15 Types of Freshwater (and Saltwater) Pufferfish

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Published: February 19, 2022
Image Credit Anastasia Mangindaan/Shutterstock.com
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Pufferfish are fish that puff up when they feel threatened. This unique feature fascinates so many of us. These fish are also pretty adorable with their large eyes and diverse variety of colors and patterns.

There are so many varieties of pufferfish, ranging in size from scarcely over an inch to several feet in length! Today, we’re going to talk about 17 incredible Pufferfish!

When we’re finished, we’ll also talk about whether you can—or should—obtain these pets for yourself, and how they respond to aquarium life.

Freshwater Pufferfish

Pufferfish are unique-looking fish that are adapted for both freshwater and saltwater. However, about 80% of pufferfish are at home in saltwater, which means that the selection of freshwater pufferfish is more limited. Let’s look at a few of the most popular types of freshwater pufferfish.

1.    Congo Pufferfish

Freshwater Pufferfish - Congo Pufferfish
Congo pufferfish are a freshwater pufferfish from the Congo River in Africa.

Dan Olsen/Shutterstock.com

The Congo Puffer is native to the Congo River in Africa. They grow to around 5.9 inches (15 centimeters) in length, and are also known as Potato Puffers!

They tend to be spotted and are born in several color varieties. In the wild, their populations are considered healthy. Congo pufferfish aren’t particularly active but will need a sand substrate to wallow at the bottom of aquariums. It’s recommended you feed a congo pufferfish a mix of smaller freshwater fish, prawns, earthworms, and isopods. Puffers require a good amount of space, at least 20 gallons per fish.

2.    MBU Pufferfish

Freshwater Pufferfish - MBU Pufferfish
MBU pufferfish are the largest freshwater pufferfish

yuliya ivanenko/Shutterstock.com

MBU Puffers are large, growing to around 26 inches (67 centimeters) long. In fact, they’re sometimes referred to as giant puffers. These giant pufferfish require at least 125 gallons of water per fish, and some sources say 500 gallons is a more appropriate minimum enclosure size. So keeping one in an aquarium can be challenging, especially since water filtration can also be difficult to manage.

They are native to the Congo River and tend to be yellow-white with black markings. Their front teeth (pictured above) allow MBU puffers to feed on shellfish like clams and snails. Another challenge to keeping MBU puffers is that they need hard-shelled food to prevent overgrowth of their teeth.

3.    Red-Eyed Pufferfish

Redeye Puffer
Red-eyed puffers can have deep red eyes.

SURACHET KRIENGNARONGDECH/Shutterstock.com

Red-Eyed Puffers are black and silver with red eyes. They are quite unique compared to other puffers, and you’ll likely either love or hate their appearance! Red-eyed fish intimidate some people, while others think they’re cool.

They grow to about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) in length and are native to Southeast Asia.

4.    Dwarf Pea Pufferfish

Dwarf pufferfish are one of the smallest species of freshwater pufferfish and require just 3 gallons per fish.

Dwarf pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) feeding close-up shots/Shutterstock.com

Dwarf pea puffers are also known as dwarf pufferfish, pygmy puffers, and Malabar puffers. That’s a lot of names for a 1.4 inch (3.5 centimeter) fish!

They originated in India and are yellow with black spots. Dwarf pea pufferfish are ideal if you have a smaller tank and want a single-species aquarium (they can be quite aggressive when kept with other fish). These small pufferfish eat forzen bloodworms (pictured above!), brine shrimp, and pest snails.

5.    Fahaka Pufferfish

Freshwater Puffer - Fahaka Pufferfish
Fahaka pufferfish are one of the largest species of freshwater puffers.

Bk87/Shutterstock.com

Fahaka pufferfish have striped or patterned bodies in red, grey, yellow, white, and black. They are also known as the Nile puffer and the band puffer, and originate in Africa.

These fish grow up to 1.4 feet (43 centimeters) in length! Due to their size, Fahaka pufferfish require large enclosures. It is recommended you provide a minimum of 55 gallons of water per fish and a minimum tank size of 120 gallons. Which is to say, like other large pufferfish on this list, Fahakas are for very experienced aquarium keepers only. Fahakas are extremely aggressive fish and prefer to eat crustaceans like crabs and crayfish.

6.    Amazon Puffer

Freshwater Puffers - Amazon Pufferfish
Amazon pufferfish live in communities in the wild.

RainyTam/Shutterstock.com

Any guess as to where these fish originate? The Amazon River, which is located in South America! (They’re also sometimes referred to as South American puffers for obvious reasons!)

They have yellow bellies, and the rest of their bodies are covered in yellow and black stripes. These fish grow to just 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in length on average but can reach more than 5 inches. Amazon puffers are extremely active, which stands in contrast to other freshwater pufferfish like the Congo pufferfish, which can be more sedentary. Because of their activity levels, Amazon pufferfish will require larger tanks. Like other fish on this list, their teeth can overgrow. To help maintain their teeth, they can be fed shellfish in addition to foods like insects, brine shrimp, and plant matter as well.

7. Figure Eight Pufferfish

Freshwater Pufferfish - Figure Eight Pufferfish
Figure eight pufferfish can sometimes be found in brackish water

Dan Olsen/Shutterstock.com

The figure eight pufferfish is named after the markings on its body, which can sometimes resemble “figure eights.” They’re on the smaller side of pufferfish, and rarely measure over 3 inches in length when fully grown. Like other pufferfish on this list, their teeth can suffer from overgrowth if they don’t eat hard-shelled food such as snails and shellfish. Figure eight pufferfish are aggressive and aren’t ideal for a community tank setup.

8.    Imitator Dwarf Puffer

Freshwater pufferfish - dwarf pufferfish
Dwarf pufferfish look very similar across several species and can make more manageable aquarium species than larger puffers.

Toxotes Hun-Gabor Horvath/Shutterstock.com

Imitator Dwarf Puffers are similar to Dwarf Peas but have fewer spots. To make up for this, their spots are also larger than the Dwarf Pea.

They grow to just 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) and are one of the smallest Pufferfish species. Like dwarf pea pufferfish, imitator pufferfish can be easier to keep because they require as little as 3 gallons of water volume per fish, which is substantially less than larger freshwater pufferfish.

9. Green Pufferfish

Freshwater Pufferfish - Green Pufferfish
Green pufferfish come from southeast Asia

Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com

Green pufferfish are found in rivers, lakes, and flood plains of southeast Asia. Like many other freshwater pufferfish they’re primarily carnivorous and eat small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks for food. They have a front beak that can become overgrown, and can be maintained through a diet of shellfish and other prey with hardened shells.

Green pufferfish are a medium-sized species of freshwater pufferfish that grow to 7 inches in length. Like many other pufferfish, they can be quite aggressive, which becomes problematic in communal tanks.

Saltwater Pufferfish

The vast majority of pufferfish live in saltwater. While many of these pufferfish are less commonly kept in aquariums, they’re often stunning to look at! Let’s examine some of the most incredible saltwater pufferfish.

10. Blue-Spotted Pufferfish

Bluespotted Pufferfish on coral reef
Blue-spotted pufferfish are omnivores that can have a number of colores.

Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

Blue-spotted pufferfish are red with blue spots and lines. These unique fish have a sun-like pattern around their eyes.

They grow up to 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) long and are native to both the Indian and Pacific oceans.

11. Valentin’s Sharpnose Pufferfish

Valentine's Sharpnosed Puffer
Valentine’s sharpnose pufferfish has a distinctive appearance that’s very different than many other puffers.

cbpix/Shutterstock.com

These fish have a long, but suitable name. They have long, pointed “noses” and beautiful patterns. Their white bodies are covered with black stripes with yellow dots in between, and their tails and fins are yellow.

And, well, don’t you want to be their Valentine?

All jokes aside, this fish is native to the Indian and Pacific oceans. While pufferfish are known for their toxicity, the Valentin’s is especially notable since it has one of the most potent neurotoxins of any fish. In fact, it’s so toxic, that other fish have mimicked its appearance to avoid predation!

12.    Golden Pufferfish

Freshwater Pufferfish - Golden puffer
Golden pufferfish appear in a yellow or dark form, but the yellow variation is especially prized in the aquarium trade.

Tatiana Belova/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the Guineafowl Puffer, these fish are bright yellow with small black spots. They’re found in the Pacific and also have a dark form that is brown and white.

They reach about 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) in length.

13. Northern Pufferfish

northern pufferfish
Northern puffers are one of the more common species across the east coast of the United States.

Animal Search/Shutterstock.com

North where, you may ask? North America!

Northern Puffers are native to the waters of the Atlantic coast. They are yellow and white with black patterns, and grow to about 14 inches (35.6 centimeters) long. If you’re in the Capital Region of the United States, you may find northern puffers as they’re called “sugar toads” in the Chesapeake Bay region. These pufferfish range from Florida all the way to Newfoundland.

14. Blackspotted Pufferfish

Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)
Blockspotted pufferfish have a “cute” appearance but like all puffers can grow quite large when puffing up!

Anastasia Mangindaan/Shutterstock.com

Blackspotted Puffers are also known as dog-faced puffers due to their cute, almost seal-like appearance! They have dark spots around their mouths that kind of resemble a pup’s snout.

These large Pufferfish grow to about 1 foot (33 centimeters) in length and are found in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

15. Porcupine Pufferfish

Porcupine Pufferfish
The porcupine pufferfish is often called the blowfish

J.T. Lewis/Shutterstock.com

Porcupinefish are often called porcupine pufferfish, or blowfish, and are actually from a different family than pufferfish! Porcupinefish are similar in the sense they can also inflate their bodies and have incredible poisonous tetrodotoxin in their organs. They also have extremely sharp spines that serve as an additional defense.

Do Pufferfish Make Good Pets?

The biggest reasons that pufferfish don’t make good pets are ethical. There are a few issues to consider: size, breeding, and myths.

Many people underestimate the tank size needed for any fish, and this becomes a bigger problem for large Puffers like starry puffers and Fahaka puffers.

Fish kept in too-small enclosures will be unhappy (they do have feelings!), unhealthy, and live shorter lives.

Most of us acknowledge that, at a certain size, fish and other water life cannot be kept ethically in a tank at all—especially by the average person. The size where this problem begins is often debated, and we’ll let you make your own judgments there!

Breeding is another big issue because most pufferfish cannot be captive-bred—and even then, it’s often difficult to do so.

When a fish cannot be captive-bred, it must be wild-caught—and living in a tank is usually a sadder life for a fish than they’d have in the wild, especially when care isn’t up to par.

This leads us to our last issue, which is common aquarium myths. These hurt all fish, including Puffers!

Myths such as “fish grow to the size of their tank, so it doesn’t matter what container you keep them in” are often repeated and believed.

Another issue is pet stores that don’t inform buyers about how large baby fish will grow, what their true care requirements will be, and the tank size they truly need.

If adopting a pufferfish as a pet, be sure to choose a variety that can be captive-bred. If possible, adopt from a breeder or rescue a fish that’s being given away by its old owner!

If you do shop at pet stores, research what they say about tank size or care requirements. Remember that the employees are incentivized to sell the animals, and aren’t usually experts in the pets that they sell.

Doing your own research before buying a pet is an absolute must!

Are Pufferfish Poisonous?

Pufferfish are poisonous—but this isn’t a problem so long as you don’t eat them!

They don’t have venomous bites or stings, so keeping one is safe for you to do.

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About the Author

I'm an animal writer of four years with a primary focus on educational pet content. I want our furry, feathery, and scaley friends to receive the best care possible! In my free time, I'm usually outdoors gardening or spending time with my nine rescue pets.

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