Freshwater Fish

Giant Leopard Puffer Fish – Tetraodon mbu: Care Guide

The Mbu puffer fish is an incredibly unique species that has a big personality. Known to be highly intelligent and fun to watch, this freshwater fish has caught the attention of many aquarists over the years.

This guide will teach you the basics of caring for Mbu puffers. Tank size, food, and water parameters are just a few of the topics covered!

Species Summary

While smaller puffers are common in the fish farming community, the Mbu puffer (Tetraodon mbu) is rare and highly sought after. This species is the largest of the Tetraodon family. It is also known as the giant freshwater puffer fish or giant leopard puffer fish.

Native to the rivers and lakes of Africa, the Mbu puffer fish lives exclusively in fresh water. While that removes the challenge of finding the right salinity balance, caring for Mbu puffer fish isn’t easy.

The large size of this fish presents unique challenges not found with smaller species such as the Dwarf Pufferfish. It requires a lot of space, constant tank maintenance, and a well-designed habitat.

With that said, those who stick to it will fall in love with the Mbu puffer fish! Able to recognize their owner, these fish exude playful energy and become much more than just a show pet.


The appearance of the Mbu puffer fish is similar to its smaller cousins. The upper part of the body is dark olive green, while the belly fades to a soft yellow. A distinctive pattern of random swirls adorns the skin, creating a maze-like appearance that stands out.

The silhouette of the fish is oblong and somewhat flat. But like all other puffer fish, it can quickly increase in size when stressed or frightened.

The fins are small and semi-transparent. The only exception is the caudal fin. It’s slightly longer and sports a complementary stripe pattern that mimics the rest of the body.

Mbu puffers do not have scales. The leather is soft and delicate, which can present some issues in the safety department. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid serious accidents with careful planning and proper decorating.

The head is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of this fish! They have large and small eyes that move further apart as the puffer fish ages. Instead of a standard upturned mouth like most fish, the Mbu puffer fish has a beak-like hole.

Author’s note: The beak is expressive and contributes to the peculiar appearance of the fish. Not only that, but it is what makes it possible to eat your diet of shellfish and shellfish.

Life expectancy

The average life expectancy of the Mbu puffer fish is about ten years in captivity. They are thought to live much longer in the wild, but a decade is the norm for those living in a confined habitat.

As always, there are no guarantees with life expectancy. Several factors affect its resistance to disease and overall longevity. In addition to genetics, the quality of care you provide will have a huge impact on the amount of time you spend with them.

Average size

These fish are huge! The typical balloon size M is 22 inches long at the bottom end and 30 inches or more for larger samples.

The exact size you can expect will largely depend on the environment in which you keep these freshwater fish. Fish kept in larger containers tend to reach the higher ends of the size spectrum.

Either way, Mbu puffers are not like the little puffer fish you see in pet stores. Their sheer size is one of the biggest obstacles to ownership as they need ample space to stay healthy and thrive.

Puffer Mbu Care

Mbu puffer care is not for the faint of heart. Most fish enthusiasts and experts agree that this species is best for those with a bit of experience.

Whether you are a first-time puffer fish owner or an experienced aquarist looking to add a unique species to your collection, caring for the Mbu puffer fish is a difficult task. To help you get started, here are some set guidelines that you should follow.

tank size

Let’s start with the first challenge you’ll need to overcome, the size of the tank.

The recommended Mbu inflation tank size is at least 500 gallons for adults, and that’s the minimum. If possible, it is best to provide close to 1,000 gallons.

Most owners turn to custom built aquariums or carefully maintained ponds. With a fish of this size, swimmable space is more important than overall volume. As a result, you should also pay attention to the dimensions of your tank or pond.

Author’s Note: Ideal habitat dimensions for the Mbu puffer fish are about 96 inches long, about 48 inches wide, and 24 to 36 inches deep. With those dimensions, the fish will have ample room to swim without feeling cramped.

water parameters

The best way to keep the Mbu puffer fish healthy is to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. These fish are native to warm water bodies in Africa. They prefer warm climates with slightly acidic water and moderately low hardness.

Mbu puffers are a bit sensitive to poor conditions. Unfortunately, they also produce a ton of waste.

Staying on top of water parameters and overall quality is one of the most important parts of Puffer Mbu care. Test the water regularly with reliable equipment and do weekly water changes to keep things stable.

  • Water temperature: 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 7.0 to 8.0 (around 7.5 is ideal)
  • Water hardness: 10 to 25 KH

How to set up the inside of your tank

When it comes to decoration, a totally natural environment is always better.

Start with a soft sand substrate. Mbu puffers are not bottom feeders, but will frequently venture to the bottom of the water column to feed. Pebbles and gravel could pose a safety risk to the fish’s delicate skin.

On top of the substrate add some smooth rocks and small pieces of driftwood. The most important thing is to avoid sharp edges.

Author’s Note: It doesn’t take much to hurt this fish. Injuries are even more common if inflated in overcrowded environments with spiky decoration. Keep things simple and focus on the softer items if possible.

Plants are an excellent addition to the tank. Mbu puffers can be a bit destructive if food falls on plant leaves. But for the most part, they will enjoy swimming among the plants and hiding.

Arrange the plants around the perimeter of the tank. Standard aquatic cultivars such as Java Fern and Anubias work well.

potential diseases

Unfortunately, the Mbu puffer fish can be a bit more susceptible to disease than other freshwater fish. That’s because they don’t have the protection that comes with scales.

These fish are vulnerable to a wide range of ectoparasites. The one that causes the most damage is Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. It is responsible for white spot disease, which is also known as ich.

Ich manifests itself through a series of white dots visible throughout the fish. The disease is highly contagious and spreads rapidly through a closed environment.

Fortunately, the condition is fairly easy to treat with over-the-counter medications. The trick is to catch it early enough and quarantine infected fish before it spreads.

While it is impossible to make your Mbu smoker immune to disease, you can do your part to limit exposure. Check water conditions regularly to keep your fish stress-free and healthy. Before adding any tank mates, plants, or decorations, make sure they are clean and free of parasites.

Food and Diet

The puffer fish M is considered a mollusk. That means that it is a carnivore that feeds mainly on mollusks, snails, shellfish and other similar animals.

Providing a proper diet can be a challenge. It’s not just about meeting dietary needs. Mbu puffers also need to eat hard food (which can be more work for you as an owner).

Author’s Note: They require shelled mollusks and snails because they use the hard texture to keep their beaks on. Eating only soft foods will cause the beaks to grow to the point where it is difficult for the fish to eat.

The preferred diet for an Mbu smoker includes foods such as:

  • clams
  • mussels
  • Snails
  • River crab
  • Crab
  • worms
  • Shrimp

It is best to provide hard-shelled food at least five times a week. You can also add softer foods to the rotation for some variety.

Mbu puffers willingly eat live or frozen food. If you choose to provide live food, be sure to prepare it to prevent damage. For example, it’s a good idea to declaw crabs and crayfish to make sure they don’t harm your fish in any way.

behavior and temperament

Mbu puffers are a playful species that like to interact with owners. They are quite intelligent and can even learn to recognize owners after a while!

Some fish may become more active when you get close to the tank because they think it’s time to feed. Others may puff themselves up for attention!

These fish are quirky and their personalities can vary greatly from fish to fish.

When they are not competing for attention, Mbu puffers will spend most of their day exploring. They like plants and often go in and out of vegetation for fun.

As far as temperament goes, Mbu puffers are not team players. They are very territorial and can become aggressive towards any creature that annoys them.

That includes other Mbu puffers. You should never keep these fish in pairs or groups. Otherwise, fights will ensue.

Puffer Mbu Tank Mates

Mbu puffers are considered too aggressive to keep with other fish. They are better when they live alone. Fortunately, they don’t mind living alone.

Now, all the fish are different. Some owners see great success keeping their Mbu puffer fish with other small peaceful species.

Author’s Note: The consensus is that Mbu puffers tend to ignore fish that are not trying to eat the same foods. In theory, you could keep them with fish like guppies, many types of tetras, and other peaceful community fish.

But keep in mind that there are no guarantees. Mbu Bloaters have the teeth to make quick work of any tank mates they don’t like. It’s a hit-and-miss game with these guys, so introduce potential tankmates with caution.


Currently, it is not possible to breed the Mbu puffer fish in captivity.

Some commercial breeders have been successful. However, most of the fish you see on the market today are wild caught.

It is impossible to trigger spawning in standard home aquarium setups. There is not enough room and the environmental cues are too risky to try.

If a safe and reliable way to breed these fish in captivity is discovered, we’ll be sure to add it to the list.


While Mbu puffer fish care is challenging, it has more to do with cost and tank commitment than anything else. If you have the space (and money) to accommodate this species with a large tank that is also well maintained, you’ve already won half the battle.

These fish are not finicky and do not require much maintenance. They just need a big tank and a lot of food. So if this doesn’t bother you, give them a try!

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