Puffers are fascinating fish in the aquarium hobby because of their unusual, globelike shape and intelligent personalities, but many species grow incredibly large, require brackish water, or are too aggressive to be kept with other tankmates. Fortunately, the Amazon puffer is one of the few freshwater “community puffers” that only grows to 3 inches (7.6 cm) long and can live with other fish. Find out how to care for this amazing oddball and see if it’s the right pufferfish for you.
What is the Amazon Puffer?
Colomesus asellus is known by many common names, including the Amazon puffer and South American puffer (SAP). Its golden yellow body is covered with splotchy, dark bands that look like a bumblebee pattern, and it has a white underbelly with a black spot near the base of its tail. The SAP is found all over the Amazon basin and surrounding areas in many different kinds of habitats, ranging from floodplain lakes to rushing rivers.
South American puffers are very curious and like to closely examine every nook and cranny of their surroundings.
Fish farms have not found the secret to profitably breeding Amazon puffers in captivity yet, so all of the ones sold at your fish store are caught from the wild. Many of them may come in extremely skinny with parasitic infections. Therefore, do not buy a puffer that has a concave abdomen or is covered in white spots. Even if you purchase relatively healthy specimens, make sure to quarantine them in a separate tank first to ensure they do not spread diseases to your other aquariums. Because of the high likelihood of pathogens, we recommend proactively treating them with a trio of quarantine medications to clear them of any bacterial, fungal, or parasitic illnesses they may have. (This process is similar to the vaccination of pet dogs and cats that you bring home.)
How do you deworm a puffer? Pufferfish are especially prone to internal parasites like tapeworms, but the dewormers only get rid of adult worms and do not affect unhatched eggs. Therefore, you must apply multiple deworming treatments to ensure all the eggs have hatched and are eliminated. For our personal puffers, we treat them with the quarantine medication trio and then wait two weeks. Next we follow up with a 5-day treatment of Fritz ParaCleanse (using the instructions on the box) and then wait a month. Afterwards, we use a 7-day treatment of PraziPro as our final deworming step. For more information on how to treat fish parasites, read the full article here.
Do Amazon puffers puff up? Yes, they can suck in water or air as a defense mechanism, but do not deliberately stress them out to see this behavior. You can view pictures online that show them in an inflated state. If you need to transport them, consider using a small plastic tub or catch cup instead of a fish net to prevent them from sucking in air.
How long do Amazon pufferfish live? Hobbyists have reported owning their South American puffers for up to 8-10 years and sometimes even longer.
How to Set Up an Aquarium for Amazon Puffers
Because these puffers are fairly active swimmers, we recommend keeping them in at least a 30-gallon aquarium, but 55 gallons would be even better. Because they live in such a wide variety of habitats in the wild, they are quite hardy and can be kept in pH levels of 6.0-8.0, soft or hard water, and 72-82°F (22-28°C).
How many Amazon puffers can you keep in a tank? They are best kept either as an individual or in a group of six or more. If you decide to go with a number somewhere in between, they could start fighting and get into territorial disputes. Add lots of decorations, aquarium plants, and hardscape to block their line of sight and give them interesting areas to explore.
Use tall background plants like vallisneria as moving obstacles for the pufferfish to swim around, thus providing greater enrichment in their environment.
Can Amazon puffers live with other fish? Yes, we consider them to be “community fish” compared to other puffers, but they still have a bit of attitude and sometimes can nip at slower, long-finned fish. Also, they are prone to eating invertebrates like snails and shrimp. Instead, keep them other similar-sized, peaceful fish that are equally as energetic, such mollies, swordtails, larger tetras and rasboras, and dwarf cichlids.
Why do my Amazon puffers keep glass surfing? “Glass surfing” is when a fish repeatedly swims up and down along the tank walls, and it could be caused by stress, boredom, defense of territory, and other reasons. While there is no guaranteed cure for this behavior, many hobbyists have tried covering or painting the tank walls in black to reduce reflection, increasing flow with a powerhead, blocking their favorite corner with tall decorations or plants, adding tannins to the water with catappa leaves to decrease visibility, and feeding different kinds of live foods for them to hunt.
What Do Amazon Puffers Eat?
Like many puffers, SAPs have four, continually growing teeth in the front of their mouths that form a “beak,” enabling them to chomp through the hard shells of crustaceans and mollusks. To prevent their teeth from becoming too long, you must grind them down by feeding all sorts of crunchy foods, such as bladder snails, ramshorn snails, and freeze-drilled krill. While it may take a bit of training, some hobbyists have successfully fed Repashy gel food mixed with crushed oyster shells (sold as chicken feed) or they have dipped rocks in Repashy so that the Amazon puffers scrape their teeth against hard surfaces. If you are having a hard time putting weight on your newly purchased puffers, try frozen bloodworms and live blackworms at first. While these foods will not help file down their teeth, few puffers can resist them.
Frozen bloodworms are a good treat to help new Amazon puffers gain weight, but then transition them to hard, crunchy foods to grind down their teeth.
How do you clip a pufferfish’s teeth? If the hard foods are not filing down their beaks enough, your puffer’s teeth may become so overgrown that they can no longer properly eat. To prevent them from starving, you need to clip the tips of their teeth using a pair of sharp cuticle trimmers. Do your research to find out which method works best for you, but a common technique is to add 2-4 drops of clove oil per 1 liter (about 4.25 cups) of water. Add the puffer into the mild anesthetic solution and it should become sedated within a minute or two. Hold the drowsy puffer gently in your fist; if the puffer is too slippery, use surgical gloves or a fish net (wrapped like a blanket around the puffer) to get a better grip. Use the cuticle cutters to trim off the pointy tips of the upper and lower teeth as needed. Place the fish back into fresh water and it should wake up again within a few minutes. Depending on the puffer and its diet, this procedure may need to be repeated every 4-12 months.
If the thought of fish dentistry is not appealing to you, consider one of their smaller relatives, the pea puffer or Indian dwarf puffer. They only grow to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, can be kept in smaller fish tanks, and do not have a problem with overgrown teeth.