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? There are many options. Some suggest 300 gallons while others recommend 1000 gallons. It is important to remember that the footprint is more important than the number of gallons. With a fish that gets to 30 inches, a tank say 8ft long and 4 ft front to back that is only 2 ft tall works much larger than a tank that is 4 ft tall, 8 ft long and only 2ft front to back. 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. My previous MBU was 22 inches before he passed at 5 yrs old. He passed much too early to a wild caught disease with no known cure as the necropsy revealed. It had caused many lesions in his heart and other organs, and it had taxed his 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.
The most difficult aspect of most owners’ lives is their diet. Most of their diet must be made up of shelled foods. Things like clams, muscles, snails, crayfish etc are all important pieces. This helps to keep their large, often referred to as beak-shaped teeth (also known as their beaks) under control. MBU puffers get shelled food five days a semaine and soft foods two days a weeks. Cocktail shrimp, fozen bloodworms, and other foods are all acceptable. These are soaked in a vitamin supplement. I haven’t had luck getting any of my MBU puffers on dry foods after trying for years. There are others out there who have had success. If they grow large, you should be prepared to pay up to $10 per day for food. 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. To ensure that the puffer doesn’t get clamped by live food, it is a good idea to trim one of the claws.
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 helps buffer up the pH and alkalinity of the water. As they grow larger and eat more, the bottom becomes littered with shells. 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. Because so much water is changing, it’s more sensible to adapt the puffer for the tap water pH plus shells rather than to alter it. Especially with automated daily water changes.
Puffers are a wonderful pet because they have great vision and can recognize their owners from far away. As they get larger their eyes get further and further apart from each other. The puffer will have to see its food from one side and then line up to eat it. Tank mates can sometimes swim in for food and eat by accident. This happens it seems like once every 6 months or so.
The right tank mates can help reduce casualties. It is best to choose peaceful and passive tank buddies. However, things like loaches and corydoras also love clams, and other meaty foods and can go for food at the wrong time. 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. My MBU puffers’ tank mates have been fancy guppies and tetras as well as siamese alga eaters, plecos and rainbow fish. Geophagus species are also good choices. Flagtail Prochilodus and Giraffe Catfish were the things that didn’t work.
Anything pointy is best when it comes to decorating a MBU Puffer aquarium. When the puffer is spooked, it can be sent running. Sharp rocks or sticks can cause serious damage. I like to line the sides and back of my aquarium with live plants. This provides visual barriers and allows the fish to hide in the weeds if they’d like to. I like to use lots of Anubias sp. and Java ferns as MBU puffers like to move the sand around hunting for snails etc.
My tank stays at mid 70s for temperature. 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. With an advanced fish that requires so much care, the more you can automate, and problems you can prevent the easier it will be able to keep a puffer healthy long term.
You want to keep a MBU puffer under water when moving them. If they puff up out of water they can get air trapped. It can cause them to die if they are unable to expel the air. MBU puffers will stretch and inflate and deflate quickly from time to time in the aquarium. This is normal as long as it’s not related to a stress factor, like a loud noise etc that causes them the stress. I liken a puffer to a human fainting. It takes so much shock to the system to have a human faint as well as a puffer puff up, it’s purely a defense mechanism.
You can find more information about these concepts and see them in a video at my MBU Puffer species video profile.