Tetraodon MBU- The Underwater Giant Puppy
The Tetraodon MBU puffer is the largest freshwater species of puffer fish. Getting 22+ inches in a home aquarium. With the fish getting so big, most aquarists struggle to keep one healthy. While my largest one has only gotten to 22 inches, I suspect they’ll grow to as large as 30 inches depending on how they are raised throughout their extended lives.
The first question is always what size of an aquarium? There are many options. Some suggest 300 gallons while others recommend 1000 gallons. It is important to remember that the footprint is more important than the number of gallons. A fish of 30 inches can be kept in a tank measuring 8ft long by 4ft from front to rear. This tank will work better than one that measures 4ft high, 8ft long, and 8ft from front to back. More area to swim will always be better and the more gallons of water generally makes waste management easier in an aquarium.
My current aquarium for my second MBU puffer is 72x48x24 inches tall which is 360 gallons. The MBU is currently 13 inches in length. He was 5 years old when he died. His previous MBU measured 22 inches. The necropsy revealed that he had died too soon from a wild acquired disease for which there was no cure. It had made lots of lesions on his heart and other organs and taxed its system over time.
As far as waste management goes, I change 100 gallons from the 340 daily. This keeps nitrates at 0 in the aquarium. The automatic water change system ensures that the aquarium is always topped up. Live plants are also beneficial in the reduction of waste in this aquarium. When you have a 22 inch fish feeding on 6 to 8oz of food a day, their feces is the size of small dogs.
The most difficult aspect of most owners’ lives is their diet. Most of their diet must be made up of shelled foods. They need to eat shelled foods, such as clams and muscles, snails, crayfish, and other small animals. This helps to keep their large, often referred to as beak-shaped teeth (also known as their beaks) under control. My MBU puffers are fed shelled food 5 days per week, and soft foods 2 days per week. Fozen blood worms, cocktail shrimp and fozen cocktail shrimp are some examples. These are soaked in a vitamin supplement. After years of trying, I haven’t been able get any MBU puffers from dry food. However, I know of others who have succeeded. Be prepared for a food bill that is up to $10 a day when they get large. A $300 monthly cost is comparable to feeding a large dog a special diet. It’s easy for a dog to become deficient in vitamins if they only eat one type of food.
Live foods help stimulate the hunting instincts of the puffer, but can also bring in parasites. There is also the possibility of getting claws from fiddler and crayfish, among other things. It is recommended to cut one of the claws before feeding so the live food can’t clamp an eye of the puffer.
One benefit to feeding lots of shelled foods is that the shells can be left in the aquarium and it helps buffer the water. It can almost form a crushed coral-like substrate. This helps buffer up the pH and alkalinity of the water. As they get bigger and eat more, more and more shells litter the bottom. If you’re using sand, you can use a coarse net to scoop up shells and sand and sift the shells from the sand to remove them if the bed is getting too thick.
A pH of above 7.0 should always be maintained. My puffer is 7.4 pH. If my tap water were higher, I would also keep it at that level. With so much water being changed it makes more sense to adapt the puffer to the tap water pH plus shells than it does to alter it. This is especially true with automated daily water changing.
Puffers are very visual and can easily recognize their owners across the room. This makes them a great pet for wet pets. As they get larger their eyes get further and further apart from each other. The puffer will have to see its food from one side and then line up to eat it. There are times when tank mates swim in for food at the right moment and can be eaten by mistake. It happens about once in six months.
Casualties can be lessened by choosing the right tank mates. You want peaceful, passive tank mates. Loaches and corydoras love clams and other meaty food and will eat them at any time. I once lowered an Ellipsifer eel from Lake Tang. This was early in my Mbu puffer’s life. They both wanted the same shrimp and it caused a fatal wound to the tail. The best tank mates I have found for my MBU puffers have been fancy guppies, tetras, siamese algae eaters, plecos, rasboras, rainbow fish, roseline sharks, geophagus species etc. Flagtail Prochilodus (or Giraffe Catfish), were not good choices.
Anything pointy is best when it comes to decorating a MBU Puffer aquarium. The puffer can be sent running if it is scared. A sharp object or rock can cause severe damage. I like to line the sides and back of my aquarium with live plants. This creates visual barriers for the fish and allows them to hide in the plants if they wish. Anubias are my favourite sp. and Java ferns as MBU puffers like to move the sand around hunting for snails etc.
My tank is kept at a temperature of mid-70s. I don’t use aquarium heaters, I heat the whole room. Partly because I run a lot of aquariums, but mostly so I can eliminate any heater malfunction from the list of potential killers for a MBU puffer. An advanced fish like a puffer requires extensive care. It is important to automate as many problems as possible and prevent them from becoming a problem.
When you move a MBU puffer, you want to keep them under water the entire time. If they puff up out of water they can get air trapped. It can cause them to die if they are unable to expel the air. MBU puffers will stretch and inflate and deflate quickly from time to time in the aquarium. As long as the stress factor is not a loud noise, this is normal. I liken a puffer to a human fainting. A human fainting takes as much shock as a puffer puffing up. It’s simply a defense mechanism.
For more information and to see some of these concepts explained in a video, check out my MBU Puffer species profile video.