Types of Freshwater Puffer Fish – An Aquarist Guide

types of freshwater puffer fish

Freshwater Puffer Fish are engaging fish species with their ball-like appearance and playful behavior. In recent times the different types of freshwater Puffer Fish growing in popularity amidst aquarists for their interactive and chubby nature.

The Freshwater Puffer Fish comes in different colors and sizes.

If you ever thought of adding few types of freshwater puffer fish to your aquarium, trust me; it’s not at all a bad idea! It looks delightful to watch those chubby dog-like water puppies move here and there inside your fish aquarium tank. 

These tropical fishes come with unique hunting skills, making them even more irresistible. But before adding a new buddy to your aquarium, you need to learn about the various types of freshwater puffer fish. However, there is still a lot of confusion around this fish as most people have difficulty distinguishing between types of freshwater puffer fish to brackish water puffer fish.

Puffer Fish – An Overview:

Description Category
Family Tetraodontidae
Origin Middle & Lower part of Cango, Lake Tanganyika, Southeast Asia, Amazon Basins, and parts of India and Bangladesh
Type Fresh Water
Color Form Several Colors and patterns
Difficulty Difficult
Breeding Egglayers
Max. Size 2 to 36 inches (5 to 90 cms depending on species)
Life span 10 to 14 years
Temperament Aggressive
Diet Omnivores, predominantly carnivores
Minimum Tank Size 15 to 500 gallon (38 to 1900 liters)
Temperature 73°-80°F (23°-27°C) depending on the species
Acidity 6.5 to 7.5 pH depending on the types of Puffer fish
Hardness 5 to 12 dGH
Nitrate <20 ppm
Ammonia & Nitrite 0


Puffer Fish Origin and General Facts:

Puffer Fish family name is Tetraodontidae from the order of Tetraodontiformes; the family has many species known as puffers, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, bubble fish, blowfish, balloonfish, sugar toads, etc. 

It receives its scientific name due to fusing four teeth and upper and lower palate to smash the Crustaceans shells and other invertebrates; hence, remember that you cannot have any shrimps, snails, and any other invertebrates as a tank mate.

Almost all the Puffer Fish contains a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which is more than 1200 times deadlier than Cyanide; it is the second most poisonous species in the world, next only to Golden Poison Frog. Certain types of bacterias create this toxin; they gather these bacterias from the food they consume in the wild.

Physical Appearance

Pufferfish are usually small in size. An adult pufferfish measures often less than 3-inches (8cms). However, more extensive freshwater Puffer fish grow up to 2-feet (60cms) in the wild. Do you know pufferfish lack scales on their body? Well, instead of that, they have rough or spiky skin

They have bulging on a long and tapered body. Most Puffers have body colors and markings that announce their toxins to the predators; some have subdued and enigmatic body colorings that disguise them into the environment. They have excellent eyesight, adequate for hunting food and detecting predators.

Unlike most species, Puffer fish are not dimorphism; it is almost impossible to distinguish from male to female. The only time you can differentiate is when the females are laying eggs. 

Habitat – Distribution of the Species

You can locate most of the Puffer fish in the tropical and subtropical ocean waters. However, some of the species are also found in brackish and freshwater water bodies. Almost all the freshwater Puffer fish are tropical fish inhabiting rivers, streams, lakes, etc. 

The southeast Asian region sees various types of freshwater Puffer fish. 30 species of the 150 known ones are strictly freshwater puffers. Unfortunately, some freshwater Puffer fish are at risk due to loss of habitat, pollution, etc.

Temperament and Behavior in General


Well, all types of freshwater Puffer fish belong to the Tetraodontidae family. They are found in marine, freshwater, and brackish waters globally. But do you know what gives them the name Puffer fish or blowfish? It comes from their ability to puff up themselves by consuming water or air. 

Have you ever thought, why they do so? Well, that’s because of their exciting defense mechanism; they are slow and awkward swimmers.

In times of danger, these fish swallow a massive amount of water or air and puff up themselves up into a ball of several times their standard size! It causes their spines to protrude more from their body, which, in turn, saves these tiny Puffer fish from being eaten up by larger mates.

Besides, do you know what is more interesting about them? They might look like they are too cute, but don’t be spellbound with their adorable appearance! Those cute tiny colorful creatures are pretty much aggressive. 

Besides, almost all types of Puffer fish releases a very harmful neurotoxin, known as tetrodotoxin. Studies say the amount of tetrodotoxin present in one Puffer fish can kill nearly 30 humans. Sounds dangerous, right? Well, don’t worry, these fish alone cannot produce the toxin! The puffers need certain bacteria that create the poison for them. 

Do you want to know from where the fishes gather these bacteria? These tiny aquatic creatures gather bacteria from their diet while residing in the wild. But as long as you have captivated them in your fish tank, they won’t be able to collect these bacteria and form the toxin. So, chill; there’s nothing to worry about much!

Hunting Methods Freshwater Puffer fish

Now that you know these freshwater species are aggressive and carnivores, do you know each type of freshwater Puffer fish has its own hunting techniques? Do you want to know them? 

If yes, then continue reading!

They are Open Water Hunters!

The most interesting fact that you need to know about the various freshwater Puffer fish is that they are open water hunters. The Golden Puffers and South American Puffers can easily swim near the rocky and sandy substrate while hunting. 

These fishes usually look for tiny crustaceans and snails to devour them while swimming through the plants and oyster beds.

There are a Few Ambush Predators Among Them

There are some puffers, which are ambush predators. They are good at burying themselves in the sand and waiting secretly for their prey to turn up. Once these hunters realize the presence of any unknown fish nearby, it lunges forward to kill them. 

What a fearless attitude these creatures have?!

Puffer fish are Stealth Predators

The crested pufferfish, i.e., the dwarf ones and the puffers with red tails, love to stay hidden. They like to remain obscured amidst the tangled aquarium plants and other hiding spots to attack the prey from the shadows. That’s wildlife!

They are Too Notorious

Do you know what’s the worst trait of all is? Almost all types of freshwater Puffer fish are fin-nippers. Auriglobus and Chones Rhinos are two such puffer species that nip the fins of other fishes too aggressively. 

Another notorious behavior of the tiny puffers is that they spit or blow water from the substrate to expose any hidden prey. Also, they might spit water at you, asking for more food. Beware!

Types of Freshwater Puffer fish

If you are excited to know about the various types of freshwater Puffer fish, you can keep them in your aquarium; here, we provide you with a list of Puffers to help you choose the right kinds of Puffers.

Dwarf Puffer

pea puffer


As evident from the name, the dwarf puffers are the smallest amongst the freshwater Puffer fish. They are usually 1.5-inches (4 cms) long. Can you imagine how tiny they are? It’s similar to the size of a pea. Well, that is why these fishes are also known as pea puffer fish or pygmy puffe rfish. Again, this breed comes in bright colors, which makes them a popular choice for aquariums.

Dwarf Puffers thrive well in a habitat with plenty of plants. They are less aggressive compare to their larger cousins. They don’t have continuous growth of teeth, a crucial trait of Puffer fish. That makes them the best bet for novice aquarists to have.

Nevertheless, they are fin nippers and need specific water parameters; they thrive their best between 75-80F (24-27C), pH 6.5 to 7, and low to moderate water hardness 3 to 12 KH.

It is better to buy captive bred than straight from the wild; Pea Puffer from the wild is susceptible to diseases and has a shorter lifespan than captive-bred. Captive-bred Pea Puffer lifespans from 4 to 5 years in an optimal environment.

Tank Mates:

Don’t let their size fool you; they can tear apart chunks of flesh of other fish. The best tank mates for them are other Peapuffers, and you would want to give them each at least a 5 gallon (20 liters).

If you are keen on keeping them in a community tank, then the best is to choose species of similar size and fast swimmers; Neon Tetra, Ember Tetra, Kuhli loach, Danios, Otocinclus catfish, and big shrimps such as Cherry Shrimps, Amano Shrimp, etc. are a fine choice to live with Pea Puffers.

Avoid keeping them with any longfin species and slow-moving fish. Also, you would want to avoid any larger and other aggressive fish types.

Congo Puffer

Congo Puffer

This African breed of Puffer fish grows up to 6-inches (15cms). They love to spend most of their time being buried in the sand to hide from their predators and hunt for food; this trait calls for you to address their specific need for sand substrate while preparing their habitat.
These fish usually come in a wide range of colors that make your aquarium vibrant and colorful. Do you want to know what a fun fact about congo puffers? These variants of Puffer fish can change their body color depending on their surroundings and mood.
You cannot have any other species as a tank mate with Congo Puffers as they are ambush predators; no species stands a chance of survival in the same tank.
They thrive at water parameters: temperature range from 75-82°F (24-28°C), pH 6.8-7.5, and moderate hardness 10-15°KH. You would want to ensure a minimum of 40 gallons (150 liters approximately) tank for each Congo Puffer.
Congo Puffer is considered to be intelligent species and is fun to have.  Congo Puffer lifespans from anywhere between 3 to 10 years, depending on the habitat condition and environment.

Golden Puffer

Golden Puffers are native to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. They inhabit high current rivers and flooded estuaries.
Although they are named golden puffers, they are not much golden in color; they are also known as Avocado Puffers, Bronze Puffers, etc. This particular breed comes in light and dark versions. They have an iridescent green hue body with translucent fins.
They grow up to 4.5 inches (about 12 cms). Lifespans 10 plus years depending on the environment.
Golden Puffer thrives in a water temperature range 74 to 82° F (23.3 to 27.8° C) with a pH of 6.8 to 7.5 and moderate hardness of 10-15°KH. For every Golden Puffer, you would want to consider a 20-gallon size tank.
The best tank mates for Golden Puffer are Golden Puffers; you could also house them with other Puffers such as Pea Puffers, Amazon Puffers, etc.

Amazon Puffer

Amazon Puffer, also known as South American Puffer, is the only Puffer species known to live in groups in the wild. They inhabit high current Amazon waters amidst dense plants.
Amazon Puffers grow up to 5 inches (13cms) and are known to live over 10 years in an optimal environment.
One can refer to them as a peaceful species considering they are the Puffer family. Like all types of freshwater Puffer fish, they are aggressive fin nippers. They are active swimmers, inquisitive and intelligent Puffer species.
You would want to clip their teeth regularly as they quickly over-grow their teeth. Also, feed them hard crustaceans such as snails, crabs, etc., every meal.
Always ensure required water parameters: Temperature range of 72-82°F (22-28 °C), pH 6 to 8 with mild hard water.


Although South American Puffers are peaceful community fish, they are Puffers. They are aggressive fin nippers; so, you cannot have any fish with long flowing fins in their habitat. The best inmates could be Tetras such as Neon Tetra, Ember Tetra, Cardinal Tetra, Harlequin Rasboras, etc., provided you feed the Amazon Puffers well.
It is imminent the habitat is densely planted with some driftwoods, caves, and other decors.

Ocellated Puffer fish

It is one of the rarest types of freshwater Puffer fish, also known as Emerald Puffer, Sea Grog Puffer, Common Puffer, etc. They are native to India, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Myanmar, and the Malay Archipelago. Ocellated Puffer fish inhabit both freshwaters as well as brackish waters. It is the only member of the genus Leiodon, has been included in Tetraodon.
Emerald Puffers come with individual personalities. The males of this species protect the eggs with utmost care. They usually grow up to 6 inches (15 cms).
If you are keeping more than one Emerald Puffer, ensure plenty of plants, driftwoods, and decors.
The optimal water quality temperature range from 73 – 82° F (23 – 28° C), with a pH range of 6.8 to 8.
Ocellated Puffer fish lifespans from 10 to 15 years in an optimal water condition.
Imitator Puffer
The imitator, also known as dwarf Malabar puffer, is one of the world’s smallest Puffer fish. They are mostly found in the rivers of the Malabar coast of India. Like pygmy puffers, these fish also grow up to 1 inch (2.5cms) in size; the maximum documented size of Malabar Puffer is 1.4 inches (3.5cms).
They come in bright yellow color. Usually, the males are brighter than the females, whereas the latter have dark black patches on their bodies.
Malabar Puffers are one of the Red lists of threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are endemic to Kerala and Karnataka, slow-moving rivers and lakes amidst vegetations, driftwoods, etc.
Water temperature ranging from 74 to 82° F (23.3 to 27.8° C) with a pH of 6.8 to 7.5 suits Malabar Puffers habitat.


The Dwarf Suckermouth catfish of the genus Otocinclus and adult Amano shrimps can do well as inmates of Malabar Puffers tank. You would want to avoid any slow-moving species and fish with long fins.
Species-only tank makes an excellent choice as they are quite entertaining and liven-up the aquarium themselves.

Fahaka Puffer

In contrast to the dwarf puffers, Fahakas is one of the largest puffer breeds. They measure 16-inches (40cms) long when they are fully grown. So, obviously, you would require a large tank to keep these puffer species. Also, Fahakas are too aggressive as compared to the other types of freshwater Puffer fish.
Fahaka Puffer, also known as Nile Puffer; native to Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and other North African countries.
You wouldn’t want to fool yourself by their tiny size in the fish store; they grow rapidly. Hence, you would want to consider a bigger tank right from the beginning. No tank mates are recommended with Nile Puffers.
They are intelligent and curious despite their aggressivity; they can live over 10 years in an optimal water condition and food. The recommended water parameters for Fahakas 72-81° F(22 – 27° C), with a pH range of 7 to 8 and water hardness KH 8-15.

Red-Eyed Puffer fish:

Red-Eyed Puffers are an uncommon variety of Puffer fish. They are native to East Asia, inhabiting slow-moving waterways, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc.
They grow about 2 to 3 inches (5.5 to 8 cms) as adult puffers. But, do not even think for a moment to underestimate their aggressivity. You would not want to house any other species in the same tank, including other Puffer fish species. Hardy plants such as java moss, Java Fern, Anubias, etc., should be fine with Red-Eyed Puffers.
Water parameters: temperature range from 74 – 82° F (23 – 28° C), with a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5.
Lifespans about 4 to 6 years.

Eyespot Puffer fish

Eyespot Puffer fish are also known as figure 8 Puffer native to Southeast Asia: Malasia, Sumatra, Borneo, and Thailand. They inhabit brackish water streams, estuaries, and waterways. Though they inhabit Brackish water in the wild, they live healthily in freshwater aquariums.
Both the common names Eyespot and Figure 8 come from the markings on the back of their bodies. They are relatively small freshwater Puffer fish; grow up to 3 inches (8 cms) in length.
Like Fahaka Puffers, their 2 pairs of teeth are fudged together, enabling them to crush hard crustaceans such as snails and other shellfish. It is crucial to feed them every meal with live crustaceans like snails to keep the teeth-grinding as they continue to grow.
Figure 8 Puffer fish lifespan from anywhere between 10 to 15 years depending on their environment. With optimal water conditions, they can live for 15 years.
The required water parameters for Eyespot Puffer fish: temperature range of 75 – 82° F (24 – 28° C), with a pH range of 7.5 to 8. Optimal salinity range 1.005 and 1.008 Specific Gravity for Brackishwater aquarium.
With the debate continuing over their ability to thrive in freshwater, some aquarists have reported they live healthier in freshwater aquariums.


Figure 8 Puffers are best kept as species-only tanks owing to their aggressive behavior. However, you can choose some tankmates carefully for them; for a freshwater tank, you can keep them with Barbs, freshwater sharks such as Bala Shark, Rainbow Sharks, Red Tail Sharks, and large schooling tetras like Diamond Tetras, Bleeding Heart Tetra, etc.
If you are keeping Figure 8 in a brackish water tank, Mollies, Bumblebees gobies, etc., are good choices.
Freshwater Puffer fish Care:

All Freshwater Puffer fish types do not have scales or gill covers; that makes them susceptible to various diseases such as ich, flukes, fin rot, bacterial and fungal infections, tuberculosis, etc. The most common parasites, protozoa living in their fins, gills, etc. 

Prevention is better than cure; you would want to quarantine every new specimen as they could potentially carry the parasites, bacterias, etc. 

You would want to ensure at most care with the water quality of the habitat. Regularly, testing the water for all the required water parameters with a test kit is crucial in freshwater Puffer fish care.

Water Requirement

All types of freshwater Puffer fish do well with the water parameters of temperature ranging from 75 – 82° F (24 – 28° C) with a pH range closer to neutral 6.8 to 7.5.

A minimum of 25% water change a week is a must Pufferfish aquarium tank. You may use a siphon vacuum cleaner for this purpose.

Tank Requirements

So now, do you want to know what the tank requirements for keeping differenttypes of freshwater Pufferfish are? Well, here is how you can create a perfect aquarium set up at your home for the puffers. 

Tank Size and filtration system for Puffer fish:

For keeping pufferfishes, a minimum of a 20-30-gallon tank would be the best for your home. It will have ample space to keep 1 male with 3 female puffers. But are you thinking of keeping other aquarium mates, along with your pufferfishes? Well, in that case, a 55-gallon tank is more appropriate. 

This tank size is for small Pufferfish types such as Pea Puffer, Imitators, etc.; for the medium to large Puffers, you would want to consider individual species to decide on the tank size; some large freshwater puffers may even demand a 100-gallon tank for one specimen, and MBU Pufferfish need 500-gallon tank for one specimen. They are usually kept in public aquariums rather than home aquariums owing to space and food supply requirements.

You could use a canister filter with a pre-filter bush to ensure the dwarf puffers are not sucked through the inlet/outlet of the filtration system. You would want to ensure the filtration capacity should be 10 times the tank turnover volume per hour.

Substrate and Tank Decorations for Freshwater Pufferfish:

The best substrates for freshwater Puffer fish are sand; you would want to use sand that the powerful filter cannot suck up as most Puffer fish need high current. Ensure to have a deep substrate bed a minimum of 3 inches (8cms).

A well-planted tank will be suitable for every type of freshwater Puffer fish to let them set their territories. But as they are quite aggressive while eating food, they can be hard on the plants. So, opt for sturdy plants, like Java moss, Java Fern, Hornwort, Anacharis, etc.

You can also add decors like rocks, pebbles, and bogwood in the aquarium to provide the puffers with many hiding spots.

Freshwater Puffer fish Diet:

Puffer fish has a specific dietary need; they are predators who hunt and feed on crustaceans, shellfish, snails, etc. Their infused 2 pairs of teeth help them to crush hard shells. In the home aquarium, you may have combined both high-quality frozen food with a fresh supply of snails, shellfish, etc.

Puffers are voracious eaters; it’s never enough for them, with their cute face could cox you into feeding them more and more. You wouldn’t want to fall for that as they produce huge waste, which can quickly build nitrates more than your filtration system can handle.

Bio-media in the filtration helps to digest the ammonia into nitrite and nitrite into nitrates, called Nitrogen Cycle. The acceptable level of ammonia and nitrite is 0 and nitrates below 20 ppm; a regular water change ensures that the nitrates are below the acceptable limit.

Breeding of Pufferfishes

There is not much information about pufferfish reproduction, as they rarely breed while being in captivation. In case you are lucky enough, you might get to see the female puffers lay their eggs on the substrate! But guess what? The females vanish right after laying the eggs. The male puffers stay near the eggs for over a week to protect the eggs from eaten by the other species.

Well, for spawning, the male pufferfish, particularly white-spotted Pufferfish, a seawater Puffer, make a lot of effort! They flap their fins and swim above the seafloor to create circular patterns on the sand for about 2 meters. It usually takes them around 7-9 days to construct those circles on the substrate. After completion, the male pufferfishes adorn the circular area with shell fragments and fine sediments to make it look colorful and attract their female counterparts.

Now, based on the circle construction skill, the females make their decision if they want to mate with the males or not. Sounds funny, isn’t it?

In case a male puffer succeeds in impressing the female fish, voila! It’s breeding time. The female puffers then lay their eggs inside the circle, and the males eventually take the responsibility to fertilize them. 

Doesn’t it seem like women are the boss here? What do you think?

Types of Freshwater Puffer Fish – Final Thoughts:

Puffers are different from all the other species; many experienced aquarists know how to deal with aggressive fish species like Jack Dempsey Cichlids, Wolf Cichlids, Oscars, Redtail sharks, etc. Despite their aggressivity, aquarists have passion for them as their attitude adds character to the aquarium. In their experienced hands, these aggressive fish behaves themselves in a community tank.

However, Puffers are not the same; they are like aliens. Even the dwarf types of puffers are quite aggressive for the most community tank. You would want to choose wisely your puffer fish after doing complete research on individual species. 

Without a doubt, they are highly rewarding at the same time, highly demanding as well!

Good luck with your Puffer Fish!

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