Amazon Puffer Fish: Care, Toxicity, Tank Mates & Breeding

If you have plenty of experience in fish husbandry and you are looking for a new and never-ending source of entertainment, the Amazon Puffer fish may be a great choice for you.

Amazon Puffers have a cute face with big eyes and curious, quirky personalities; you are sure to fall in love with these freshwater favorites.

Be sure to read this care guide to ensure that you are able to handle the responsibility of caring for these aquatic Amazonians.

Common Name:Amazon Puffer, South American Puffer, Peruvian Puffer
Scientific Name:Colomesus Asellus
Family:Tetraodontiformes
Temperament:Aggressive
Size:3” – 6”
Lifespan:10 + years
Diet:Omnivore
Care Level:Advanced
Minimum Tank Size:50 Gallon
Compatibility:Prefer to reside in a community of its own kind, they can be stressed when alone

Overview

The Amazon Puffer fish is naturally found happily swimming around in the South American waters of Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. Amazon Puffers are no longer being found in the waters of French Guinea or Suriname as they once were.

The reason the Amazon Puffer fish is not being seen in the areas of French Guinea and Suriname any longer is that it is believed that the residual pollution from gold mining and deforestation processes in the surrounding jungles is killing the natural inhabitants.

Fun Fact: There are around 150 kinds of puffer fish in the world. To the untrained eye, the Amazon Puffer is very easy to confuse with its relatives.

Appearance

The Amazon Puffer fish is much easier to identify once you have taken the time to become familiar with them. When fully mature they can be around 3” – 6” in length.

Their underbelly is typically a lighter white color; while their bodies are covered in a greenish-yellow and black pattern.

The following list will help you with the process of identifying the Amazon Puffer fish:

  • 1 – Ring located before the caudal fin
  • 1 – Stripe located above the eye
  • 1 – Stripe located behind the eye
  • 1 – Stripe located behind the pectoral fin
  • 1 – Stripe located under the dorsal fin
  • 5 – Stripes running across their back

The Amazon Puffer fish has tiny poisonous spines covering its entire body instead of scales like most other fish. You cannot tell that they are spines until they inflate themselves to ward off danger.

The Amazon Puffer fish also has long teeth that never stop growing. They need to be trimmed or ground down naturally with their food.

It is almost impossible to determine the sex of an Amazon Puffer fish. The main way people are able to tell is when the female is carrying eggs; her belly may be a little more round than normal.

Fun Fact: The Amazon Puffer Fish is one of the few species of fish that can close their eyes and blink.

Food & Diet

The Amazon Puffer fish is an omnivore; however, they prefer a diet of mostly meat-based foods. Their diet consists mainly of hard crunchy foods such as:

  • Cockles
  • Crab legs
  • Muscles
  • Snails

It is imperative that you proved a hard, crunchy diet for your Amazon Puffers as this is how they maintain their teeth. Since the Amazon Puffer’s teeth never stop growing they need to use these crunchy foods to grind their teeth down.

In some cases, you still may need to trim their teeth yourself. If you find yourself in this situation you will need to sedate the fish by using clove oil. Once sedated, you can carefully trim their teeth with a cuticle trimmer.

If an Amazon Puffer’s teeth become too long they will not be able to eat and they will die; therefore it is very important to monitor each fish and be sure that they are grinding their teeth enough.

Amazon puffer eating from tongs

The Amazon Puffer fish will eat algae tablets, algae, and other assorted aquatic plants as well. It is good to provide a variety of foods to provide proper nutrition and keep them entertained.

The first 10 days of the Amazon Puffer’s life is spent in a planktonic phase where they live on their yolk sac and baby brine shrimp. They need to eat daily during this phase. Once they become juveniles and have reached a length of at least 2 inches long can be fed every other day.

Behavior & Temperament

The Amazon Puffer fish is a naturally aggressive fish that does best when living in a community of other Amazon Puffers. These fish are naturally curious and very intelligent.

Amazon Puffer fish love to explore and swim around a lot. After a short time, they will even recognize their caregivers.

When an Amazon Puffer fish feels stressed or threatened they will inflate themselves with air to appear larger so as to try to scare their attacker and also make it harder to be swallowed. The Amazon Puffer’s thick skin is also a good defense against attacking predators.

The Amazon Puffer fish is considered to be the “nice puffer”, but they should still not be kept with other types of fish for multiple reasons. When the Amazon Puffer fish is being aggressive toward others it will display behaviors such as chasing and nipping.

Another important reason to keep your Amazon Puffers away from other kinds of fish is if they become stressed they will emit a toxin that can kill the other fish living in the tank.

If you absolutely must have multiple types of fish in the tank with your Amazon Puffer fish it is recommended to stock fish that are quick swimmers and have short fins to reduce the chance of them being harassed by the puffers. For more information about tank, mates read the following section.

Tank Mates

The ideal tank mates for your Amazon Puffer fish are a community of other Amazon Puffers. They do not do as well in solitary situations so it is best to have at least three mates in a tank.

The reason you want to have a minimum of three mates is that having only two fish will cause one of the fish to become dominant and aggressive toward their tank mate. The more fish you have in your tank the less territorial and aggressive they will be toward one another.

Another reason to keep your Amazon Puffer fish in groups of three or more is that the more fish in the group the more secure and relaxed they will be. In the wild, they are used to being in larger groups for protection and food gathering reasons.

If must have multiple species of fish in your tank, the following are recommended as acceptable mates for the Amazon Puffer fish:

  • Apistogramma
  • Barbs
  • Larger Rasboras
  • Medium-Sized Characins
  • Rams
  • Corydoras

Toxicity

Puffer fish are toxic to other fish and humans. The Amazon Puffer fish is no exception. Be sure to use a net and/or gloves when handling this unique fish.

The Amazon Puffer’s body contains the toxic chemicals saxitoxin and tetradotoxin these chemicals are toxic to fish and humans. It is said that the toxins of a puffer fish are over 1000 times stronger than cyanide if taken by a human.

Disease

The main disease that you need to worry about with your Amazon Puffer fish is the dreaded Ich. Ich is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.

While the Amazon Puffer fish is a very resilient fish that does not need specific parameters for water hardness, they do still require clean, properly aerated water in order to remain healthy.

Signs of the Ich include:

  • Frequently rubbing their bodies on the bottom of the tank or on the objects that are decorating the tank
  • Hovering near the top of the tank with labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Small white spots resembling grains of salt all over the body and gills
  • Unusual hiding behavior

It is imperative that you understand their life cycle in order to properly eradicate them from the environment. The three life stages of the Ich parasite are as follows:

Adult Phase: The adult parasite attaches itself to the host fish and begins to attach itself and feed. Eventually, the Ich parasite will fall off of the host fish where it will fall to the bottom of the tank.

Cyst Phase: Once the adult has fallen to the bottom of the tank the remaining cyst erupts and divides into multiple cells called tomites.

Free-Swimming Phase: Once the cyst has opened the tomites have 2 – 3 days to find a new host and repeat the process. If they do not find a proper host within this period of time they will die.

There is only one time during their life cycle that the Ich parasite can be killed by using chemicals. The free-swimming phase is the only time when adding chemicals to your tank will

be effective.

Habitat & Tank Requirements

In the wild, the Amazon Puffer fish can typically be found in varying water conditions. They can be found near beaches, floodplain lakes, and areas with lots of vegetation.

They are not very fast swimmers but do love to swim and move around a lot. They prefer to be in fast-moving water with high oxygen levels.

In captivity, it is recommended that you have a minimum of a 50-gallon tank for your Amazon Puffer fish. The more fish you add, the larger the tank will have to be. Amazon Puffers prefer the water to be in the temperature range of 71° – 82°F.

The Amazon Puffer fish is not picky when it comes to waters pH and Alkalinity, but it is recommended that you keep the pH around 6 – 8 and well aerated.

Decorating a tank to house Amazon Puffer fish is not all difficult. It is important to create lots of places for them to explore because they are naturally curious. You can decorate your tank by using rocks, driftwood, and a variety of aquarium plants. The Amazon Puffer fish is a very energetic fish; they love to swim around and explore a lot.

When placing your aquarium decorations keep most of them in the mid – background of the tank to allow plenty of hiding and exploring places. It also helps to paint the back of the tank, use a pre-printed scene or add three-dimensional elements to create depth and contrast for a more visually pleasing and realistic aquarium.

Leave the front of the tank a little bare to give them lots of swimming space where you can enjoy watching them.

It is also recommended that you use floating vegetation such as the water sprite to provide some shade and additional places to explore.

Breeding

It is almost impossible to identify the sex of an Amazon Puffer fish. Typically you are only able to distinguish the female when she is carrying eggs because her belly becomes larger and more round than usual.

Amazon Puffer fish are rarely bred in captivity due to the extremely small size of the eggs and the fact that it is nearly impossible to tell the males from the females. In the wild, the females lay their eggs and they travel with the water’s current.

There is no parenting involved in the egg-laying process. The eggs are left to their own devices where they will eventually hatch and live in a planktonic stage until they become juveniles.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a true freshwater fish friend, the Amazon Puffer fish is a great option. With their long lifespan and their curious and entertaining personalities, these fish will be great to keep on display for many years. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to explore a new type of fish and help you to decide if this curious little puffer is the right fit for your aquatic playland.