Improving a Green Spotted Puffer Habitat – Homemade Rock Decor

Jake 2

As I have covered in some previous posts, Green Spotted Puffers (GSPs) have some rather unusual requirements compared with standard community tanks. Even a puffer in a fully cycled, well maintained tank can be stressed or prone to medical issues. Outside of obvious illness or injury, here are some symptoms of GSPs who might need a habitat adjustment.

Possible Warning Signs:

  • Gray or darkened belly or sides of mouth that remains for long periods of time – Healthy GSPs will be a beautiful pure white in these areas.
  • Inactivity – GSPs are curious creatures who normally enjoy exploring and hunting for food; they usually will greet you by enthusiastically swimming on the front of the glass (once they’re learned you are the bringer of food).
  • Dull head spot – GSPs should have a noticeably bright spot on the top of their head. It can be quite fluorescent and vibrant when they are healthy and happy.
  • Glass Surfing – A happily homed GSP will be interested in the environment around them, not eager to escape it. Frequently swimming up and down along the glass (often called glass surfing or tank surfing) is another good indicator that something is amiss in the GSP’s habitat. Tank surfing can also cause calluses or infections to develop.

There are of course signs of illness or damage that should also be monitored! The above four symptoms are commonly seen in combination with symptoms indicative of illness or injury. In addition to ruling out possible sickness or injury, always perform water tests to rule out ammonia or other chemical spikes. If both the GSP and water appear in otherwise good condition and the GSP has enough tank space (recommend 30 gallons per GSP) without worry of being bullied, then consider changing one of the following:

  • Decor – GSPs can get a bit bored with their habitats. Moving around or replacing decor can sometimes revitalize them. Giving them lots of hiding spots and obstacles to break their line of view are recommended. Mine enjoy swimming around, above, and below objects. They love going through barriers with holes in them especially!
  • Substrate – My GSPs seem to like the sand I moved them to far more than their old gravel floor. It gives them the option of digging through the sandy floor in search of snail bits or other morsels. They also enjoy inspecting the sand with their bellies dragging right on the surface, leaving small, winding lines through the sand.
  • Salinity – There’s a lot of debate online about adding marine salt to GSP tanks. If you seem to have done most everything else to make your GSP happy and healthy, but they still aren’t thriving, consider changing their tank to brackish or even marine conditions (depending on their age and size).
  • pH – GSPs typically like a higher pH than community tanks. Using a product like Seachem’s Alkaline Buffer or adding some crushed coral can help maintain a higher pH for your GSP.



A photo of Jake, still in the bag, on the way home from my local aquarium store.

A photo of Jake, still in the bag, on the way home from my local aquarium store.


When I first got Jake, I acclimated him to the same conditions as his store tank – pH of about 8 and specific gravity (salinity level) of 1.005. I monitored water conditions, temperature, and tried to move decor occasionally to keep him interested in his surroundings. Yet Jake was still an extremely shy GSP who tended to flee at the first sign of movement in the outside world. One of my first DIY projects for fish tanks was to build Jake a structure that would meet many of his recommended needs for his surroundings. Thus, I wanted the structure to block lines of sight within the tank, provide hiding spots for Jake, create an interesting hunting ground with many places for feeder shrimp and snails to hide, and encourage exploration of all levels of the tank.

My First GSP Tank Mod:

I used aquarium safe silicon and a collection of rocks from outside my apartment as the basis for the construction. I had to build it over a period of weeks, letting silicon dry to build stability. The interior of the fort was not the prettiest, as it showed the bulk of the silicon. I designed the castle to have many “windows” of sorts for Jake to swim through, and using man medium sized rocks gave Jake’s prey plenty of safe hiding spots. I also created bowl-like outcrops at various heights of the fort, allowing me to add substrate and plants to the structure.  Here is a very old, blurry photo of Jake exploring the finished project:

Rock Castle 4

I made sure to let the entire fort dry thoroughly then soak for two weeks in water before even attempting to put it in the tank with Jake. Everything I used was aquarium safe, and the structure went on to last another year. If I ever build such a structure again, I would be sure to thoroughly scrub every rock. The silicon eventually began to pull from the rocks after a few months of being submerged and repositioned. Jake loved the structure quite a bit. He went from hiding for most of the day to searching in every nook and cranny of the castle for a hiding snail or shrimp.

Rock Castle 5

Jake watching me through a window in the castle. Quite suspicious!

Due to the brackish environment, growing live plants can be quite difficult in a GSP habitat. Thus, I recommend using silk plants over potentially sharp or pointy plastic plants to protect your puffer! Jake also loves broad leaves to nap on, like the anubias below. Some of the broader plastic plants can be perfect for this, just check for potentially dangerous edges before adding them.

Jake waking from a nap on an anubias leaf.

Jake waking from a nap on an anubias leaf.

Finally, here is a full tank shot. This was the second iteration of my GSP tank, and it was quite a long time ago. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about arranging tank space, using backgrounds, hiding equipment, and taking photos! I was really proud of this tank setup back then; it was one of the first times I ever took photos of my own aquariums!

Full shot of my old GSP tank. One of my first aquariums from a long time ago...

Full shot of my old GSP tank. One of my first aquariums from a long time ago…


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