Tetraodon MBU, The Under Water Giant Puppy
The Tetraodon MBU puffer is the largest freshwater species of puffer fish. Getting 22+ inches in a home aquarium. With the fish getting so big, most aquarists struggle to keep one healthy. Although my largest fish is only 22 inches in size, I believe they will grow to be as big as 30 inches depending upon how they are raised.
The first question is always what size of an aquarium? There are many options. Some suggest 300 gallons while others recommend 1000 gallons. It doesn’t matter how many gallons you have, the foot print matters more than any other factor. For a fish with a length of around 30 inches, a tank that measures 8ft in length and 4ft forward to back and is only 2ft high works better than a tank that is 8ft tall, 8ft wide, and only 2ft deep. More area to swim will always be better and the more gallons of water generally makes waste management easier in an aquarium.
My current aquarium for my second MBU puffer is 72x48x24 inches tall which is 360 gallons. The MBU measures 13 inches. My MBU was 22 inches when he passed away at age 5. As the necropsy revealed, he died from a wild-caught disease without a known cure. It had caused many lesions in his heart and other organs, and it had taxed his system over time.
As for waste management, I currently change 100 gallons of the 340 gallons daily. This keeps nitrates at 0 in the aquarium. The automatic water change system ensures that the aquarium is always topped up. Live plants are also beneficial in the reduction of waste in this aquarium. When you have a 22 inch fish feeding on 6 to 8oz of food a day, their feces is the size of small dogs.
Their diet is another difficult aspect for most owners. Shelled food is what they need the most. Things like clams, muscles, snails, crayfish etc are all important pieces. This keeps their beaks, also known as their large teeth, trimmed. MBU puffers get shelled food five days a semaine and soft foods two days a weeks. Fozen blood worms, cocktail shrimp and fozen cocktail shrimp are some examples. These should be soaked in a vitamin powder. After years of trying, I haven’t been able get any MBU puffers from dry food. I do know others who have been successful however. Be prepared for a food bill that is up to $10 a day when they get large. It’s like feeding a large dog a special diet. The $300 monthly payment is equivalent to paying $300 per month. Variety is vital as it’s very easy to overeat and become vitamin deficient.
Although live foods can stimulate the hunting instincts in puffers, they can also attract parasites. Also, there can be danger from claws from crayfish and fiddler crabs etc. It is recommended to cut one of the claws before feeding so the live food can’t clamp an eye of the puffer.
One benefit to feeding lots of shelled foods is that the shells can be left in the aquarium and it helps buffer the water. Almost forming a crushed coral like substrate. This helps to buffer the pH and alkalinity. As they grow larger and eat more, the bottom becomes littered with shells. If you are using sand, you may use a coarse net or a sifter to collect shells and sand.
Maintaining a pH greater than 7.0 is advisable. I’ve kept mine at 7.4 pH typically, if my natural tap water was higher I would keep it there as well. Because so much water is changing, it’s more sensible to adapt the puffer for the tap water pH plus shells rather than to alter it. Especially with automated daily water changes.
Puffers are a wonderful pet because they have great vision and can recognize their owners from far away. Their eyes become closer to each other as they grow larger. This causes the puffer to have to look at its food from the side, then line itself up and then eat it. Tank mates can sometimes swim in for food and eat by accident. This happens it seems like once every 6 months or so.
The right tank mates can help reduce casualties. It is best to choose peaceful and passive tank buddies. However, things like loaches and corydoras also love clams, and other meaty foods and can go for food at the wrong time. I once lowered an Ellipsifer eel from Lake Tang. This was early in my Mbu puffer’s life. They both wanted the same shrimp and it caused a fatal wound to the tail. For my MBU puffers, fancy guppies have been siamese algae eaters (siamese), plecos, plecos. Things that didn’t work out well, Flagtail Prochilodus, Giraffe Catfish, basically anything that would touch the MBU puffer or be a pig when it came to food time.
Anything pointy is best when it comes to decorating a MBU Puffer aquarium. When the puffer is spooked, it can be sent running. A sharp object or rock can cause severe damage. I like to line the sides and back of my aquarium with live plants. This provides visual barriers and allows the fish to hide in the weeds if they’d like to. Anubias species are my favorite. Java ferns are Java puffers’ favorite way to move the sand, hunting for snails, etc.
For temperature, I run my tank in the mid 70s. I don’t use aquarium heaters, I heat the whole room. Partly because I run a lot of aquariums, but mostly so I can eliminate any heater malfunction from the list of potential killers for a MBU puffer. A puffer is an extremely complex fish and requires a lot of care. The more problems you can avoid, the easier it will be to keep it healthy over the long-term.
You want to keep a MBU puffer under water when moving them. They can trap air if they get too puffy. If they can’t expel it, it can kill them. MBU puffers will stretch and inflate and deflate quickly from time to time in the aquarium. This is normal, as long as it’s unrelated to stress factors like loud noises or other stressors. I liken a puffer puffing up to a human fainting. A human fainting takes as much shock as a puffer puffing up. It’s simply a defense mechanism.
For more information and to see some of these concepts explained in a video, check out my MBU Puffer species profile video.