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The pufferfish is truly unique. Just by looking at a pufferfish, you can tell that it is no ordinary fish. Some have likened the puffer fish to underwater hamsters or even panda bears. Regardless of what you see when you look at pufferfish, you can't help but notice their expressive faces that sometimes even appear to be smiling.
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Puffer fish personality
Aside from the pufferfish's unique looks, pufferfish have very interesting personalities. That's right, personalities. Pufferfish are said to be able to recognize their care givers. I have watched first hand as a puffer fish wiggled at the front of the tank begging for food, watching its owner carefully. Porcupine puffers are even said to spit water out of the top of the tank when they want food. I would not believe it if somebody told me, but I watched a puffer fish come out of its hiding spot when it heard its owner singing to it. It stayed at the front of the glass appearing to listen, and left to return to its nook only after its owner stopped singing. I don't know the explanation behind this, but it was incredible. It confirmed for me that the pufferfish is no ordinary fish!
Of course we are all familiar with the puffer fish's unique ability to puff. Pufferfish puff up when they get scared. It is very interesting to watch but the behavior should never be encouraged because it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the fish's body... pufferfish can puff up to 2 or 3 times their normal size! Fish keepers who keep puffer fish are encouraged not to take them out of water when transferring them because puffing up with air instead of water can be especially dangerous for them.
Sick Puffer Fish
If you notice your puffer fish behaving strangely, you may need to take action. We saw one of our puffer fish repeatedly throwing his body into the sand an ornaments inside the tank. It got to the point where he was doing it so hard and so often that he had gashes in his body from where the sand must have cut him. It wasn't long before we noticed some spots on the fins of our other fish and realized the tank had a parasite, Ich! Our pufferfish was trying to scratch himself! If you act fast enough, Ich can be treated with any one of a number of remedies available at your local fish store. The next time we see our puffer fish exhibiting this behavior, we will know what to do!
Puffer Fish Food
It seems the only thing our pufferfish enjoys more than lounging around the tank is eating! He is the first one to the food and there is seldom any left for any of the other fish unless he is distracted. We feed him silversides, krill, and prawn. It is fascinating to watch puffer fish eat. Most other fish seem to nibble on their food, but our puffer fish seems to swallow entire silversides in a single gulp! Sometimes he takes food straight from other fish's mouths, but fortunately none of the other occupants in the tank seem to have been hurt during such a heist.
Because of puffer fish's voracious appetites, they are not conisdered by many to be reef safe. Our puffer fish has taken nearly every hermit crab we've added to the tank out of its shell and made a meal of it. Interestingly enough, the live freshwater crayfish our local fish store suggested we add to our saltwater tank as a snack for the puffer fish seems to be thriving and living in harmony with the puffer.
One of the most frustrating things about saltwater pufferfish is that they usually cannot be kept with other puffer fish. Most fish stores will warn that two puffer fish may be extremely aggressive towards each. We made the mistake of putting a spiny burrfish into the tank and our stars and stripes puffer ended up taking a chunk out of the burrfish's face! We were very surprised to see this because our pufferfish had not bitten any of the other fish in the tank before. Needless to say, we plan to heed the fish stores' warning from now on.
Jumping Puffer Fish
You will definitely want to cover the surface of your aquarium if you have a large puffer fish! I once saw my puffer fish taking a "running" start by swimming from one end of the tank to the other and fly out of the aquarium. He soared several feet, hit the wall, and fell to the floor. I could not believe my eyes. I was sure that he had broken every bone in his body. Fortunately I was right there and was able to scoop him up and put him back in the tank. Amazingly enough, he began swimming normally. We now keep the top of the aquarium closed so that this cannot happen again.
Puffer Fish Dentistry
Puffer fish have beak like teeth that are fused together and can become problematic if they grow too long. In the wild, puffer fish eat all kinds of things that act to file down their teeth. Puffer fish owners are advised to give their pufferfish things to gnaw on to grind down their teeth. Hard shelled cockle is often recommended, but small, live clams from a local store that sells fresh seafood can also do the trick and is often much more accessible. If not addressed, the puffer fish's teeth can grow so long that it is unable to eat its food. Many puffer fish keepers actually file down their puffer fish's teeth if they get too long for hard shelled food to correct. Pre-emptively providing your puffer with hard shelled food will help ensure that you and your puffer fish never have to go throgh this.
Puffer Fish Are Poisonous
A puffer fish's body contains a type of poison called a tetrodotoxin. If large enough amounts of this poison are ingested, it can cause paralysis or even death. Fish keepers seldomly get the urge to make a meal of their pets, but we felt this poison was worth mentioning as it is a characteristic that not many fish share.
Types of Puffer Fish
Some fish typically called puffer fish have different names. For example, the puffer that people typically think of (yellow with long spines that stick out when it inflates) is often referred to as a porcupine fish. The smaller fish whose spines always stick out are called burrfish. And, of course, there are many puffer fish that don't have spines at all. Among these are the stars and stripes puffer, the dog faced puffer, the figure eight puffer, and more.
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