The Ultimate Freshwater Puffer Fish Guide

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Freshwater pufferfish are really popular at the moment, and with good reason. Pufferfish are a truly fascinating and varied collection of fish. From the tiny Dwarf Puffer to the Mighty Mbu Puffer.

Recently I found myself looking into which puffer fish to get next. I looked for a guide to all the puffer commonly available in the hobby. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good resource, so I decided to write one.

Below I have tried to cover all the species commonly available in the hobby. The list below is in no particular order and I will continue to update it over time.

This guide covers each of the following freshwater pufferfish;

Dwarf or Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

Common Names:Dwarf Puffer, Pea Puffer, Pygmy Puffer
Scientific Name:Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Origin:Kerala, India
Adult Size:1.4 inches (3.5cm)
Care Level:Beginner
Minimum Tank Size:10 Gallons (37 liters)

Where Do Dwarf Puffers Come From?

Dwarf pufferfish originate from Kerala and southern Karnataka in Southwest India. They have become incredibly popular in recent years, largely due to their ability to live in nano aquariums.

Unfortunately, their newfound popularity has contributed to their decline in the wild. Dwarf puffers are currently classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and overharvesting for the aquarium trade.

Dwarf Puffer Origins Map

Dwarf Puffers Natural Habitat

The dwarf puffer’s natural habitat is slow-moving rivers and streams. These waters are no doubt full of vegetation, both planted and floating. In the aquarium, these conditions can be recreated by adding Dwarf Puffer to well-planted aquariums.

Dwarf Puffer Tank Setup

The Dwarf Puffer’s popularity has no doubt been boosted by the fact they can be kept in very small aquariums; a single specimen can be kept in as small as a 5-gallon tank. A trio can be kept in a 10-gallon and a group of 6-8 can cohabit in a 20-gallon aquarium.

A Dwarf Puffers aquarium should be set up with rocks or wood and should certainly have live plants in it. Dwarf Puffers are extremely inquisitive and they will appreciate an aquarium with lots of things to explore.

What Do Dwarf Puffers Eat?

As with all puffers, Dwarf Puffers are die-hard carnivores. In the aquarium, they will eat live or frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, and black worms. Dwarf Puffers will also eat small snails including Ramshorn snails and Malaysian Trumpet Snails.

Fortunately, unlike other pufferfish, Dwarf Puffers do not have to eat hard-shelled foods to keep their teeth trimmed.

Dwarf Puffer Tank Mates?

Despite their small size, Dwarf Puffers have a lot of attitude. They can be very aggressive and they don’t tolerate other fish very well. If you are going to house other fish with them, make sure the tank mates are fast swimmers.

The best tank mates for Dwarf Puffers are other Dwarf Puffers. I have had great success keeping a small colony of Dwarf Puffers together. The size of the tank will determine how many Dwarf Puffer you can keep together. The list below gives a rough Dwarf Puffer to tank size guide.

  • 1 Dwarf Puffer: 5 gallons (19 liters)
  • 3 Dwarf Puffer: 10 gallons (38 liters)
  • 5 Dwarf Puffer: 20 gallons (76 liters)
  • 8 Dwarf Puffers: 30 gallons (113 liters)
  • 10 Dwarf Puffers: 40 gallon (150 liters)

How Much Do Dwarf Puffers Cost?

The cost of Dwarf Puffers varies massively depending on where you buy them from. I have seen Dwarf Puffers for sale for as little a $3 each to as much as $15. The variety in price seems to largely relate to how much medication the Dwarf Puffers have required before going on sale, especially de-worming medication.

Amazon Puffer (Colomesus asellus)

Common Name:Amazon Puffer
Scientific Name:Colomesus asellus
Origin:Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru
Adult Size:3 inches (7.5cm)
Care Level:Moderately Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:20 Gallons (75 liters)

Where Do Amazon Puffers Come From?

Amazon Puffers originate from huge areas of the Amazon Basin including Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Amazon Puffer Origins Map

Amazon Puffers Natural Habitat

Amazon Puffers have been recorded in just about every type of habitat throughout the Amazon Basin. Their known habitats include beaches and sandbars, fast-flowing rivers with stoney beds and large boulders, banks with heavy overhanging vegetation, and floodplains.

Most of the locations Amazon Puffers occur in are areas where the water is fast flowing and has high levels of oxygen. This does suggest Amazon Puffers may be susceptible to water with low oxygen concentrations.

Amazon Puffers occur in waters with varying pH levels and hardness. This means they are very adaptable to a wide selection of aquarium conditions.

Amazon Puffer Tank Setup

Amazon Puffers will appreciate a tank setup that closely mimics their natural environment. They are extremely inquisitive, so the more they have in their tank, the more content they will be.

The aquarium should be set up with plenty of rocks and wood. Live plants should be spread throughout the aquarium, but there should be some open space for swimming.

What Do Amazon Puffers Eat?

In their natural habitat, Amazon Puffers feed on hard-shelled invertebrates such as snails and crabs.

It is essential for Amazon Puffers to eat hard-shelled foods in the aquarium too as their ‘teeth’ grow continuously. Biting through the shelled foods helps trim their teeth.

There is good evidence that in the wild, Amazon Puffers feed on aufwuchs (a collection of small animals and plants that adhere to open surfaces in aquatic environments, such as parts of rooted plants)

Amazon Puffer Tank Mates?

Amazon Puffers are not as aggressive as other puffers. They are often referred to as ‘suitable for community tanks’, although caution should be taken.

Amazon Puffers are best kept in a group with other Amazon Puffers, ideally 6 or more together.

How Much Do Amazon Puffers Cost?

As with all fish, the price varies from vendor to vendor, but Amazon Puffers are usually in the $25 to $30 range.

Hairy Puffer (Tetraodon baileyi)

Common Name:Hairy Puffer
Scientific Name:Pao baileyi
Origin:Thailand and Laos
Adult Size:5 inches (12.5cm)
Care Level:Difficult
Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons (75 liters)

Where Do Hairy Puffers Come From?

Hairy Puffers originate from Thailand and Laos where they can be found in the mighty Mekong River and its tributaries. It makes its home amongst fast-flowing rivers and streams, spending most of its time wedged into crevices in the rocks, waiting to ambush crustaceans and fish which pass it by.

The water the Hairy Puffer lives in is naturally highly oxygenated.

Hairy Puffer Origin Map

Hairy Puffers Natural Habitat

The Hairy Puffer’s natural habitat is the fast-flowing, often whitewater, where the river travels over large boulders and rocky areas. This habitat provides the Hairy Puffer with countless small caves and crevices where they can wedge themselves tightly waiting to ambush their prey.

The water is naturally highly oxygenated due to the speed it flows.

Hairy Puffer Tank Setup

The Hairy Puffer aquarium should be set up with soft sand or fine gravel substrate. Decorations should include lots of rocks, heavy enough that the puffer can’t dislodge them, and arranged so there are multiple hiding places.

The water in the Hairy Puffer aquarium should be continually moving and additional powerheads may be required.

Although Hairy Puffers live in fast-flowing waters, they are relatively poor swimmers so there should be ample rocks providing shelter from the rapidly moving water.

What Do Hairy Puffers Eat?

Hairy Puffers are ambush predators. As such they are opportunistic feeders. They will prey on small fish, crustaceans, worms, and probably anything else which strays into striking distance.

In the aquarium, they will also take live bloodworms or blackworms, snails, crab’s legs, prawns, and shelled mussels.

Hairy Puffer Tank Mates?

Hairy Puffers are aggressive and territorial. Generally speaking, they should only be kept as a solitaire specimen in a species only tank. Mated pairs may tolerate one another in a tank, but extreme caution should still be shown.

How Much Do Hairy Puffer Cost?

I recently purchase a Hairy Puffer for $80, which to my mind was a fair price for a decent fish. I have also seen Hairy Puffers for sale for up to $120.

Red-Tailed Red-Eyed Puffer (Carinotetraodon irrubesco)

Common Name:Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer
Scientific Name:Carinotetraodon irrubesco
Origin:Indonesia and South Sumatra
Adult Size:1.8 inches (4.5cm)
Care Level:Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:20 Gallons (75 liters)

Where Do Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers Come From?

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers originate from the lower Banjuasin river basin in South Sumatra and the Sambas River drainage in West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat) province, Borneo.

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer Origin Map

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers Natural Habitat

In the wild, the Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer is found exclusively near riverbanks. It has also been collected from locations where the water was dark, murky, and acidic (6.0pH). Their natural habitat will undoubtedly have a large amount of vegetation.

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer Tank Setup

A single Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium. A group of 3 would need a 29 gallon. A larger group could be kept in a 40-gallon. Their tank should be set up with some rocks or wood and should be heavily planted.

The Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers’ natural habitat includes lots of vegetation, so the aquarium keeper should try to recreate these conditions.

If more than 1 Red-Tail is being kept in an aquarium, attempts should be made to create plenty of ‘line of sight’ blocks using decorations or plants.

What Do Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers Eat?

Much like other similar puffers, Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers are 100% meat-eaters. In the aquarium, they will eat bloodworms, brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, chopped mussel meat, and shrimp.

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers should also be offered shelled foods, such as snails, on a regular basis to help keep their teeth trimmed.

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer Tank Mates?

Although still an aggressive species of fish, Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers are somewhat more tolerant of tank mates.

Long-finned fish such as gouramis and angelfish should be avoided as the puffers may nip at their fins, but faster swimming barbs, rasboras, and tetras should be fine.

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers will tolerate members of the same species kept together, although caution should always be taken, just in case.

How Much Do Red-Tailed Redeye Puffer Cost?

Red-Tailed Redeye Puffers are generally not too expensive to purchase. They tend to cost between $10 and $20 each.

Somphong’s Puffer (Carinotetraodon lorteti)

Common Name: Somphong’s Puffer, Redeye Puffer
Scientific Name:Carinotetraodon lorteti
Origin:lower Mekong basin in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia
Adult Size:2.0 – 2.5 inches (5.0 – 6.0cm)
Care Level:Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:15 Gallons (55 liters)

Where Do Somphong’s Puffers Come From?

This small pufferfish is found in the many rivers and streams that make up the Lower Mekong Basin throughout Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Vietnam is said to be its stronghold.

Somphong’s Puffer Origin Map

Somphong’s Puffers Natural Habitat

Somphong’s Puffers’ natural habitat tends to be slower-moving to standing water. It prefers to live in the minor tributaries and floodplains rather than the main rivers and streams, typically choosing areas that have heavy tree cover above.

This tree cover not only provides shade from above but also an abundance of leaves that fall into the waterway, creating a bed of decaying leaves and branches on the river bottom.

This dense layer of leaves provides the Somphong’s Puffer with the perfect environment to live and hunt in.

Somphong’s Puffers Tank Setup

If you hope to keep this fascinating little pufferfish, you will want to recreate their natural environment as closely as possible.

A tank that is about 15 gallons (55 liters) will be ideal for a single specimen. The aquarium should have plenty of aquarium-safe wood and roots as well as lots of plants to provide the fish hiding places and make it feel safe. Floating plants will provide additional shade and cover, adding to the puffer’s feeling of security.

In my own Somphong’s Puffer tank I added a thick layer of catappa leaves across the substrate to try to recreate the deep layer of fallen leaves that would be found in their natural habitat.

Bearing in mind this fish chooses to live in slow-flowing to standing water, filtration should be gentle. I have had good success using a small sponge filter connected to an air pump. It is powerful enough to filter the water without a huge amount of flow around the tank.

What Do Somphong’s Puffers Eat?

Like so many other freshwater pufferfish, the Somphong’s Pufferfish needs a diet that includes hard-shelled foods such as snails, cockles, and waterborne crustaceans to help keep their teeth trimmed.

Somphong’s Puffers have teeth that grow throughout their lives and need to be regularly worn down by biting through the hard shells of snails etc.

Other foods include worms, shellfish, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

There is some evidence that Somphongs Pufferfish may graze on aufwuchs (meaning ‘surface growth’), which is essentially the collection of plants, animals, and detritus that can be found clinging to the surface of sold objects underwater such as rocks and wood.

Bearing this in mind, it may be beneficial to allow such surfaces in the aquarium to become covered in algae. Whilst algae is considered unattractive by many aquarists, it is an essential part of many natural ecosystems.

Somphong’s Puffer Tank Mates

In my experience, this fish is best kept as a single specimen in its own aquarium. It is known to be aggressive and does not get on with other fish. There is a good chance any other fish in the aquarium will be severely fin nipped, leading to their eventual death.

I have seen others keeping a group of these puffers in a sufficiently large aquarium that has been set up with ample hiding places and line-of-sight blocks.

Spotted Congo Puffer (Tetraodon schoutedeni)

Common Name: Spotted Congo Puffer, Schoutedeni Puffer
Scientific Name: Tetraodon schoutedeni
Origin:Congo Basin, Africa
Adult Size:3.5 inches (9.0cm)
Care Level:Medium
Minimum Tank Size:20 Gallons (75 liters)

Where Do Spotted Congo Puffers Come From?

As their common name suggests, Spotted Congo Puffers are found in the Congo River Basin, in the Democratic Republic of Congo which is in Central Africa. For many years this area has been embroiled in a civil war, meaning the Congo Spotted Puffer largely disappeared from the trade for many years.

Congo Spotted Puffer Origin Map

Spotted Congo Puffers Natural Habitat

The Spotted Congo Puffer has made the fast-flowing, highly oxygenated waters of the lower regions of this huge river it’s home. It can be found in rocky areas, often lurking in the crevices between rocks, waiting for its prey to swim by.

Spotted Congo Puffer Tank Setup

An aquarium set up, especially for the Spotted Congo Puffer Should include lots of rocks and aquarium safe wood. The ideal tank will provide the fish with a wide choice of hiding places and areas where it can hunker down out of sight.

Live aquarium plants will add to the feeling of security the Spotted Congo Puffer like and encourage them to show their natural personalities.

The substrate should be soft sand (I have had good success using the Super Naturals Aquarium Sand which I order from so the puffers can bury themselves should they choose to.

As the Spotted Congo Puffer likes lots of flow in the water, a canister filter is probably the best option, possibly with additional powerheads to create as much flow in the aquarium as possible.

What Do Spotted Congo Puffers Eat?

The Congo Spotted Pufferfish’s natural diet consists of snails, small crabs, and other, hard-shelled waterborne crustaceans. Like many of their cousins, the Spotted Congo Puffer must eat prey items with hard shells in order to wear down their ever-growing teeth.

Other foods that will readily be eaten by the Spotted Congo Puffer include worms, shrimp, and small pieces of fish.

Spotted Congo Puffer Tank Mates

Very unusual for pufferfish, the Congo Spotted Puffer is not only tolerant of their own kind, but can also be kept with other, non-pufferfish.

I keep a group of these puffers in a 155-gallon tank with a number of plecos and the tank is very harmonious. I have seen other tanks which include Kribensis, Congo Tetras, and even small fish like Neon Tetras.

If you plan to keep a Spotted Congo Puffer with other fish, consider choosing tank mates that can swim away quickly if they needed to, and make sure you set the aquarium up with ample hiding places and line-of-sight blocks, just so everyone can get away from the pufferfish if needs be.