X. Three Suvatti and a Palembang

Author: Ian Jefferies, AKA Rocker

A Good Relationship?

suvatti01.jpgIt’s been seven months now for my three T. suvattii and one T. palembangensis who share the same tank. They have all attained a similar size of approximately 5″. They are all fed the same diet twice a week, which consists mainly of mussel, cockle, prawns, shell on king prawns, krill and snails. Each one is fed as individually as I can manage to ensure they all get their fair share, which is important as they are only fed twice a week.

Feeding time at first was an issue with the more dominant suvatti taking as much as he could possibly get leaving the others with none or very little. I tried to help the others by feeding with tongs but the more aggressive suvattii would virtually take the food from their mouths. I have now got the feeding routine down to a fine art with no quarrels at all. This is part my doing by simply luring the dominant one away and feeding and part by chance in the fact that they now all have separate territories within the tank and with plenty of cover from each other. The puffers have now established their own territories, which did take sometime, and each has its own cave or hiding place. If I can get to the tank before they realize it’s feeding time I can simply feed each one in their own quarters without there being any issues.

As for general aggression there has been none witnessed as of yet but this did change for a while. The male did start to show some aggression towards the others as I will explain later. The tank they are in has been situated in a more prominent position within the last two months for viewing. It has now become obvious that these puffers, suvatti and more so the palembangensis are more active at night. When I say there has been no aggression towards each other I have witnessed some ‘threat’ behaviour towards the T. palembangensis. This consists of the suvattii flattening out its body and circling the palembang. This has always been enough to warn the palembang off and send him packing mainly because he has wandered to close to one of the suvatti caves. I have not quite worked out why though this only happens occasionally. The threat behaviour can be sparked simply as mentioned yet other times I find the palembang resting on one of the suvattii in their cave as best buddies! This is worth bearing in mind if you do try and house these two species together. As mentioned earlier, at night the palembangensis becomes more active and will inevitably encroach into a suvatti territory.

The aggression between suvattii — suvatti has been none existent. There has been the odd ’shoving’ and ‘nosing’ out of the way but despite the three all having their own caves it is not uncommon to find them sharing on a regular basis.

I also find with the three suvatti that they all are different characters. Two of them bury, one often, one not so often and one that I have never seen bury himself at all!

The Palembangensis is a very shy puffer and can be very skittish. A couple of times now during maintenance I have seen him jump out of the water, startled, only to land safely back into the tank. This puffer is a bit more of a picky eater. Sometimes he’ll take prawns sometimes he won’t. He is always hungry though as he will always take mussel but I will always try to be as varied as possible with their diet.

Fairly recently, two of the suvattii have paired up a lot more in one of the caves. In fact they have not separated since the last feeding time. I have witnessed the two of them constantly swimming around each other for great periods of time. There would be very little gravel left in the cave as they dug a pit into the gravel. They achieved this by burying themselves and pushing the gravel away and also by ‘blowing’ the gravel away. They do this by filling their mouths full of water and squirting it out to move the gravel. This is much the same as I have noticed the ‘hunter’ puffers will blow gravel out of the way in search of food. This was followed by constant ‘fanning’ action from them, which lasted for a few days after. This is typical mating behaviour and is how Dr Ebert has described in his book.

These are two photos taken tonight just before the lights went out.

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The two carried on sharing the same cave and constantly fanning but there was no obvious signs of any eggs although it was hard to see inside a dark cave.

After a few more days the dominant one changed his attention to the other Suvattii. I now believe I have one male and two females sharing the tank. I watched as the new pairing went through the same ritual as before and managed to get a small video clip of it. Again, though there was no evidence of eggs that I could see. My thinking is at the moment the bigger male is sexually active but not so the smaller females.

suvatti04.jpgTake a look at this picture; it was taken as the male I believe moved onto the second female. Notice the extremely pale colouration of a normally dark puffer. Even the arrow marking which is normally darker than the rest of the body is in fact lighter!

I don’t know for sure but I don’t think they ‘pair’ for life. I am basing this assumption on the fact that the male moved from one female to another very quickly. All three then returned to their usual place with the male being quieter than usual.

After the male had moved away from the second female he settled in an unusual spot for him. I also realised that with him doing this there would not of been any eggs, for it is the male that would stay and guard them if there were any. He became restless and agitated, his feeding ritual of trying to devour everything stopped and only fed when the food was waved directly in front of him. No charging to the front — just showing lack of interest in the food. This started to worry me for the first couple of days until a couple of days later when lights came on in the morning. Both he and the second female were fully inflated and attacking each other quite severely. It only stopped when one had managed to take a chunk out of the other. This became routine now as every day I would enter the room and find both puffers fully inflated and circling each other. They would circle each other for a while looking to get above the other, then look for the opportunity to strike. Interestingly, these puffers seem to be more active at night particularly under the moonlight I have over the tank but the aggression starts first thing in the morning as the main lights come on. The male is always the aggressor as he comes from his place to find the other. It is the male that instigates the fight but of those I have witnessed I would say that he has come the worst off out of the majority of the attacks. These morning attacks would continue for about a week with either the female getting the upper hand or myself intervening. I tried to rearrange the line of site between the two but to no avail. The male is persistent and stops at nothing to find his opponent. Even when I intervene he seems to wait till I think all is calm and leave the room, then he would go looking. I’m not sure why he has singled this puffer out at the moment as he has shown no interest in the other female or palembangensis.

This carried on for about a week then suddenly just stopped and there have been no further witnessed attacks. The male then seemed to be a bit more interested in feeding and the scars are started to heal. Weeks further on and there were no further attacks. Tank life returned to some sort of normality. The wounds started to heal and the aggression has gone.

I added another artificial cave, which I hope will improve things a bit more, making a total of at least 5 caves within the tank.

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It’s interesting to note that I witnessed the suvattii adopt two very different threat postures.

The first is of no great concern as it often passes off as nothing but a display. This is usually the result of a territory depute. The puffers will stretch their bodies forward with their snout protruding forward and upward. Their bodies will become very flat and distend outwards. This takes place on the bed of the tank. They usually try to circle each other with their snouts almost touching. This subsides with usually the intruder swimming away.

The second threat behaviour is of great concern as it usually ends with one of the puffer’s skin being bitten away. The two puffers approach each other fully inflated and try to circle each other looking to get above one another. This often takes place in mid water. When one seems to be above the other he will strike looking to tear a piece off the other. The fight will continue with each inflicting bite marks and will only cease when a chunk has been bitten away. Usually in this case it is the victor that swims away.

I strongly believe that this was a courtship between one male and two females. As predicted the male would become aggressive after the courtship for a period of 7 - 10 days. After this period he returned to his usual nature. I don’t know whether this would have been the case if there had been any eggs produced.

Two weeks on since the aggressive period and all is calm as you can see for yourselves!

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Tank specs:

  • Size: 5′ x 2′ x 2′ = 150 US gallons
  • Temp: 27 °C
  • pH: 7.6
  • GH: 10
  • KH: 8
  • Water changes: 50% weekly
  • Filtration: One internal and one external multistage filter. Substrate is fine gravel.
  • Decor: Mainly wood and plants (Java fern and Java moss). Heavily decorated to break the lines of sight and provide many hiding places, including five artificial caves.
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