Mbu Puffer (Tetraodon Mbu) Ultimate Guide

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Keeping freshwater pufferfish is seen by many to be the pinnacle of their fishkeeping hobby. They are truly fascinating creatures. The Mbu Puffer, sometimes called the Giant Puffer, is the king of the pufferfish. Reaching up to 30” (75cm) long, the Mbu Puffer is a mighty fish, and not one for the faint-hearted.

I have been keeping Pufferfish for over 10 years at this point, and keeping a Mbu Puffer is the absolute best experience. Keeping a Mbu Puffer is like keeping an underwater dog. They have tons of personality, endless amounts of energy, and best of all, they happily live in a community with other fish.

Mbu Pufferfish Overview

The Mbu Pufferfish is the largest freshwater pufferfish in the world. These giant fish, which are found in rivers and lakes across Central Africa, grow up to 30″ (75cm) long.

Despite their massive size, these puffers are surprisingly placid and they will happily live in an aquarium with other, smaller fish. There are countless examples around the internet of Mbu Pufferfish living with guppies, tetras, and danios.


Common Name:Mbu Puffer, Giant Puffer
Scientific Name:Tetraodon mbu
Origin:Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi
Tank Distribution:All areas
Adult Size:30″ (75cm)
Life Expectancy:10+ years
Care Level:Moderate
Minimum Tank Size:600 US Gallons (2000 Litres)
Breeding Method:Unknown
Temperature:75°F to 79°F (24°C – 26°C)
pH:7.0 – 8.0

Mbu Pufferfish Common Names

The Mbu Pufferfish (which is pronounced Ma-Boo) is also known as the Giant Pufferfish.

Mbu Puffer Origins

The Mbu Puffer originates from Central Africa. It can be found in rivers and lakes, including in the mighty Lake Tanganyika. The Mbu Puffers range is vast, covering a number of countries including Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Zambia.

Mbu Puffer Origin Map

Mbu Puffer Habitat

Mbu Puffers are found in rivers and lakes. Their natural habitat will include large areas of open water. The rivers are deep and the lakes vast. The river beds are often rocky and the substrate is both stony and sandy.

Some areas will naturally have overhanging vegetation, but open water is where the Mbu Puffer will spend most of its time.

What Do Mbu Puffers Eat In The Wild?

In their natural habitat, Mbu Puffers eat a wide selection of shelled creatures including crabs, crayfish, clams, and mussels, as well as worms and shrimps. Baby and juvenile Mbu Puffers in the wild no doubt consume daphnia, brine shrimp, and small snails.

As with other members of the pufferfish family, Mbu Puffers need to eat hard-shelled food to wear down their sharp teeth.

Failure to eat hard-shelled foods would lead to the Mbu Puffers’ teeth growing to the point it could no longer open or close its mouth.

What Size Aquarium For Mbu Puffer?

Needless to say, a fish measuring 30” or more needs a very large aquarium. Ultimately something around 600 gallons (2000 liters) or more will be required. The width of the aquarium is almost as important as the length. There is no point in having a 12’ (3.6m) long aquarium if it only measures 2’ (60cm) front to back. The Mbu will struggle to turn around.

An 8’ x 3’ x 3’ (240xm x 90cm x 90cm) should really be the absolute minimum size aquarium a Mbu Puffer should be kept in. My Mbu Puffer currently lives in a custom-built 8’ x 4’ x 4’ aquarium which holds just over 900 gallons (3500 liters) of water.

How Large Do Mbu Pufferfish Get?

There is no doubt the Mbu Pufferfish is a true giant. Typically, a well-fed Mbu Pufferfish will grow to 30″ (75cm) from head to tail.

Mbu Puffers are fast-growing fish that can easily grow 2′ (60cm) within the first 18 months of their lives.

A healthy Mbu Puffer can easily grow 1″ – 2″ (2.5cm – 5cm) per month for the first 18 months of its life. The Mbu Puffers’ fast rate of growth is a natural adaptation that reduces the chances of young puffers being eaten by larger fish.

Due to their rapid rate of growth, if you are thinking of keeping a Mbu Puffer, I strongly recommend you buy the tank before you buy the puffer. That way, you are ready no matter how quickly the Mbu grows.

Housing A Mbu Pufferfish

Mbu Puffer Tank Size

Mbu Puffers are large fish, they need a large aquarium! As an absolute minimum, an adult Mbu Puffer will need an aquarium that is 8′ x 3′ x 3′ (2.4m x 90cm x 90cm) and there are many who would argue that is nowhere near big enough.

I currently keep my Mbu in an 8′ x 4′ x 4′ (2.4m x 1.2m x 1.2m) tank, and I am thinking that may not be large enough.

Mbu Puffers are surprisingly active and they do like some space to swim around in. Bear in mind, a 30″ fish that is in a tank just 36″ wide doesn’t have much room to turn around.

Substrate In A Mbu Pufferfish Tank

Lots of people say their Mbu Puffers like to bury themselves. I haven’t found that to be the case. I don’t think I have ever seen my Mbu bury himself. What I have seen though is him blowing the substrate in the search for food. It is important they have the opportunity to exercise this natural desire to hunt. They wouldn’t be able to blow gravel in the same way.

I have had good success in many of my pufferfish tanks using Super Naturals Aquarium Sand (see more about this sand on Amazon.com)

I have seen other fishkeepers using normal aquarium gravel in their Mbu Puffer tanks. As far as I could see, the puffer was no worse for having gravel, but to my mind, the Mbu was lacking the natural ability to hunt in the sand for prey.

How Should An Mbu Puffer Aquarium Be Set Up?

There are 3 crucial components to setting up a Mbu Puffer aquarium. These are;

  • Open swimming spaces
  • Sandy substrate
  • No sharp sticks or pieces of wood

Open swimming space

A Mbu Puffer takes up a lot of space in the aquarium. They like to swim around, especially if they are hunting crabs or crayfish. When setting up an aquarium for a Mbu Puffer, be sure to leave large open areas where your Mbu can swim around. They aren’t graceful and don’t want to have to weave on and out of lots of decorations

No sharp sticks or pieces of wood

Even a large Mdu Puffer can really move when they want to. One flick of their large tail and they shoot across the aquarium. If you have sharp sticks or pieces of wood in the aquarium your Mbu Puffer can gouge his own eye out or stab himself. I have seen a Mbu which only had one eye for that very reason.

Keep aquarium decoration to a minimum. Large rocks can be used to aquascape the aquarium and live plants will help to give a ‘natural’ feel.

Filtering a Mbu Pufferfish Aqaurium

Mbu Puffers are large fish. When they go to the bathroom, it is like a small dog has been to the bathroom in their aquarium.

It is essential a Mbu Puffer aquarium has sufficient filtration to keep the water clean.

Mbu Puffer Behavior In The Aquarium

Mbu Puffer Fish are something of a paradox. They are incredibly aggressive to their own kind, but will happily live in an aquarium with other, non-puffer, fish. I currently keep my Mbu with dozens of ‘community’ fish and he doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

With that said, individual personalities may vary. It could be that my Mbu is placid and the next is a stone-cold killer that won’t allow any other fish to live in the aquarium.

What Do Mbu Puffers Eat?

If there is one downside to keeping a Mbu Puffer (other than the aquarium size) it is the food bill. Mbu Puffers have huge appetites.

Like most other members of the puffer family, Mbu Puffers have to eat shelled food to keep their teeth trimmed. Clams on the half shell are a favourite with my puffer, but I also give him the occasional live crab or crayfish.

I am not a big feeder of live foods, but it is important to maintain their natural instinct to hunt. Mbu Puffers will also take snails and worms.

Suitable Foods For A Mbu Pufferfish

Like any fish, Mbu Puffers require a varied, balanced diet to get the full range of vitamins and minerals they need. Some of the food suitable for a Mbu Puffer include;

  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Crayfish
  • Crabs
  • Snails

One word of caution when it comes to feeding live crabs and crayfish to Mbu Puffer, crabs and crayfish can and will defend themselves by pinching the pufferfish with their claws.

Whilst the Mbu Puffer is built to withstand a certain amount of pinching, if the claw gets the Mbu in the eye, the puffer will undoubtedly lose the eye.

Breeding Mbu Puffers In Captivity

I haven’t been able to find any reliable accounts of Mbu Puffers being bred in captivity.

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.

Puffer fish 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

The Mbu Puffer is a truly stunning fish. If you have the opportunity to own one, I can not recommend it enough. Their personalities make owning them more like owning a dog than a fish. They are genuine wet pets!

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