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Stars and Stripes Puffer Care | A Star-Spangled Pufferfish

They’re not reef-safe, will happily munch on anything they can get between their powerful teeth, and need a pretty massive aquarium to thrive. Why in the world would anyone want to keep the stars and stripes puffer (Arothron hispidus)?

It might be their funky pattern, but more likely it’s down to puffers’ amazing personalities. Highly intelligent, they can develop a real bond with their owners and recognize who feeds them.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping a stars and stripes puffer in your own aquarium!

Name (Common, Scientific)Stars and stripes puffer, white-spotted pufferfish*, Arothron hispidus
Minimum tank size250 gallons
Minimum group size1
Temperature72-78 °F
Salinity1.015-1.025
pH8.0-8.4
Difficulty levelHard
*The name “white-spotted pufferfish” is also used for a different species, the Japanese Torquigener albomaculosus.

Stars and Stripes Puffer Description

The stars and stripes puffer (or white-spotted puffer) lends its common name from its pattern, which consists of a highly varied mixture of white dots (body) and stripes (belly) on a brown-gray body. The fins are yellow.

The species sports a highly powerful beak with fused teeth emerging from both the top and bottom. Perfect for cracking shells!

Pufferfish are easily recognized by their hovering manner of swimming. In a normal relaxed state, these fish are relatively slender (unless they’ve recently eaten). When threatened, though, they honor their common name by sucking in water and puffing themselves up.

Don’t be fooled by the size of young stars and stripes puffers at the aquarium store. These are juveniles; adults can grow up to 18” in length. If that’s a bit too big, you may want to consider something like a dog-faced puffer (max. 13″) instead.

By the way, today’s subject is very similar in looks to its cousin Arothron reticularis, which is also sometimes sold as an aquarium fish. According to researchers, the difference is in the skin: A. reticularis has tiny dermal spines all over the body, which A. hispidus lacks.

Did you know? Like other pufferfish species, the white-spotted pufferfish produces tetrodotoxin (TTX). This extremely potent neurotoxin is present in most of its tissues. If you were planning on eating your pufferfish—don’t, it’s considered one of the most toxic.

Campbell, Harada, DeFelice, Bienfang, & Li (2009)
Stars and stripes puffer (Arothron hispidus) aquarium

Stars and Stripes Puffer Natural Habitat

The white-spotted pufferfish boasts a wide natural range. It can be found all the way from the western Indian Ocean (Africa) to a huge swath of the Pacific (all the way east to the Mesoamerican coast).

This species prefers relatively shallow waters and is found down to around 165ft. It’s not all too picky about habitat and occurs in coral reefs, lagoons, and estuaries. Basically anywhere it can find tasty crustaceans to eat! Juveniles like the cover provided by mangroves and seagrass.

The IUCN Red List considers Arothron hispidus to be a species of Least Concern. Although there isn’t much known about how many are out there, the organization notes the species’ very wide range and the fact that it’s locally quite common.

Did you know? One of these puffers was spotted in the Mediterranean in 2018, but it’s thought this was a released aquarium fish rather than a natural occurrence. You should never release fish; it can severely damage local ecosystems.

Bariche, Constantinou & Sayar, 2018

Stars and Stripes Puffer Aquarium & Tankmates

Aquarium

Because the stars and stripes puffer reaches such a large adult size, you’ll have to provide a pretty humongous aquarium to accommodate it. We really wouldn’t recommend anything under 200 gallons, with 250 gallons or up being a much better option.

Use strong filtration and protein skimming, as these are messy eaters that produce a lot of waste. Additionally, don’t forget to perform regular water changes to keep the water quality in check. 

Like many other puffer fish species, the stars and stripes puffer is not reef-safe, nor is it really community-proof. This is more of a fish for aquarists who are interested in setting up a single-species tank. Use plenty of live rock to make for an interesting environment to explore.

In the wild, the stars and stripes puffer can be found in habitats of varying salinities, including brackish estuaries like the Pearl River in Hong Kong. It can therefore also be kept in high-end brackish aquariums.

Stars and stripes puffer (Arothron hispidus) in the aquarium with mouth open.

Compatibility

In the wild, the white-spotted pufferfish is a solitary species. In the aquarium, they’re considered to be relatively docile as far as puffers go, but they’ll still eat anything they can get their strong beaks on. This includes corals and smaller tankmates, so this is not a species for a peaceful reef tank.

If you don’t want to keep your pufferfish alone, you’ll have to choose large, quick, and sturdy tankmates. Keeping multiple puffers of the same species isn’t recommended, but some aquarists have successfully combined their stars and stripes puffer with other docile puffer species.

Feeding Stars and Stripes Puffer

Wild white-spotted puffers are not picky at all when it comes to food. They’re carnivores that feed on a wide range of invertebrates, including but not limited to mollusks, sponges, coral, crabs, worms, starfish, and urchins.

When figuring out what to feed your stars and stripes puffer, there is one very important aspect to keep in mind: tooth growth. The foods this puffer eats are quite tough, but its teeth are perfectly adapted to them. Clams, snails, and other invertebrates are cracked open with no issues. Even rock is scraped for algae deposits.

As a result of their diet, puffer teeth have evolved never to stop growing. In the aquarium, their teeth will quickly overgrow if only soft foods are offered. This can lead you to have to clip them manually, or the fish might end up unable to eat. Clipping puffer teeth is a huge hassle and there’s always a risk of it going wrong, so it’s best to try and avoid it.

To ensure your stars and stripes puffer’s teeth stay trimmed, offer fresh or frozen clams, cockles, crab legs, and unpeeled shrimp or crabs daily. You can also offer commercial foods if your fish will accept them. 

Did you know? In the wild, the white-spotted puffer is one of the few species that feeds on the crown of thorns starfish. This comes in handy because these starfish are highly destructive to reefs, with increasing populations wreaking havoc on corals.

McCallum, 1987

Conclusion

If you noticed the section on breeding this pufferfish is missing, you noticed correctly. Unfortunately, no one’s managed to do it yet, and there isn’t even really anything known about their reproductive habits. Too bad!

In summary, the stars and stripes puffer is an amazingly intelligent fish that you can really build a bond with. It’s also a challenging fish to keep due to its specialized diet and the amount of space it requires.

If you’re not sure how to go about setting up your aquarium for a white-spotted pufferfish or the many other amazing saltwater species available nowadays, we can help. We design, build and maintain your tank for you so all you have to do is enjoy it! You can contact us with your ideas. 

Sources & further reading

Bariche, M., Constantinou, C., & Sayar, N. (2018). First confirmed record of the white-spotted puffer Arothron hispidus (Linnaeus, 1758) in the Mediterranean Sea. BioInvasions Rec7(4), 433-6.

Campbell, S., Harada, R. M., DeFelice, S. V., Bienfang, P. K., & Li, Q. X. (2009). Bacterial production of tetrodotoxin in the pufferfish Arothron hispidus. Natural Product Research23(17), 1630-1640.

McCallum, H. I. (1987). Predator regulation of Acanthaster planci. Journal of theoretical Biology127(2), 207-220.

Randall, J. E., Bogorodsky, S. V., & Rose, J. M. (2012). Color variation of the puffer Arothron hispidus (Linnaeus) and comparison with A. reticularis (Bloch & Schneider). Aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology18(1), 41-54.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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