Keeping Giant Puffer Fish - Tetraodon Mbu
This page is a guide on raising Giant puffers, although they're rather rare and belong to quite an unusual species which can be found in home tanks. You're welcome to share your experiences at the bottom of this page, eventually ask questions and we'll do our best to give you a proper answer!
Puffer fish are a unique family of fish that have their own characteristics and appeal making them loved by their owners in the same respect as a family dog or cat. Most of the species have those appealing eyes that often remind keepers of a puppy face and indeed they can develop a strong bond with their owner making them a much loved pet that are treated with care and if kept under the proper conditions will lead long and happy lives.
Tetraodon mbu is no exception to this rule but as they are capable of growing very large, they do demand very large aquariums so should only be housed by keepers with not only ample knowledge but also the correct facilities to care for them properly.
Sadly this species of puffer fish are often sold in the aquatic stores as juveniles without prospective purchasers realising their full growth potential (some specimens can reach up to 30” ~76,2 cm in length), and this can also lead to being given incorrect information as to their full requirements for a trouble free life. Hopefully the following article will help to explain how to care for these wonderful creatures and how to care for Tetraodon mbu correctly.
In the wild the Tetraodon mbu are found in large expanses of water on the African continent, they are mostly to be found in areas of the large river basins of the Congo river and surprisingly to many people they can also be found in Lake Tanganyika sharing their environment with well known species of fish such as the African cichlids and catfish.
General description of the Tetraodon mbu
They have many common names which can lead to confusion and may lead to some buyers obtaining the wrong species so generally I prefer to search for this fish by its Latin classification to rule out any false identity, common names include the fresh water puffer fish, Mbu puffer, giant puffer and also the Giant green puffer. Unlike many of the other puffer fish available they do not require any form of salt in the aquarium water but they do demand high water quality, due to their required dietary needs they are also a high waste producer so large weekly water changes are required to maintain the high levels, up to 50% weekly is the normal minimum and due to the large size of the aquariums needed, be prepared to allow a lot of time and effort to care for these fish. For a single specimen the minimum aquarium size is now at least 2000 litres (528 US gallons, 439 Imperial gallons) to cater for a fully grown specimen, you would be looking at an 8 feet in length aquarium so make sure you have the room before purchasing.
It is not certain what the average lifespan is for the Tetraodon mbu but expect at least 20 years for a fish of this size so they are a long term commitment. They are best housed alone in the aquarium as some specimens can be very aggressive towards other tank mates, they possess a powerful beak that can easily take chunks of flesh out of another fish, some specimens may not seem as aggressive as others but overall it is just not worth taking the risk as their behaviour can change overnight. The body shape of the Tetraodon mbu resembles a cone as the head area is much wider than the tail end giving this fish a very unique appearance. The upper half of the body is predominantly a dark green but this is broken up with varying patterns of a paler green and even yellow areas, the belly should be white in colouration, if this colour on the belly darkens to a grey colour it can be a sign of health problems so it is worth keeping a close eye on this area. The tail also displays great markings but unfortunately for the keeper, the Tetraodon mbu generally swims around with the tail closed down, occasionally it will spread the tail to reveal its full glory.
One of the most loveable features, apart from their cute faces, is for the puffer fish having the ability to blink. This is quite unique in the fish world and only adds to their appeal, the other ability that gives them their name is the ability to puff up to 3 times their normal size by inhaling air or water. Generally this is to prevent predators from seeing them as a food source, the larger size tends to put a lot of predators of the hunt, performing this act can also stress the puffer fish so trying to encourage this ability by tapping the tank glass etc. should be refrained from, long term it can be detrimental to the puffer. Generally a breeding section is added to our profiles but in this case there are no reported cases of Tetraodon mbu being bred in the aquarium, there are no visible differences between the sexes so trying to find a pair is just not going to happen.
Tank set up and water parameters for the Tetraodon mbu
As regards tank décor etc., these fish do not have many needs but there are a couple of pointers that do need to be observed. The most important aspect is to get the water parameters correct and keeping the water clean and of a high quality.
If you are adding the Tetraodon mbu to a new tank set up then it is important to make sure that the tank is fully cycled before adding the fish, newly set up tanks will have swings in their water parameters and as the fish produce waste ammonia levels will rise until the filters can cope with the sudden waste being added.
Originating from the African continent they do require water that is alkaline, the accepted levels for the pH are ranging from 7.0-8.0 which does give you a bit of leeway but never allow the pH to drop below 7.0 as acidic water can be detriment to the fishes health. If the pH does drop then there are buffers that can be added to the water to raise these levels and keep your fish happy, temperature wise a range of between 24-26 °C (75-79 °F) is ideal, make sure that you use a reliable heater and cover this with a guard to prevent the fish from injuring itself as the heating element and glass do get very hot even though the temperature range is at the lower end of the scale compared to some of the other tropical set ups.
The choice of substrate is quite crucial as being avid eaters they can scoop up some of their substrate when eating so gravel tends to be avoided and sand is the preferred substrate. If any of this is swallowed it can be passed through the digestive system without causing too many problems, in most cases the food will be consumed before it touches the bottom of the tank but it is better to be safe than regret it at a later date. Solid décor can be supplied by adding rocks or bogwod but make sure that there are plenty of open swimming spaces in the aquarium, Tetraodon mbu are very active and will spend a lot of time swimming about so they need the space to be allowed to do this.
Plants can be added to provide a good aesthetic effect but if you are adding live plants then be prepared to see some damage to the leaves etc., this is not because they like to damage the plants or even eat them but as they are such avid eaters, any food that lands on the leaves will be attacked by the fish and as a result pieces of the leaves may be consumed with the supplied food. Generally it may be best to use artificial plants that will be able to withstand this sort of treatment much better.
Ensure that there is a water flow around the aquarium and test the water on a regular basis, if the nitrates start to rise then increase the percentage weekly water changes to keep them under control.
As mentioned above, these fish are very aggressive in some cases so keep one specimen in the aquarium, once settled your puffer will form a bond with you and become a loyal pet as you approach the aquarium.
Feeding your Tetraodon mbu
This fish gets its name from the word tetraodonidae which can be translated as a four toothed beak, this comprises of two upper teeth and two lower teeth, these are constantly growing so need to be kept in check so supplying foods that aid with this has to be included in their diet. Molluscs in their shells are ideal for keeping the beak in check, as they gnaw on the shells the abrasive action grinds the beak gradually so feeding them with snails, shellfish etc. works perfectly. Make sure that the snails are free from any form of parasites and disease before adding them to the aquarium so in many cases it is often best to breed your own for piece of mind. Many keepers will also offer feeder fish as food, this practice has lately been frowned on in the UK, it also increases the chance of introducing disease into the aquarium, but it is still practised in many areas of the word so at the end of the day the choice is yours.
Many keeper prefer to feed the puffer with live or frozen foods such as lance fish, chopped earthworms which have been cleansed properly or even shrimps, vary the diet so that your fish does not get bored with eating the same food al of the time and it should display a voracious appetite at mealtimes.
Only feed enough food each session that can be consumed in a few minutes and if there is any food left in the aquarium after feeding, this should be syphoned out before it gets the chance to decay and spoil the water quality. It is a lot easier nowadays to find all the food required to feed your puffer fish at aquatic stores or over the internet but if you do feed your fish with food from the garden such as snails, make sure that they are cleaned properly and free from any form of pesticides or insecticides. Earthworms should be cleansed by keeping them in newspaper for 24 hours, this gives the worm the chance to clear out its digestive system thus decreasing greatly the chance of infecting your tank, taking a bit of time and showing patience will help to prevent problems in the aquarium.
Words of caution
This puffer fish will become very tame over time and will accept food from their owners fingers, if you wish to practice this then always be cautious they can nip with their strong beak which can be painful.
All puffer fish possess inside their bodies a deadly toxin known as Tetrodoxin, there is no antidote for this toxin and it can cause paralysis, in some cases even death has occurred. With general handling this should not be a problem but as a safe guard always wash your hands thoroughly if you have been in contact with your puffer fish.
Like all fish, the puffer fish can contract diseases or infections, they are classed as a scale-less fish possessing a tough skin instead, when using medications for health problems seek advice as some treatments can make matters worse rather than dealing with the problem.
It does pay to keep a close eye on your puffer fish, they should always display a strong appetite once they have settled into their new home, if the appetite decreases or they start to clamp their fins or even swim abnormally then these are signs that something is amiss either with their living conditions or an infection of some kind in your fish, seek advice and respond accordingly. Never panic though as the wrong treatment can cause other problems to deal with.
Marine Puffer Fish