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Tetraodon Pustulatus Pufferfish Care Sheet

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.



The Tetraodon pustulatus is a species of freshwater pufferfish, from the Tetraodon genus, which is endemic to a small area in Africa.

This pufferfish is generally considered to be the Holy Grail of freshwater pufferfish, owing to the rarity of specimens available in the hobby, and usually command a high price tag.

Common names for this species include the Cross River Puffer and Red-line Puffer. With a standard length of around 40cm (15.75 inches), the Pustulatus is the third largest freshwater pufferfish, after the Tetraodon lineatus and Tetraodon mbu.


In the wild

The Pustulatus is believed to be endemic to the Cross River in Nigeria and Cameroon.

It has occasionally been reported from some localities of the West African coast.

The Tetraodon pustulatus is classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List due to ecosystem degradation, owing to residential and industrial expansion, pollution from oil exploration and military installations. They prey predominantly on snails, small freshwater crabs, insect larvae and other benthic creatures.


In the aquarium

The Pustulatus 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.

Pustulatus 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 Pustulatus 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 Pustulatus 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 Pustulatus is a wallowing species and should always be afforded the provision of a substrate which allows it to exhibit this 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 Pustulatus and may cause injury if the fish attempts to wallow in it. Any sharp/course pieces should be avoided/removed.

Pustulatus 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.


Tank size

As the Pustulatus puffer can achieve lengths exceeding 40cm (15.75 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 Pustulatus adequate room to swim across the tank and 2 feet (front to back) allows the fish 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.


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


Tank mates

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

Some keepers report short-term success in keeping other fish with the Pustulatus, because juveniles 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.

Pustulatus 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.

For these reasons, we consider it highly unethical to keep other fish with the Pustulatus.



Pustulatus are especially aggressive towards their own kind, so cohabitation should never be attempted.


Sexual dimorphism

There are no known methods of determining the sex of this species for the home aquarist.


Notable behaviour

Pustulatus pufferfish are extremely interactive with their owners.



One of the most important elements of keeping a healthy Pustulatus 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

  • Earthworms

  • 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 Pustulatus 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 pufferfish 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 Pustulatus 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.


© Copyright - 2020. All rights reserved. We would like to give a special thanks to Paul DeMars, member of Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide, who kindly submitted their photos for this care sheet.


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