Last update: November 2, 2022

The Ultimate Guide To Freshwater Puffer Fish

If you want a unique-looking freshwater fish for your aquarium, you should consider getting a freshwater puffer fish. This fish species looks cute, is chubby, and has dark spots on its body that make it unique. Its face is very peculiar and funny-looking, which makes it adorable.

Freshwater puffer fish are especially known for being able to inflate themselves when a predator approaches or they sense danger, so they can avoid being swallowed by larger fish. They’re also known for their venom; tetrodotoxin, which is very dangerous.

This fish species is not the easiest to care for, but it is rewarding if you know what you’re doing. So we would recommend you get a freshwater puffer fish if you are already comfortable in the fishkeeping world. If you’re a beginner, this won’t be the fish for you.

There are several puffer fish types, which will all look and act a bit differently. Below is the ultimate guide to freshwater puffer fish, from the different types to housing requirements, to their natural habitat, their behavior, compatibility, water requirements, and even breeding information. Let’s dive right in!

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Ultimate Guide To Freshwater Puffer Fish

Here is the ultimate guide to freshwater puffer fish including a general overview of this fish species and the instructions for their care, so they can be happy and live longer.

General Overview Of The Freshwater Puffer Fish

Let’s start with a general overview of the freshwater puffer fish. 

  • Origin, lifespan, size

This fish species can be found all over the world, in freshwaters, marine and brackish, but  as they are tropical fish they prefer to stay in warm water. Their natural habitat is usually in rivers in South Asia, South America, and even Africa.

The lifespan of this fish species is usually 10 years or more. However, it may vary depending on how you care for the fish, if it doesn’t fall sick, and if you meet all its requirements and needs.

As for the freshwater puffer fish’s usual size, it tends to range anywhere between one to 24 inches.  There are several species of puffer fish and their sizes vary accordingly.  

  • Species, Temperament, Care level

There  is a huge range to choose from if you want a puffer fish, as there are more than 150 species. Before you pick one up, make sure that you’re at an advanced level in fishkeeping since that’s the level of care this fish species will require.

As for this fish’s temperament, can be aggressive, which can obviously pose a challenge in an aquarium setup. Suppose you want to get a freshwater puffer fish. In that case, you will need a separate fish tank for itself, as it won’t do well with any fish species or even invertebrates, as it is extremely territorial and can be very aggressive. This is why we can say that puffer fish is not the best choice for every fishkeeper and especially amateurs.  

If  you do not mind keeping a separate tank and you’re at an advanced fishkeeping level, having a freshwater puffer fish can be very rewarding for you. Plus, it looks beautiful and comes in a variety of colors.

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How To Take Care Of Your Freshwater Puffer Fish

If you want your freshwater puffer fish to live a long and happy life, you need to learn how to take care of it best. First, you will need to make sure you fit its housing requirements by reproducing its natural habitat. Then, you will need to make sure it’s in a fish tank alone, and all of the necessary arrangements are made.  We’ll discuss all of that below.

  • Food And Diet

What’s left to do to best take care of your freshwater puffer fish is to give it proper food to make sure it has a balanced yet nourishing diet. These fish species are omnivores, which means they can eat pretty much anything and prefer meat, but it should still be beneficial to keep some diversity. 

Freshwater puffer fish like to eat invertebrates such as snails, shellfish, and crustaceans in their natural habitat. But they don’t stop there. They also eat other fish, even whole fish. That’s why you shouldn’t keep any invertebrates or other fish in the tank. That and the fact that they will be aggressive with any other fish species. 

As for what they eat when they’re in a fish tank, they will eat anything there is in the tank and anything you give them, alive or not. So make sure you feed them a nutritious diet and don’t leave any other fish or invertebrates in the tank or anything they can chew on that they’re not supposed to chew.

You can give them live, dried, or frozen meat. If you have bigger freshwater puffer fish in your fish tank, you can feed them smaller frozen fish, such as whitebait fish or lancetfish. Although they can survive on only meat or fish, you should keep their diet balanced and varied. So it’s good to give them some vegetables once or twice a week.

Another thing to consider when you feed freshwater puffer fish is their teeth. That’s because their whole life, their teeth will keep growing, which is pretty rare for fish. So you sometimes might need to feed your puffer fish hard substrate animals. This can be crustaceans, shellfish, or even snails. These help  control the growth of your fish’s teeth.

Each species of freshwater puffer fish will have different eating habits, so you should check what diet your specific fish needs, which mostly depends on its size. If you have a smaller-sized freshwater puffer fish, under two inches, you need to feed it daily.

 If you have a medium-sized puffer fish, between two to four inches, you should feed it every other day. Finally, if you have a larger-sized puffer fish, four inches or more, you should feed them only two to three times a week.

It’s important to understand that you shouldn’t overfeed your freshwater puffer fish, no matter what size they are. Be vary,  they’ll sometimes try to impress you, so that you feed them more, which is very fun to watch, but don’t let yourself be fooled. For example, they can squirt water at the surface of the fish tank.

  • Additional Care

As mentioned above, freshwater puffer fish have teeth that grow during their entire life. These can grow too long, making it harder for them to eat, and if it’s the case, you should clip them.

As for something completely unrelated, you should be wary of ectoparasites, as this fish species is very susceptible to it. That’s because freshwater puffer fish don’t have any scales, so parasites can come live on their skin, as well as their fins and gills, which Protozoa more often causes.

The parasites that usually annoy your freshwater puffer fish are Trichodina sp., Ichthyobodo sp., Oodinium sp., and Chilodonella sp. Usually, these parasites can be removed and treated quickly by simply raising the fish tanks’ temperature.. Of course, check with a professional before doing that.

You should make sure to do everything to prevent parasites, so your freshwater puffer fish can be happy. The best way to prevent that is by being very careful when you add new things to your tank and quarantine them. Also, keep your tank clean and make sure you keep it in the right water conditions. A filtration system will also help a lot in preventing parasites.

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Puffer Fish Types 

As said previously, there are over 150 types of puffer fish, but only 30 of them are considered to be freshwater puffer fish. We will discuss 10 different types in this article. We’ll talk about the Fahaka puffer fish, the Dwarf puffer fish, the Red-Tailed Dwarf puffer fish, the Golden puffer fish, the Congo puffer fish, the MBU puffer fish, the Imitator puffer fish, the Crested puffer fish, the South-American puffer fish, and the Ocellated puffer fish.

  • Fahaka Puffer Fish

First, let’s talk about the Tetraodon lineatus, aka the Fahaka puffer fish. This is one of the largest breeds of this fish species you can find. When it reaches its full size, it can get to 16 inches. So you will need a really big tank, ideally more than 60 inches, with lots of powerful filters, as well as dense vegetation, which you will need to plant in the aquarium.

If you want this puffer fish type, you need to be an advanced fishkeeper, as it’s a very aggressive fish type, even more than the other ones. It’s so aggressive that it can bite your fingers off when you’re feeding it. It’s definitely not the fish for everybody, let alone a beginner fishkeeper.

  • Dwarf Puffer Fish

Let’s talk about the Carinotetraodon travancoricus, aka the Dwarf puffer fish. It is also known as the Pygmy pufferfish and the Pea pufferfish since it’s one of the smallest of its species that you can find.

It also has very bright colors, and with this and its size, it makes it a very popular freshwater puffer fish type for most fish tanks. It will be easier to find a tank and a filter adapted to its size than for other types of puffer fish.

  •  Red-Tailed Dwarf Puffer Fish

The Carinotetraodon irrubesco, aka the Red-tailed Dwarf puffer fish, is a smaller fish. It has red eyes and tail fins. The males are larger and have dark brown bodies with white stripes. As for the females, they have a more mottled brown color. They prefer tanks full of vegetation and with acidic water.

  • Golden Puffer Fish

The Auriglobus modestus, aka the Golden puffer fish, can either be white with yellow spots or black with yellow spots. It looks beautiful and can reach up to 20 inches.

  • Congo Puffer Fish

As the name suggests the Tetraodon miurus, aka the Congo puffer fish originates from rivers in Africa. It likes to bury itself in the sand to hide from predators and comes in various colors, which it will adapt according to the environment.

  • Other Puffer fish

There are so many more puffer fish, including the Tetraodon mbu, aka the MBU puffer fish, the Carinotetraodon imitator, aka the imitator puffer fish, the Carinotetraodon lorteti, aka the crested puffer fish, the Colomesus asellus, aka the South-American Puffer fish, and the Tetraodon cutcutia, aka the Ocellated puffer fish. 

All of these are unique and worth researching if you love freshwater puffer fish.

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Housing Requirements For Freshwater Puffers

It’s important to understand the housing requirements for freshwater puffer fish. The tank size will depend on which type of puffer fish you get since their size will considerably vary from type to type.

A dwarf puffer, an imitator puffer, or a red-tailed dwarf puffer should have a tank that can fit at least 10 gallons of water. As for a South American puffer or a Congo puffer fish, you should have a 40 gallon tank at least.

A crested puffer fish will need 55 gallons, while a Golden puffer fish will need 125 gallons already.  As for an MBU puffer fish, it will need 500 gallons. This gives an overview of how much freshwater is required by the puffer fish, specifically the ones which are larger in size.  

In general, it’s best to get a larger tank than what they need, for any type of puffer fish. This reduces the amount of waste freshwater puffer fish create. It’s important to note that all these size recommendations below are for one puffer fish per fish tank, as they should be in an individual tank because of their aggressive and territorial behavior.

A Freshwater Puffers Natural Habitat

You should try to recreate these tropical fishs’ natural habitat as much as you can, so that they feel comfortable and live longer. You should keep the same water hardness, pH level, and current then what they’re used to in rivers in South Asia, South America, and Africa.

As these fish are prone to diseases and exterior parasites, you should have powerful filters in your tank to prevent that and to keep it clean while maintaining the same water parameters.

Freshwater Puffers Behavior/Compatibility

Freshwater puffer fish are aggressive and territorial, some types even more than others.

Tank Mates

The behavior of freshwater puffer fish makes it extremely difficult for them to be around other fish or even invertebrates, as they can be aggressive towards them or even eat them.

That’s why puffer fish shouldn’t be left with other fish or invertebrates, not even other puffer fish. You should have one freshwater puffer fish per tank, with nobody else in it. That’s hard to accept for some fishkeepers, but if you love this fish species, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Water requirements

As for the water requirements, you should keep it between a 7 to 7.6 pH level. This may be specific, but these freshwater puffer fish are for advanced fishkeepers. . As for the water hardness, it should stay between 8 to 12 dKH, and you should keep the water flow at a low current. This will vary according to the different puffer types, so do keep a check.

The puffer fish are very sensitive to levels of nitrate, ammonia, nitrite, and poor water conditions. You must keep the water clean and invest in a good water filter for your fish tank. A double filtration system is actually perfect, some even come with lighting and heating systems.

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Breeding info

It’s important to talk about breeding which is practically impossible to do in captivity, even if you’re an expert at fishkeeping. Also, different types of puffer fish will need different water settings and tank settings, which makes it even more difficult.

You can imagine, it is very difficult to pair freshwater puffer fish, as they can’t have any tank mates, not even from their species. They can be aggressive and territorial, so not exactly what you would call ideal conditions for breeding.

Even if you manage to find a suited pair, it isn’t easy to raise the fry. That’s because puffer fish are very protective of their eggs but will probably eat them when they hatch. Even if your fry survives and escape from their parents trying to eat them,  it’s very difficult to feed them and give them a water quality that fits their needs.

Final Thoughts

As discussed in detail, freshwater puffer fish are difficult to keep in captivity. It’s the type of fish you only want if you’re an expert and lover of this breed in particular. However, if you are willing to put in the hard work it is rewarding!


Ian Sterling

Ian Sterling, founder of, began his aquarium journey over 30 years ago, driven by a deep fascination for fish and their diverse personalities. His website,, is dedicated to making fishkeeping accessible and enjoyable, offering beginner-friendly guidance, expert insights, and a community for aquarists to connect and share experiences.

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