Probably one of the most interesting, unique, and fun fish to consider for your aquarium is the pea puffer, dwarf puffer, a freshwater puffer. These tiny puffer fish are adorable, intriguing, and make for truly great pets for aquarists with some experience in fishkeeping or dedicated newbies ready to focus on these little puffy fish.

Quick Intro to Pea Puffers

Family: Tetraodontidae
Scientific Name:Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Common NamesDwarf PufferDwarf Indian PufferMalabar Pufferfish, Pygmy Puffer
Care Level: Moderate

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Image by Jonathan Salant from Pixabay

Dwarf Puffers are a species that is native to slower moving water in areas of south-west India such as the Pamba river. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, the Dwarf Puffer is listed as a Vulnerable species. This status is due to urbanization, deforestation, and overfishing in the region.

This species earned its name due to how small they are. They grow at most to a length of 1.4 inches, making them one of the smaller Pufferfishes. This fish has a round body that thins towards the back of the dorsal and anal fins. They are notable for having large eyes which stand out because of how much smaller their body is.

Due to gender differences, it is relatively easy to tell males and females apart. The male of the species is generally a darker gold-green color whereas the females are light yellowish green. Males are known for having a bright yellow stomach while females have a light yellow to white colored stomach. Males have a dark stripe on their stomach that the females do not have.

Both genders of this species have dark patches along with the upper parts of their body. The male is distinct by having a thick dark stripe from the pectoral fin to the caudal fin. Females have a pattern of random tiny black spots across their bodies.

Males are also known to have wrinkles around their eyes.

Due to how this fish is slowly becoming endangered, it is important to try and source any fish you buy from a reputable place that breeds them in captivity. By choosing to purchase from a local fish store gives you a chance to see your future fish swimming around and pick one that is healthy and meets the needs of your tank. This fish is a cheap purchase at $4 per fish.

Optimal Water Conditions for Pea Puffers

Water Temperature: 77-79°F
Water Flow Rate: Slow-moving
pH: between 6.5 and 7.0
Water Hardness: 125 ppm

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size5-gallon tank
Optimal Tank Size10+ gallons per fish
Optimal Tank Shape: Rectangular
Recommended Filter Type: Sponge filter

For keeping Dwarf Puffers, a minimum five-gallon tank is recommended, though because they love a heavily planted tank, this is not likely to be big enough.

If you are looking to breed this fish, that tank setup should be at least twenty gallons to house a single male and three females.

If you are planning to own a lot of Dwarf Puffers you should have five gallons to one pea puffer.

Dwarf Puffers are native to lakes, rivers, and estuaries in Southwestern India. While the conditions of water vary between locations they average a pH range of 6.5-8.5 and an average water temperature of 77°F with some waters reaching upwards of 92°F. During the summer months, they receive about twelve hours of sunlight and during the winter they get about ten and a half hours of light.

Bear in mind that while these species do inhabit some of the brackish waters in estuaries, they should not be kept in this condition in your aquarium. Brackish water lowers the life expectancy of this fish.

The fish like to swim in the slow-flowing areas of rivers and the banks of lakes where they can find plenty of plant life to hide in. The large plants allow the fish to shelter from both strong currents and potential predators. Also, it is in these plant areas where they also do most of their hunting.

While being kept in an aquarium this species thrives between 77-79°F and a water pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Make sure to adjust your tank’s filter output so that the water will flow to the back of the tank so that the water flow is reduced.

Image by Sam Jacoby on Flickr

Creating the Landscape

Dwarf Puffers love to have plants in their tanks. In the wild, they use plants as cover from predators and a way to ambush their prey. So when you want to build a home for them, you will need to have a tank big enough for the fish and their plants.

If you fail to include enough plants, your fish will suffer from having high-stress levels and this will in turn impact their health. Without enough cover, they will feel exposed and be constantly worried about being attacked. While you can include driftwood and large rocks, plants are what they are naturally drawn to for cover. Other advantages to providing your plants with plenty of plant cover are that it will help provide oxygen to your fish and if you are breeding the fish, the cover will help encourage that process.

While there are a variety of plants to choose from, Java Moss, hornwort, and Stargrass can help your fish feel right at home. Another option is to use floating aquarium plants that have roots that will dangle downwards. If done right, a combination of these options will not only look aesthetically pleasing but make sure your fish doesn’t have anxiety. The key though is to make sure that plants are your highest priority when you are designing and setting up their tank.

It is important to choose the right kind of substrate. Coarse sand and small gravel are both recommended because of how plant-friendly these substrates are. They will encourage the plants to grow deep roots and help the plants themselves grow tall, which in turn will make your fish very happy.

Once you have your tank set up and the plants are growing, it is important to remember that the plants will need occasional maintenance and the plant may need to be replaced. It is suggested you acquire long aquascape tweezers and scissors to help in this process.

Best Plants:Hornwort, Java Moss, Stargrass, Anubias Nana, Java fern, hardy species of Cryptocoryne such as C. Wendtii
Best Lighting:Moderate
Best Decorations:Plants and a minimal amount of rocks and driftwood
Decorations to Avoid: Anything with sharp edges that could harm your little puffer and objects with shiny surfaces that may startle them into thinking there’s another puffer nearby

Physiological Considerations for Pea Puffers

Size: 1 – 1 ½ inches long
Lifespan:  4 years
Temperament:Aggressive and Territorial
Preferred Tank Region: Likes to travel all over the tank and enjoys hiding in the plants.
Scale Thickness:  Do not have Scales
Gill Considerations: Do not have gill covers
Swimbladder Considerations: They are particularly susceptible to diseases and disorders affecting the swim bladder

While Dwarf Puffers are pufferfish, they will rarely puff up. The main reason a Puffer will want to puff up is if it is feeling threatened by a predator and wants to scare it off. As you are trying to provide a safe environment, it means you are unlikely to see this defensive posturing.

Pufferfish puff up by drinking in an excess amount of water that causes their size to increase. Once they feel the threat is gone they will start to shrink down to normal size as they release the water.

This should go without saying but please do not ever stress your fish out to see it puff. If you are that curious it is easy enough to look up pictures and videos online.

Society

Image by Sam Jacoby on Flickr

When this fish is found in the wild, it shares a habitat with a plethora of underwater life. Some of the neighbors it has to include Paral fish, long-finned Barbs, Filament Barbs, Malabar Leaf Fish, and Orange Chromides.

In the wild, this fish travels in large shoals. This sets it apart from other members of the Tetraodontiformes which tend to be solitary fish.

So at first glance, one might assume your dwarf puffers would appreciate having neighbors. However, this is not the case. This fish is territorial and aggressive. The easiest solution to this is to keep them in a tank with other Dwarf Puffers, just make sure that the tank is large enough that each fish can carve our their territorial kingdom.

It is a bad idea to place dwarf puffers in the same tank as shrimp or snails. The puffer will hunt down any of these and try to make a meal of them.

On the other extreme, there are certain larger fish you do not want to put with your puffer. Large Catfish and bigger guppies will see the dwarf puffer as a swimming meal.

If you do decide that you want to place them in a tank-mixed with other species you should pick fish that are small and fast swimmers. Ideal candidates include Neon Tetras, Filament Barb, Zebra Danio, and Dwarf Otocinclus. A precaution you should take is to have a separate tank set up for treating any fish that get wounded by the dwarf puffers. You should also go ahead and purchase antibiotic wound treatments.

Another consideration is how aggressive the males can be to their species. You should house males separately from one another. If you have two males together during mating season, they will attack and kill each other. A single male should share a tank with several females. This allows for the male to be less aggressive and when the mating season does come around it increases the odds of your fish successfully mating.

This fish likes to move around in the tank and can be found at all levels. They enjoy swimming and hiding in the plant life and can just as easily be found scavenging for food in the open. This species keeps a close eye on its surroundings and is naturally curious about what is going on inside and outside of the tank.

Good tank mates for Dwarf Puffers include:

Avoid housing them with cichlids.

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

Compared to other species, breeding Dwarf Pufferfish is easy.  Different breeders have different methods when it comes to the tank used. Some will use a dedicated breeding tank while others will just use the tank that their fish is housed in. If you decide to use a dedicated breeding tank it is important to get one that is somewhat smaller than normal so that the fish are forced to interact with each other. While a five-gallon tank is suitable for a single male and female, if you want to increase your chances of success you can increase the tank size and add more females.

To help encourage breeding the water temperature of your tank should be around 79F. It is vital to make sure that your tank has heavy vegetation, or the couple will not mate. Alternatively, you can pile bogwood in such a way to give your fish the privacy they need. The benefit of the bogwood is that it can provide space for beneficial bacteria to grow and help your tank.

When you are preparing your tank, it is important to pick the right kind of filter. Ideally, you should choose a sponge filter because they have little to no water flow. If you have a filter with a moderate to heavy water flow you risk the fish fry being sucked up into the filter.

If you have the right conditions, the male will chase around the female until she is ready to breed. Then they will go to the plants to spawn. After about 48 hours the fry will hatch out of their eggs. The fry will consume all the nutrients from their eggs after about 2-3 days and then should be fed a mix of live infusoria and hatched brine shrimp. These supplemental foods will help them grow faster.

Nutritional Needs

Dwarf pufferfish may be cute but they are carnivores who have no problem hunting down their meals. In the wild, this ravenous fish mostly eats live foods in the form of larvae, algae, and insects.

While living in your tank it is important to give them a variety of protein-rich foods. This species can’t survive on just being fed flakes and pellets.

Ideal live, freeze-dried, and frozen foods include brine shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex, and mosquito larvae. They also love small snails. These foods will provide your fish with the protein and nutrients it needs. Bear in mind that this fish has a large appetite and this makes it is easy to over food. You should only fee this fish twice a day, ideally in the morning and evening.

This is a very intelligent fish that pays attention to its surroundings and what goes on outside the tank. You will notice that the fish will recognize you and begin to realize when feeding time is. While the fish may act like it is starving, you should only give it an amount of food that it can consume within three minutes of being placed in the tank. Any more food than this and you risk overfeeding it.

Overfeeding the fish is not only bad for its health but bad for your tank. Any extra food that doesn’t get eaten or clean up will affect the water quality of the tank. The uneaten food falls to the bottom of the tank where it gets broken down and this can compromise the water in your tank and cause a rise in nitrate levels.

Best Sustenance Food Type: Bloodworms, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, daphnia, blackworms
Additional Food For Optimal Health: The occasional algae wafer
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth:Nothing of note.
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle: Twice a day, once in the morning and once at night

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Image by Sam Jacoby on Flickr

The good news is that there are no diseases specific to the Dwarf Puffer fish. You still must watch out for preventing all of the common illnesses freshwater fish can get. This species can be sensitive to shifts in water parameter and needs a caretaker that is attentive to the water levels.

A common illness to watch out for is called Ich. Almost every fish keeper deals with this at least once. The disease presents itself as white spots on the fish and if it goes untreated, it will kill your fish. Ich can be treated with a variety of over the counter fish medication that contain cooper sulphate or formalin base.

You can lower the chance of your fish developing Ich by paying close attention to the water quality in your tank. This species is a very messy eater and it is important to do weekly gravel cleanups to remove any leftover food or spores beginning to grow. A well-maintained aquarium with water at all the correct levels will ensure your fish stay healthy from a multitude of diseases.

If you do not keep males separate from one another they will attack one another by nipping and trying to draw blood. If you accidentally place two males together they will start to attack one another and flesh wounds are the perfect place for bacteria or fungal infection to occur.

An injured fish should be placed in a separate tank in order to start treatment with the correct antifunfal and antibacterial treatments.

Best Antibiotics: Maracyn 1
Treatments to Avoid:Nothing of note.
Food Recommendations When Sick:Protein-rich foods
Hospital Tank or Isolation Withing the Community Tank:Make sure to isolate an injured or sick fish in an hospital tank

3 Facts About Pea Puffers

  1. These little fish are adored for their uniqueness all around. Their underwater hovering ability, independently moving eyes, and that balloon puffiness just make them fun!
  2. The pea puffer gets its official name from the Indian principality of Travancore.
  3. This little fish is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List thanks to it being overharvested for the aquarium trade and habitat loss. It’s still common in some rivers, but has had a massive decline in wild of 30-40% in just ten years!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *