish really, are prone to overeating. They are a greedy species of fish. Luckily, we can tell when our pufferfish have had enough to eat as their bellies extend and hang down below their bodies.

When your Amazon Puffers have full bellies, stop feeding them.

The video below demonstrates the consequences of not feeding Amazon Pufferfish hard-shelled foods.



How Often Should You Feed Amazon Puffers?

Amazon Puffers need to be fed on a regular basis. For a healthy, well-rounded pufferfish they should be fed at least once a day, and two small meals a day are better than one large meal, especially if they are new to you, and perhaps a little underweight.

As Amazon Puffers get older, they may need feeding less often. This is an area of Amazon Pufferfish keeping that isn’t fully understood yet.

My own Amazon Puffers certainly seem to be eating less as they age, but I still feed them every day.

Breeding your own snails for an Amazon Pufferfish

Amazon Puffers eat a lot of snails, and if you have an aquarium with 6 or more Amazon Pufferfish in it, you could easily get through 100 snails or more in a week. That can quickly turn into a high food bill.

To prevent your Amazon Puffers from eating you out of house and home, consider setting up a dedicated snail breeding aquarium.

If you set up a basic 10-gallon fish tank with gravel a few rocks, a small filter, and a heater, you can literally breed hundreds of Ramshorn snails with very little effort.

Personally, in my own snail breeding tanks, I just chuck in a few blocks of Rapashy each week, which the snails quickly swarm all over. The number of Ramshorn Snails just multiples rapidly, keeping the cost of feeding all my puffers very low.



Sexing Amazon Pufferfish

Amazon Pufferfish are NOT sexual dimorphic (meaning you can tell the sexes apart just by looking at them). To the best of my knowledge, there is currently no known way to sex Amazon Puffers.

Breeding Amazon Puffers In Captivity

According to my research, the Amazon Puffer has never been successfully bred in captivity. Its breeding behavior has however been studied a little in the wild.

In the Wild, Amazon Pufferfish seem to choose to spawn either close to the riverbank or near the mouth of a floodplain. The female lays fairly small eggs which the male then fertilizes. Neither parent shows any parental care of the eggs or developing fry.

It seems the young Amazon Pufferfish often end up in a floodplain or small lake off the main river, where they grow and develop, returning to the main river as juvenile fish when the floodwaters begin to recede.

Do Amazon Puffers Inflate?

Amazon Pufferfish do infalte. Inflating is a defense mechanism that all pufferfish employ when there is a danger of them being eaten, either by another, larger fish or by a land mammal that has entered the water.

To inflate their bodies, pufferfish rapidly inhale a large volume of water, increasing their body size by 3 or 4 times its normal size. When the pufferfish inflate rapidly, it forces the jaws of the predator open, allowing the pufferfish to escape.

Amazon Pufferfish will occasionally inflate their bodies in the aquarium. This is usually a quick inflate followed by quickly deflating. They do this a few times a year, just to exercise their inflation muscles.

To witness Amazon Puffers inflating in the aquarium you usually have to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

No pufferfish should ever be made to inflate by the fishkeeper. Inflating is a stressful process for the puffer, and inflating out of water can often prove fatal to the pufferfish.

Where to Buy Amazon Pufferfish?

In recent years, Amazon Puffers have become more available in local fish stores. It is not uncommon these days to walk into a local fish store and see 3 or 4 different species of pufferfish available.

If your local store doesn’t have Amazon Puffers in stock, ask if they can order some in for you. It may be that they can access Amazon Puffers, but they only order them special items when customers request them.

Alternatively, there are a number of good online suppliers who ship Amazon Puffers all over the country.

How Much Do Amazon Pufferfish Cost?

Whilst prices for Amazon Puffers can vary depending on the source, you should expect to pay somewhere between $20 and $40 per fish.

Some stores may charge more if they have quarantined the Amazon Puffers prior to selling them. Quarantining is essential, especially if you are adding the Amazon Puffers to an existing setup with other fish living in it.

Common Amazon Puffer Pests and Diseases

In my experience, pufferfish are no more or less susceptible to pests and diseases than other fish. Often people will quote the fact that pufferfish are scaleless as a reason they are more likely to become unwell. I haven’t found this to be the case.

Common Pests and diseases include;

  • Ich (Whitespot)
  • Tapeworms
  • Finrot
  • Fungus

Ich (Whitespot)

Ich is extremely common in Amazon Puffers, especially when they first arrive either in the local fish store, or when they arrive at your home via mail order. Ich takes advantage of fish that are stressed, and fish get extremely stressed when traveling in bags with other fish.

Ich, as its other common name suggests, presents itself as white spots. These spots usually start on the tail and fins, but if left untreated soon spread across the whole body.

The white spots are actually cysts which are the result of a parasite that burrows into the skin of the fish. Ich is really easy to treat. I have had great success using Ich-X which is made by Hikari. The video below discusses treating Ich in more detail.



Tapeworms

Tapeworms, and other internal parasites, are a real problem with Amazon Puffers. As all Amazon Puffers are wild-caught, they almost always arrive full of tapeworms.

Tapeworms live in the internal digestive system and, if left untreated, will consume all the goodness from the Amazon Puffers food before the puffer can. Essentially, a puffer infested with tapeworms can starve to death even though they eat every day.

Treating for internal parasites can be a little tricky, and you will almost certainly need to treat your Amazon Puffer two or three times before you can be sure you have completely cleared them of tapeworms.

The best product I have found to treat internal parasites is Paracleanse which is made by Fritz. Paracleanse has been designed specifically to treat internal parasites. If you are based in Europe, eSHa -NDX is a great product that also worms for Camallanus Red Worm.



Finrot

Finrot is caused by a bacterial infection that gets into fins that have been damaged following nipping by other fish.

Finrot is typically seen in newly-imported specimens that have been transported in bags with multiple other Amazon Puffers. When in transit, Amazon Puffers will nip other puffers in the bag with them. These nips then become infected.

Left untreated, finrot can quickly spread across the fins, onto the tail, and in the mouth. If not treated promptly, the finrot will eventually prove fatal.

Fungus

Fungus, which usually presents as a white, cotton wool substance, often starts with a small area of damage on the puffer’s body.

The fungus can quickly spread across a pufferfish’s body, and left untreated will usually overwhelm the pufferfish. Treating with a product like Maracyn by Fritz will clear up the fungus quickly. Maracyn’s active ingredient is an antibiotic called erythromycin.

Amazon Pufferfish Tank Mates

One rare quality of Amazon Puffers is that they actually tolerate tank mates.

Amazon Puffers can be kept in a group in a species-only tank, ideally with 6 or more being kept together, or with other ‘community’ fish.

When selecting tank mates for an Amazon Puffer tank, I strongly suggest you choose fish that are fast swimming and do not have long-flowing fins. Some good suggestions for tank mates would include;

  • Harlequin Tetras
  • Zebra Danios
  • Dension Barbs
  • Cherry Barbs
  • Rummy Nose Tetras
  • Neon Tetras
  • Corydoras
  • Kuhli Loaches

Fish with flowing fins that might be easily nipped or slow swimming fish that may struggle to get away from the Amazon Puffers would be a poor choice as tank mates. These would include;

  • Angelfish
  • Gourami
  • Guppies
  • Rams
  • Congo Tetras
  • Platies

Whatever fish you choose as tank mates, consider having a plan B in case things don’t work out and your Amazon Puffers decide they want to attack any other fish living in the aquarium.

Other Members Of The Puffer Family

Pufferfish are extremely popular in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby at the moment. There are different-sized puffers to suit different-sized tanks and different experience levels.

Pufferfish range from the relatively cheap and easy to care for Dwarf Puffer which only reaches around 1.5 inches, to the giant Mbu Puffer which will reach 3ft or more and is only suitable for aquarists with extremely large aquariums, possibly needing 1000 or more gallons.

Below I have listed some of the most popular puffer species available in the hobby. One note of caution, common names for pufferfish vary by country, so always be sure to find the correct scientific name of the puffer you are purchasing before completing the sale.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

Article Sources

wikipedia.org/wiki/Colomesus_asellus

https://www.seriouslyfish.com/species/colomesus-asellus/

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