The pea puffer (aka dwarf pufferfish) could be one of the cutest freshwater species on the planet. We absolutely love how these little creatures look!
And we’re not alone.
More and more aquarists are starting to consider getting a pea puffer. Their popularity has really skyrocketed in recent years!
But their cute appearance isn’t the only reason to consider getting these fish. Caring for them is straightforward once you know what to do, and their active behavior makes them fun to observe.
But if you’re thinking about getting one you’ll need to educate yourself first. Pea puffer care requires you to have a strong understanding of the species if you want them to thrive in your tank.
Fortunately, this guide covers everything you need to know about the dwarf pea puffer. You’ll learn basic care, recommended tank mates, the food they eat, and much more!
Table of Contents
The dwarf pea puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) is a freshwater fish that’s native to the Western Ghats of Southwest India. Some of its other common names are the dwarf pufferfish, pea pufferfish, and pygmy pufferfish.
You can find these fish in a series of main rivers and lakes in this region, such as the Chalakudy River and Lake Vembanad. This species is endemic to this region and is seeing a population decline due to overfishing, making it harder and harder to see them in their natural habitat.
While it’s not too late to turn this trend around, it’s definitely worrisome. While we’re not advocating that you hold off purchasing one for yourself, we recommend doing some research into the place you’re buying them from as well.
Author Note: Due to their classification as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List it’s good to be 100% sure you’re ready to care for one before making a purchase. While you should do this with any fish you get, buying a pea puffer you’re not ready for directly impacts the population decline of this species.
The average pea puffer lifespan is 4-5 years. As is the case with any fish, their lifespan relies on a mix of genetics and quality of care.
If you don’t provide them with the quality of care they need, then the chance of them hitting 5 years of age is slim to none. However, if you follow our care recommendations in this guide they will live a long and happy life.
While we’re tempted to describe the look of this fish as “adorable” and leave it at that, we’ll go into details for the sake of being thorough.
The pea puffer has a very unique look that led to the origin of their name. These tiny little fish that look like chunky swimming pea!
Their bodies are rather thick and dense looking. The front starts off a slightly pointed at the mouth and gets thickest near the middle of their bodies.
Things start to taper down significantly once you reach their dorsal fin. Their body thins out to about half of their max-width and stays about the same size through the entirety of their caudal peduncle.
Dwarf pea puffers have very small and unassuming fins. This is further exaggerated by the fact that they’re mostly translucent.
This creates a cute effect that makes it look like these stocky little bodies are being moved around by almost nonexistent fins! It’s like something out of a cartoon.
Their dorsal fins are about two-thirds of the way back on their bodies and their pectoral fins are pretty much right in the middle of their main area of mass. All of these fins are basically the same size.
Pea puffers also have an interesting looking caudal fin. Since it’s quite clear and modest in size, it can be hard to notice when you’re observing these fish.
This creates a funny look at first glance.
Because the fin is hard to see and these fish have that long and thin caudal peduncle, it looks like they’re swimming with nothing back there. When they’re moving around dwarf pea puffers can look like a little green droplet!
As far as their color goes, this body of this species is a yellowish-green that extends all over their body. On top of this you’ll find dark evenly sized spots that are spaced out quite consistently. These spots aren’t present on the underbelly.
Pea puffers also have that classic pufferfish face with large eyes and an open rectangular-shaped mouth.
The average pea puffer size is around 1 and a half inches in length when fully grown. That’s obviously not very large, which is partially how these fish earned their name!
It’s basically unheard of for these fish to exceed this size no matter how good their care or genetics are. There are anomalies of course, but for the most part they’re pretty consistent.
Pea Puffer Care
Pea puffer care isn’t that difficult once you have a solid understanding of the species. The biggest challenge you’ll face with this fish is making sure their water and tank requirements are up to par.
The minimum pea puffer tank size is 10 gallons. These are active fish that like to have room to swim and hide.
If you can manage it and want to give them the best habitat possible, we recommend something closer to 20 or 30 gallons. Going the extra mile and providing them with some extra space will make a big difference in their health and quality of life over the years.
If you plan on keeping more than one pea puffer in your tank, add an additional 5 gallons for each.
Dwarf pea puffers can be very sensitive to a change in any of the levels in your tank. This means you’re not only going to need to monitor the status of the aquarium but be ready to act if something shifts.
- Water temperature: 72°F to 82°F
- pH levels: 7 to 8
- Water hardness: 5-15 KH
Author Note: Because maintaining consistent levels is so important, we recommend getting a reliable testing kit. This accuracy will give you peace of mind and ensure that your fish are living in a healthy environment.
What To Put In Their Tank
Since these are small fish, you’ll want to make sure that their tank has plenty of places to hide. We recommend having this in mind when planning your tank size and how many fish you want to keep.
Driftwood and rocks can be helpful for giving these fish a spot to get away, but plants are the name of the game. Pea pufferfish come from waters with heavy vegetation and are used to relying on it for safety.
If you don’t include enough plants in your tank there’s a strong chance that these fish will experience elevated stress levels (which can impact their health). The reason for this is they’ll always feel exposed and in potential danger.
Plants like hornwort, Java moss, or even some floating aquarium plants that have dangling roots can all help these fish feel safe. Think of plants as the highest priority item when setting up their tank for the first time!
Making sure their substrate is suitable is the other piece of the puzzle. Small gravel or coarse sand are two common recommendations because they’re very plant-friendly. This kind of substrate is conducive to the rooting process and will help your plants grow tall (which your pea puffers will appreciate).
Common Possible Diseases
The dwarf pea puffer doesn’t have a species-specific disease you’ll have to worry about. Instead, you’ll want to follow the recommended guidelines for preventing and looking out for common freshwater illnesses.
The most common disease to be aware of is Ich. If you’ve been in the aquarium scene for long enough then chances are you’ve at least heard of it.
While we’re not going to get into the specifics of the disease itself, it’s not something you want to deal with. It shows as white spots on your fish and can kill them if not treated properly.
Fortunately, you can drastically reduce the chance of Ich (and many other diseases) if you take care of the water quality in your tank. A well-maintained habitat with perfect water is what you should aim for regardless, but this is yet another reason to strive for it.
Author Note: Due to the pea puffer’s sensitivity to shifts in water parameters, it’s reasonable to assume that they might not handle subpar water quality as well as other fish. If you’re planning on getting this species make sure you’re committed to maintaining their habitat!
Food & Diet
Dwarf pea pufferfish are carnivorous and despite their cute appearance, they have quite a fierce appetite! In the wild, these fish mostly ear small insects, larvae, and algae.
In captivity, you’ll need to give them protein-rich food with a good mix of variety. These aren’t fish that you can get away with feeding pellets and flakes.
Frozen and live foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, tubifex, and mosquito larvae are perfect. These will give them the nutrients and protein they need, and serve as a great source of enrichment as well.
It’s important to make sure you’re not overfeeding them for the sake of their health. Due to their appetite, it’s quite easy to give these fish too much food. Aim for a two a day feeding schedule.
Another reason why it’s bad to overfeed your pea puffer is the effect the extra food can have on water quality. Uneaten food will settle in the tank and begin to break down. This process will slowly compromise the water in your tank and cause a rise in nitrate and other substances.
Behavior & Temperament
This is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of pea puffer care. A lot of potential owners think that these fish are likely harmless due to their size and adorable appearance.
Pea puffers are very feisty and aggressive fish who have no issue fighting with other species (or each other). This is why it’s so important to give them enough space to feel comfortable and stay away from other fish.
Cramming them in too close to each other is a recipe for disaster due to their territorial nature. However, when given sufficient room and hiding places this species will regularly be found shoaling.
Pea puffers are also rather active. These fish are quite curious by nature and can’t resist checking out different parts of their tank.
You’ll likely see them investigating the substrate, plants, other fish, and even you! This makes them a lot of fun to watch as an owner. There’s never a dull moment!
Pea Puffer Tank Mates
Finding the right pea puffer tank mates is something that many owners struggle with. Their territorial and aggressive nature means you can’t simply pair them with any similarly-sized fish.
The safest bet is to get one dwarf pea pufferfish and keep them alone. This will ensure that there isn’t any fighting and allow you to get away with a smaller tank.
But that’s not very fun, and the fact that these fish like to shoal means they probably appreciate some company.
If you’re going to keep them in a species only tank it’s important to remember two things. The first is that you’ll need to give each fish enough room (an extra 5 gallons per fish). The second is to include plenty of plants in the aquarium so there’s room to hide.
Doing this will help keep these fish from getting on each others nerves and starting to fight. Despite their size, they can do a lot of damage to each other if left unchecked.
If you want to house them with other species then here’s what you need to look for:
Fish should be similar in size and able to get away when needed. Pea puffers are fin nippers and will pester slow fish. Obviously, large fish should be avoided too since they can hurt or eat your dwarf pufferfish.
Here are some pea puffer tank mates that are worth considering:
- Kuhli loach
- Neon tetras (both normal and green)
- Ember tetras
- Cherry shrimp
Author Note: The individual temperament of your puffer will play a role in how reasonable it is to pair them with other species. You’ll learn to understand your fish over time, but if you’re uncertain it’s never a good idea to risk it!
The breeding process for dwarf pea puffers is something anyone can do as long as you have the appropriate resources and knowledge.
For the most part, you’ll be sticking to a lot of the tank guidelines we listed earlier. The main difference here is that you might be keeping these fish in closer proximity to each other, and warming up the water.
Bumping up the water to the higher end of the recommended range is a good place to start (aim for 79°F to 80°F). This will replicate the water temperature in the wild during the breeding season.
Some owners recommend using a breeding tank for the best results, but others feel this is unnecessary. If you want to use a dedicated breeding tank it’s best to get one that’s almost half the size of a normal two-fish tank.
When the two pea puffers are ready to breed, the male will follow the female into a planted area of the aquarium where he will fertilize the eggs. Form this point you’ll simply have to leave the eggs alone for a few days.
Once the fry have hatched and the yolk is gone, you’ll need to start feeding them. Brine shrimp are a great source of food that will help these little fish grow.
Dwarf pea puffer care is a very rewarding and enjoyable process. These fish are a pleasure to keep, and we’ve heard from numerous owners who say getting this species was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made.
From their cute appearance to active temperament, it’s a boatload of fun watching these fish. They’re a unique and different freshwater species in the best possible way.
Anyone who takes the time to understand the key elements of pea puffer care will be able to raise these fish and give them a great life. Due to their decreasing numbers, we owe it to them to get this right!