Congo Spotted Puffers: Small Size, Big Personality!

Who doesn’t love a puffer fish? Puffers are undoubtedly one of the most widely recognized and beloved fish out there. From the giant eyes to those big buck teeth and derpy personalities, they’re real life cartoon characters. Unfortunately for many of us hobbyists it can be somewhat difficult to keep many of the species that are readily available to us due to their husbandry needs and in certain cases, size alone. Another reason I believe people are put off from keeping these amazing fish is because we’re led to believe that most puffers are too aggressive to cohabitate with other species and people don’t necessarily want to dedicate a (generally) large tank to one fish. Of course with some species, this is very true, but I’ve experienced quite the opposite with some of the species I’ve kept. I always advise strict observation when trying and any type of cohabitation, but I also know it can be done very successfully. 

I do believe there is one puffer who rules them all and that checks all the boxes for me; temperament, size, husbandry, hardiness and personality and that is Tetradon Schoutedeni or the Spotted Congo Puffer. These guys have it all. I’ve kept a good amount of them over the years and feel well versed enough at this point to get on my soapbox and try to convince everyone that this fish is worth the price tag. So here we go!

The Spotted Congo Puffer comes from West Africa, specifically from the Congo River Basin in Pool Malebo (formerly Stanley Pool) which consists of clear, highly oxygenated waters with dense vegetation and lots of scattered stones. They like to stay closer to the shoreline and hide in the tall grasses and in between hardscape. Snails and worms make up the bulk of their diet but they’ll also feed on small crustaceans and other small bugs floating or swimming around.

In the 60s they were one of the best known and most commonly kept puffers in the hobby. Breeding attempts were underway but not made a priority due to how readily available and inexpensive they were. When civil war broke out in West Africa, the area became far too dangerous for collectors to risk their lives to travel to. Sadly, due to the lack of hobbyist breeding and inability to import, they all but disappeared from the hobby. To this day they are not an easy fish to get your hands on and when you can find them they’re not cheap and many times not in good condition. The journey these guys have to make to get to us is quite rough for them. There have been very few successful captive breeding programs and the few that have mastered it aren’t so willing to divulge their secrets. Hopefully more people become willing to attempt breeding so we can get them circulating in the hobby because they really are amazing to keep.

Care for these guys is relatively straightforward. The required temperature range is from 75-79, pH 6.5-7.5, GH 4-10 and water should be very clean with moderate flow. Females will get slightly larger around than males, but both grow to be right around 4 inches. In my opinion, minimum tank size should be a 40 gallon breeder and that would be for a single specimen. I’ve had no issues keeping them in community 40 breeders with small cichlids, characins and cyprinids. I do believe the ideal size for a grown individual would be 75 gallons, but as in most cases with most fish, the bigger the better. Like all puffers they lack scales and can quickly fall victim to poor water quality. I suggest an appropriately sized hang on back filter with the addition of a sponge filter. A powerhead can also be added to maintain good flow, SCPs will enjoy swimming in and out of any current as this is what they do in nature.

They are without a doubt the most peaceful puffers I’ve ever kept. I’ve never seen them bother any other inhabitant of any tank they were in regardless of size, swimming depth, movement pattern, etc. That being said, they are predators and each fish is an individual like you or me. They will all react differently to their environments. The best way to handle this is to observe very closely over a period of time and ensure it’s working for all inhabitants.

They are also the most interactive of all the puffers I’ve kept. I genuinely feel as though they sought me out as much as I did them. They’re active swimmers but don’t exude the frenetic energy that other puffers such as South Americans and sometimes even peas possess. They kind of just float about and toggle those big eyes all around, until food gets involved. The most energy you’ll see exerted from them is during feeding time. Like many puffers, they love, love, LOVE to eat. They do well on frozen bloodworms, snails, mussels, Repashy foods and earthworms. Most will turn their nose up to anything prepared, so make sure you can regularly provide the foods listed above. Another plus to the SCP is their teeth require far less attention than most other puffers. They are very slow growing and so long as they get frozen food at the very least, they shouldn’t have issues and you shouldn’t have to intervene.

They do possess some interesting behavior, including the ability to retract their eyes when threatened, injured or irritated. They will periodically exercise the muscles responsible for this movement, so don’t be alarmed if you see it. However, if this behavior is sustained don’t ignore it and make sure to check all water parameters. They’ll also change color slightly depending on mood, stress coloration is generally darkening of the spots and some blotching.

Breeding, as I mentioned previously, has not been mastered on a wide scale. Only few have had success, particularly continued success with regular spawning and being able to raise fry up. Spawning behavior consists of the male swimming under the female and biting onto her stomach. It can cause damage to the female so if you have a pair and see this behavior make sure to keep an eye on things to ensure the female doesn’t take too much of a beating.

Here’s the worst part about these fish, the price tag. The most inexpensive SCP I’ve been able to purchase retail was $120 and that was a screaming good deal. Typically you’re going to pay $150-250 depending on size, condition, etc. I really cannot stress enough how worth it they are. The juice is definitely with the squeeze here, folks. They will cost you up front, but they will make up for it very quickly, I promise. You get a darling, interactive fishpuppy with a big personality in a compact package with relatively easy care. I don’t think as hobbyists we can ask for much more than that. I can also highly recommend Dan’s Fish and The Wet Spot Tropical fish for your SCP needs. I have had the privilege to view both of their collections and they take excellent care of all their fish, but I feel like they really pay extra attention to their puffers out of sheer need. The fact that they take the time to ensure they’re healthy before being sent out is definitely worth spending a little extra to ensure you get a healthy fish that’s going to thrive for you. You will definitely get what you pay for at both of these establishments so go check them out and get yourself one of these amazing little lollipops!

Chelsea Steenfott