Now that you’ve made sure that a puffer is the right type of fish for you, it’s time to start setting up the correct environment for your future finned friend to live in. This should always be done in advance, well before you make a move to purchase a fish, because a puffer requires a fully cycled tank. You will need to regularly monitor your water parameters to determine when the tank is ready for a puffer, so I would recommend picking up a quality water test kit now – you’ll be using it a lot from here on out. I personally use the freshwater master test kit by API because I prefer the accuracy that liquid drops offer in comparison to strip tests.
So, what are the essential components of the perfect puffer tank? Well, you will need to provide the following:
- Space – Because your puffer will excrete a lot of ammonia and other waste into the water, it’s very important to make sure there is enough volume to dilute the toxins. Smaller-medium puffers usually do well in 30 gallon tanks, while large species will obviously require larger tanks. Do your research first so you know how much tank space you will need to provide, and don’t put off buying an adequately sized tank for later. Just get it now so you aren’t stuck in a bind when you have to upgrade your puffer’s tank and there isn’t any money to do so.
- Hiding places – Terra cotta pots, drift wood, and regular tank decorations all work well to break up your puffer’s line of sight, thus reducing the chances that they will start glass surfing out of boredom. Just remember that you need to check all decorations and other objects for sharp edges that can hurt your puffer’s skin. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to make sure that none of the decorations you use have small holes that your puffer can get stuck in, and I would recommend avoiding hollow ornaments.
- Plants for cover when they’re out exploring – You can use fake plants, real ones or a combination of both. Your puffer won’t care; it’s an aesthetic decision on your part. If you choose fake, consider using silk plants because they are easier to keep weighted down than their plastic counterparts. On the other hand, if you want to use live plants in your puffer tank I would recommend broad leafed types. Our puffers constantly uproot small plants, like Anacharis, and our Congo (T. miurus) likes to bite the stems of smaller plants in half.
- Sand or smooth rock for substrate – If you have a species of freshwater puffer that likes to bury itself underneath the substrate, then you should really opt for sand because it won’t cause sores on their nose when they try to burrow – pebbles and larger rocks don’t move well, and they won’t be happy if their natural inclination to bury themselves is inhibited. However, if you have an active species, then by all means use whatever substrate you want provided that it’s aquarium safe and smooth to the touch. I personally like buying large bags of pool filter sand because it’s cheap and it stays weighted down pretty well when I use the gravel vac.
- Excellent filtration – In addition to ensuring that your puffer has a large enough tank, you will also need to make sure you have a good source of filtration, as well. I use HOB (hand on the back) filters on my 50 gallon and smaller tanks; my preference is Aquaclear and Marineland because they have proven to be very quiet, reliable filters over the past six years. Most of these tanks have two filters running on them, too, for added filtration. Anything larger gets an appropriately rated canister filter – again, I like Marineland, but that’s just me; Eheim is also a very good brand of quality canister filters.
- Heater – Pretty self explanatory. I recommend using two smaller heaters for larger tanks because it’s always nice to have a backup if something goes wrong with the other one.
- Aquarium hood or glass lid – This is a very important part; puffers can and will jump out of the water if they want to. I’m pretty sure our Fahaka (T. lineatus) would launch himself out of the water if I left the lid off whenever I start getting the food out. A lid also serves as the first line of protection your puffer has against outside contaminants, like air fresheners, from entering their tank.
- Thermometer – Aquarium heaters can malfunction, and the temperature in your tank is going to be largely based on the ambient temp in the room. You should always check the water temperature at least twice a day to make sure that everything in under control. A sudden spike in temperature can at best put your puffer into shock, and at worst leave you with a dead fish.
Other supplies you might want to have on hand:
In my own puffer tanks, I like using drift wood and live plants. It’s a personal preference, and you can always use plastic plants and fake aquarium decorations to create an awesome tank, as well. I’m just partial to natural looking fish tanks because I don’t feel as home sick when I can’t get outside for a hike. The key is that you’re providing your puffer with enough cover so that it feels secure, excellent filtration to combat their copious waste production, and plenty of things to explore so they don’t become bored.
On a final note, keep in mind that maintaining consistent water chemistry is more important than getting the pH just right. Puffers are very hardy fish once they are acclimated to their new tank, and most freshwater species do perfectly well in a wide pH range. You will do more harm constantly yo-yoing the water chemistry by adding chemicals to alter things.