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Hairy Puffer : Care, Breeding And Feeding Guide For Puffers 

The hairy puffer is a member of the family Tetraodontidae. Their scientific name is Tetraodon baileyi. It is also known as Pao baileyi.

What did you imagine when you heard the name puffer? I imagined an air-filled ball. The name gives me that kind of feeling. However, in this case, they got the name puffer due to their ability to expand their body into a ball-like shape when they feel threatened. Some fish becomes 2 or 3 times their normal size, which makes the fish big enough to scare away many potential predators and difficult to swallow.

hairy puffer

Hairy puffer Facts

As their name suggests, their whole body is covered with sparse coverage of epidermal outgrowths that appear like hair which are called Cirri in zoology. They are dark brown to orange in color. They are very poisonous as they carry tetrodotoxin which is a deadly neurotoxin.  Japanese people love puffer fish meat. But everyone can not prepare puffer fish dishes. You need experience for that. Because puffer fish have toxins in their body. You need to properly remove it. There is a reported fatal case due to puffer fish poisoning.

The hairy puffer is not popular in the aquaculture industry due to its highly aggressive nature and rarity. They tend to command a relatively high price when available. It is believed that the hair or the cirri that cover their body is related to their gender or possibly camouflage.  They have a unique ability to change their color depending on their mood. And also not unlike other puffers, this species is completely scaleless.

The P.baileyi populations in the wild are still healthy in suitable habitats and it is considered ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

This puffer is native to Thailand and Laos. It is thought to live in large rocky rivers and streams throughout the Mekong Basin. They are not especially active swimmers and spend most of their time n ambush positions, waiting for prey to swim by, or slowly swimming around the tank looking for snails.

One look Care guide

Scientific name Tetraodon baileyi
Common nameHairy Puffer, Bailey’s Puffer
Care levelDifficult 
Native toThailand and Laos 
Type Freshwater 
Color Dark brown to orange
Tank size70-75 gallons per fish 
Preferred temperature74°F to 81°F (23°C – 27°C)
Other water parameters (ammonia ,ect)Ammonia – 0pH- 6.5-7.5Hardness- 5-12 H°
Preferred salinityFreshwater fish
Size 4.8″ (12cm)
Growth rateNot known
Temperament Very aggressive 
Recommended tank matesNo tank mates compatible with them
Preferred foodPrawns, snails, small fish, mussels, krill,shell-on prawns, crayfish tails, crab legs, cockles, cockle-in-shell, and crabs. 
Feeding frequencyTwice a week
Breeding Not practicing in captivity

Is hairy puffer aggressive?

They are considered very aggressive fish. It is strongly advised not to keep other species of fish with Hairy Puffers in one tank. It is also very aggressive towards the members of the same group and should never be kept in groups.   Any fish that fits in the Hairy Puffer’s mouth will be eaten and bites will be taken out of any fish too large to fit into its mouth.

Hairy puffer behavior

They are considered one of the most antisocial fish in the aquatic industry as they will not tolerate any kind of fish, even their conspecifics in the same area. It was noted that they will eat any fish which fits their mouth. And also they bite any fish too large to fit into their mouth. You should also be careful when carrying out maintenance on the Hairy Puffers aquariums. It may bite your hand too.  There have been many instances of these fish biting the preoccupied keeper during tank maintenance.

T.baileyi is capable of metachrosis, meaning that it can voluntarily change color to camouflage against its surroundings. If they feel danger or uneasiness they can quickly change their color which is the same as their surroundings to make them invisible to their enemy.

They nestle themselves tightly within the crevices of the rock found in the fast-flowing, highly oxygenated waters, in their natural environment; Mekong mainstream, and its larger tributaries. They are not good swimmers and tend to sit motionless with only the cirri flowing with the current, imitating algae. When they see prey they quickly jump to the prey. They are called vicious hunters of aquatic trade as they rarely miss their prey.

They are known to jump from the aquarium if startled, so they must only be housed in a tank with a tight-fitting lid.


They have quite a large lifespan. They can live from 5 to 10 years if they get the correct tank conditions. 

Hairy puffer care

Size of the fish

Hairy Puffers are not an active species. They can grow up to 4.8″ (12cm). However, it is the official figure, although it’s reported to grow much larger

Hairy puffer tank size

They are not a large species, hence, they do not need a large aquarium.Tank of 30″ x 12″ x 12″ (75cm x 12cm x 12cm) – 70 liters will be suffice for one specimen.Even if you provide a large aquarium, it only moves when it wants to eat, so any additional space is just a waste.

How many hairy puffers should be kept together?

They are very aggressive and territorial species and cannot keep even two of the same species together. 

Tank setup

As described earlier, Hairy Puffers are not an active species and spend most of their time hunkered down out of sight waiting in ambush to catch prey.  Keep this point in mind, when you set up the tank for the Hairy Puffers. They need lots of places to hide and therefore you need to provide them with lots of hiding places. The aquarium should be set up with some large rocks and caves. It is better to spread out the rocks so the Puffer can get behind them and in between them.  They usually move from one spot to another spot to find a place they feel hidden. You can keep live plants as well. They are not known to eat plants at all.

Talking about the substrate, some Hairy Puffers like to bury themselves, and others don’t. However, you need to provide a sandy substrate, preferably coarse sand substrate as some tend to bury themselves occasionally depending on the situation.

It is very important to install a sufficient filter for the Hairy Puffer tank as it produces a higher amount of poop. Furthermore, Hairy Puffers like a lot of flow in their tanks because in the wild, they can be found in fast-flowing waters, even sometimes in whitewater. Therefore, it is better if you can provide them with a good flow of water with a filter.

Most aquarists recommend canister filters to fulfill the above two requirements.

Lighting levels are not especially important to Hairy Puffers. Therefore, you do not need to add additional light sources, if you are not keeping live plants in the tank. Otherwise, put a sufficient light source because plants need good quality, full-spectrum light.  

They may try to jump out from the aquarium and therefore add a suitable lid to your aquarium.

Water quality condition

They do not like any ammonia or nitrite in their water, like many freshwater pufferfish. Therefore, you need to keep the nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels of the water as low as possible. 

Hairy Puffers need warm water as they come from tropical regions. Although they accept a fairly wide range of temperatures, their preferred temperature range lies between 74°F to 81°F (23°C – 27°C). Use an aquarium heater to keep the water in that range if you keep the aquarium in a cold region. 

The recommended pH range for the aquarium is 6.5-7.5 while the preferred hardness is 5-12 H°.

Breeding guide

Hairy puffer male or female identification 

It is hard to distinguish between the male and female Hairy Pufferfish by just looking at them. However, males are said to have a greater number of cirri (the hair-like growths that characterize this species) than females. This is not confirmed yet. There are some reports that claim that they do not possess cirri at all.

How to breed them

It is hard to breed them in captivity due to their aggressive behavior. However, if you intend to breed them, provide lots of hiding places with lots of tall plants to block lines of sight.  

Another reason for not breeding them in captivity is their price. They are very expensive species compared to most freshwater fish species. 

How to feed a hairy puffer?

Most of the Hairy Pufferfish in the trade are wild-caught as breeding in captivity is not easy. Therefore, transitioning them over to non-live foods can be tricky and time-consuming. However, they will get used to commercial food with time. 

Hairy Pufferfish are absolute carnivores. There is no way they are going to take any commercially available foods like pellets. Therefore you can feed them with prawns, snails, small fish, mussels, krill,shell-on prawns, crayfish tails, crab legs, cockles, cockle-in-shell, and crabs. When you offer cockles-in-shell, partially open them, so that the puffer can smell the food and has to bite at the hard shell to get at the cockle. They accept frozen Mysis shrimp too. 

It is important to feed them with hard-shelled foods on a regular basis in order to keep the beak in check. You do not need to feed them every day and feeding them twice a week will be sufficient.

Is hairy puffer poisonous?

It is noted that many parts of the body of puffers contain the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. This is a very poisonous composition and can even lead to death or paralyzing if ingested in sufficient quantities. Further, the same poison is found in the notorious blue-ringed octopus. It is over 1000 times deadlier than cyanide and no antitoxin could be found yet. However, It’s a famous delicacy in Japan but is prepared only by highly-trained chefs, and even then many people have died from eating it.

hairy puffer

What fish can live with a hairy puffer?

No fish can live with Hairy Puffer Fish as they are very aggressive and territorial. . It’s also very aggressive towards conspecifics and should never be kept in groups. They will inflict serious bite wounds on other fish with their beak-like mouths, which can end up being deadly. However, even if you find a compatible pair, do ensure that there are plenty of visual barriers amongst the rockwork and driftwood, should the fish need to spend time apart and out of the line of sight of the other.

Related questions 

Are hairy puffers hard to keep?

Yes, it is hard to keep Hairy Puffers due to their highly aggressive and territorial nature. No fish can be housed with them and a separate tank should be allocated to them. Further, the fish is expensive and keeping them is costly. 

Are hairy puffers freshwater?

Yes, they are freshwater species and can be found in large rivers and freshwater tributaries

Can puffer fish eat crabs?

Yes, crabs are one of their favorite foods. Hairy Puffers will quickly devour any crabs you feed to them. They crack the hard shell of crabs with their strong jaws and open crab shells effortlessly. As the jaws are busy crushing shells, pufferfish teeth also get to crunch them, which helps to grind the teeth down. 

Where does hairy puffer come from?

The Hairy Puffer can be found throughout much of Thailand and Laos. They live in large rocky rivers and tributaries throughout the Mekong Basin. They prefer fast-flowing water, and their natural habitat is rocky rivers and streams where the water flows quickly, almost whitewater in some locations. It is believed that the rocky nature of the Hairy Puffers evolved because of their natural environment.

Credit to : Steenfott Aquatics

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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.