Tetraodon MBU – The Under Water 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 doesn’t matter how many gallons you have, the foot print matters more than any other factor. 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. My MBU was 22 inches when he passed away at age 5. As the necropsy revealed, he died from a wild-caught disease without a known 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. A 22-inch fish that eats 6-8 oz per day will have feces the same size as small dogs.
Their diet is another difficult aspect for most owners. They need most of their diet to be shelled foods. Things like clams, muscles, snails, crayfish etc are all important pieces. This keeps their beaks, also known as their large teeth, trimmed. MBU puffers get shelled food five days a semaine and soft foods two days a weeks. Cocktail shrimp, fozen bloodworms, and other foods are all acceptable. These can be soaked in vitamin supplements. After trying for years, I haven’t been able to get my MBU puffers on dry food. However, I know of others who have succeeded. If they grow large, you should be prepared to pay up to $10 per day for food. A $300 monthly cost is comparable to feeding a large dog a special diet. A variety is important as it’s too easy to rely on only one type of food and develop vitamin deficiencies.
While live foods stimulate the hunt instincts of puffers, parasites can also be brought in by them. Claws from fiddler crabs and crayfish can also be dangerous. 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. The shells can be almost turned into a crushed coral substrate. This buffers the water’s pH and alkalinity. They eat more shells as they grow and become larger. 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.
It is important to maintain a pH above 7.0. My pH has been 7.4 in my case, but I’d prefer it to be higher if I had tap water that was more acidic. 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. Automated daily water changes are a great option.
The puffers have excellent vision and will grow to recognize their owners from across the room easily, which makes this puffer a great wet pet. As they get bigger, their eyes move further away from one another. The puffer will have to see its food from one side and then line up to eat it. Sometimes tank mates will swim in to eat food, and sometimes they can make a mistake. It happens about once in six months.
You can reduce the number of casualties by selecting the right tank mates. It is best to choose peaceful and passive tank buddies. But loaches and corydoras like clams and meaty foods, so they can eat at the wrong times. An Ellipsifer Eel was found in Lake Tang. It was my first MBU puffer. My MBU puffers’ tank mates have been fancy guppies and tetras as well as siamese alga eaters, plecos and rainbow fish. Geophagus species are also good choices. Things that didn’t work out well, Flagtail Prochilodus, Giraffe Catfish, basically anything that would touch the MBU puffer or be a pig when it came to food time.
Anything pointy is best when it comes to decorating a MBU Puffer aquarium. If the puffer becomes scared, it can run away. A sharp object or rock can cause severe damage. I like to line the sides and back of my aquarium with live plants. This serves as a visual barrier and allows fish to hide from the weeds if necessary. Anubias are my favourite sp. and Java ferns as MBU puffers like to move the sand around hunting for snails etc.
My tank stays at mid 70s for temperature. 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.
Moving a MBU puffer is best done under water. If they puff up out of water they can get air trapped. If they can’t expel it, it can kill them. MBU puffers will stretch and inflate and deflate quickly from time to time in the aquarium. This is normal as long as it’s not related to a stress factor, like a loud noise etc that causes them the stress. 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.
You can find more information about these concepts and see them in a video at my MBU Puffer species video profile.