10 Popular Saltwater Puffer Fish Species

Exotic, colorful, and downright strange, there are many types of saltwater puffer in the hobby. But not as much information as there should be! Their exotic appearance is sometimes discouraging to beginner aquarists, who assume that these fish must therefore be very challenging.

Nothing further could be from the truth; Puffer Fish as a group are extremely easy to care for, so long as you know what you’re getting into! So what exactly should you know about Puffer Fish and their care?

Getting to Know Saltwater Puffers

Puffer Fish are some of the most iconic fish in the world! They are closely related to Triggerfish, Filefish, and the gigantic Mola Mola, one of the world’s heaviest bony fish. All of these fish are specialist invertebrate feeders. Most of them have hard beak-like teeth that they use to break into clams, sea urchins, lobsters, crabs, and even hard corals.

Unlike us, Puffer Fish teeth grow throughout their entire lives and need to be worn down by offering them crunchy food constantly. This makes pellets and flakes a poor choice for their long-term health; it’s not uncommon to see weakened Puffers in stores with overgrown teeth. Unless taken to a vet with the expertise to file them down, their teeth can block them from feeding, leading to starvation.

Puffer Fish have the ability to inflate themselves, doubling their size quickly to prevent predators from easily swallowing them. While this ability is fascinating to see, never force your Puffer to inflate because the process is quite stressful for them. Inhaling air is even worse; they have trouble expelling air and if they are unable to do it will kill them. Therefore, it’s best to catch a Puffer by using nets to herd it into an underwater plastic bag. None of them are especially swift swimmers as they rely on their other defensive abilities to ward off predators.

Puffer Fish of all kinds are also very personable fish. They have tremendous appetites and are some of the first fish at the surface ready to be fed. Their googly-eyes are ever watchful and they will train them on you, your fingers, their tank mates, or whatever else catches their interest!

10 Types of Saltwater Puffer Fish

So long as you aren’t interested in keeping invertebrates, which will always be eaten, Puffer Fish are hardy, generally peaceful, and fascinating fish to keep.

Guineafowl Puffer

Arothron meleagris

The Guineafowl Puffer is easily one of the most striking types of saltwater puffer. They get their name from the chocolate brown and silvery spotted color form that’s the more common puffer to find in the wild. Interestingly, this species comes in two different yet equally beautiful color morphs to choose from!

Some aquarists and distributors believe that the golden variety is actually the male form while the black spotted ones are female. Since no formal study has ever been done to confirm this, I wouldn’t put too much faith in this hypothesis.

Despite their size, Guineafowl Puffers are on the more peaceful, even shy side of the spectrum. They use their massive jaws to crunch into all kinds of invertebrates, even hard corals, making them completely unsafe for reef tanks. However they make excellent show fish for their own spacious tank or an even more spacious community aquarium.

Just stick to equally peaceful residents like larger Tangs and Surgeonfish. Guineafowl Puffers are so easy going they will be stressed by large Angelfish, Triggerfish, and other aggressive inhabitants.

  • Common Name: Guineafowl Puffer, Golden Puffer, Spotted Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Arothron meleagris
  • Origin: Indonesia, Australia
  • Length: 16-20 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 180+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Dogface Puffer

dogface puffer fish

Dogface Puffers get their name from their supposed resemblance to canines. I personally don’t see it but others might. Like the Guineafowl Puffer, Dogface Puffers also have two color forms: a deep grey and a more subdued but still lovely golden yellow form. The colors may be the result of sexual differences, color changes due to maturity, or possible regional variants.

While questionably dog-like in appearance these fish definitely have canine-like personality! All Puffers are personable but Dogface Puffers take it to another level. They readily recognize their owners apart from other people and can be trained to be hand fed and even stroked underwater!

These are sizeale fish yet are still entirely peaceful towards any tank mates that aren’t invertebrates. They are also small enough to live comfortably in aquariums as cozy as 75 gallons. Dogface Puffers will also coexist peacefully along other gentle species, such as the Guineafowl Puffer.

  • Common Name: Dogface Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Arothron nigropunctatus
  • Origin: Indian Ocean
  • Length: 12 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 125 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Porcupine Puffer

porcupine puffer fish

The Porcupine Puffer has a very broad natural range. They are found in tropical regions around the world, including the Caribbean Sea, the both African coasts, and the island archipelagos of the Western Pacific. Small wonder, given the formidable defense of this fish.

Not only can Porcupine Puffers inflate. But they earn their name from their defensive array of spiked scales that get pushed erect once they do so. They look much like a sea urchin and provide an impossible meal for all but the most determined of predators.

As usual though, humans are the exception. Porcupine Puffers are used in Chinese medicine on occasion. But they also make for fascinating aquarium residents that are extremely hardy and very eager eaters!

  • Common Name: Porcupine Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Diodon holocanthus
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Length: 12 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 75-125 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Striped Burrfish

These fish are famous for the spawning congregations they form in the Chesapeake Bay. In early spring they congregate there from as far as Brazil to spawn in the grassy meadows of the region. Fishermen often pull them up but since they are as poisonous as any other puffer, they are mostly a curiosity.

The spines of the Striped Burrfish are always erect, unlike those of the closely related Porcupine Puffer. Burrfish also have a delightful pattern, with wavy stripes on their dorsal surface and a brilliant yellow belly that gets more intense with age.

And like all Puffers they are personable and willing to interact with their hosts. They will eagerly follow divers and spit water at dockside tourists, hoping for a treat. That said, this is one Puffer you might not want to pet!

  • Common Name: Striped Burrfish
  • Scientific Name: Chilomycterus schoepfi
  • Origin: Tropical Western Atlantic
  • Length: 10 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 75 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Valentini Puffer

Valentini Puffers are one of the best types of saltwater puffers for beginners and aquarists with small tanks. They are hardy, affordable, and don’t grow beyond 4 inches in length. While they aren’t quite nano fish, they can still live very comfortably in tanks as small as 30 gallons!

Interestingly, they look almost identical to the Saddled Filefish (Paraluteres prionurus). The filefish is actually a mimic of the Puffer, which is poisonous. Since the Saddled Filefish regularly forms shoals with the Valentini Puffer, predators end up avoiding both fish.

Valentini Puffers aren’t territorial but they can be fin nippers. Fish with tempting, trailing fins, such as Marine Bettas, make poor tank mates for them. They do well with other smaller, semi-aggressive fish, including Damselfish and Pygmy Angelfish.

  • Common Name: Valentini Puffer, Black Saddle Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster valentini
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Length: 4 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Blue Spotted Puffer

The Puffers of the genus Canthigaster are sometimes collectively known as Sharp Nosed puffers. They all have a long, prominent “nose” that they use to pick invertebrates out from coral crevices.

Sharpnose Puffers, including the Blue Spotted Puffer, are also fin nippers on occasion. While they are both small and attractive, they are unfortunately very intolerant of other Pufferfish. They can be aggressive and given their sharp teeth, very capable of inflicting fatal wounds on one another.

If you’re going to have only one though, Blue Spotted Puffers are delightfully colored and adapt easily to captivity. Like all Puffers, they prefer an invertebrate-based diet of fresh squid, shrimp, clams, and other meaty items.

  • Common Name: Blue Spotted Puffer, False Eye Puffer, Papuan Toby
  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster papua
  • Origin: Australian Coast
  • Length: 4 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

African Map Puffer

Map Puffers are one of the largest commonly available types of saltwater puffer. They are often famous on reefs for becoming personable denizens that eagerly await handouts from divers. And when kept in aquaria they display just as much intelligence and personality to their keepers!

That said, be ready for their final adult size. Puffer Fish eat a ton and grow very quickly. ADult Map Puffers will reach 20-30 inches as adults and require extremely large, even custom-built enclosures. And considering how much waste they create, they need heavy duty canister filtration to prevent ammonia levels from quickly becoming toxic.

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Considering the appetite of adults, you’ll need to budget a substantial amount to keep them well fed! Hard shellfish like clams and mussels are also necessary to keep their teeth filed down. Puffer Fish that are fed exclusively soft foods will eventually have problems eating. Their teeth grow continually and need to be worn down on invertebrate shells!

  • Common Name: Map Puffer, Scribbled Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Arothron mappa
  • Origin: Coastal Africa
  • Length: 20-30 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 200+ gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Japanese Puffer

Japanese, or Fugu Puffers, are a group of related species in the genus Takifugu. They are found mostly in East Asian coastal waters but are most famous for their association with Japanese cuisine.

Like all Puffers, Takifugu are poisonous, however their toxins are most highly concentrated around their inner organs. The liver, ovaries, heart, and other parts are the most poisonous and contain fatal levels of tetrodotoxin. This compound causes numbness and eventually paralyzes both voluntary and involuntary muscles such as the heart and lungs.

Licensed chefs know how to prepare the fish in such a way that the organ toxins don’t enter the flesh of the fish. That said, it’s a bit like Russian roulette and every year a few unlucky diners die from consuming it. Even the flesh contains trace amounts, sometimes enough to leave a lingering numbness in the mouth.

Japanese Puffers are hardy aquarium residents, though, and very similar to other Puffer fish in their care. They also have the habit of burying themselves with only their eyes exposed, watching the world go by. Many are also capable of transitioning into brackish and freshwater environments as well.

  • Common Name: Fugu Puffer, Japanese Puffer, Takifugu
  • Scientific Name: Takifugu sp.
  • Origin: East Asia
  • Length: Varies
  • Aquarium Size: 55-200+ gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Hawaiian White Spotted Toby

Like many residents of the Aloha State, the White Spotted Toby is an endemic species. This means that it’s found nowhere else but the Hawaiian Islands. Tobies typically live as mated pairs but are otherwise intolerant of both each other and other Puffer fish. And like other small Canthigaster sp. they are fin nippers. So keep them away from Dwarf Lionfish and other fish with flowing fins.

The White Spotted Toby has a broader dietary range than many other Puffers. Besides crustaceans and mollusks it also consumes sponges, algae, bryozoans, and other encrusting organisms. While small and beautiful, this cosmopolitan eating style makes it a poor fit for reef tanks as corals would definitely be on the menu for it.

Their willingness to eat just about anything does make them easy to acclimate to home aquaria, though! You may even find a mated pair for sale in stores, making it possible to keep them together long-term.

  • Common Name: Hawaiian White Spotted Toby
  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster jactator
  • Origin: Hawaiian Islands
  • Length: 4 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Stars and Stripes Puffer

While it has a more subdued pattern than many of the other types of saltwater Puffer here, the Stars and Stripes Puffer remains one of the most popular species. It’s affordable, hardy, and grows manageably large. They are excellent display fish for restaurants and hobbyists interested in owning a 180+ gallon aquarium!

Stars and Stripes Puffers are as personable as they are large. In fact, they can even grow accustomed to being gently rubbed underwater!

Just remember when handling a Puffer to never remove them from the water. Inhaling air is very stressful because they have a hard time expelling it. Stuck air is eventually fatal to them. Also make sure to offer these large puffers plenty of hard, crunchy foods. Clams and mussels provide enough roughage to wear down their beak-like teeth, which grow continually.

  • Common Name: Stars and Stripes Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Arothron hispidus
  • Origin: Pacific Ocean
  • Length: 18 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 180 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

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