Suppose you’re a shark. You’re the king of the ocean, an eating machine that can tear apart seals and smaller fish like they were nothing. The world is your banquet and it’s all you can eat, every day of the week. There’s one fish that you’d probably want to stay away from, though: the pufferfish. To predator fish puffers may be a buzzkill, but for aquarists they are a unique and charming fish that make a great addition to an aquarium.
The first thing you have to talk about with a pufferfish is their ability to inflate. When threatened, puffers suck in water or air to inflate their bodies up to two-to-three times their normal size. This also causes spines to point outward, making the choice of dining on a puffer about as appealing as a human chowing down on a full pin cushion. Once they’re safe they just return to normal, making pufferfish the only creatures on earth that can go from fat to skinny faster than Hollywood celebrities.
Some fish have still dared to take a bite and have actually choked to death when the puffers get lodged in their throat. And even if they do somehow manage to swallow them, they’ll find that they’ve just swallowed the world’s second most poisonous creature in existence, right behind the golden poison frog. Talk about heartburn.
There are 120 known species of pufferfish, but they share several similaries. Their bodies tend to be round and bulky, rather than thin and smooth like many other fish. I’ve always thought that the best way to describe their at-rest body shape is to imagine a sock with another balled-up sock inside of it.
When they’re inflated, though, they look completely different. They become almost perfectly spherical, and depending on the species long or short spines will stick straight outward to create a protective porcupine-like barrier.
While aquarists are initially attracted to puffers for their natural defense mechanisms, many will fall in love with their quirky personality. They are playful and mischievous, and they are known to beg for food and excitedly flit about during feeding time. In fact, they’ll even eat so much that their bellies can become round and distended, like a scene from a cartoon.
Caring for Your Pufferfish
I guess being covered in spines and loaded with a deadly neurotoxin with no known antidote can inflate your ego. Pufferfish can sometimes get a bit aggressive and act like they’re the big fish in town. Don’t put puffers in tanks with smaller fish or they’ll see these fish as speedy morsels and eat them. Some puffers also have a tendency to bite the fins of other fish. They really sound like jerks, don’t they?
Pufferfish crave meaty meals, and they love food so much that they will overeat if you give them a chance. You also need to give puffers crunchy food from time to time to wear down their beaks, otherwise they will grow too long and might require trimming. Puffers will gleefully gobble down crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, and similar shelled animals.