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Genus Arothron - Fat Puffers
Most Popular Pufferfishes

The fishes from the family Tetraodontidae are extraordinary fishes, and some are an absolute dream for the marine aquarist. Alternatively called pufferfishes, blowfishes, globefishes, and swellfishes, there are more than twenty genera and well over 100 known species. There are two subfamilies: Canthigasterinae and Tetraodontinae. The former are those fishes commonly called the sharpnosed puffers and the tobies, and the latter are the so-called “true puffers.” Within the subfamily Tetraodontinae, there is one genus in particular with which the North American marine aquarist ought to be familiar, and these fishes are the subject of this article. Meet the pufferfishes from the genus Arothron.

Fat Puffers’ Popularity

The puffers from the genus Arothron are sometimes called the “fat puffers,” and most make wonderful marine aquarium animals. Like other puffers, the fat puffers have the ability to fill their stomach with water or air and greatly increase their size. There are 17 described species (FishBase 2009), including the popular guineafowl puffer (Arothron meleagris), the dogface puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus) and the starry puffer (Arothron stellatus).

Why are the fat puffers so popular? In part it is their large, blinking eyes and their near puppy-like behavior. In short, aquarists who keep fat puffers generally report developing close relationships with these fishes who come to recognize their owners and even beg for food. In addition to their disposition, puffers are also fairly easy to keep if they are given the proper environment and husbandry. Once established, a fat puffer is generally no trouble at all, and it will be quite long lived.

The Downsides to Keeping Fat Puffers

While these fishes make excellent animals for many home aquaria, they do have some downsides. For example, puffers possess a deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin, but so long as the aquarist doesn’t plan to eat his or her puffer, the risks are minimal. If a puffer dies in the aquarium, be sure to remove it promptly so that the toxin will not spread in the tank when the organs which possess the toxin begin to breakdown.

While most aquarists won’t ever need to worry about the toxicity of their puffer, all will need to give some thought to any invertebrate life that is housed in the same aquarium. Corals, shrimp, crabs, urchins, sponges, and other inverts are all potentially on the pufferfish menu, and, as such, pufferfishes are generally considered to be one of the least reef compatible fishes. Plan to keep a pufferfish in a fish-only system (with live rock, of course!).

Feeding a Fat Puffer

When it comes to feeding a puffer, most will readily accept a wide range of fresh and commercially prepared foods. Plan to feed twice a day, and be sure to include some table mollusks (with shell) to help the fish wear down its teeth (although larger puffers may need to have their teeth filed by hand). Puffers are messy eaters, so be sure to clean any mechanical filtration frequently, and consider running a more robust than normal protein skimmer.

Pufferfish Tankmates

Pufferfishes generally do best in an aggressive fish-only system. When it comes to tankmates, triggerfishes, tangs, large angelfishes, and lionfishes are all excellent candidates. The puffer usually either becomes the dominant fish in the aquarium or the fish with which nobody messes.

Other Fat Puffer Considerations

While these fishes are capable of increasing their size by two or three times its original volume, never encourage a pufferfish to inflate, as the act can be dangerous to the animal’s health. With larger puffers, the aquarist is wise to keep an eye on them when his or her hands are in the tank, as they are capable of delivering a nasty bite.

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