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Hairy Puffers are molluscivora in the wild. Their natural diet consists of a variety of shelled foods, including snails, as well as small crustaceans, worms, and live fish. In captivity, Hairy Puffers need a varied diet to ensure they receive a proper mix of vitamins and minerals.
In recent years, the popularity of freshwater pufferfish has rocketed. We now see 4 or 5 species for sale regularly in our local fish stores and another 5 or 6 species can often be found from online retailers.
Never before have we had so many freshwater puffers to choose from.
I have been keeping freshwater puffers for over a decade. I currently have a Hairy Puffer in my fish room along with 2 Fahaka Puffers and a small group of Dwarf Puffers. Pufferfish are one of the most fascinating breeds of fish we can keep.
What Do Hairy Puffers Eat?
The two keys to giving a Hairy Puffer a suitable diet are variety and hard-shelled foods. For Hairy Puffers to grow well and be able to fight off pests and diseases they need a mixed diet. Just feeding a single food source will mean the Hairy Puffer misses out on vital vitamins and minerals.
I feed my Hairy Puffer a mixture of the following;
I feed my Hairy Puffer a lot of snails. He just destroys them. I tend to feed mainly Ramshorn Snails as I have a dedicated tank set up just to breed Ramshorn Snails. Luckily they reproduce quickly, so the tank has so far proved to be an endless supply.
I have also been known to feed my Hairy Puffer small Mystery Snails, Bladder Snails, and Pond Snails. I will usually feed any snails I can get my hands on, including land snails, providing I know where they have come from.
Land snails make a good meal for Hairy Puffers, but they must be sourced from somewhere you know no chemicals or pesticides have been used, otherwise, they may poison or kill your Hairy Puffer.
Hairy Puffers will quickly devour any crabs you feed to them. I prefer to use small Fiddler Crabs.
I choose small crabs because there is less chance the crab will pinch and hurt my Hairy Puffer, and I choose Fiddler Crabs as they come from brackish or full saltwater environments meaning they are less likely to pass any pests or diseases onto my freshwater puffer.
Crabs make an especially good meal as they exercise the Hairy Puffers’ natural hunting instincts. Unlike snails or clams, which tend to just sit still until they are eaten, crabs will actively try to hide, forcing your Hairy Puffer to hunt them before they get away.
If your Hairy Puffer is small it will probably readily consume bloodworms.
As it grows you will need to move on to larger worms. Tiger worms, which can be found in a compost heap, are good for juvenile Hairy Puffers whereas earthworms work better for a full-grown Hairy Puffer.
Sizing the worm to the Hairy Puffer makes sense, otherwise, the prey may be too big or too small for the Hairy Puffer to bother with.
Clams and Mussels
Your local fish store will probably sell frozen clams on the half shell or mussels. These are well worth buying and keeping in the freezer. Like so many of the freshwater puffers, Hairy Puffers need to bite through hard-shelled foods like clams, mussels, and snails to keep their teeth trimmed.
I try to feed my Hairy Puffer a clam or two every week, just to make sure he is really having to bite through something hard.
Crayfish and Shrimps
Both crayfish and shrimp are an important addition to a Hairy Puffers diet. Crayfish are usually fed live, whereas shrimp, like cocktail shrimp, are more often fed frozen.
As with crabs, feeding a live crayfish to a Hairy Puffer allows the Hairy Puffer’s natural instinct to hunt to come into play. Hairy Puffers are voracious hunters and will chase down and consume live prey very quickly.
Do Hairy Puffers Eat Live Fish?
Hairy Puffers will quickly catch and eat any live fish you place in their aquarium.
Personally, I don’t feed my Hairy Puffer live fish, not because I am against it, but rather because the majority of ‘feeder fish’ you will get from your local fish store are underweight, in poor condition, and may pass pests or diseases onto your Hairy Puffer.
If you decide to feed your Hairy Puffer feeder fish, I would strongly recommend quarantining the feeder fish for at least two weeks before offering them to your puffer. During quarantine, treat the feeder fish for any pests and diseases they may have, including internal parasites.
Also, feed the feeder fish a good quality diet. The better nourished the feeder fish, the more they have to offer your Hairy Puffer nutritionally.
Why Do Hairy Puffers Need Hard Foods?
As with almost all freshwater pufferfish, Hairy Puffers need to bite through hard-shelled foods on a regular basis to keep their teeth trimmed.
Hairy Puffer’s teeth grow continually throughout their life. If they don’t have access to hard-shelled foods, their teeth will continue to grow to the point where they will no longer be able to open and close their mouths.
If your Hairy Puffer gets to that point, it will either starve to death, or you will have to sedate it and manually trim its teeth for it.
Not a job for the faint-hearted.
How Often Should You Feed A Hairy Puffer?
How often you need to feed your Hairy Puffer will depend on its age and size. A small Hairy Puffer may need to eat 5 or 6 times a week, whereas a juvenile might only want to eat 3 or 4 times each week. Once your Hairy Puffer reaches adulthood you may only need to feed it 1 or 2 good-sized meals a week.
When feeding Hairy Puffers, only put into the tank as much food as it will eat in a short space of time. If for example, you put a whole handful of snails into its aquarium, your Hairy Puffer may only eat 4 or 5 of them, then kill the rest and just leave them to rot, spoiling your water quality in the process.
When feeding my Hairy Puffer, I tend to put in a small handful of snails and wait for him to eat them. Once he does, I might add another 1 or 2, and then wait again. By adding little and often, you can usually judge once your Hairy Puffer has had enough to eat and stop feeding.
Hairy Puffers are surprisingly unfussy eaters. They need to be fed a variety of foods to ensure they receive all the vitamins and minerals they need to grow healthily.
Make sure your Hairy Puffer eats enough hard-shelled foods, otherwise their teeth will grow to the point they can no longer open or close their mouths.
If you would like to know more about Hairy Puffers, why not check out this article I wrote recently titled ‘Hairy Puffer (Tetraodon Baileyi) Keeping, Breeding & Feeding’.