Saltwater Puffer Fish Types – The Top 10

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Have a big tank and don’t know how to fill it? Pufferfish are considered to be some of the most charismatic fish in the aquarium hobby. These fish are curious and smart and love to interact with both their surroundings and their owners. Saltwater pufferfish in particular are some of the largest species of fish with an appetite to match, so tank setup and diet are essential for a thriving puffer.

That being said, there are many species of puffer available, all varying in size and aquarium requirements.

Key Takeaways

  • Saltwater pufferfish are one of the best fish you can have in your saltwater aquarium.
  • These fish are full of personality and relatively easy to keep if dietary and spatial needs can be met.
  • Many large species of puffer need several hundred gallon tank systems, but there are also a few that can be kept in smaller tanks.
  • Pufferfish are poisonous and have crushing teeth and/or a sharp beak.

Intro To Species

Pufferfish are some of the most interesting and fun fish to keep in the freshwater, saltwater, and brackish water aquarium. These fish have big personalities with interesting feeding habits that let them fill up a tank all on their own.

Saltwater pufferfish can be found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. These fish vary greatly in size, with species in the Canthigaster genus staying under 5 inches in length, with most other puffer species surpassing 20 inches.

In general, pufferfish are hardy fish. They can adapt to most aquarium settings and conditions as long as other major requirements are met, like tank size and diet. The tank size will depend on the specific type of puffer being kept as there are small, medium, and large puffers available within the aquarium hobby. Regardless of size, pufferfish are voracious carnivores that need hard-shelled, high-protein content.

Saltwater Puffer Fish Types (Top 10)

There are many different types of pufferfish within the realm of saltwater puffers. Though many of these fish grow to large sizes, some stay medium-sized and even small. This means that there is a puffer right for every fish only aquarium!

1. Porcupine

  • Scientific Name: Diodon holocanthus
  • Size: 1-2 feet
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Tank Size: 180+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The porcupine puffer fish, also known as the long-spine, spiny, or balloon pufferfish, is one of the most recognizable species of puffer due to its spiky appearance. This puffer is a light tan with darker brown and black spots. The lower half is usually very light tan or white.

Diodon are some of the larger puffers available, and Diodon holocanthus is no exception. These fish can surpass 2 feet in length but typically stay a little smaller in aquarium settings. Even though they are poor swimmers, they need a large tank with large tank mates, like mature angelfish and tangs, that won’t get eaten or picked on.

Porcupine puffers can be found around the coasts of most tropical continents, including Australia, Asia, and North America. They can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from muddy substrates to coral reefs.

2. Stars and Stripes

  • Scientific Name: Arothron hispidus
  • Size: 1-2 feet
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Tank Size: 180+ gallon
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The stars and stripes puffer is appropriately named after the light blue spots and light tan stripes over a light tannish-grey body. As the fish matures, the stars and stripes puffer change, and darker bands may develop across the body of the fish.

The stars and stripes puffer is often sold in small sizes. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it does well in smaller tanks, though! These puffers can grow to be close to 2 feet in length and need a large aquarium setup. Despite their size, stars and stripes puffers can be shy. That being said, they still do best in a tank of their own, or with other tank mates that won’t bother them and that won’t be bothered in return.

These pufferfish originate from the Indo-Pacific in deeper reefs. They have been known to eat coralline algae, but prefer a variety of invertebrates.

3. Golden

Golden-Pufferfish-in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Arothron meleagris
  • Size: 1-2 feet
  • Origin: Indian and Pacific Oceans
  • Tank Size: 180+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The golden puffer, also known as the spotted puffer, guinea fowl puffer (sometimes spelled guineafowl puffer), or Arothron puffer, comes in three different color variations. One is dark blue, almost black, and white-spotted. Some are a mottled combination of this dark blue and yellow, while others are fully yellow.

Another unique feature of these fish is their prominent beaks. These help catch and eat prey, but are especially adapted to scraping food, like corals, off of rock.

The golden puffer originates from the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Pacific Oceans, in clear lagoons brimming with coral. They eat large amounts of coral and do best when kept in a large aquarium without any invertebrates. Some sources say that these fish can comfortably live in a 125 gallon aquarium, but at least 180 gallons or more is recommended for long-term housing.

4. Dog Face

  • Scientific Name: Arothron nigropunctatus
  • Size: 1 foot
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Tank Size: 150+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The dog face puffer is one of the most popular species of saltwater puffer for the saltwater aquarium. Oscar fish (Astronotus ocellatus) might be the puppies of the freshwater world, but dog face puffers are the puppers of the saltwater world with eyes and a snout that really look like a dog!

These puffer fish come in a few different colors, including light tan and yellow. These fish originate from shallow waters near reef slopes. They feed on corals, algae, sponges, and other invertebrates. This makes them not reef-safe.

However, some hobbyists have had luck keeping a dog face puffer with less aggressive puffer species. They also do well with large angelfish, triggers, and other fast and semi-aggressive fish species. If keeping a dog face puffer with other fish, a tank larger than 150 gallons is strongly recommended.

5. Saddle Valentini

  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster valentini
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: Rarely

The saddle valentini puffer is one of the smallest pufferfish species available in the saltwater aquarium trade. These fish only grow to be 4 inches big and aren’t overly active, allowing them to live in a 30 gallon aquarium. Because these fish are a manageable size, some hobbyists have begun breeding them, though there haven’t been any fully successful attempts yet.

The saddle valentini puffer, also known as the black saddle pufferfish, comes from coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific. There, they eat small crustaceans and mollusks along with marine worms and algae. Though these fish might seem like they’re more reef-safe than larger species, they do best in a fish only aquarium.

Interestingly, the saddle valentini puffer can be seen shoaling with a similar-looking fish, the black saddle filefish (Paraluteres prionurus).

6. Central American Sharpnose

  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster punctatissima
  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Origin: Western Atlantic Ocean
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The Central American sharpnose puffer is one of the most attractive puffer species on this list, with a red body and tightly fitted white spots that cover the body. These are also one of the smallest puffers, only growing to about 3.5 inches in length on average.

As its name suggests, the Central American sharpnose puffer originates from the western Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the other pufferfish on this list, this Central American species primarily lives among seagrass beds. There, they eat seagrasses, sea urchins, starfish, and algae.

Central American sharpnose puffers have an absolute minimum tank size of 30 gallons as the only fish in a well-maintained tank. Otherwise, they do best in 55 gallon or larger aquariums.

7. Blue Spotted Puffer

Canthigaster solandri
  • Scientific Name: Canthigaster solandri
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Origin: Central Pacific Ocean
  • Tank Size: 55+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

Another species of Canthigaster, the blue spotted puffer is a beautiful fish from rocky reefs throughout the Central Pacific Ocean. Interestingly, they were thought to exist in the Indian Ocean, but that species has been reidentified as Peter’s puffer (Canthigaster petersii).

Similar to the Central American sharpnose, blue spotted puffers have a red body with electric-blue spots and stripes. These fish stay relatively small and have a minimum tank size of 55 gallons. They should not be kept with invertebrates, however, it’s possible to keep them with their own species in larger tanks.

In the wild, blue spotted puffers are often seen in pairs. These fish are monogamous and may even pair up in the aquarium setting. However, no successful spawnings have been reported.

8. Scribbled Puffer

  • Scientific Name: Arothron mappa
  • Size: 2+ feet
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Tank Size: 300+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The scribbled puffer, more commonly known as the mappa puffer, is one of the largest species of puffer on this list. These saltwater fish grow to be well over 2 feet in length and require a 300 gallon tank or bigger! Because of this, only extreme hobbyists and public aquariums may be able to comfortably house a scribbled puffer.

Scribbled puffers have an interesting pattern with light squiggles outlined in yellow and black. Their most noticeable feature is their orange eyes!

The scribbled puffer originates from the Indo-Pacific and lives alone among shallow reefs. Larger individuals usually find a cave deeper down and take shelter.

9. Immaculatus Puffer

  • Scientific Name: Arothron immaculatus
  • Size: 1 foot
  • Origin: Indo-West Pacific
  • Tank Size: 125+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

The immaculate puffer (video source) is sometimes mistaken for a dog face puffer. Immaculatus puffers have a similar tan coloration but have a distinctive yellow tail fin that is outlined in black. Other fins may also be black.

This coloration allows the immaculatus puffer to blend in with its natural surroundings throughout the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, which includes mangrove forests, estuaries, and seagrass beds. This fish has not been bred in the aquarium trade as fry and juveniles often stay in protected areas of brackish water.

In the aquarium, the immaculatus puffer can grow to an impressive 1 foot. Though one of the smaller types of large puffer available, these puffers still need big tanks to thrive with the minimum being 125 gallons.

10. Starry Puffer

  • Scientific Name: Arothron stellatus
  • Adult Size: 2-3 feet
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Tank Size: 300+ gallons
  • Available As Tank Bred: No

It’s generally agreed that starry pufferfish should not be kept by the average saltwater hobbyist. These fish can surpass 3 feet in length and need a monster sized fish tank. That being said, they are readily available and relatively easy to find in most specialized pet stores.

The starry puffer is named after its black body with tons of tiny white spots; these fish can also have reverse coloration with a white body and black spots or a yellow body with black spots.

These fish originate from reefs and lagoons around the Indo-Pacific. Juveniles often float into estuaries, where they are further protected from predators.


Both freshwater and saltwater pufferfish are carnivores. These fish mainly rely on crustaceans and other invertebrates as their source of food. Some favorite foods include clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, krill, and sometimes other fish.

Not only are these foods important for nutritional content, but hard-shelled mollusks keep pufferfish beaks and teeth trimmed. Pufferfish beaks and teeth never stop growing, so they need to keep them filed down by eating hard foods. In the aquarium, this can make for a demanding diet.

An aquarium diet for puffers should replicate their natural diet as best as possible. This means purchasing a variety of seafood products. In most cases, it is cheaper and more convenient to go to a local grocery store for restaurant-grade snails, clams, and shrimp. Local fish stores may provide better options for krill, silversides, and seafood blends. Some popular aquarium options are LRS Fish Frenzy Chunky Frozen Food and Rod’s Predator Blend Frozen Food.

This food can be purchased frozen in bulk for longer use; frozen food should be dethawed before being given to fish. Cubes and frozen sheets may be easier to feed to smaller species or juveniles. In addition to meaty foods, pufferfish will also enjoy a sheet of nori from time to time.

On top of being eager eaters, pufferfish are messy eaters. These fish love sifting through the substrate for their next meal and vigorously cracking open shells to get out the meat. While this is a sign of a healthy puffer, water quality needs to be maintained.

Water Quality

As mentioned before, saltwater pufferfish are generally hardy fish. They can adapt to a broad range of water parameters and don’t stress easily. However, they will quickly succumb to toxic water parameters, with high ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Saltwater aquariums should be fully cycled with 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite, and minimal nitrates. Pufferfish are tropical fish that need a constant water temperature between 72-80° F. pH should stay between 8.0-8.4 with alkalinity between 8-12 dkH. Salinity must remain constant between 1.020-1.025.

Good filtration is a must for saltwater pufferfish. These fish can tolerate a higher water flow, so return rates can be strong enough to move leftover food and waste off the substrate. Filtration media, especially filter floss and socks, should be rinsed out weekly or as needed to prevent pieces of food from building up. Water changes are also recommended to help keep nutrients down. A sump is highly recommended for any type of puffer.

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Reef Considerations

In general, saltwater pufferfish are not considered to be reef safe. They will happily eat any present invertebrates and may even go after smaller fish. However, some hobbyists have had luck keeping puffers with hardy, fast-growing corals that can survive being picked at. It’s important to remember that even if your pufferfish doesn’t directly eat corals, then it can also be very challenging to maintain water parameters needed to keep corals happy.

In general, saltwater pufferfish do best in a fish only aquarium with other large fish. That being said, most pufferfish are aggressive to each other so only one puffer should be kept per tank. This is true unless keeping an extremely large system where each fish has plenty of space.

Transportation And Acclimation

Once you know everything that comes along with owning a saltwater pufferfish, you need to know how to bring one home. Transporting and acclimating these fish can be slightly more challenging than with other fish, though puffers will adapt quickly once in the tank.

The main concern when transporting pufferfish is having them inflate. Pufferfish are poisonous when eaten by predators, but inflation is their main defense mechanism. When puffers feel threatened or stressed, these fish intake water to make them look bigger than they really are to predators. Some species of puffer have spikes around their body that make them even more intimidating.

However, this behavior is not ideal during high periods of stress throughout the transportation and acclimation processes. If pufferfish inflate while outside of water, they intake air instead. When placed back into the water, they may have trouble swimming and might even float to the top.

If this happens, it’s recommended to observe the fish for a few more minutes. They may be able to pass the air bubble by themselves. If a considerable amount of time has gone by and your fish is still swimming wobbly, then you may need to burp your fish. The following excerpt explains the process:

“If your puffer takes in air or you find one that has, find either a glove or a net to hold the puffer. Take the puffer in your hand using a net or glove, to protect the puffer from oils and other undesirables. You want to position the puffer underwater with its head pointed toward the surface of the water. Carefully take hold of the puffer supporting its entire body.

To do this and restrict the movement of the fish, hold the head and body, the bones of your hand parallel to the fish’s spine and along its back and the fingers wrapping the head , avoiding the eyes as much as possible. Use your other hand to gently nudge the stomach to help the puffer release the air. Throughout the process, the puffer may attempt to reinflate.

This is okay because the puffer is underwater and will refill with water, further helping to expel the air. If you need to “burp” a puffer larger than 6 or 7 inches, it may be necessary to enlist the help of a few extra hands. Also, with a large puffer, gloves will work better than a net to hold the puffer.”

Source –

To help prevent your fish from filling with air, try to keep your puffer submerged at all times. If your pufferfish has spikes, then a container should be used instead of a net. I found this video from stumperhead on how to burp a puffer. Note he’s not wearing gloves. Wear gloves to be safe!


Once your fish has gotten comfortable in its tank, then it’s time to make it feel at home. Pufferfish are very intelligent fish that need a good amount of enrichment to keep them thriving. While food is the main way to keep your fish interested, there are a couple of other ways you can add some fun to your puffer tank:

  1. Interact with your puffer. Pufferfish easily recognize their owners and are very willing to form a relationship. You can use unique signals for feeding times and water changes, letting your fish know what’s coming. Some hobbyists have even trained their puffers to do certain behaviors when someone is close to or in the tank. Just watch your fingers!
  2. Change your puffer’s environment. Another great way to keep your fish guessing is by changing its environment. This can mean moving decorations around or adding new scenery. It can also mean changing the amount and direction of water flow in the aquarium. It should be noted that it is not recommended to change lighting parameters in the aquarium as this can scare fish and cause them to inflate.


Are saltwater pufferfish aggressive?

Yes, pufferfish are largely considered to be semi-aggressive to aggressive fish. However, this isn’t because they’re overly territorial.

Pufferfish are aggressive because their natural diet consists of aquarium life that hobbyists like to keep alive in their tanks, like snails, crabs, corals, and algae. That being said, pufferfish are very capable of using their teeth to damage a finger that gets too close to them or that resembles food.

How big of a tank do saltwater pufferfish need?

How big your pufferfish tank needs to be depends on the size of the pufferfish. There are several pufferfish that stay under 5 inches big and need a ‘normal size’ aquarium, smaller than 125 gallons. Many other puffers require monster size aquariums of well over several hundred gallons.

Are there small saltwater pufferfish?

Yes! There are a few small saltwater pufferfish that derive from the genus Canthigaster. Some possible options include the saddle valentini puffer (Canthigaster valentini) and the Central American sharpnose puffer (Canthigaster punctatissima).

What is the best saltwater pufferfish?

The best saltwater pufferfish is the one that fits your tank size and setup most comfortably. Many pufferfish can be kept in the aquarium as long as their basic needs are met.

Make sure to also consider if the puffer will be kept as the only fish in the tank.

Are pufferfish poisonous?

Yes! Almost all pufferfish are poisonous. These fish belong to the Tetraodontidae family, which means that they contain the toxin, tetrodotoxin. The good news is that the fish must be eaten to have an effect.

Final Thoughts

Pufferfish are some of the most fascinating and fun fish to keep in the saltwater aquarium hobby. While some hobbyists think these fish need huge setups, there are many other pufferfish species apart from the biggest ones that can comfortably fit in a smaller setup. Just make sure that you’re able to provide longterm housing, diet, and maintenance.

Also, watch out for their breaks and sharp spines!

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