Pufferfish have legions of fans among aquarists. And why not? They display interesting behaviors, they seemingly have a permanent smile plastered on their faces and they are relatively easy to care for by those who are knowledgeable in their ways. There are several online forums devoted exclusively to pufferfish.
However, some pufferfish pose care challenges that only the most knowledgeable and well-equipped aquarists can handle. This is especially true of the giant pufferfish, aka the mbu pufferfish.
Difficulty level: The giant pufferfish has specific feeding requirements and needs an aquarium of titanic proportions. The giant pufferfish is a species that falls well outside the range of the aquarium hobby newcomer. They are not especially difficult to maintain, provided their housing requirements are met. But maintaining an aquarium at 800 to 1,000-plus gallons falls within the realm of seasoned experts only.
Hardiness: Giant pufferfish care needs in terms of tank size and food requirements change as it grows. But the giant pufferfish is relatively hardy if provided with a spacious aquarium with lots of unobstructed swimming room, pristine water quality (it tends to be messy a eater that produces lots of waste) and meaty live foods (it can learn to accept prekilled items).
Physical description: Often sold to unsuspecting aquariststs as small 4 inchers, the giant pufferfish grows quickly and can reach 30 inches, which includes its paintbrushlike caudaul fin. Its tawny body color adorned with olive-green jigsaw-puzzle-piece blotches creates a mottled appearance. The giant pufferfish has the typical squarish head, bulging eyes, large mouth and perpetual smile similar to many pufferfish.
Climate and range: Tetraodon mbu is found throughout equatorial Africa’s Congo Basin, particularly in Lake Tanganyika.
Compatibility: The giant pufferfish does best when kept singly in an aquarium of its own. The giant pufferfish tends to be very aggressive and will make mincemeat of smaller invertebrates and fish kept in the same setup. And when the standard minimum-recommended aquarium size for keeping one adult — which can attain a length of 30 inches, including its impressive caudal fin — is roughly 800 gallons, or 7 by 4 by 4 feet, keeping more than one giant pufferfish at the same time borders on lunacy for 99 percent of the aquarists out there.
Aquarium conditions: The giant pufferfish is found in the wild in water conditions similar to those for African Rift Lake cichlids. Water temperature for the giant pufferfish should be maintained between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, pH 7.0 to 7.8, dKH 10 to 15.
Care considerations: Internet accounts of the giant pufferfish have them being kept in everything from 50-gallon to 1,500-gallon aquarium setups. Many aquarist forum posts report eventual failure in keeping the giant pufferfish because aquarists just could not keep apace with the growth needs. Unfortunately, many giant pufferfish are stunted and even suffer permanently crooked caudal fins because they are kept in aquariums that are much too small for their needs.
Likewise, as the giant pufferfish grows, its dietary needs change as well. When less than 6 inches, the giant pufferfish can be fed a variety of live foods daily, including Mysis, aquatic snails, ghost shrimp, blackworms, bloodworms, crickets and krill. As the giant pufferfish grows beyond 6 inches, feed it every other day and increase the amount of crunchy foods you feed it. Things such as uncooked shrimp shells, mussels, clams, crayfish and crab legs will be greedily gobbled up by the giant pufferfish. Crunchy foods help to keep the giant pufferfish’s always-growing teeth filed down.
A giant pufferfish aquarium setup should have top-notch filtration and good circulation. Water changes of up to 50 percent should be performed weekly. The giant pufferfish requires a serious commitment on the part of aquarists.
Breeding: Reportedly impossible to sex, there are no reports of giant pufferfish captive breeding in aquaria. This may of course be partially tied to their huge space requirements in captivity.