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Malabar Puffer Opinions


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Hi! New to fishkeeping and even newer to this forum so my apologies if this topic has been done to death already. 

I would like some people's opinions on stocking levels etc for Malabar Puffer's, I have a 7.5G tank and would like to keep at least one. 

My problem is that everywhere I look I see conflicting information, on the co op YouTube channel I think they said they are good for a 5G+ tank, elsewhere online they say like 10G+. Then I saw on, I think, seriously fish that they can be kept alone but my fish guy said it would be stressed kept alone keep a small group at least 3. Other sources say a pair is best or get more to spread out aggression or that with three I would be overstocked (aqadvisor) etc etc. 

I'm pretty sure water quality wise I could get away with three of them in 7.5G with lots of plants etc so I guess mostly I'm wondering, 1 or 2 or 3? 

They would be the only fish in the tank. I'm in no rush, in the early stages of planning a small fish room so mostly a thought exercise at this point but I plan to do it when I can. 

 

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I would do a single unless you can make sure you have a sexed pair. They start quite social while they are little, but can get very aggressive as they establish their territories, and a 7.5 gallon may not be big enough. A heavily planted tank is highly recommended as they are very curious and love to explore. I move things around for mine so they don't get bored.

If you decide to go for more, be prepared to have a tank to move one of them out if needed. 

I have two pea puffers in their own tank. One shares the tank with shrimp fine (7 gal.), the other loves to eat his roommates (3 gal. tank). Can't quite tell if you'll end up with Jekyll or Hyde...

I have canister filters which help a lot in maintaining good water quality. They are poopy heads.

Puffers are amazing fish!

Edited by eatyourpeas
Typos.
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They are considered a shoaling (not schooling) species, and appear to be happier in a group of 6 or more.  Those with the most experience believe they have more behavioral issues showing more signs of stress when kept singly or in smaller groups.  They show more fin nipping of other fish and hide more often when single or in smaller groups.  My experience matches this after rescuing a singleton, trying to find enough to develop a proper shoal with appropriate male to female ratios, etc.

Most experts are recommending 6 or more with a minimum tank size of 10 gallons, but bigger is better.  Also should be in heavily planted tanks, with plants and/or hardscape to break up sight lines.  They are obligate carnivores and sloppy about it so they need large, regular water changes with removal of food debris.  They need a wide variety of meat based foods and only very rarely will learn to take flakes or even dried/dehydrated food.  Some may not even take frozen foods.

Typically it’s encouraged they be in a species only tank, but some have success with a small shoal in a *large* tank with multiple other species.  Usually 6-8 pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus - Malabar puffers) in 55 gallons or more with a typical assortment of other community fish.  Tank mates should all be fast moving, wary fish like danios, tetras, etc.  Not so large they would eat the puffers, not so small or slow they would get picked on by the puffers - no Bettas or guppies, for instance.  They will often tolerate otocinclus, kuhli loaches, or other bottom dwellers.

They are starting to become more available as tank raised, but most are still wild caught and often arrive infested with intestinal parasites.  Experts recommend they be treated weekly for 4 weeks with levamisole while in quarantine.

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On 7/4/2021 at 11:18 PM, Odd Duck said:

They are considered a shoaling (not schooling) species, and appear to be happier in a group of 6 or more.  Those with the most experience believe they have more behavioral issues showing more signs of stress when kept singly or in smaller groups.  They show more fin nipping of other fish and hide more often when single or in smaller groups.  My experience matches this after rescuing a singleton, trying to find enough to develop a proper shoal with appropriate male to female ratios, etc.

Most experts are recommending 6 or more with a minimum tank size of 10 gallons, but bigger is better.  Also should be in heavily planted tanks, with plants and/or hardscape to break up sight lines.  They are obligate carnivores and sloppy about it so they need large, regular water changes with removal of food debris.  They need a wide variety of meat based foods and only very rarely will learn to take flakes or even dried/dehydrated food.  Some may not even take frozen foods.

Typically it’s encouraged they be in a species only tank, but some have success with a small shoal in a *large* tank with multiple other species.  Usually 6-8 pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus - Malabar puffers) in 55 gallons or more with a typical assortment of other community fish.  Tank mates should all be fast moving, wary fish like danios, tetras, etc.  Not so large they would eat the puffers, not so small or slow they would get picked on by the puffers - no Bettas or guppies, for instance.  They will often tolerate otocinclus, kuhli loaches, or other bottom dwellers.

They are starting to become more available as tank raised, but most are still wild caught and often arrive infested with intestinal parasites.  Experts recommend they be treated weekly for 4 weeks with levamisole while in quarantine.

Thanks for the info. Would you never keep any in a 7.5G then? I'm sure I saw a few YouTube channels (including aquarium co op?) recommend one for a 5 Gallon even. 

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@KentFishFanUK After the experience and difficulties I’ve had trying to incorporate this geriatric singleton male I rescued into a shoal, I would not deliberately keep a singleton.  His behavior is not particularly appropriate for the species from what I’ve read.  He killed 2 females (another very sickly one died before I learned about deworming).  They were all in a 10 gallon that was heavily planted, had a tall rock and tall plants to break line of sight plus smaller rocks with gaps between that were good hiding areas (shielded from both sides but open passages to escape.

They were fed abundantly on:  assorted species of snails (mostly love), frozen bloodworms (like to love per individual fish), frozen brine shrimp (neutral), frozen (unimpressed by them), freeze dried (ignored after one taste), and live Daphnia (adored), preserved baby brine shrimp (they were unimpressed), live microworms (which they mostly ignored), scuds/amphipods (like), and now they get blackworms, whiteworms (all love both), and I’ve even tried live wingless fruit flies (seemed like they didn’t quite know what to think, a couple tried them, didn’t seem too exciting to anybody).  Haven’t tried Grindal worms yet, but would like to get a culture started, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I still have the singleton male in a 10 gallon quarantine while I build a shoal.  I bought 9 tank-raised juveniles, 7 turned out to be male so 6 went back to my lfs.  I now have 11 juvies now fully dewormed and done with quarantine.  They are hanging out, growing, depleting my live blackworm supply, until they can be reliably sexed.  I’m hoping to get at least 4 females.  I’ll trade the rest back to my lfs (I have a really good lfs).

I had to make a fish trap to get the 6 males back out of the tank.  I still have a single male and 2 females in the 20G long tank.  My goal is to put the 4 females and the singleton male into the 20G long all at once after I do some plant changes (I have a bunch of Java ferns and large Anubias on rocks/wood that I’ll add for additional breaks in line of sight).  I figure this will give my geriatric singleton his best shot at responding to a better social structure and maybe learning how to behave himself around others.  He can currently see the juvies from his tank.

The trio of 2 females and one male that are still in the 20G long are not really what I would consider a happy trio.  They aren’t even behaving like a pair and a single female.  There’s more chasing going on than I’d like to see and the chasing is sometimes a bit too intense.  Nobody’s gotten hurt, but there’s nothing really I could call normal shoaling behavior.  I added a small shoal of ember tetras as dither fish since I was reading so much about how some puffer groups were doing fine in community tanks.  I was thinking the embers could be a shoal and act as dithers, and the puffers could be a shoal.  Nope.  Everybody hides.  Very boring tank, really, but I’m not ready to give up on having a well-adjusted shoal.

I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to trap the ember tetras out before I add the “new” puffers and the geriatric male, or try leaving them in as dither fish to make a more “natural” type of situation.  I’m leaning towards trapping them out since it would be pushing a little on the boundaries of bioload since the puffers appear to cause around 3 times the bioload typical of other fish their size.  The tank is very heavily planted with barely any substrate showing, a variety of good sized swords that are now slightly taller than the tank, plenty of well grown Crypts, moss clumps, driftwood, overfiltered with a 20 gallon HOB, and a 20-40 sponge filter, and gets 50-60% water changes weekly, and still has way too much algae (over feeders anonymous member, here 👋🏻) although it’s getting much better.

If the group doesn’t work in the 20G long, I have a 29 gallon I may try.  I’ll transfer the whole lot of them so it will be 100% new territory for all.  I also have a well established 6G cube that I can use for the geriatric male if I must, but I really want to give him another chance to be a member of a healthy shoal.

So, probably way too much puffer psychology there, but I don’t recommend a small group.  I’ve been there, done that, and 3 have died because of it.  I thought at first it was my asocial singleton, but the juvies that grew up together don’t really seem that happy either.  I’m hoping that settles with the larger group.  Goal is 2 males, 6 females, shoal when they want, wander when they want, etc.  We’ll see what happens.  I’m just starting to see indications of sex in the juvies, but they don’t yet hold that color long enough for me to net them.  I’m hoping in the next couple weeks I’ll be putting girls and an old man into the 20G long.  It may get far too interesting.  🧐 🤔  I’ll be watching closely and getting the 29 ready, just in case.  The 6G has been ready for months since I knew I might have to use it for the singleton male.  Wish me luck!

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On 7/5/2021 at 5:17 AM, Odd Duck said:

@KentFishFanUK After the experience and difficulties I’ve had trying to incorporate this geriatric singleton male I rescued into a shoal, I would not deliberately keep a singleton.  His behavior is not particularly appropriate for the species from what I’ve read.  He killed 2 females (another very sickly one died before I learned about deworming).  They were all in a 10 gallon that was heavily planted, had a tall rock and tall plants to break line of sight plus smaller rocks with gaps between that were good hiding areas (shielded from both sides but open passages to escape.

They were fed abundantly on:  assorted species of snails (mostly love), frozen bloodworms (like to love per individual fish), frozen brine shrimp (neutral), frozen (unimpressed by them), freeze dried (ignored after one taste), and live Daphnia (adored), preserved baby brine shrimp (they were unimpressed), live microworms (which they mostly ignored), scuds/amphipods (like), and now they get blackworms, whiteworms (all love both), and I’ve even tried live wingless fruit flies (seemed like they didn’t quite know what to think, a couple tried them, didn’t seem too exciting to anybody).  Haven’t tried Grindal worms yet, but would like to get a culture started, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I still have the singleton male in a 10 gallon quarantine while I build a shoal.  I bought 9 tank-raised juveniles, 7 turned out to be male so 6 went back to my lfs.  I now have 11 juvies now fully dewormed and done with quarantine.  They are hanging out, growing, depleting my live blackworm supply, until they can be reliably sexed.  I’m hoping to get at least 4 females.  I’ll trade the rest back to my lfs (I have a really good lfs).

I had to make a fish trap to get the 6 males back out of the tank.  I still have a single male and 2 females in the 20G long tank.  My goal is to put the 4 females and the singleton male into the 20G long all at once after I do some plant changes (I have a bunch of Java ferns and large Anubias on rocks/wood that I’ll add for additional breaks in line of sight).  I figure this will give my geriatric singleton his best shot at responding to a better social structure and maybe learning how to behave himself around others.  He can currently see the juvies from his tank.

The trio of 2 females and one male that are still in the 20G long are not really what I would consider a happy trio.  They aren’t even behaving like a pair and a single female.  There’s more chasing going on than I’d like to see and the chasing is sometimes a bit too intense.  Nobody’s gotten hurt, but there’s nothing really I could call normal shoaling behavior.  I added a small shoal of ember tetras as dither fish since I was reading so much about how some puffer groups were doing fine in community tanks.  I was thinking the embers could be a shoal and act as dithers, and the puffers could be a shoal.  Nope.  Everybody hides.  Very boring tank, really, but I’m not ready to give up on having a well-adjusted shoal.

I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to trap the ember tetras out before I add the “new” puffers and the geriatric male, or try leaving them in as dither fish to make a more “natural” type of situation.  I’m leaning towards trapping them out since it would be pushing a little on the boundaries of bioload since the puffers appear to cause around 3 times the bioload typical of other fish their size.  The tank is very heavily planted with barely any substrate showing, a variety of good sized swords that are now slightly taller than the tank, plenty of well grown Crypts, moss clumps, driftwood, overfiltered with a 20 gallon HOB, and a 20-40 sponge filter, and gets 50-60% water changes weekly, and still has way too much algae (over feeders anonymous member, here 👋🏻) although it’s getting much better.

If the group doesn’t work in the 20G long, I have a 29 gallon I may try.  I’ll transfer the whole lot of them so it will be 100% new territory for all.  I also have a well established 6G cube that I can use for the geriatric male if I must, but I really want to give him another chance to be a member of a healthy shoal.

So, probably way too much puffer psychology there, but I don’t recommend a small group.  I’ve been there, done that, and 3 have died because of it.  I thought at first it was my asocial singleton, but the juvies that grew up together don’t really seem that happy either.  I’m hoping that settles with the larger group.  Goal is 2 males, 6 females, shoal when they want, wander when they want, etc.  We’ll see what happens.  I’m just starting to see indications of sex in the juvies, but they don’t yet hold that color long enough for me to net them.  I’m hoping in the next couple weeks I’ll be putting girls and an old man into the 20G long.  It may get far too interesting.  🧐 🤔  I’ll be watching closely and getting the 29 ready, just in case.  The 6G has been ready for months since I knew I might have to use it for the singleton male.  Wish me luck!

Thanks for the detailed reply! Sounds like a bit of a journey so far, good luck with it!

So more questions if you don't mind, with the trio you have - is the chasing etc between the females too or just the male chasing the other two? 

Do you think the eventual group of 6 should show less aggression/chasing etc because there's more of them? (Cranky old fella allowing)

Lastly, other than the aggression that the cranky old guy shows when put with the others, what behaviours does/doesn't he show that he should or shouldn't? If it's just that he acts aggressive in the group but is otherwise happy when alone, wouldn't it be fair to say that keeping a single fish works or a larger group works just not anything in-between? 

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@KentFishFanUK If the singleton didn’t spend so much time hiding, I would say that he’s otherwise fat and happy.  But hiding 90% of the time is not a happy fish, to me, unless you’re a clown pleco and it’s your life goal.

The chasing is male to each female, but more against one than the other, and between the females, mostly against the odd one out even though the male and the less chased female aren’t acting like an actual pair.  I hope that will settle once it’s a balanced shoal.  I will keep the rest of the puffers for at least a little while after I introduce the selected group.  That way if the cranky old fart is too much of a bad actor, I will pull him, give him his luxury planted 6G, and pick another male to join the shoal.

If I don’t see the “normal” behavior I hope for, I will set up the 29G for the shoal to go in, maybe plus the “leftovers” depending on the ratio they end up being.  I may still return the extras to the lfs and try for a more normal mixed community in the 29 since that mix seems to get the most normal overall behavior from the puffers from what I’ve read and watching videos others have posts on line.

The puffers seem to need a larger group of fish around to not be obnoxious and borderline dangerous, and my impression is that they don’t all need to be puffers as long as there are enough puffers around that one won’t get singled out.  People that have posted on the Facebook forums that have a full shoal in a community report that they mostly seem to ignore the other fish and the males will establish territories and the females will somewhat hang out together until a pairing happens.

The care guides linked to the Facebook group Pea Puffer Enthusiasts Worldwide are the most logical I’ve found and are based on studies and experience of the team of writers.  Some of the recommendations out there appear pretty random.  My personal observations over the last several months match up well with the care guides.

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On 7/5/2021 at 8:14 PM, Odd Duck said:

@KentFishFanUK If the singleton didn’t spend so much time hiding, I would say that he’s otherwise fat and happy.  But hiding 90% of the time is not a happy fish, to me, unless you’re a clown pleco and it’s your life goal.

The chasing is male to each female, but more against one than the other, and between the females, mostly against the odd one out even though the male and the less chased female aren’t acting like an actual pair.  I hope that will settle once it’s a balanced shoal.  I will keep the rest of the puffers for at least a little while after I introduce the selected group.  That way if the cranky old fart is too much of a bad actor, I will pull him, give him his luxury planted 6G, and pick another male to join the shoal.

If I don’t see the “normal” behavior I hope for, I will set up the 29G for the shoal to go in, maybe plus the “leftovers” depending on the ratio they end up being.  I may still return the extras to the lfs and try for a more normal mixed community in the 29 since that mix seems to get the most normal overall behavior from the puffers from what I’ve read and watching videos others have posts on line.

The puffers seem to need a larger group of fish around to not be obnoxious and borderline dangerous, and my impression is that they don’t all need to be puffers as long as there are enough puffers around that one won’t get singled out.  People that have posted on the Facebook forums that have a full shoal in a community report that they mostly seem to ignore the other fish and the males will establish territories and the females will somewhat hang out together until a pairing happens.

The care guides linked to the Facebook group Pea Puffer Enthusiasts Worldwide are the most logical I’ve found and are based on studies and experience of the team of writers.  Some of the recommendations out there appear pretty random.  My personal observations over the last several months match up well with the care guides.

Thanks for the info! It's very helpful and also very interesting, I hope you keep us updated with the progress! Though I admit I feel kind of sad that it sounds like my plan of 1-3 of them in a 7.5 Gallon isn't a good idea 😢

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@Odd Duck so new question, regarding your minimum recommended group size (6 right?) what would you say is a good minimum tank size? Like the smallest you could go that's still big enough to let the males have their own territories or whatever they need to avoid too much aggression/stress. Obviously assuming heavily decorated and planted. 

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