Green Spotted Puffer Fish Care, Feeding and Tank Setup

A Green Spotted Puffer Hunting a Snail
A Green Spotted Puffer Hunting a Snail

The Green Spotted Puffer Fish

The Green Spotted Puffer is a fish with unique needs and care requirements. Their spotted yellow-green backs make them an attractive choice for home aquariums, and their interesting behaviors will separate them from most any other fish you have ever owned.

In the wild, Green Spotted Puffers (Tetraodon nigroviridis) are found in Southeast Asia where they inhabit rivers and estuaries. In captivity, unfortunately they are often the victims of poorly educated pet shops and aquarium owners.

Perhaps more than any other fish species, Green Spotted Puffers serve as an example of why it is so important to research aquarium fish before bringing them home. In this case, failing to do so can result in the demise of your puffer and perhaps all other fish in your tank.

If you currently have one of these little dynamos in your possession you are probably here to learn more about how to care for your puffer.

If you have yet to bring a puffer into your home, read this article thoroughly and think seriously about whether or not you want to make the commitment. If you choose to do so, and follow through, you’ll finding puffer ownership to be highly fun and rewarding.

Of course it goes without saying that you should be practicing proper aquarium maintenance in any tank you own, but this is especially important with the Green Spotted Puffer. Understanding puffer behavior, care and tank requirements will go a long way when it comes to making sure your puffer lives a long and happy life.

This guide is intended to serve as a basic introduction to Green Spotted Puffer care, and to help you avoid many of the common mistakes made by first-time puffer owners.

Green Spotted Puffer Tank Setup and Tankmates

The Green Spotted Puffer (GSP) is a highly aggressive fish that may attack and kill any other fish or critter in the tank. Many puffer keepers feel they should not be kept with any other fish species, or even other puffers.

It is usually wise to keep a Green Spotted Puffer alone in a single-specimen tank. They do not belong in a community aquarium, even as juveniles, and even if the pet store said they are freshwater fish. They are not, and even keeping them with other aggressive tropical fish is asking for disaster.

Some puffer owners keep a pair of puffers in a tank 55-gallons or larger, and some owners even have success keeping their puffer with other fish species that tolerate brackish water. However, the potential for conflict always exists whenever your puffer is housed with other fish, and the risk hardly seems worth it.

GSPs are thick, powerful fish that require a lot of space. Although they only grow to around six inches in length as adults, the minimum tank size for a single puffer is 30 gallons. However, 55 gallons is preferred and will allow your fish optimal room for swimming and exploring.

Green Spotted Puffers kept in aquariums require brackish water through most of their lives. In wild conditions they start in freshwater, and often migrate to marine conditions as adults. As far as you are concerned, this means you are likely going to have to increase the salinity of your tank water as your puffer ages.

Green Spotted Puffer Supplies

You’ll need a few specific items to ensure proper aquarium setup conducive to a healthy puffer. While regular gravel substrate is fine, some keepers like to use crushed coral to keep the pH levels of the tank water within the right parameters. As with any aquarium it is smart to have a water-testing kit to makes sure you are on the mark.

You also need a supply of marine salt. Don’t confuse this with the aquarium salt used as a conditioner for freshwater tanks. Marine salt is used for saltwater aquariums, and you’ll want to keep it in bulk bags.

One of the most important pieces of equipment you will need is a hydrometer. These are inexpensive devices used to measure the specific gravity (salinity) of your tank water, and it is a key to ensuring you are creating the right brackish environment for your fish. Young puffers require a specific gravity of about 1.006, where adults need a reading of about 1.02.

Instant Ocean SeaTest Hydrometer
Instant Ocean SeaTest Hydrometer

A simple hydrometer will help you to measure the specific gravity of the puffer's tank water, and ensure it is at the proper brackish salinity. Puffers can live in fresh or nearly fresh water as juveniles, moving up to brackish water as adults. Some puffer owners even keep their puffers in full-marine environments.


Basic Water Parameters for Green Spotted Puffer

  • Temperature: 78-82°F
  • pH: 7.5-8.5
  • Specify Gravity Range: 1.004 - 1.022
  • Weekly water changes to keep water clean

An Adult Green Spotted Puffer

Bringing Your Puffer Home

Be sure to ask the store what type of water your puffer is housed in when you purchase it. This is very important as a starting point for putting together your GSP’s new home. Often stores keep them in freshwater as juveniles, and this is important to know.

Tossing your new fish into a brackish setup when it is used to freshwater would be a shock to its system, and potentially disastrous. If it lived in freshwater at the fish store, you can start it in fresh water and gradually increase the salinity with each water change.

You should never add a Green Spotted Puffer, or any fish, to an un-cycled tank. If you don’t know how to cycle your tank you need to do some research and make sure this is accomplished before you bring your new fish home.

Because most puffers are wild-caught, be on the lookout for parasites. Ask the fish store if they have taken any steps to combat any parasites their fish may have, and be prepared to dose your baby puffer with the appropriate medicine if necessary.

Here are a few more points new puffer keepers should be aware of:

  • GSP’s are known to make a mess when eating. Be prepared to clean up!
  • It’s not a bad idea to over-filter your tank. You can choose a filter rated for a larger tank , or you can use two smaller filters that in conjunction will move more water than a single filter.
  • Plan to perform partial water changes on a weekly basis. About a third of the total volume of water in the tank should be replaced with clean water.
  • Do not add sea salt directly to your tank as it may harm your fish. Mix it with clean, fresh water in a bucket and allow it to dissolve before adding it to the tank gradually.
  • You will need to rely on artificial decorations as few widely available live plants thrive in brackish water. Consider aquascaping with plenty of tunnels and caves for your puffer to explore.
  • Some puffer keepers like moving the décor of their tank around every few weeks, giving their fish a new environment to explore.

Puffer Feeding

Your GSP will not eat flake food like typical tropical fish. You will need to feed meaty, frozen foods such as blood worms and krill. Thaw the food in tank water before offering it, and make sure you only add as much as you puffer will eat in a few minutes.

Green Spotted Puffers are notorious hunters, and feeding food such as live ghost shrimp will give your fish some stimulation it can’t get from frozen foods.

Wild, adult puffers eat crustaceans, and foods with hard shells are an important part of their diets. This is because they have a boney plate in their mouth that grows continuously. Without hard foods to wear the plate down puffers may eventually become incapacitated to the point that they can no longer eat.

You won’t feed your baby puffer shellfish of course, but you are going to want to start it off eating snails fairly early. Pond snails are pests, and if you’ve ever had them in a freshwater aquarium you know how hard they are to get rid of. These are the critters your puffer will munch up if you give it the chance.

The fish tanks in many pets stores have all the snails they can stand, and if you ask nicely they are often willing to give them to you for free.

A juvenile Green Spotted Puffer stalking a ghost shrimp. It's hard to see the shrimp so look closely!
A juvenile Green Spotted Puffer stalking a ghost shrimp. It's hard to see the shrimp so look closely!

Raising Snails as Puffer Food

Instead of running out to fish stores for snails all the time, you may find it worth your while to breed your own. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. All you need is a 10-gallon tank with basic filtration, lighting and substrate and you are ready to build a snail colony to harvest for your puffer’s feedings.

Breeding snails is very easy: Add a few to a tank and within a couple of weeks you’ll have baby snails everywhere. Pond snails are willing to eat almost anything, but you need to feed them algae wafers and plenty of veggies so they provide quality nutrition for your puffer.

Care for your snail tank just as you would any fish tank, and be sure to perform partial water changes weekly. Pond snails are pretty hardy, so you aren’t likely to kill many even with poor tank maintenance, but once again you want to make sure the snails you feed your puffer are as healthy as possible.

You should aim to feed snails about the size of your puffer’s eye. Any larger and he won’t be able to crack the snail’s shell. With a little perseverance he may still be able to get the snail out of there and eat it, but he will miss out on the benefit of the hard shell wearing away at the plate in his mouth.

When your GSP is a baby it can eat every day, but as it gets older you should move to an alternate day feed/fast schedule. As your puffer gets older you may want to try feeding clams, crabs or shrimp. Never leave uneaten food in the tank to decay and do your best to remove any shells that are left behind. Uneaten bits of food will pollute the tank water, making a toxic environment for your fish.

It is important to note that sometimes it seems like puffers don’t have an off switch when it comes to eating. They will continue to eat as long as food is available, and their bellies will blow up until they look like pudgy little balloons. This is kind of comical, but never let it go too far. Be aware of how much food you are giving your fish, and do not let him overeat too much.

Additional Green Spotted Puffer Care Considerations

Handling your puffer is something you should never have to do. Once it is in its new home there it should stay for the rest of its life. When GSPs become frightened or agitated they “puff” by filling their bodies with air. You should never make your puffer do this intentionally.

Practically, there may come times where you need to move your fish tank. In those rare cases, do not net your fish. Instead, herd it into a good-sized container and scoop it out along with the tank water.

Green Spotted Puffers can live for over a decade, so if you keep your puffer healthy it is with you for the long haul!

As you can see from this article, owning and caring for a Green Spotted Puffer takes a bit more time and energy than just about any other aqauirum fish. You need to make sure it has the appropriate tank setup, water parameters and food, and if you let things slip if can be curtains for puffer.

If you really feel a GSP is the fish for you, don’t let any of the scare you off. They are among the most rewarding and enjoyable fish to own, and worth the extra work. However, if you are new to fish keeping you may want to start small with a Betta fish or other tropical species.

For those who are ready, good luck caring for your Green Spotted Puffer!

Green Spotted Puffer Poll

Are you ready for the commitment of owning a GSP?

  • I'm ready!
  • I thought I was ready, but now I'm not so sure.
  • I'm not ready yet, but I will be!
  • No way. Puffers are too much work.
See results without voting

© 2015 Eric Dockett

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Comments 13 comments

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

Puffer fish eats snails?

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 20 months ago from USA Author

@peachpurple: Green Spotted Puffers do. They make short work of them. In fact they are an important part of the diet of young, captive puffers because their shells help to degrade the bony plate in the puffer's mouth.

Mars M profile image

Mars M 20 months ago from Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I want one puffer fish.

mary 20 months ago

My puffer fish was puffed up when I came home. I thought he was dead took him out of the tank he unpuffed. Now hes puffed up again and its been a few hours.What can I do to help him out?

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 20 months ago from USA Author

Hi mary. First off, do not take your puffer out of the tank when he puffs. It's hard to know exactly he is doing this, but it sounds like he's stressed over something. I'd start from the ground up and check your water parameters, tank arrangement, his feeding schedule, filter strength (if he is healthy he should have no trouble keeping clear of the filter but if he is ill he may be struggling to stay out of the intake.), etc. A healthy puffer shouldn't puff unless it feels it is in danger, so you need to figure out what is making it feel threatened. Good luck!

mary 20 months ago

Ive only had him two days along with 5 others and they all are doing just fine. Do you thing its possible this is happening because of the new home? Im just worried because he's the only one having issues.

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 20 months ago from USA Author

Mary, are you saying you have 6 green spotted puffers in the same tank? If so that's a bad idea. Even as juveniles they can be aggressive toward each other. That may be your problem. I suggest keeping one puffer and returning the rest to the live fish store.

CSailey1113 3 months ago

I have two GAPS in a 55 right now. I have two pumps that they love to play you think it's worth getting a small powerhead for them?

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 3 months ago from USA Author

Hi CSailey! GSPs are relatively intelligent and clever fish, so in my opinion anything you can do to make their lives more interesting is worth it. As long as it fits within the parameters of smart aquarium practices of course. Keeping them occupied may also help reduce or eliminate any aggression, as you have a pair in one tank. Just judge their reaction if you make a change and make sure nothing you've added is causing them stress. Good luck!

Rene 2 months ago

Hi, my puffers look like they need oxygen, the are in the air with their mouths outside the water. There are lots of oxygen in the tank..

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 2 months ago from USA Author

Hi Rene. I'm not really clear on what you are describing here. Can you explain in a little more detail? If your fish is going to the surface for air there is something going on with water quality, probably low o2. How are you deciding there is enough oxygen in the tank? How about the water temp? It is summer and if the water gets too warm for him that can impact o2 levels.

Dmitry 6 weeks ago

Have a pair of GSP for about 9-10 years in 29gallon tank. I have access to Pacific Ocean and feed them pretty consistently sand crabs, both live and frozen. Free food! And they like it.

EricDockett profile image

EricDockett 6 weeks ago from USA Author

That's awesome Dmitry! Nothing like fresh-caught seafood! Good luck with your puffers going forward.

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    Eric Dockett (EricDockett)293 Followers
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    Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.

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