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5 Best Pufferfish Types for a Saltwater Tank

The pufferfish is an adorable and beloved saltwater aquarium fish. They have an adorable look, a deliberate swimming style, and lots of personality. Not to mention, they can swell up to three times their normal size when threatened.

In this article, we will highlight the 5 best pufferfish types for the saltwater aquarium, as well as some quick facts and care advice.

1. Porcupine Pufferfish

The Porcupine Puffer or Long-spine porcupinefish belongs to the Diodontidae family and is perhaps known best for its strong personality and curiosity.

Purcupine pufferfish
Porcupine puffer is a popular pufferfish type

It is not hard to imagine how the Porcupine Pufferfish got its name. Take a look at those sharp spines surrounding the entire body of the fish.

Quick Facts:

Scientific name: Diodon holocanthus
Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons
Maximum Growing Size: 12 inches
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Reef safe: No

This species can be found throughout the Western Atlantic Ocean. It is a large fish, best for aquariums 180 gallons in volume or more because it can reach up to 12 inches in length as an adult.

They are not considered to be reef safe, because they may eat your mollusks, snails and crabs.

Side view of a Porcupine Puffer

And yes, you do recognize that face from somewhere. They are one of the fish from the Pixar Movie Finding Nemo (think Dentist’s office).

2. Dogface Puffer

As if it was designed in exact contrast to the Porcupine Puffer, the skin of this next Pufferfish type, the Dogface Pufferfish, is smooth, without short spines.

It is also no surprise how this great fish got its name, take a look at the image below.

Quick Facts:

Scientific name: Arothron nigropunctatus
Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons
Maximum Growing Size: 12 inches
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Reef safe: No

Dogface puffer

The Dogface Pufferfish eats mollusks, sponges, and crustaceans. Because of this, it is not considered a safe fish to be kept with corals and other invertebrates.

In the home aquarium, it is best to feed them with omnivores’ commercial food, as well as fresh shrimp, and shellfish (with the shells).

The Dogface Pufferfish’s natural range includes Indian and Pacific oceans, from East Africa to Micronesia and Samoa, and from southern Japan to southern Australia.

A Yellow Dogface Puffer

3Saddle Valentini Pufferfish

This species is bright and colorful, with dark brown bands down the middle of the body, orange-brown spots on the lower half, yellowfins and blue stripes along the back.

Saddle Toby

A relatively small Pufferfish Type, by comparison, makes the Valentini Puffer an attractive option for aquarium owners with a 30-gallon or larger tank.

Quick Facts:

Scientific name: Canthigaster valentini;
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Maximum Growing Size: around 4 inches
Care level: Moderate;
Temperament: Peaceful
Reef safe: No

The species inhabits the reefs of the East Indian and West Indian Oceans and Australia, Red Sea, Indonesia, East, Central, and West Pacific.

Saddle or Valentini Toby

Because most would-be predators also know that this fish is poisonous to eat, they are also one of the most popular saltwater fish examples of mimicry, which is so much fun.

4. Stars and Stripes Puffer

The Stars and Stripes Puffer is a large Puffer type that has distinct markings that make it a very popular option among those looking to add a Puffer to their tank.

Stars and Stripes Fish

Quick Facts:

Scientific name: Aronthron rispidus;
Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons
Maximum Growing Size: 18 inches
Care level: Easy
Temperament: Semi-agressive

The natural range of the species extends from the area of the ocean Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, to the east of the Pacific Ocean, where it can be found at depths from three to 35 meters, anywhere from reefs, lagoons, estuaries, and tide pools.

Like the other Puffer types in this article, they are not considered to be reef safe, because they will eat mollusks, tunicates, sponges, corals, crabs, polychaetes, starfish, sea urchins, etc.

They are aggressive towards others from the same species and are best kept singly, with other large, semi-aggressive saltwater fish.

Stars and stripes Puffer view of face

5. Sharpnose Puffer

The #5 Best Pufferfish type on our list is another small species: the Sharpnose Puffer, Canthigaster rostrata.

The Sharpnose Puffer’s natural habitat is in the Atlantic Ocean, from the Caribbean down south to Venezuela. 

Sharpnose puffer

Quick Facts:

Scientific name: Canthigaster rostrata
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Maximum Growing Size: 4 to 5 inches
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Peaceful
Reef safe: No

This is an attractive species, both literally because if its beauty, as well as because the more diminutive size (by Pufferfish standards) makes it accessible to those with a 55-gallon tank or larger.

Another sharpnose

What do Pufferfish Eat?

Nearly all Pufferfish Types are Omnivorous, eating most things they can fit in their mouths. They have strong jaws and hard teeth that are used for crushing stony or shelled invertebrates.

In the home aquarium, it is best to feed them fresh shrimp, mollusks (in their shells), squid, krill, etc. It is important to give them food they can chomp, to help keep their teeth from over-crowding, although many people also report that they will ‘find something to crush’ if not provided.

You can also get them used to take some commercial foods, as well, to serve as staple rations, but it is important to continue to provide fresh mollusks as well.

Pufferfish cautions

Make sure you always know where your fingers are and where your puffer is, when you put your hand in the tank. They will bite your fingers and it will hurt.

What’s special about pufferfish teeth?

Puffers have BIG teeth; they may have 2, 3, or 4 visible teeth (or plaques). These teeth are specialized for breaking shells of mollusks and crustaceans.

Close up view of pufferfish teeth

The name of the Order Tetraodontiformes was given for a reason: tetra = four, odont = teeth. If the Big Bad Wolf was a Pufferfish, he’d say the teeth are all the better to crush you with.

Best Pufferfish tank mates in a saltwater tank

As mentioned earlier, it is generally best to keep just one Puffer per tank, or you may end up with some serious aggression issues. Suitable tankmates are:

Just to name a few.

You should not keep these pufferfish types in a mixed reef tank with invertebrates, as that is their natural food. If you do, your fish will likely acquire a nasty and expensive habit of eating its tankmates.

How do pufferfish puff up?

The primary defense mechanism of pufferfish is through the swelling of the body when they feel threatened, making them appear much more extensive than they are.Zoanthid Coral Care Guide

The process occurs with the fish swallowing a large amount of water that will be stored in the stomach, a very elastic organ, inflating like a bladder and leaving it in a very spherical shape, up to three times its original size. Its skin is also very elastic, and its spine is very flexible, being able to curve and follow the temporary new shape of the body.

The fish has a valve, at the base of the mouth that it can open and close to retain the water or release it, once it feels secure.

Are Pufferfish Poisonous or Dangerous in a Saltwater Aquarium?

Some pufferfish, particularly marine species, produce a potent neurotoxin in their internal organs known as tetrodotoxin, found mainly in the ovary and liver. This neurotoxin can be lethal to most predators, including humans.

However, unlike Palytoxin, a neurotoxin produced by certain Zoanthid species that can enter the air through aerosols and make you sick, tetrodotoxin isn’t much of a risk for you, unless you decide one day to try and eat your Pufferfish, which is never a good idea.

You’re at a much, much greater risk of getting your finger bitten seriously. Did I mention that already? Be careful.


Puffers are not for everyone or every tank. Some of the Pufferfish types described here require very large tanks, and all of them require special feeding. But Puffer owners are a loyal group, who love their fish and profess how smart they are and how much personality they have.

The rolly-polly fish almost seem jolly and are a joy to watch.

What do you think, are they on your wish list?

What to read next

Check out these other great lists to help plan which fish you’ll add to your tank next:


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