Dogs, cats and birds offer something that fish generally do not: companionship and personality. One family of fish species, however, that has “pet” potential is the Puffers. A member of the species, the Porcupine Puffer Fish, has peculiarities and personalities all its own. They come in amusing shapes and beautiful colors. Rarely boring, they will entertain many a willing audience. Given a reasonable amount of care, they make hardy and long-lived friends. They will follow you wherever you go – as long as and as far as their eyes can see you. Puffers are intelligent. They will soon learn to recognize you and eagerly await your approach (to feed them of course). Whatever you feed the other fish will probably be palatable to the Puffer as well.
Puffers have unique ways of swimming; eating and behaving that can make you wonder what they are thinking. They are mischievous and when the other fish in the tank are not looking, Senor Puffer may sneak up to take a quick nip out of a tank mates’ tailfin. Speaking of tank mates, you will have to use caution when choosing aquarium companions for your porcupine puffer fish, especially to avoid nipped fins and injuries. Don’t mix them with slow moving fish that have long flowing fins. Do not mix them with triggers or fish that are small enough for them to eat. They generally get along well with clownfish, wrasses, tangs, angels, butterflies (except those with long flowing fins), hawk fish, dotty backs and damsels. They love invertebrates and will quickly investigate all that are in the aquarium. Sorry, but invertebrates and their owners don’t love puffers back when they eat their spineless friends.
Selecting a healthy Puffer can be a bit tricky. They can behave in ways that could indicate that they were in distress if they were another type of fish. Normally you should avoid fish that occasionally lie on the bottom of the aquarium or keep their tail twisted to one side. This is pretty normal behavior for a puffer. They are prone to eye and mouth injuries during transport so look for signs of mistreatment in these areas. A healthy Puffer will quickly begin to heal and accept feeding. Look for a specimen that is eating and is aware of you and its tank mates. Don’t purchase a really tiny puffer unless you are willing and able to feed it several times a day.
Don’t get upset if you find your puffer lying on the bottom of the tank at night when it is sleeping. It is not dead. When the lights go out, they often just drop to the bottom of the tank wherever they happen to be. There are those that will attach themselves to the glass when they are sleeping. Puffers will quickly learn to recognize the person that feeds them and will wait for you at the surface of the aquarium. Sometimes they will spit water right at you (maybe they want to have your undivided attention). They can become rather tame, eating right out of your hand. Be careful when feeding puffers this way as they could accidentally nip your finger in the process.
Most of us have seen at least one member of the puffer family dried in their expanded state and offered for sale (please don’t encourage this by purchasing one) in a novelty or souvenir shop. A sharp nose puffer is not capable of expanding as much as some of its family members, however they can “puff up” when threatened. This is highly stressful for the fish so don’t attempt to get them to do this for the sake of amusement.