Hairy Puffer (Tetraodon Baileyi) Keeping, Breeding & Feeding

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I have been keeping pufferfish for more than 10 years. During that time I have seen the popularity of keeping pufferfish skyrocket, and with good reason. Pufferfish present the next ‘challenge’ to an experienced fish keeper. Starting to keep pufferfish is like taking the next step in your fishkeeping career.

Hairy Puffers present us, fish keepers, with a real challenge. They are definitely not for the new fishkeeper nor those who like to keep a display tank full of color or constant movement. Hairy Puffers are for the fish-keeping connoisseur!


Common Name:Hairy Puffer, Bailey’s Puffer
Scientific Name:Tetraodon baileyi
Origin:Thailand and Laos
Tank Distribution:Bottom
Adult Size:5” (12.5cm)
Life Expectancy:5+ years
Care Level:Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:20 US Gallons (75 Litres)
Breeding Method:Unknown
Temperature:74°F to 81°F (23°C – 27°C)
pH:6.5 – 7.5

Hairy Puffer Origins

The Hairy Puffer can be found throughout much of Thailand and Laos. It is thought to live in large rocky rivers and streams throughout the Mekong Basin.

Hairy Puffer Origin Map

Hairy Puffer Habitat

The Hairy Puffers’ natural habitat is rocky rivers and streams where the water flows quickly, almost whitewater in some locations. The Hairy Puffer has been found by researchers in the Mekong River and a number of its tributaries.

There is no doubt the rocky nature of the Hairy Puffers habitat has helped shape the way it has evolved.

What Size Aquarium For Hairy Puffer?

Hairy Puffers, like so many of their species, do not grow large and are not especially active. They spend the vast majority of their day sitting, pretending to be invisible waiting for their next meal to swim by.

As such, the Hairy Puffer does not need a large aquarium. I currently keep my Hairy Puffer in a 20 gallon (75 liters) aquarium. He only ever moves when he wants to eat, so any additional space is just a waste.

How Should An Hairy Puffer Aquarium Be Set Up?

There are only two things a Hairy Puffer requires from his aquarium setup, a sandy substrate (I like to use Super Naturals Aquarium Sand which I ordered from, and lots of rocks of various sizes to create hiding places. It is extremely important that the Hairy Puffers aquarium is set up so he can hide from prying eyes. They need to feel invisible to settle.

Aquarium-safe wood and live plants can also be added to the Hairy Puffers aquarium to give it a ‘natural’ feel.

The Hairy Puffer isn’t too worried about lighting, but filtration and flow are extremely important. The Hairy Puffer has evolved to live in water that is fast flowing, highly oxygenated, and clean. They are intolerant of even moderate levels of waste in the aquarium.

In my own Hairy Puffer aquarium, I currently run two Fluval external canister filters (more about Fluval filters in this article) and a wavemaker. The water is constantly swirling, but the rocks create places out of the main flow where my Hairy puffer can sit in ambush without having to battle against the current.

Hairy Puffer Behavior In The Aquarium

Hairy Puffers are about as antisocial as any fish can be. They will not tolerate any fish being in the same area as them. Any fish that fits in the Hairy Puffer’s mouth will be eaten and bites will be taken out of any fish too large to fit into its mouth.

Caution should also be shown by the fishkeeper, especially when carrying out maintenance on the Hairy Puffers aquarium. From first-hand experience (no pun intended) I can tell you that if you put your hand too close to your Hairy Puffer, he will try to bite it. I was lucky, but it would be easy to lose a finger to one of these fish.

What Do Hairy Puffers Eat?

Hairy Pufferfish are absolute carnivores. There is no way they are going to take any commercially available foods like pellets. I feed my Hairy Puffer a mix of prawns, snails, small fish, and crabs (sometimes just crab legs).

I believe all Hairy Puffers in the trade are wild-caught, so transitioning them over to non-live foods can be tricky, but they will usually come around.

Breeding Hairy Puffers In Captivity

I have not heard of any reports of Hairy Puffers being bred in captivity, although I understand research suggests males have more ‘hairs’ on their chins than females. I suspect that attempting to breed these fascinating fish would require a very large 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 available range from the relatively cheap and easy to care for Pea 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.

In Conclusion

Hairy Puffers are a fascinating species of fish that pose a real challenge to the fish keeper. Providing the aquarium is set up correctly and the Hairy Puffer’s dietary needs are met, there is no reason a single species can’t be kept for many years.

I really enjoy keeping Hairy Puffers and I would recommend others to give them a go.

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