II. The Story of Puffy, a Green Spotted Puffer

In April my husband was sold the cutest little fish in the world. The guy at the LFS said, “Oh, yeah, he’ll be fine in your community tank.” That’s a freshwater tank mind you with such little snacks, um, beauties as neons, cory cats, upside down catfish, danios, dwarf gouramis, and a few mollies.

The little guy smiling at me in the bag on the drive home was definitely adorable but the name puffer fish tweaked something in my husband’s memory. Of course being as we were stopping at another pet store on the way home we asked there about puffers. The young man there told us that, dude, he’s a brackish fish and to put two tablespoons of aquarium salts per five gallons of water in his new home. Oh, and he might nip fins. I peered in the paper sack on the drive home and he looked up at me with his little peoply face. “How ya doin’ in there Puffy?” I asked.

We had a wee little 5 gallon hospital tank at home which was his temporary lodging until we figured out what to do with him. Once installed in there with his 2 tablespoons of aquarium salt and a few plastic plants he fluttered about endearingly on my desk. He didn’t touch any of the tempting treats I offered until I tried a bit of live daphnia. That went over pretty well.

That night I went online and typed “puffer” into a number of searches. I found The Puffer Forum pretty quickly. I quickly identified Puffy as a GSP or green spotted puffer. Well I started reading and but holy crap was I in deep. I read Pufferpunk’s article about GSPs and freaked out. Puffy needed at least 30 gallons! Pretty much once you name a fish you’re in for the long haul.

Roommates were poked and hubby was enlisted and we resurrected my 30 gallon aquarium from the basement where it had sat for 6 years gathering dust. That night in went the undergravel filter, powerhead, gravel, heater, and thermometer and on went the filter. How to get the tank started cycling at 10pm at night without a handy established brackish aquarium much less any marine salt mix? Okay, so I swapped out a used filter from our freshwater tank and found a bottle of Cycle while hunting for a new filter for that tank. No danger of overdosing, huh? Glug, glug, glug and about six ounces of Cycle went into the 30 gallon. I tossed in some really funky meat from my fridge (yeah, nasty, I know) to get things going and wrung my hands thinking about how to get Puffy’s tank cycled and cycled ASAP.

The next day I went to about 5 pet stores and bought every fast cycle product off the shelves and out of the cooler. Salt bacteria or freshwater bacteria? Aw, screw it, I thought, so I got both types. Cycle, Biozyme, Bio-spira, and Bacterzyme to name a few. Something must have worked because that tank cycled in a bit over a week. Sometimes throwing fistfuls of money at a dilemma brings results. Funny how a $5 fish can get that deep into your pocketbook in such a short time. Ah, but he had a name.

Puffy suffered numerous water changes in his tiny tank any every one was stressful both to me and to him. Probably a bit more stressful for me, really. After all, he wasn’t worried I’d be jumping anywhere. In the horrible waiting for his 30 gallon tank to cycle I changed out that aquarium salt water and brought his salinity up to 1.008 with actual marine salt.

I badgered the LFS for pest snails and bought a load of frozen fish food which Puffy mostly turned his nose up at. I finally caught on that living food was the only thing worth trying.

Finally Puffy’s home was ready! Okay, so I’d read puffers shouldn’t be netted. I rummaged in my cupboards for over an hour trying to MacGyver myself a solution. One paper punch applied skillfully to a clear deli container lid and I was in business. You see, I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to jumpy fish. A bit of chasing and a fair amount of swearing later Puffy was in an egg salad tub with holes in the lid.

The rest is history, more or less uneventful except for the fact that Puffy gave me the salt bug and since his arrival a bit over 3 months ago 5 saltwater tanks have sprung up in my home. These days a colony of snails live in my kitchen, weird cultures of gammarus, daphnia, and mysids have taken over the shelving beneath my desk, mealworms are next to the mayo in my refrigerator, and somewhere in my office a box of crickets is singing a tune.

Puffy’s still lives in an ancient 30 gallon tank but instead of gravel he has aragonite live substrate/sand, about 20lbs of it chock full of critters. There was this awesome piece of live rock at the LFS in the shape of a big cave so he also wound up with around 30lbs of live rock in his main tank. Attached to that he has a 15 gallon refugium (ask me about overflow boxes some day when you want a long story) that has a really big wad of chaetomorpha macro algae in it along with about 10 – 12lbs of live sand. I keep the refugium lights on 24 hours a day to keep the macro algae producing oxygen and to avoid drops in PH. I beefed up the lighting by adding a bank of 4 60 watt equivalent compact fluorescent bulbs. The refugium has heater, protein skimmer, and filter in it while the main tank has just a powerhead to circulate water.

Twice a week I change about 20 gallons of water some of which gets saved to culture brine shrimp, copepods, and macro algae for use as fish food. Every other day I check the SG. I try to keep it between 1.022 and 1.023. When the SG dips I exchange a bit of hypersalinated water into the refugium. When it’s too high I top off the tank with distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water. I check the PH twice a week also. If it drops below 8 I add a bit of buffer up or kalkwasser to bring it in line. It’s never gone over maybe 8.7. His water chemistry get tested at the same time PH does. I keep his ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites undetectable on this schedule but I do use a phosphate pad in the filter every month to keep hair algae at bay.

Because he’s at ocean SG I added several types of macro algae to his tank, very attractive and apparently tasty, too. He’s really keen on the gracilaria. I skip a feeding every two days to avoid the pitfalls of overfeeding. Every feeding he gets at least one snail or other hard shelled food plus at least one other type of food. When serving dinner I watch his tummy for fullness as this can happen in seconds if he’s chowing on a whole shrimp. Other than what he picks off the live rock (almost nothing these days it’s pretty picked over) everything gets soaked in Zoe or Selcon. All fresh bought foods get the freezer treatment. He has quite the amphipod, mini brittle star, and mysid population in his ‘fuge and I’ve found the best way to harvest them is to pull out some of the macro algae and shake it about in the main tank. He’s gotten a few hitch hiking hermit crabs this way but his enjoyment outweighed the loss.

Puffy’s Kitchen

Dinner Guests (AKA Live Food):

  • pond snails
  • saltwater gammarus and assorted amphipods
  • saltwater mysid shrimp (opossum shrimp)
  • grass shrimp
  • mini brittle stars
  • spaghetti worms
  • errant hermit crabs
  • mealworms
  • crickets

The Ice-cream Parlor:

  • bloodworms
  • glassworms
  • squid
  • marine angelfish formula
  • mussels
  • plankton
  • freshwater mysis

The Grocery Cart:

  • shrimp
  • mussels
  • scallops
  • clams

Dry Foods:

  • beta carotene color flakes
  • freeze dried bloodworms

Mr. Puffy may dine at his leisure upon both the chaetomorpha and gracillaria macro algae in his main tank.

Did he clean out the critter life in the Live Rock?

Like a fiend. He can’t seem to get all the mini brittle stars out of the sand but he sure tries. I’m preparing to get some seahorses about 8 months from now. Lots of the critters in LR can hurt them so I plan to use Puffy to clean out all the bristleworms, etc to make them seahorse safe. He’s always searching the rock for signs of movement. I doubt his teeth will overgrow because aside from the crunchy foods I feed him he bites at the LR.

I keep all sorts of critters in his refugium. The way I tend to harvest critters from the refugium for him is to grab out a handfull of chaetomorpha from it and put it into the main tank then shake it briskly. Loads of ‘pods generally shoot off it into the LR for later snacking and the mysids and other critters are generally an immediate meal. Sometimes I toss the “cleaned” chaeto into my reef tank for the tangs. The macro algae grows almost too good in with Puffy and in his refugium. If I didn’t remove a substantial amount every week he’d probably get crowded out by it in a month. I haven’t had an easy time growing gracilaria (tang heaven) until putting some in Puffy’s ‘fuge. My tangs are super fat and happy now.

This article is adapted from a post by Meander on TPF.