Mbu Puffer Fish 101: Care, Tank Size, Lifespan, Diet & More!

The Mbu Puffer fish is the largest freshwater puffer fish. It’s also called the Gold-Ringed Puffer, or naturally, the Giant Freshwater Puffer. The Mbu Puffer is a feisty, carnivorous, and intelligent fish with an eye-catching green pattern guaranteed to earn admirers. So if you’re looking for a unique showpiece to grace your home, the Mbu Puffer Fish is your best bet.

The table below gives an overview of the Mbu Puffer Fish profile:

Care DifficultyAdvanced/for experienced aquarists
Lifespan8-12 years (officially up to 10 years)
DietPrimarily Carnivorous (Invertebrates, worms, shellfish)
Color(s)Olive green/Yellow
TemperamentAggressive and Territorial
Size22-30 inches
Minimum Tank Size500 gallons
Tank SetupFreshwater/may be decorated
CompatibilityBest kept solo

Below is our Mbu Puffer fish care guide, continue reading to find out more about its diet, tank mates, breeding, and more.



The Mbu Puffer Fish (Tetraodon mbu) is a giant freshwater puffer fish that is originally found thriving in the rivers and lakes of Africa and Tanzania. This giant freshwater puffer is primarily carnivorous, feeding on worms and a variety of shellfish (even unshelled!) with its large fused teeth.

In fact, the scientific name itself comes from the greek words tetra, meaning four, and odous meaning teeth. Apart from its large teeth, these puffers boast a stunning maze-like pattern on their scaleless, yellow-green bodies. Mbus are also able to have playful and mischievous interactions with their owners, making the species a worthy addition in any enthusiast’s aquarium (as long as they are alone). 

Mbu Puffers are considered one of the most ‘exotic’ and high-maintenance puffers to care for. So you need to be both loving and experienced to keep a Mbu Puffer Fish.  


Giant Puffers have an expected life expectancy of 8 to 12 years in theory, although they are only expected to live up to around 10 years. 

Like almost all other fish, the Mbu Puffer is also capable of enjoying a longer lifespan in their natural habitat. This shouldn’t discourage you, however, because the proper love and care can do wonders for any pet’s quality of life.


Giant Mbu Puffers have a very interesting look. You will have a difficult time finding another fish with the same intimidating aesthetic. Mbu puffer fish have a mainly yellowish olive-green coloring, which turns bright gold towards their sides and tail fin, with pale yellow underbellies. Right above this coloring, Mbu puffer fishes display a dazzling dark pattern. 

When they are still young, this pattern only appears as simple brown spots or blotches around their yellow-green bodies. These dull markings don’t last for the Mbu Puffers however. Once they reach adulthood, the previous brown spots become an intricate, maze-like print covering most of their upper bodies. Interestingly, they are also scaleless.

Contrasting with their green bodies, Giant puffer fishes have piercing orange eyes that protrude from the sides of their big heads. Some even find these eyes incredibly intelligent-looking. Mbu puffers’ bright orange eyes have incredibly good eyesight, whether they are observing you or not; if you look closely, you might even catch them blinking!

One of the most striking features you may notice with the Mbu puffer fish, apart from their impressive print or eyes, is their large teeth. To be exact, Mbu puffers have four mighty teeth which are almost fused together, forming a mouth that looks like a beak. 

This overall appearance is the same for both sexes of the Mbu puffer fish, which makes telling one sex from another a bit difficult and sometimes impossible. 

Average Size 

While they are still young, Mbu puffers are only a few tiny inches long. This can end up misleading potential buyers on their size, and they end up shocked once their Mbu puffers reach adulthood. 

In reality, these fish are also called Giant Freshwater puffers for that very reason. Mbu Puffers can get pretty gigantic! They have a generous size range of 24 to 30 inches, with an average length of around 26 inches (67 centimeters). 

Mbu Puffer Fish Care Guide

If you’re liking what you see so far in the marvelous creature that is the Mbu Puffer Fish, here are some important guidelines on how to take care of your next aquatic pet.

Potential Diseases

As much as we try to avoid it, all pets can get sick. For all its bite (pun intended), the Mbu puffer is also quite susceptible to illness. 

There are a couple of factors that play into why your Mbu Puffer can fall sick. One of them is the non-ideal environmental conditions in its tank. Another reason may be its diet or feeding schedule, and yet another possible reason is parasites. You can usually get Mbu puffers directly from the wild or from commercial breeding facilities; if they are from the wild, they have natural internal parasites the moment you get them. 

The previously mentioned scaleless nature of the Mbu Puffer can also have an unfortunate effect on their well-being. Scales serve as an extra layer of protection. Without this, Mbu Puffers end up being relatively weaker against various ectoparasites such as those that cause Ich disease.  

Once this giant puffer falls sick, it may be tempting to resort to medication immediately. However, you must tread carefully with the puffer because they are highly sensitive to medication. 

However, if you want to prevent their illness, here are some things you can do: 

  • Deworm your puffer
  • Clean out their aquatic homes regularly 
  • Make sure their water conditions are always optimal 
  • Ensure that their diet is both correct and of the highest quality. Your Mbu puffer will thank you for it!

Tip: Puffer fishes like the Mbu have a variety of ways they show their ill health. If your Mbu starts displaying signs of sickness like floating, hiding, lacking appetite, or puffing out due to stress, it’s time to check them out.

Tank Setup

Part of being the best aquarist that you can be is to give your swimming friends the best home away from home (well, their natural habitat). 

For Mbu puffers, this involves a lot of requirements. Firstly, these giants have equally gigantic appetites. They eat a whole lot (and are messy!), so naturally, they relieve themselves a lot too. You need an adequate water filtration system in place or face the consequences. 

A sandy substrate will also serve your puffers well. This is mainly because in the wild, Mbu puffers dig around the sand for food and the like. So give them something to do in your tanks by putting a sandy substrate, along with some driftwood, plants, small pebbles, and larger, smooth rocks.

Giant Mbu Puffers love freshwater in their tanks as well.

As we now know, Mbu puffers are the largest freshwater puffers, and are able to grow to humongous proportions. Therefore, you need an equally huge tank for their proper upkeep. 

You need a tank of at least 500 gallons (or 96 x 36 x 36), making sure to keep at least a foot of space between the puffer and the aquarium walls. 

If you don’t, this underwater giant will bump and scratch the tank, which is not good for either the Mbu or its glass home. 

Water Parameters

Now that your tank is spacious enough and decorated properly for the Mbu puffer, it’s time to fill it with the right quality of water. 

Mbu Puffer fishes are naturally freshwater fishes that are on occasion present in brackish waters. For an ideal environment however, putting freshwater in your tank is the best for them.

These fish appreciate a specific temperature of around 24°C – 26°C, or around 75°F – 78°F. This is a primarily tropical temperature, very much like the waters in their native rivers and lakes. 

Keep a neutral pH of around 7.0 to 8.0 within your tank, and a moderate water hardness level within the range of 10.0 to 15.0 dH.

Unfortunately, Mbu puffers are very particular with their preferred water parameters. These creatures like a stable, calm flow of water in their tanks because they are not exactly strong swimmers (not the Michael Phelps of fishes). 

They want high levels of oxygen, but less than 40 mg/L of nitrate levels in their tank. They also won’t tolerate any amount of ammonia or nitrite. 

We also already mentioned their generous amount of waste, so you should change out their tank water weekly. But what these puffers really want is for you to change around 100 gallons daily. 

Phew, talk about being needy! The truth is, Mbu puffers are very likely to suffer from poor living conditions. By neglecting one or more of these water requirements, you risk making these wonderful puffers sick and unhappy. 

Diet & Food

If they had their way, Mbu puffers would eat an incredible amount of food. They love feeding time, and are even known to perform tricks when they are begging for food. Naturally, there is a risk of overfeeding, and even running up your food bill! 

These large puffers are primarily carnivorous. In fact, their teeth are made for prying open the shells of poor, unsuspecting shellfish and other invertebrates. In the wild, they also enjoy scraping corals and reef grazing with their strong teeth.

Mbu puffers feed on small fish and worms that may be either live or frozen, but they largely prefer shelled mollusks and crustaceans. Feeding them a diet of various shelled critters will do the Mbus a huge favor, as these make them grind down their beak-like teeth. This will prevent tooth overgrowth, and keep their dental health in tip top shape. 

The Mbu Puffer Fish’s preferred food include:

  • Shelled mollusks, crustaceans, and snails such as clams, mussels, Ramshorn snails, and Mystery snails (even when frozen, they can still bite through it)
  • Crabs like Fiddler crabs every now and then to stimulate Mbu puffers’ hunting instinct in the wild (make sure to cut the pincers first!)

While your Mbu puffers do love their food, start off their diet with small invertebrates; then slowly upgrade to bigger shellfish as they continue growing. To avoid overfeeding, you could set a fixed feeding schedule of around three or four times a week.

Mbu Puffer Fish Breeding Behavior

Unfortunately, the Mbu Puffer cannot be bred in captivity, especially in home aquaria. They are either caught in the wild directly, or bred commercially for the sole purpose of the pet market. 

Their sex cannot be identified at a glance, contributing to the impossibility of being purposefully bred in your tank. The wild also provides them with the ideal water conditions to breed, one of which is an enormous volume of water needed. 

It is not advised to breed Mbus, as it may end in disaster, namely, the two of them fighting to the death.

Note: Like other puffers, the Mbu puffer also possesses tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin puffers get from their diet in the wild. This toxin can be 10 to 100 times as deadly as Black Widow spider venom!

There is good news, however. Puffers kept and bred in captivity do not contain this deadly toxin because their aquarium diet is different.

Temperament & Behavior

Puffer fish, as a family, are generally both aggressive and territorial. In this case, the Mbu puffer is no different. They are very feisty creatures, and keeping them in the same tank as other fishes can only spell trouble. Due to their nature, Mbu puffers are not suited for community aquariums, and instead are meant to live solo in their tanks. They often attack tank mates and turn them into their next food source (yikes!). In fact, they are hostile even to other fishes of the same species!

The puffers’ relationship towards their owners is a different story. They are not only big in size, but also in personality. Giant puffers are mischievous and lively, often entertaining you with little tricks in their tanks. They are known to be quite intelligent fish, capable of forming real attachments with their keepers. They do this by puffing themselves up or spraying water from their tank, all to get your attention. 

This particular behavior is notably more frequent when they want you to feed them. You can almost think of it as getting a slippery (and sometimes naughty) puppy in an underwater habitat, with all of their quirky and sassy attitude.

Tip: While Mbu Puffer fishes are generally friendly with their owners, they can sometimes mistake your fingers for shrimp and chomp on it. This may be painful, so don’t let them bite you!

Mbu Puffer Fish Tank Mates 

As previously mentioned, the Mbu puffer is more suited to being alone in an aquarium. Their teeth and demeanor can cause injury. This may become fatal to most fish if they are kept in the same tank.

For this Puffer fish, being both gigantic and territorial is not exactly ideal for friendships within the fish community. They also need a lot of swimming space, and sometimes Mbu Puffers can turn hostile to even their own kind.

If you are a born risk-taker, however, there are a few choice tank mates that you may keep with the Mbu Puffer. These fishes must be small, able to hide in and around plants and caves, and/or very quick swimmers to outrun their neighborhood Mbu. 

Suitable tank mates for Mbu Puffer fish include:

  • Various small guppies
  • Tetras (e.g. Rummy Nose, Buenos Aires)
  • Barbs
  • Plecos
  • Rasboras (e.g. Scissortail, Galaxy, Chili)
  • Rainbow fish
  • Some cichlids (e.g. Tanganyikan)

Tip: To prolong the lifespan of these potential tank mates, make sure your Mbu Puffer is well fed. They are less likely to prey on its beautiful tank mates and more likely to tolerate them.


Mbu Puffer fish are large, smart, bursting with personality, and sure to give your guests a sight to behold. These puffers can be your long-term underwater buddies, but they are not for the average hobbyist. 

These Giant Puffers need both a caring and experienced hand that is ready to love them for a long time to come.

Note: Please consider the environment before printing this Mbu Puffer fish care sheet.


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