Fahaka Puffer Care Sheet

Updated: Feb 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.

 

Introduction

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 heavily sheltered areas of water 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


The Fahaka is not bred commercially so all specimens available for sale are wild-caught.

Wild-caught juvenile Fahaka are reasonably common in most areas of the world. Collection for the aquatic trade is not considered a threat but the number of individuals taken from the wild or the size of wild populations is not known.


The Fahaka was assessed in 2019 and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the species as 'Least Concern'. However, changes in habitats due to human activity (agriculture, aquaculture, and pollution) may threaten the species in future.


According to several sources, the Fahaka puffer is also harvested for human consumption..

 

In the aquarium

The Fahaka is a medium-large and intelligent species of pufferfish, so it requires a large aquarium with a complex and enriching scape design to keep it occupied.


This pufferfish avoids open areas of water in its natural habitat because it feels too exposed and the same is true in aquariums, so the tank must offer the pufferfish areas in which it can take cover.


This is especially important in young Fahaka puffers or newly imported adults. A busy scape will help them feel more safe and secure, and their confidence will grow in time. You can give an enriching aquarium by providing an elaborate scape with lots of caves and hiding spaces to explore, but keep their size in mind and maintain plenty of open swimming space too. You can heavily decorate a tank for a juvenile and then enlarge the open areas as the fish grows.


An appropriately scaped tank will help the large yet shy Fahaka puffer feel secure and confident, knowing that it can take cover quickly if needed which will result in more assertive and explorative behaviours.


Fahaka puffers are often 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.

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. Avoid any exposed power cables into the aquarium as a Fahaka puffer can easily bite through them.


With the correct care, the Fahaka can live in excess of 20 years.

A fish that lives for 20+ years will be with you through a lot of changes in your life, so these fish obviously represent a long-term commitment.

 

Substrate

The Fahaka is a wallowing species of pufferfish and should always be provided with a substrate that allows it to indulge in this natural behaviour.


A usable substrate is a critical component of enrichment for this fish. They wallow for several reasons, such as to hunt, to avoid the detection of bigger predators (who might eat them), or simply just to safely rest.


Pufferfish dig into the substrate by nose-diving the ground and using their powerful tails to push their whole body forward into the substrate. If the substrate is too hard or abrasive then it may cause scrapes and scratches which could be painful for the fish and predispose it to bacterial and/or fungal infections. Fungal and bacterial organisms will take full advantage of even minor abrasions, so it is important that we do everything we can to prevent such injuries. As a general rule, fine sand is the best option for any wallowing species of pufferfish. The softer/smoother the sand is, the better for the pufferfish.


Play sand or Pool Filter sand can also be used, providing that it is fine enough and doesn't contain any potentially harmful chemicals. Gravel and plant-soil/substrates are unsuitable for the Fahaka and may cause injury if the fish attempts to wallow in it. Any sharp or coarse pieces should be avoided/removed.


You can read more on suitable substrates here: What is the best substrate for wallowing pufferfish?


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 then gradually increase the depth of the substrate 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’ to prevent the build-up of anaerobic bacterial populations. The depth of substrate required for an adult Fahaka puffer will need stirring at least once a week.


The Fahaka can adjust their colouration to better blend in with their surroundings. We recommend using paler substrates which will encourage the fish to display its most visually appealing colouration.


 

Bare-bottomed / Tile-bottomed Tanks


Some keepers may choose a bare-bottomed or Tile-bottomed aquarium because they feel they are easier to keep clean or may find it more visually appealing for themselves, but the primary concern when designing an aquarium should always be the welfare of the animals that you intend to keep in it.


Bare-bottomed tanks deny a wallower the opportunity to express its natural behaviour and the keeper should never elect to deprive an animal of crucial enrichment.


A Fahaka puffer is healthiest and happiest when they are given a suitable substrate.


Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide will always encourage naturalistic aquariums that make the animals feel right at home.


The only time bare-bottomed tanks should be considered is during the initial quarantine or during worming treatment.

 

Tank size


As the Fahaka puffer can achieve lengths exceeding 45cm (17.72 inches), Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide recommends a tank no smaller than 5x2x2 (60"x24"x24") for a Fahaka puffer. This translates to a tank volume of approximately 570 litres / 150 US gallons.


The dimensions of the tank are the most important facet of suitability, not the amount of water it can hold. A five-foot tank is only just over 3x the length of a fully grown, healthy Fahaka puffer and the 2 feet depth (front to back) only just allows a 17" fish to turn around within and change its course; so we are sure you can appreciate why we would not want to go any smaller than this.


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.


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.

 

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 a healthy Fahaka to grow at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) every four weeks for the first 10 months of its life, with the remainder of its 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 falsehood that captive Fahaka puffers are incapable of growing as large as wild specimens, so such large tanks are not required.


In actual fact, Fahaka puffers (like most fish) should have a better chance under captive management of achieving their full potential size than wild ones and should also live for a significantly longer time.


Under good husbandry, the Fahaka puffer should be receiving optimal nutrition through a steady supply of high-quality foods - without the seasonal famines that they would experience in the wild - and the parasites that compete with the fish for nutrients and other resources (which would go unchecked in the wild) can be completely eradicated in captivity. The water quality in their aquariums should be excellent, with no pollutants, there should be no harsh climatic conditions for the fish to deal with, and diseases can be treated quickly.


Your Fahaka puffer should also be significantly less stressed in captivity because they should not have any food competition, territorial fights with other fish and the risk of predation would be completely removed. It is well known that fish who experience less stress enjoy lower metabolic rates, more energy and stamina, can better absorb the nutrients they consume and are able to better spend that energy on growth and development.


When conditions are not optimal, the fish have a lower chance of achieving full size.


It is not captivity that stunts the growth of fish. It is the traditionally poor husbandry that so many Fahaka puffers have received which stunts the growth and has led to the myth that they are incapable of growing so large.

 

Water values


Maintain the following water parameters:

  • PH: 6.5 - 7.5

  • Temp: 22 - 26°C (71.6 -78.8°F)

  • NH3/NH4+: 0ppm

  • N02: 0ppm

  • N03: below 15ppm *ideal

  • GH: 5-15 dGH

 

Tankmates

If you're looking for a calm, peaceful puffer who can live with other fish then the Fahaka is not the species you should be looking at.


Young Fahaka pufferfish rarely attack tank mates, but they typically become very aggressive, territorial and antisocial as the fish develops and begins to reach sexual maturity. It is very common for Fahaka puffers to turn on their tankmates unexpectedly, even if they have been together for a long time. 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.

 

Cohabitation


We do not recommend keeping more than one Fahaka puffer to an aquarium because they are not a social fish, and any conspecific will just be viewed as competition for food and territory, making fights incredibly likely.

 

Sexual dimorphism


There are no known methods of determining the sex of this species for the home aquarist, except that females may produce unfertilised eggs occasionally, which should be siphoned out of the aquarium as soon as possible.

 

Notable behaviour


Fahaka puffers are very sensitive creatures and they have a distinctive stress pattern that can be seen in even slightly irritated specimens. When the Fahaka is stressed its colouration will appear washed out with a darkened line stretching between the eyes (commonly referred to as a stress-brow) and dark bars which arch across the back.


A Fahaka puffer may display the stress pattern during tank maintenance or if it has been spooked by something outside of the aquarium, like brightly coloured clothing or an unfamiliar object. If this behaviour is sustained and there are no obvious causes then the keeper is encouraged to investigate for other potential sources of stress.

 

Feeding


The majority of the Fahaka puffer's natural diet consists of the crabs, shrimp, and snails - of all sizes - that are found in their natural habitat. Other components include worms and other benthic creatures.


Fahaka puffers also eat several species of American crayfish that are now an invasive species in their natural habitat.


Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide will always encourage keepers to replicate the natural diet of their pufferfish as closely as possible. Wild Fahaka puffers eat a very diverse range of prey and it is your responsibility as a keeper of a captive Fahaka to provide as many different kinds of appropriate foods as possible.


Aside from providing a variety of flavours and textures for food enrichment, a varied diet of suitable foods will supply a greater spectrum of nutrients to your fish that are essential to the health, growth, development and long lifespan of the Fahaka puffer.


The following diet suggestions and food items are suitable for Fahaka puffers of all ages and sizes, but portion and food item size needs to be modulated to suit the size of the fish.


Suitable foods for this species include:

  • Frozen-thawed freshwater crabs

  • Frozen-thawed crayfish

  • Large terrestrial and aquatic snails

  • Insects including Gutloaded cockroaches, crickets, locusts and woodlice

  • Earthworms

  • Repashy foods - eg GrubPie

  • A high-quality, hard pellet food (protein not derived from vegetable sources)

 

We suggest breaking down the diet (as shown in the chart) to approximately 55% freshwater crabs & crayfish, 25% freshwater snails, 10% insects, 5% earthworms, and a 5% mix of foods such as Repashy and a high-quality pellet food (preferably sinking pellet).


Responsibly sourced cockles can be fed, but should not be offered in any great portion and within the suggested 5% mix of food.


It is best to feed several small meals throughout the day rather than offering larger, less frequent meals. This helps keep the pufferfish occupied throughout the day and allows the fish to digest smaller portions.


This species should not be offered krill, mussel, clams, or oysters.

Unsuitable foods can result in stunted growth and poor health.

 

Frozen-thawed crayfish and crabs


Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide recommends feeding only frozen-thawed crayfish and crabs.

We strongly discourage keepers from feeding live crayfish and crabs for the following reasons;


It is true that these pufferfish are hunting live crayfish and crabs in the wild and there is an argument that hunting live food offers your puffer a level of enrichment that it does not receive through eating frozen-thawed. However, we believe that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits.


Very few things enjoy being eaten by pufferfish; crayfish and crabs definitely fall into the category of things that don't want to be devoured. They will try to defend themselves using their sharp claws, which can easily injure your puffer.


Whilst these fish may have thick skin, we often see puffers with injured lips, cuts on their body and even missing/damaged eyes from where a live crayfish or crab has tried to defend itself. Wild Fahaka puffers often suffer from hunting injuries, many of which become infected and prove fatal for the fish.


Some keepers opt for removing the claws from live crayfish and crabs before offering them to the pufferfish, however, this practice raises some serious ethical questions as mutilating the animal prior to throwing it in to be chased, crushed, and then chewed maximises that animal's suffering. It should be our primary objective as responsible and ethical keepers of predatory fish to ensure the welfare of not just the fish we keep but also that of the prey they eat by minimising the pain and suffering as far as reasonably possible.


Things that do enjoy being eaten by pufferfish are the parasites that use crustaceans as intermediate hosts and will then infect your fish upon being consumed. Feeding crayfish and crabs that have not been frozen significantly increases the chances of introducing these parasites to your puffer. Dead organisms obviously can't fight back and as the freezing process kills the parasites, feeding frozen-thawed eliminates both the risk of injury and parasite transfer.


Frozen crayfish and crabs must be thawed before feeding to your Fahaka puffer. Select the amount of prey that you wish to feed out of the freezer and thaw it out in the fridge the night before.


Some members of PEW breed their own crayfish at home then euthanise them prior to freezing. This is a convenient method for some keepers, but it should be noted that raising enough crayfish to meet the demands of a fully grown Fahaka puffer can be very finance, space and time-consuming. Typically, the cheapest and easiest procurement of crayfish and freshwater crabs is buying them in bulk from fishmongers and Asian supermarkets.


Whatever you decide to do, it is a good idea to check the availability of these food items; if that supply is reliable or subject to seasonal availability, ensure that you will be able to maintain their required diet all year round.

 

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.

 

Inflation

The Fahaka puffer 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.


"Practise puffs" are usually very short-lived. If your puffer remains inflated, investigate for sources of stress.

 

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