Updated: Nov 10
This care sheet is written with the aim of providing the optimal care for this species of fish.
Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide endeavours to inspire and promote the highest standards of care - not basic or minimum care - using the best evidence available at the time.
A special thanks to the members of PEW who submitted their photos of their Fahaka pufferfish for this care sheet.
The Tetraodon lineatus is a species of freshwater pufferfish, from the Tetraodon genus, which is endemic to many parts of Africa.
Common names for this species include the Nile puffer and globe puffer, but the most common name is Fahaka puffer.
In the wild
With a standard length of 45cm (17.72 inches), the Fahaka puffer is the second largest freshwater pufferfish, second to the Tetraodon mbu.
They can be found in rivers and lakes and are known to inhabit both open waters and heavily sheltered areas across the entire length of the Nile River. It can be found throughout Eastern Africa, Northern Africa, Northeast Africa and Western Africa.
They prey predominantly on snails, small freshwater crabs, insect larvae and other benthic creatures.
In the aquarium
The Fahaka requires a fair-sized, mature aquarium and prefer a densely scaped environment with lots of visual barriers, hiding spaces and a soft, sandy substrate. Such a scape helps them feel secure and contained which will encourage natural behaviours and feeding.
Fahaka are plant biters and plants with long, thin shoots, such as Tiger Lotus, Crinum calamistratum and Crypt balansae, will likely be decimated by the pufferfish within a short period of time. Even the toughest plants, such as Anubias, will suffer from the occasional attack, so it is important to choose hardy species which can withstand and recover from these bites. Plants like Anubias, Java Fern, Bolbitis and Amazon Sword are good choices for these fish. Floating plants, such as Amazon Frogbit, give dappled shade which is also appreciated by this fish.
Cheap stem plants, such as Limnophila sessiliflora grow well in the sand substrate. The fish will bite at the plants, but they will quickly recover because they grow so fast.
This species prefers a scape which includes an abundance of spaces in which it can hide, but the tank must also provide lots of areas of uncovered substrate to allow for wallowing (read substrate). The flow in the aquarium should be medium to strong, but never overpowering. The strength of the flow is usually achieved with spray bars from canister filters angled towards the top of the water. By keeping a slightly dropped water level, so that the returning water from the filter splashes down onto the surface, it will create the agitation required whilst also facilitating gas exchange for high levels of oxygenation.
Powerheads with narrow gaps in the grill may be used to create additional flow. We would advise that cages or guards (such as anemone guards) are used on powerheads to prevent injury to the fish if they become trapped. With the correct care, the Fahaka can live to in excess of 20 years.
A fish that lives for 20 years will be with you for a lot of changes in your life, so these fish obviously represent a long-term commitment.
It is important that the Fahaka puffer is provided with a very soft, sand substrate for wallowing.
A soft sand substrate should be considered an essential and not an optional extra. The Fahaka is a wallowing species and should always be afforded the provision of a substrate which allows it to exhibit its natural behaviour.
The depth of the sand should always match the depth of the fish's body. It is recommended to start as shallow as possible and gradually increase the depth as the fish grows. This fish will disturb the substrate on a regular basis by moving from place to place within the sand, but it is recommended that the keeper regularly stirs up the substrate to stop the sand from ‘compacting’ and to prevent the build-up of anaerobic bacterial populations.
Gravel and plant soil/substrate is unsuitable for the Fahaka and may cause injury if the Fahaka attempts to wallow in it. Any sharp/course pieces should be avoided/removed.
Fahaka can adjust their colouration to better blend in with their surroundings. We recommend using light substrates which will encourage the fish to display it's most visually appealing colouration.
Old care guides, commonly authored by English keepers, recommend a "120 gallon tank", but they are actually referring to Imperial gallons, which is roughly 150 US gallons. Imperial gallons and US liquid gallons do not share an equilibrium and this is important to recognise.
The second factor that you must consider is the tank's dimensions. A tank may contain the recommended 120 Imperial gallons, but the dimensions may be incorrect for the fish. For example, cylinder or corner tanks of 120 Imperial gallons would be totally unsuitable for Fahaka.
As the Fahaka puffer can achieve lengths exceeding 45cm (17.72 inches), it should be housed in a 5x2x2 tank (60"x24"x24") as a minimum. This translates to a tank volume of approximately 570 litres or 150 US gallons.
A 5 foot tank offers the Fahaka adequate room to swim across the tank and 2 feet (front to back) allows the Fahaka the space it needs to turn around and change it's course should it want to. We would like to stress that a 5x2x2 tank is what we consider as the absolute minimum for this fish and that bigger always equals better.
The growth rate of Fahaka
The Fahaka grows incredibly quickly when the care is correct.
Young Fahaka need to grow quickly in the wild or they will soon be eaten by bigger fish.
The Fahaka has an initial growth spurt, in which it grows very quickly. You should expect your Fahaka to grow at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) every four weeks for the first 10 months of it's life, with the remainder of it's growth being achieved in the following 12 months.
For this reason, we don't actually recommend grow out tanks for this species. We strongly encourage keepers to put the fish straight into their forever tank. This will avoid stunting and the extra expense of buying multiple tanks over a very short period of time. Fahaka are enthusiastic foragers and will be quite happy exploring the whole tank in search of food, providing that the tank is scaped as explained above (read In the aquarium).
Myth about size
We would like to challenge the common myth that Fahaka do not grow as big in captivity as their wild counterparts. Stunting in captivity is caused by bad husbandry. In your tank, there should be no risk of predation, the food should be excellent, disease and parasites can be treated for and the water quality should be superb. There is no reason why a captive Fahaka can not grow at least as big as their wild counterparts.
Maintain the following water parameters:
PH: 6.5 - 7.5
Temp: 22 - 26°C (71.6 -78.8°F)
N03: below 15ppm *ideal
GH: 5-15 dGH
If you're looking for a calm, peaceful puffer that can live with other fish then the Fahaka is not the species you should be looking at. Some keepers report short-term success in keeping other fish with the Fahaka, because juvenile Fahakas are usually peaceful, but they turn very aggressive when they reach sexual maturity. They randomly turn on their tank mates, even if they have been raised together. Fahaka pufferfish have powerful bites and can inflict serious injuries on other fish with ease. These injuries are not always instantly fatal and it is very common for their victims to live for several days after the initial attack. We have seen Fahaka pufferfish die themselves after attacking their tank mates. These instances include huge ammonia spikes caused by the dead fish in the tank, corydoras and pleco spines becoming lodged in the throat of the Fahaka and disease caused by injuries and stress.
For these reasons, we consider it highly unethical to keep other fish with the Fahaka.
Fahaka are especially aggressive towards their own kind, so cohabitation should never be attempted.
There are no known methods of determining the sex of this species for the home aquarist.
Fahaka pufferfish are extremely interactive with their owners, which is why they have become one of the most commonly kept bigger species of puffer.
One of the most important elements of keeping a healthy Fahaka puffer is to provide a varied and balanced diet, in order to ensure that its nutritional needs are being met. Unsuitable foods can result in stunted growth and poor health.
Suitable foods for this species include:
Large terrestrial and aquatic snails
Gutloaded cockroaches, crickets, locusts and woodlice
Frozen-thawed freshwater crabs and crayfish
Repashy - GrubPie
A high-quality and hard pellet food
This species should not be offered krill, cockle, mussel, clams, oysters or similar mollusks.
Feed a ratio of at least 50% snails and then mix up the other 50% with the rest of the foods we have listed above. It is best to feed several small meals everyday, rather than one big meal.
Frozen-thawed crayfish and crabs
Live crayfish and crabs have the potential to seriously injure your Fahaka puffer. Very few things enjoy being eaten by pufferfish. Crayfish and crabs definitely fall into the category of things who don't want to devoured and will fight back using their sharp claws. Those claws can easily inflict some serious damage onto your fish. Things that do enjoy being eaten by your Fahaka are the parasites found in live crustaceans, who will then infect your fish. Feeding foods which have been frozen and then thawed eliminates both of these risks. Dead things can't fight back and the freezing process kills the parasites.
Filtration and tank maintenance
This pufferfish is intolerant of poor water conditions, so a high level of biological and mechanical filtration is needed to deal with the amount of waste that this fish produces.
Good filtration combined with excellent husbandry is essential to the health of this species. Frequent water changes must be carried out to maintain NO3 (nitrate) levels below 15ppm; or as close to zero as possible. We recommend a minimum water change of 50% every seven days.
The Fahaka can inflate themselves when frightened or stressed.
They should never be provoked into inflating!
It is common for this species to "practice puff", which is when the fish casually inflates itself for no apparent reason. It is believed that they do this to stretch and strengthen the muscles associated with inflation.
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