Matt Clarke looks at Takifugu niphobles, an interesting puffer that has recently turned up in specialist aquatic centres.
Common name: Grass puffer, Starry puffer
Scientific name: Takifugu niphobles (Jordan and Snyder, 1901)
Origin: Northwest Pacific Ocean, most commonly around Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Size: Reportedly reaches a size of around 15cm/6", possibly a tad larger.
Diet: Stomach analyses show that T. niphobles eats molluscs, small crustaceans, including copepods, amphipods, isopods and mysids, as well as crabs, shrimps and insects.
Water: Technically a marine species that is found in inshore coastal areas, but sometimes recorded inland from brackish and freshwater. It is unlikely to do well long-term in freshwater and is best kept in marine conditions, or at least strongly brackish water. Potentially cooler than others at 20-25C.
Aquarium: Very little has been written about keeping this species in aquaria, as Takifugu species are not as popular with aquarists as the more freshwater associated Tetraodon genus. Takifugu tend to be a bit nasty, so like many other puffers, they're really only suitable for roomy species tanks. You may be able to get away with a small group of these in spacious quarters - some researchers keep Takifugu in close proximity. However, it's worth keeping an eye on the fish for signs of aggression and biting.
Breeding: Not known to have been bred. The species is an intertidal spawner which breeds off Japan in May and June. According to Kazunori (1996) it spawns on rising spring tides at dusk. It lays eggs on and around pebbles near the shoreline. Some eggs die when they are exposed to heat and air at low tide. Other Takifugu, such as occelatus, have been bred artificially with hormones to induce ovulation. T. occelatus eggs hatch after six days at 18-22C and the newly hatched fry measure around 3.5mm.
Notes: Takifugu niphobles has subsequently been known as Sphoeroides niphobles and Fugu niphobles. Takifugu niphobles was placed on the IUCN Red List in 1994 but is classed as Data Deficient, which essentially means that the IUCN don't know if it is under threat at the moment. This is one of around 24 puffer species in the tetraodontine genus Takifugu, and is one of 25 genera in the subfamily Tetraodontinae. Only a handful of these are offered for sale in the hobby, but one species, Takifugu rubripes, is widely-kept by scientists as a model organism. It has a small genome and was one of the first vertebrates to be fully sequenced. It's also farmed for food - as the potentially deadly delicacy fugu. Don't eat your T. niphobles - the intestine contains at least 15 strains of bacteria that produce deadly tetrodotoxin.
Identification: Takifugu niphobles is most similar in appearance to the Milk-spotted puffer, Chelonodon patoca, which is sometimes imported from Asia.
Availability: These are rarely offered for sale. These were on sale as Fugu puffers at Maidenhead Aquatics @ Morden.
Price: On sale for £23.50.