How to Care for a Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish
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How to Care for a Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish (including how to breed them). Essential Tips for Success.

If you’ve ever seen a Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish in a pet store or online, you’ll know how tiny and feisty these adorable little fish are!

Dwarf puffers make a great addition to freshwater aquariums. They are known for their minuscule size, cute looks, and personality. While relatively easy to care for, these shoaling fish need precise water conditions to thrive, so maintenance is key in caring for these puffers. 

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about Dwarf Pea Puffer care. And as a bonus, we include the basic steps you need to follow if you want to try breeding your own Dwarf Pea Puffers!

best pea puffer tank mates

What is a Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish?

A Dwarf Pea Puffer is a popular aquarium fish because of its small size, high activity levels, and because they’re straight forward to care for. 

They’re bottom dwellers that do well in large groups of the same species or on their own. 

Are pea puffers aggressive

Pea puffers have intriguing patterns and colors, like black-brown spots and lines, making these freshwater fish wonderful to watch in a home aquarium

They are also messy eaters and fast swimmers with big personalities so they’re never boring to observe.

The scientific name for dwarf pea puffers is carinotetraodon travancoricus, but common names include:

  • Malabar puffers
  • Indian dwarf puffer
  • Pea pufferfish
  • Dwarf puffers
  • Pygmy pufferfish

There are many larger species of pufferfish like the blackspotted and Mbu pufferfish, but these are much larger saltwater or brackish water fish. 

These bigger puffers also come in a wide variety of colors and marks and the biggest can grow over 2.5 feet (76 cm). 

But the Pea Puffer is the smallest of the puffer species growing to a maximum length of 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 cm). 

Unlike other larger puffers that thrive in salt or brackish water, this small fish species lives only in freshwater.

Natural Habitat of the Dwarf Pea Puffer

In their natural environment, wild pea puffers live in waters dense with plants, like rivers, streams, and lakes. Because they’re not strong swimmers, they avoid strong currents. 

In recent years, dwarf puffers have suffered serious habitat loss because of urbanization and deforestation. They originate from the south coast of India, specifically the states of Kerala and Karnataka.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources currently lists these tiny fish as vulnerable. This means that they’re at risk of becoming an endangered species. 

This is partly why it’s important to take good care of these fish in your home aquarium.

Dwarf Pea Puffer Characteristics

Dwarf puffer fish are best known for their small size, but they also have other distinctive features. Most notable are their appearance and their personalities. 

Appearance

Their body is rounded, and they have a yellowish-gold color on their back that blends into a tan or white stomach. There are black or brown spots that cover the rest of their body. 

These fish also have the classic large eyes that all puffers have, and their eyes protrude slightly from their body. 

A puffer fish’s side or pectoral fins are fan-shaped and have an indented tip. Their dorsal and anal fins are vertically opposite one another and their caudal or tail fin is their largest fin. 

All their fins are semi-transparent and sometimes give the appearance that a pea puffer is floating mid-water with no fins, making them look like a little pea. 

Males vs Females

It can be tricky to tell the difference between male and female pea puffers, especially when they are young. 

Male pea puffers are easier to identify as they have yellower coloring, especially on their belly and tail or caudal fin. 

They also have iridescent markings around their eyes that look like wrinkles and a dark stripe on the belly.

Female pea puffers have similar features, but they are not as pronounced. Their bodies are more rounded, their color is duller, and they don’t have wrinkles around their eyes. 

They also don’t have a stripe on their belly. This stripe and the iridescent wrinkles around a male’s eyes are the most defining features of each sex.

It’s easiest to sex adult puffers as when they are younger it is more difficult to spot these differences. This is partly because of their size and partly because those features have not fully developed yet. 

Dwarf Pea Puffer Lifespan

In ideal conditions, Dwarf Pea Puffers live on average for four to five years. However, most aquarists struggle to keep them for over two years, even in ideal conditions. 

A pea puffer’s lifespan depends on both how well they are cared for and their genetics. 

When purchasing a pea puffer, try to make sure that you’re buying from a reputable dealer with an excellent reputation for caring for and breeding their fish. 

This will increase your likelihood of getting a puffer from a strong genetic line.

Temperament

Pea puffers are territorial and aggressive fish. In the wild, these feisty fish establish their territory and defend it, so they’ll do this in their tank as well. 

Because of this aggressive behavior, always ensure you have plenty of space and plant cover to help protect your pea puffers from other fish and from each other.

Dwarf Pea Puffer Defense Mechanisms

Like all puffer fish, pea puffers puff themselves up as a natural defense. They do so by inflating their bodies with water, or sometimes air, to make themselves appear bigger than they are. 

If you see your puffer puffing itself when there’s no threat or stress, don’t worry! Dwarf puffers are known to practice puffing their bodies, so they don’t cause any damage when they need to do it.

Never intentionally stress your dwarf puffer to get them to puff as this can injure them. 

When inflated, a pea puffer’s organs are flattened and if done too often or too suddenly, this can cause injuries to their internal organs.

Reproduction

Dwarf pea puffers reproduce year-round. They are egg-layers and, after the female lays the eggs, the male will fertilize then guard and protect them. 

They are similar to betta fish in the way that the males protect the eggs after they have been fertilized.

Dwarf Pea Puffer Care

One of the most important parts of keeping a pea puffer is recreating their natural habitat. This means replicating the type of water, space, and food you’d find in their natural environment. 

Food

Pea puffers are carnivores that like to eat live foods rich in protein. To ensure they get essential nutrients, it’s important to give them a varied diet with live foods such as:

  • Insects
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Small snails
  • Worms
  • Baby brine shrimp
  • Copepods
  • Water fleas

You can also feed them frozen or freeze-dried foods with similar ingredients. 

You’ll find these live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods in your local pet store and in online stores. 

Be sure to do your research before buying live fish food online so you can avoid stock that’s at risk of transmitting diseases and parasites. 

Water Parameters Needed for a Dwarf Pea Puffer

Pea puffers need a pH level of 7-8 and a water temperature between 74-82F (23-28C). 

They are very sensitive to changes in their environments, so it’s important to consistently maintain your water temperature, pH, and other parameters within tolerable ranges. 

In the right conditions, pea puffers will thrive, but with poor water conditions or bad water parameters, they’re at increased risk of health issues. 

As with all fish, ammonia is particularly toxic and important to monitor regularly.

Avoid Poor Tank Water at All Costs!

Poor water quality comes from not performing regular water changes. If you don’t change the tank water with clean water, then waste and harmful chemicals build in the water, and this can harm your fish. 

Also be sure to siphon out waste from fish, snails, decaying plants, and uneaten food.

You can keep your water clean by using either a sponge filter, hang on back filter, or canister filter to cycle the water and filter out impurities and waste. 

Tank Size

A single pea puffer requires at minimum a 10-gallon tank. For every added puffer, you’ll need 5 more gallons of water. 

This means that if, for example, you want four pea puffers, you’ll need 25 gallons of water (10+5+5+5=25). 

Despite their small size, dwarf pea puffers need this much space because they are territorial and need room enough that they can each have their own distinct territory. 

Plants

To recreate your dwarf puffer’s natural habitat, you’ll want to create a tank that has many live plants and coarse sand or small gravel. 

With lots of plant life, you can create many hiding places for safety and spawning.

Live plants that are well-suited to pea puffers include:

  • Anacharis 
  • Anubias
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Frogbit
  • Java Fern
  • Java moss

Coarse sand and gravel mimic the beds of the rivers and lakes where you’d find dwarf puffers in the wild.

Adding rocks and hiding places will also help create that thick jungle vibe that puffers thrive in. 

Best Tank Mates for a Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish

Don’t house DwarfPpuffers with plecos, loaches, or other bottom dwellers that are carnivorous or omnivorous, as they are natural pea puffer predators. 

Large fish will try to harm or eat pea puffers, too. Avoid any fish or crustaceans that could catch, eat, or injure your puffer.

You’ll also want to avoid slow or long-finned fish as pea puffers like to nip at their fins. This can create tension in the tank and those larger fish with nipped fins might lash out.

Ideal tank mates for pea puffers include other pea puffers, neon tetras, danios, cherry shrimp, and herbivorous fish of the same size. 

Shrimp as Tank Mates

Be careful if you add shrimp as a tank mate for your Dwarf Puffers as baby shrimp can quickly become a tasty snack for your puffer. !

Snails are also not recommended. Puffers will eat small snails like bladder and pond snails and have been known to attack and fatally injure larger snails like mystery snails.

Dwarf Pea Puffers do best in groups of five or more pea puffers. While they’re territorial, they are also shoaling fish and like the company of their own species. 

Make sure that your female-to-male ratio is high to keep aggression down. With too many males, there will be lots of competition for territory and spawning. 

Remember that the more plants you have, the more places your fish will have to hide. This will help keep your community tank safe and happy for everyone.

Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish Health Issues

As with most tropical fish, maintaining the right temperature is important to keep your pea puffer healthy. 

When temperatures are too low, this lowers their immune system and makes them more susceptible to diseases and fungal infections that, when left untreated, can kill your puffer. 

With a lowered immune system, a pea puffer can be susceptible to bacterial diseases like Columnaris and Fin Rot and protozoan parasitic diseases like ich.

How to Breed Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish at Home

Breeding Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish at home is definitely possible, even for a beginner. But there are certain steps you must take to be successful.

Keep in mind that Dwarf Pea Puffers may be harder to breed than other fish so it is recommended that you get some experience with other fish that are easier to breed before attempting Dwarf Puffers.


If your heart is set on trying just make sure to do the proper research before you start down this journey!

Dwarf Pea Puffer Breeding Guideline

Here is a brief step-by-step guideline for Breeding Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish at home.

  1. Learn. Make sure to study up on and have a good understanding of fish husbandry, water quality management, and breeding techniques BEFORE you begin!

    Take your time and learn what you need to know prior to doing anything else.
  2. Tank Setup. This step is critical and can’t be overlooked. You will need the correct amount of stable water, the proper vegetation (with lots of hiding spaces), and a suitable substrate.

    I can’t overstate how important your tank setup is for you to be successful with your breeding efforts.
  3. Pairing. You MUST select compatible breeding pairs. Many puffer breeding experts suggest keeping multiple female fish with each male.

    This will increase the chances of success and actually reduces possible aggression in the tank.
  4. Diet Conditioning. Feeding your breeding pairs the proper nutrition is vital for success.

    Your fish will need a diet rich in protein to help stimulate breeding behavior and maintain optimum breeding conditions.
  5. Activate Breeding Triggers. You want to make sure your tank water temperatures and levels along with diet changes will ‘trigger’ or encourage the natural breeding behavior in your puffers.

    Many successful breeders will mimic the natural ebb and flow of water levels in their tanks.

    To trigger breeding behavior they will gradually raise and lower the water level to replicate rainy seasons. This includes varying the water temperature as well.

    The same will be done for diet. Vary the abundance of food you give them to correspond to what they may see in a natural environment.

    Caution: Don’t just guess at these changes! Make sure to learn exactly what to do or you may harm your fish.

    Take some time and research deeper into this step as it is very important for your success or not.
  6. Caring for the Eggs and Fry. Did you know that the female will normally lay their eggs on flat surfaces like rocks, plant leaves, or even the tank glass? yes, they will!

    The male fish will then fertilize the eggs.

    In case you don’t know, the ‘Fry’ is basically a newborn fish or one that was recently hatched. Fry require some special care to make sure they survive.

    Once the eggs are laid attention must be given to the water quality to make sure they survive and become Fry.

    It is also smart to remove the Fry from the adult fish to make sure they are not killed by the adults.
  7. Success or Failure. Remember, there is a great art to being a successful breeder of Dwarf Pea Puffer fish. There will be many challenges, seen and unforeseen that you will have to deal with.

    So take your time, be patient, and don’t get depressed if you fail at first. Keep learning and before you know it some baby Dwarf Pea Puffers will be gracing your tank!

Related Dwarf Pea Puffer Questions

Are pea puffers hard to keep?

No, they can be quite hardy fish, which makes them easy to keep. However, they are very sensitive to water changes and need the right water parameters to stay happy and healthy.

Can you keep a single pea puffer?

Yes, you can keep a single pea puffer. You can keep it alone or with appropriate tank mates of other species. Many aquarists have a lot of luck with just one dwarf puffer.

Do pea puffers recognize their owners?

Yes, it’s possible for pea puffers to recognize their owners. They are very intelligent and responsive and even get to know how to beg for food.

Can I play with my Dwarf Pea Puffer fish?

Well, kind of! You can have fun watching them and they will interact with you some especially while you are feeding them!

How do I know if my pea puffer is happy?

A happy pea puffer is energetic, curious, and responsive. They will look brightly colored and well-fed with a plump belly. 

Dwarf Pea Puffers Make Interesting Pets

Dwarf pea puffers are adorable and feisty, making them an entertaining addition to any aquarist’s collection. 

As long as your water parameters are in the right range, you should find these tiny fish to be easy to care for. 

Dwarf Pea Puffer Fish Care Guide

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