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. My largest fish has reached 22 inches. However, depending on how they’re raised over their long lives, they could grow up to 30 inches.
The first question is always what size of an aquarium? Some estimates range from 300 to 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 itself is about 13 inches currently. He was 5 years old when he died. His previous MBU measured 22 inches. The necropsy revealed that he had died too soon from a wild acquired disease for which there was no cure. It had created many lesions on his heart, other organs, and taxed the system over time.
As far as waste management goes, I change 100 gallons from the 340 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. If you have a 22-inch fish eating 6-8oz of food per day, the fish’s feces are about the same size as small dogs.
Their diet is another difficult aspect for most owners. Shelled food is what they need the most. They need to eat shelled foods, such as clams and muscles, snails, crayfish, and other small animals. This helps to keep their large, often referred to as beak-shaped teeth (also known as their beaks) under control. I feed my MBU puffers shelled foods 5 days a week and softer foods 2 days a week. Things like cocktail shrimp, fozen blood worms etc. These should be soaked in a vitamin powder. After years of trying, I haven’t been able get any MBU puffers from dry food. However, I know of others who have succeeded. When they get big, expect to spend up to $10 per meal. 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.
While live foods stimulate the hunt instincts of puffers, parasites can also be brought in by them. There is also the possibility of getting claws from fiddler and crayfish, among other things. 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. The shells can be almost turned into a crushed coral substrate. This buffers the water’s pH and alkalinity. They eat more shells as they grow and become larger. If you’re using sand, you can use a coarse net to scoop up shells and sand and sift the shells from the sand to remove them if the bed is getting too thick.
A pH of above 7.0 should always be maintained. My puffer is 7.4 pH. If my tap water were higher, I would also keep it at that level. With so much water being changed it makes more sense to adapt the puffer to the tap water pH plus shells than it does to alter it. Especially with automated daily water changes.
The puffers have excellent vision and will grow to recognize their owners from across the room easily, which makes this puffer a great wet pet. As they get larger their eyes get further and further apart from each other. The puffer must look at its food from the side before it can eat it. Tank mates can sometimes swim in for food and eat by accident. This happens, it seems, about every six months.
Casualties can be lessened by choosing the right tank mates. It is best to choose peaceful and passive tank buddies. But loaches and corydoras like clams and meaty foods, so they can eat at the wrong times. I once lowt an Ellipsifer Eel from Lake Tang, early on with my first Mbu puffer to this, a mortal wound do the tail end of the eel when they both went for the same piece of shrimp. The best tank mates I have found for my MBU puffers have been fancy guppies, tetras, siamese algae eaters, plecos, rasboras, rainbow fish, roseline sharks, geophagus species etc. Flagtail Prochilodus (or Giraffe Catfish), were not good choices.
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 creates visual barriers for the fish and allows them to hide in the plants if they wish. Anubias species are my favorite. Java ferns and MBU puffers love to move the sand around looking for snails, etc.
My tank is kept at a temperature of 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.
When you move a MBU puffer, you want to keep them under water the entire time. If they puff up out of water they can get air trapped. They can get trapped air if they cannot expel it. 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 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.