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Related FAQs: Freshwater Puffers 1, FW Puffers 2, FW Puffers 3, & FW Puffer Identification, FW Puffer Behavior, FW Puffer Selection, FW Puffer Compatibility, FW Puffer Systems, FW Puffer Feeding, FW Puffer Disease, FW Puffer Reproduction, BR Puffer Identification, BR Puffer Selection, BR Puffer Compatibility, BR Puffer Systems, BR Puffer Feeding, BR Puffer Disease, BR Puffer Disease 2, BR Puffer Reproduction, Puffers in General, True Puffers, Burrfishes/Porcupinefishes, Tobies/Sharpnose Puffers, Boxfishes

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Freshwater to Brackish Puffers, Part of the Family Tetraodontidae

By Bob Fenner

  Juvenile Tetraodon lineatus

Freshwater Puffers by Genus, Species:

Auriglobus modestus (Bleeker 1851)


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Carinotetraodon lorteti (Tirant 1885), the Redeye Puffer. To six cm. Asia: Indochina, Indonesia, Malaysia. Freshwater: pH range: 6.5-7.0; dH range 3-10, temp. 24-28 C. Feeds on zooplankton and benthic invertebrates. Males and females look very different (i.e. they are sexually dimorphic)


Carinotetraodon salivator Lim & Kottelat 1995. Found in Asia: Sarawak, Malaysia, in relatively fast-moving streams, around and burrowing in the substrate.

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Carinotetraodon travancoricus (Hora & Nair 1941), Malabar or Dwarf Pufferfish. To an inch in length. Found naturally in India. A current "darling" of the freshwater puffer crowd. Eat small meaty foods, leave plants alone. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species

Excerpted from: Puffed up with pride; New and unusual pufferfish species for the discerning aquarist by Neale Monks The dwarf puffers, genus Carinotetraodon 

This genus of pufferfish includes a number of small, strictly freshwater pufferfish from South and South East Asia. Apart from their size, the most characteristic feature of this genus is pronounced sexual dimorphism: the makes are usually much more brightly coloured and invariably posses erectile ridges along the belly and back. In fact, the scientific name of the genus, Carinotetraodon, comes from these structures, karina meaning 'keel' in Greek. When males are displaying to females, or threatening one another, they raise these keels, presumably to make themselves look more imposing. Both sexes can puff themselves up in the normal manner when alarmed, just like other pufferfish. 

Although Carinotetraodon spp. are territorial and snappy towards one another, like most other pufferfish, their small size makes it possible for multiple specimens to be accommodated in a sufficiently large aquarium. Under such circumstances, males and females will eventually pair off, and following some fairly rough courtship behaviour they will spawn, often in a thick mass of Java moss. The male will then drive off the female and guard the eggs until they hatch, which normally takes about three days. Once the fry are free swimming, after another couple of days, they will accept tiny lived foods, such as microworms, and after a week or two they can be weaned onto newly hatched brine shrimp and small Daphnia

There are three species of Carinotetraodon regularly traded, of which the most common is probably Carinotetraodon travancoricus, an Indian species often simply called the dwarf puffer. It is indeed a tiny fish, barely 2 cm long when mature, and a densely planted 40-litre (10 gallon) aquarium will comfortably house a single make and three females without much risk of aggression between them. Unfortunately, males and females are very similar when young; so sexing the fish in your retailer's tanks is difficult. However, once mature, sexing them is quite easy: while both fish have a dark band along the ventral surface, the male's is much darker. Males may have stronger overall colouration as well, particularly when spawning, but this is an unreliable indicator because there is so much variation in the colouration of these fish anyway. Besides variation between specimens, individual fish can also change their colours depending on their mood. 

Carinotetraodon travancoricus are confirmed fin-nippers, and keeping them with tankmates such as small tetras or barbs is a bit of a gamble. On the other hand, they generally get along well with dwarf suckermouth catfish (Otocinclus spp.) and freshwater shrimps (Caridina spp.). As far as feeding goes, these fish are very adaptable, and will take all kinds of live and frozen foods, including small snails, bloodworms, clean Tubifex worms, and Daphnia. Brine shrimp are a good treat and willingly taken, but their nutritional value is low so they shouldn't be used as a staple. One nice thing about Carinotetraodon travancoricus is that it is predominantly day-active, and is in fact remarkably outgoing given its size. It is also very tolerant of water chemistry, doing equally well in both slightly soft and acidic conditions and moderately hard and alkaline ones. As with all pufferfish though, it does not appreciate rapid changes in pH and hardness, and is very intolerant of nitrite and ammonium. Provided they are kept in a well-filtered, mature aquarium, these are lovely fish, and excellent oddballs for the aquarist with only limited space. 

Less commonly encountered is the red-eye puffer, Carinotetraodon lorteti. Found throughout much of South East Asia it has been known to the hobby for decades, often being traded under an old name, Carinotetraodon somphongsi. Though well know, its availability has been patchy, almost certainly because its high level of aggression and persistent fin nipping make it impossible to keep in a community tank.  In terms of basic requirements, this species is comparable to the dwarf puffer in most respects, though being a larger fish it does need a bigger aquarium. A matched pair may be housed in a 40-litre (10 gallon) aquarium. Males are easily distinguished from females by their colours; males are basically brown with mustard yellow stripes across the head and back. The belly is cream-coloured belly except for a reddish stripe across the keel running from just behind the mouth to the base of the anal fin. The tail fin is greenish-blue and fringed with a thin white band. Females are attractive but in a different way, sporting a mottled pattern of light and dark brown above and off-white below. Both sexes sport red irises, from which comes their common name. 

The least widely seen of the three popular Carinotetraodon species is the red-tail puffer, Carinotetraodon irrubesco. It is sometimes muddled up with the red-eye puffer, and females of the two species are virtually identical, the only obvious difference being that female Carinotetraodon irrubesco bear thin brown stripes on the belly that female Carinotetraodon lorteti lack. Male Carinotetraodon irrubesco can be immediately recognised by their red tails, but they also have red dorsal fins and the lighter bands on the dorsal surface are tan coloured rather than yellow. While it is a toss-up which of the two species is the more attractive, Carinotetraodon irrubesco definitely has the advantage as far as personality goes. It is relatively peaceful and can be kept with a variety of other fish, provided slow moving species with long fins are avoided. My own species seem to get along well with cardinal tetras, gobies, Otocinclus, and juvenile halfbeaks. 

Two additional species of Carinotetraodon are traded very occasionally, the Borneo red-eye puffer, Carinotetraodon borneensis, and the banded red-eye puffer, Carinotetraodon salivator. Male Borneo red-eyes are similar to C. lorteti but the with greenish-yellow banding instead of bright yellow and they also have a distinctive blue tail. Female Borneo red-eye puffers are essentially identical to female C. lorteti, though the colour banding on the back may be a trifle more yellowy. Banded (or striped) red-eye puffers are easy to recognise because of the vertical banding on the head and body. These bands vary in intensity, being most obvious on spawning males, but even on quiescent males should be apparent. Female striped red-eye puffers look a lot like female Carinotetraodon irrubesco. Unfortunately, males of these two species are extremely aggressive, both towards females and other fishes in the aquarium. Aquarists intent on spawning these fish, should they be lucky enough to obtain them, will almost certainly need to condition the female apart from the male, and only introduce the male when she is carrying eggs. Even then, there are no guarantees that they will spawn, and separating the fish if things turn nasty will be essential.

Chonerhinos amabilis Roberts 1982. Indonesia. To three inches in length. Feeds on aquatic insect larvae.

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Chonerhinos modestus (Bleeker 1851). Asia: Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. To four inches in length. Eats insect larvae, fish scales...

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Chonerhinos nefastus Roberts 1982.Asia: Indonesia and Indochina. To three inches in length.

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Chonerhinos remotus Roberts 1982. Asia: Indonesia. To two and a half inches in length.

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Chonerhinos asellus Roberts 1982. Asia: Indonesia. To three inches in length.

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Colomesus asellus (Muller & Troschel 1848). South American Freshwater Puffer. South America: Amazon basin. Occasionally sold in the pet-fish trade.

Pic shot at Texas State Aq.


Colomesus psittacus (Bloch & Schneider 1801), the Banded Puffer. Western Atlantic: Gulf of Paria to the Amazon River in Brazil. To a foot (!) in length. Freshwater as juveniles to brackish to marine as adults. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=7499&genusname=Colomesus&speciesname=psittacus

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Tetraodon (22spp.) Some brackish... to marine as adults, others totally freshwater, a few travel between both

Tetraodon biocellatus Tirant 1885, the Figure Eight Puffer. Asia: Indochina, Malaysia and Indonesia. Often sold as freshwater, but do best in slightly brackish (spg. 1.005); pH range: 6.5 - 7.5; dH range: 5.0 - 12.0. A fish-biter. To a little over two inches in length. Aggressive fish tanks only. A biter! Tetraodon steindachneri Dekkers, 1975 is an invalid synonym for this species.  http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=25175&genusname=Tetraodon&speciesname=biocellatus

Tetraodon duboisi Poll 1959. To 8.7 cm. Known only from the Stanley Pool area of the Congo. Aquarium photo. 

Tetraodon fluviatilis Hamilton 1822, the Ceylon Puffer to aquarists, Green Puffer to science. Asia: India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Borneo. To six inches in length. A common Puffer in the aquarium trade, but an aggressive fish fin and scale nipper as adults. A freshwater to brackish species (higher spg as adults). Feed on crustaceans, worms, mollusks, algae and detritus in the wild. Second photo on right by Jeni Tyrell/PufferPunk http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species Summary.cfm?ID=11270&genusname=Tetraodon&species name=fluviatilis

Tetraodon leiurus Bleeker 1851, Asian Freshwater Puffer. Asia: Sundaland, Indochina. Freshwater, brackish; pH range: 7.0; dH range: 12.0. Sometimes imported and sold as an aquarium fish. A terror in the way of being a fin nipper.

No pic

Tetraodon lineatus Linnaeus 1758, the Fahaka, Lined  Freshwater Puffer. Africa: Nile, Chad basin, Niger, Volta, Gambia, Geba and Sénégal Rivers. Freshwater, brackish; pH range: 7.0; dH range: 10.0. Infrequently imported. To seventeen inches in length.

Tetraodon mbu Boulenger 1899, Mbu Freshwater Puffer. Africa: widely distributed in Lake Tanganyika and the Congo basin. Freshwater, brackish. To some twenty six inches in length in the wild. The most commonly imported freshwater puffer from Africa. This one in the London Aquarium

Tetraodon miurus Boulenger 1902, the Congo or Miurus Freshwater Puffer. Central Africa: Congo basin. To seven inches. Lays in the sand, waiting to snatch something for food.

Tetraodon nigroviridis Marion le Proce 1822, the Leopard or Green Spotted Puffer (aka GSP). Freshwater only as young, small juveniles, to Brackish; pH range: 8.0 - 8.0; dH range: 9.0 - 19.0. Tropical: 24-28 C. Asia: Sundaland, Indochina, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Probably found in India. Often seen in the trade, but very aggressive. Should be kept solitarily. Feeds on mollusks, worms, algae and other fish's scales! http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species Summary.cfm?ID=7763&genusname=Tetraodon &speciesname=nigroviridis

Tetraodon palembangensis Bleeker 1852, the King Kong or Dragon Freshwater Puffer. Asia: Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. To nearly eight inches. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/species Summary.php?ID=25179&genusname=Tetraodon&species name=palembangensis


Tetraodon pustulatus Murray 1857, the  Puffer (aka GSP). Freshwater to brackish; Africa, Nigeria, Gross River. To 36 cm. @ 14 inches overall length.
Images courtesy of Lars Slowak. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=5142

Tetraodon schoutedeni Pellegrin 1926, Congo, Spotted Congo, Leopard Puffer. Central Africa; Congo Basin. Freshwater rivers, not brackish. To three and three quarters inches in length. Territorial with its own species.   http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species Summary.cfm?ID=10105&genusname=Tetraodon&speciesname= schoutedeni

T. schoutedeni FAQs

Tetraodon suvattii Sontirat 1989. Found in Asia; Mekong Basin. To about 4 1/2" in length. Occurs in freshwater/rivers on muddy or rocky bottoms. Rolf Bandsma photo. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species Summary.cfm?ID=50301&genusname=Tetraodon& speciesname=suvattii

Excerpted from: Puffed up with pride; New and unusual pufferfish species for the discerning aquarist by Neale Monks The dwarf puffers, genus Carinotetraodon Two Asian freshwater puffers 

Over a dozen species of Tetraodon have been imported as aquarium fish, though as mentioned earlier, only a few have become staples of the hobby. Besides the species mentioned about, Tetraodon lineatus, the fahaka puffer, and Tetraodon miurus, the Congo puffer, are both regularly, if infrequently, traded. One newcomer to the hobby actually has quite a familiar name, Tetraodon palembangensis. For many years, figure-eight pufferfish were sold under this name, and many aquarium books continue to describe them as such. In fact, Tetraodon palembangensis is a quite separate fish, and a freshwater rather than brackish water species to boot. Known under a variety of names include 'humpback puffer' and 'dragon puffer', this is a fairly large, piscivorous species distinguished by its very unusual shape. Where most puffers have a flat or slightly arched back, this species has an almost triangular back, giving the fish the appearance of having a deformed spine. It is also somewhat flattened from top to bottom and has a distinctly upturned mouth. The result is a terribly ugly, or wonderfully endearing fish, depending on your tastes. 

Tetraodon palembangensis is a predatory, territorial species that is best kept on its own. Given its 20 cm adult size, a single specimen probably needs a 180-litre (40 gallon) aquarium, and should either be kept alone or possible with some type of armoured catfish. Aggression towards conspecifics is limited to threats and the odd bite, but provided the aquarium is sufficiently roomy and the fish have plenty of hiding places -- thickets of robust plants are ideal -- the fish will settle down and tolerate one another. Feeding presents few problems, as they can be weaned onto a variety of dead foods, including bloodworms, prawns, and mussels. Live river shrimp, snails, and earthworms can also be used as well. 

Tetraodon suvattii, the Mekong puffer, is very similar in habits to Tetraodon palembangensis, though it is a bit smaller and doesn't have such a humped back. It is a piscivore, and while not especially aggressive, it cannot really be combined with anything except others of its own kind. Even with conspecifics, territorial aggression can flare up, especially when the fish become mature and think about spawning. This species has, incidentally, been bred in home aquaria a number of times. As with other puffers, the male guards the eggs, and the fry, once free swimming, are fairly large and can take newly hatched brine shrimps at once. Both the humpback puffer and the Mekong puffer are rather inactive fish that spend most of their time hidden in caves or among the leaves of large plants. 

Our final newbie pufferfish is Fang's puffer, Tetraodon cochinchinensis. A waspish fish, it is a confirmed nipper and cannot be kept in a community tank despite its small size. Some aquarists have kept these fish in groups, but they are very territorial, and will attack any conspecifics that swim by their lair. Under such conditions this species can be spawned, and some of the specimens sold now are said to be tank bred, but even so, it is most easily kept on its own in a 90-litre (20 gallon) tank. When not feeding or fighting, these fish are barely more active than humpback or Mekong puffers, and mostly just hide inside their chosen cave. 

These new pufferfish are not for everyone, but if you can work around their specific needs, these could be very interesting and rewarding fish. The dwarf puffers in particular, and perhaps Fang's puffer as well, are small enough that their antisocial behaviour can be easily accommodated by simply setting up another aquarium just for them. That so many of these smaller species are breedable makes them even more tempting. All pufferfish are demanding though, needing tip-top filtration and frequent water changes, but if you can provide the care they need, these are fish you are sure to enjoy.


Unfortunately the majority of "freshwater" puffers sold (which are actually brackish to marine) are quite susceptible to infectious and parasitic disease. Without good water quality (consistent, partial marine conditions) the non-freshwater tetraodonts frequently succumb to ich (white spot disease, ichthyophthirius), or become plagued with unsightly lymphocystis. They respond well to common therapies for all. Shown: an otherwise healthy Tetraodon nigroviridis with ich. 

Bibliography/Further Reading: 

Aquarium Link Suggestion    5/14/12
Hi Bob,
I was hoping that you would consider linking to my website under your puffer category. The URL is http://www.freshwaterpufferfish.org
Thank you for your time,
 <Will do... a very nice site, offer of paid help... Odd that you don't list your name. Bob Fenner>


Burgess, Warren E. 1983. The Amazon puffer, Colomesus asellus (Not C. psittacus). TFH 12/83.

Feigs, G. 1957. Tetraodon schoutedeni (Fresh-water puffers spawn). TFH 9-10/57.

Frank, Stanislav & Jaroslav Elias. 1974. Chonerhinus naritus. TFH 4/74.

Glass, Spencer. 1997. Freshwater Puffers. TFH 9/97.

Jackson, Lee. 94. Puffers of the genus Chonerhinos. FAMA 7/94.

Jensen, Christopher. 1993. Pufferfish. FAMA 10/93.

Ladiges. Undated. Puffer Fish. ADI #27.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.

Noshnow, Anatoli. 1987. Puffer production: Spawning Tetraodon cutcutia. TFH 10/87.

Ralf, Ricke. Undated. The striped pufferfish (Tetraodon palembangensis). ADI #31

Thomas, Scott B. 1985. Those practical fresh-water puffers. FAMA 5/85.


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