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Dwarf Pea Puffer: A Detailed Care Guide

Dwarf Pea Puffer: A Detailed Care Guide

Dwarf pea puffers have been gaining popularity in recent years. Many have puffed their way into the hearts and tanks of fish lovers. But before you let it do the same to you, you should know all about it before taking on the responsibility of owning one. 

Dwarf pea puffers are the smallest among puffer fishes. They’re also the most popular among aquarium owners, comprising most of the live or aquarium fishes exported from India. But to effectively care for them, you need experience and knowledge. 

This article will help you learn as much as you need about this species, from food to pea puffer tank mates. Keep reading to decide whether these puffers are a good fit for you. 

Dwarf Pea Puffer Species Overview

Dwarf pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) have undisputedly earned the names “dwarf” and “pea” because of their minuscule size. Besides these monikers, they also go by “Malabar” or “pygmy pufferfish.”

  • Common Name: Dwarf Pea Puffer
  • Scientific Name: Carinotetraodon travancoricus
  • Care level: Medium
  • Size: Can grow up to 3.5 cm (1.38 in)
  • Life span: Up to 5 years
  • Temperament: Can be aggressive and territorial
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • School size: At least six pea puffers
  • Minimum tank size: 5 gallons (19 liters)
  • Water temperature: 22°C – 27.5°C (71.6°F – 81.5°F)
  • Water pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Water hardness: 5 – 25 dGH

Appearance and Size

Pea puffers are incredibly small, bright-colored fishes from India. They can grow up to 3.5 cm (1.38 in), much shorter than most people’s thumbs. 

They often sport a greenish-yellow, oblong-shaped body with dark spots. Specific patterns and colorings usually vary per fish, but there are trends you can use to distinguish between male and female pea puffers. 

For instance, on the underside or belly of male pea puffers, you can see a dark line running through the center, lengthwise. Males also have distinct “dark wrinkles” near the eyes. Meanwhile, females stand out with their larger and rounder bodies

Personality & Behavior

Pea puffers aren’t solitary fishes. Indeed, this 1999 paper reports that these pufferfishes are often sighted in large groups during the summer months. This behavior is known as shoaling, and it is unique for pea puffers because other pufferfishes tend to live alone. 

When they are shoaling, the males can be quite aggressive and territorial. If you are going to keep more than one, make sure you get the male to female ratio right (1:2 male to female ratio). Have at least two females to every one male in your tank, with a minimum tank size of 3-5 gallons for each Pea puffer.

Pea puffers are prey animals, so they don’t like being exposed. They tend to hide in plants, substrates, and other materials, making it essential for their tanks to be well-decorated.


Pea puffers can live for up to five years. However, their longevity depends on how well you care for them. If you provide them with enough food and clean water tanks, help them avoid stress, and treat illnesses, they can live as long as expected.   


Generally, pufferfishes are infamous for being toxic. They contain the toxins tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin, which are highly fatal upon ingestion. Thus, preparing this fish as an exotic dish is tightly regulated to avoid unwanted incidents and deaths. 

However, these toxins are not much of a concern with pea puffers. That’s because, unlike toxic or poisonous pufferfishes, pea puffers are unlikely to be exposed to or consume environmental bacteria that allows them to synthesize the toxins

But, to be safe, just do not eat your pea puffers or any other pufferfish!

Puffing Ability 

Pufferfishes got their name from their ability to puff up or inflate, just like a ball or balloon. It’s a defense mechanism; the bigger they get, the harder it is for predators to eat them. Even if an animal did dare eat them, pufferfishes have spikes that can puncture their predators. 

Dwarf pea puffers are no exemption from this unique ability. They can also inflate into an albeit smaller and less spiky ball. This mechanism is similar to that of other puffers, where they let water or air into their elastic stomachs, making them bigger. 

However, do not intentionally stress or frighten your dwarf pea puffer just so they would inflate. Puffing for them is rare, and trying to induce one may negatively affect them. 

If you want to see how a dwarf pea puffer looks puffed up, watch this YouTube video instead: 

Conservation Status

Dwarf pea puffers are a favorite among aquarium owners. They are among India’s top four freshwater fish species being sold in the live or aquarium fish trade. 

After years of being exported and sold worldwide, native pea puffers have been considered vulnerable. Aside from that, damages and changes to their natural habitats have made it harder for the species to recover. 

Add to that the fact that this species is endemic or native only to Southwest India. This makes them rarer and more susceptible to the lack of regulations surrounding the aquarium fish trade. 

Thus, if you have to buy a dwarf pea puffer, it is best to buy from legit breeders. Avoid buying wild ones, as not only will you participate in a trade that negatively affects this species, but you’re also unsure of the quality of fish you will get. 

Ideal Owner

If you’re a beginner fish owner, you might want to hold out on dwarf pea puffers. Despite their explosive popularity, they are not beginner-friendly. 

They require specific needs and care that only a person with intermediate knowledge of fish care can provide. 

For one, they’re picky about their food, and you often have to clean their tanks. Simply put, they’re not the easiest to sustain, and I’ll expound more on that. 

How To Care for a Dwarf Pea Puffer 

Seeing a dwarf pea puffer inflate is a rare opportunity, and if you want them to live long to showcase that ability, you’ll need to care for them.

Like any other pet, you’ll need to provide pea puffers with all their necessities, from food to a well-decorated and habitable tank. 

House Dwarf Pea Puffers in a Large Tank

Despite their small size, dwarf pea puffers need a relatively large tank. They need a lot of water and space for swimming, plants, and tank mates. Do not house too few puffers in a too-small tank. They’re social creatures, which would not be optimal for their behavior. In nature, they often shoal and keep that instinct, even as aquarium pets. 

As for a specific capacity, you’ll notice that sources would vary. The recommended amount of water per pea puffer ranges from 2.64 to 10.5 gallons (10 to 40 liters). But I will suggest the advice given by Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide, which is 2.64 gallons (10 liters) per fish.  

They also recommend getting at least six pea puffers to meet this species’ need for socialization without providing too much room for one or two puffers to be too dominant. Thus, if you follow that, you’ll need a tank of around 16-gallon (60-liter) capacity. 

With such a capacity, your puffers will have enough room to explore and interact without being too crowded. You can opt for a bigger, wider tank if you want to care for more pea puffers. 

Fill Your Tank With Freshwater

Wild dwarf pea puffers reside in freshwater rivers and lakes. Rarely so, they may also thrive in brackish waters. You can try brackish waters, but monitoring parameters and sustaining the pea puffers in freshwater is simpler. 

For specific parameters, you can refer to this table based on recommendations from Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide:

  • Water temperature: 22°C – 27.5°C (71.6°F – 81.5°F)
  • Water hardness: 5 – 25 dGH
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Nitrate (NO3): <15 ppm

If your tank water is too cold, consider getting a heater to reach the optimal temperature range. 

Feed Dwarf Pea Puffers With a Carnivorous Diet

Dwarf Pea Puffer 'Carinotetraodon travancoricus'

Dwarf pea puffers follow a carnivorous diet and are not fond of flake, freeze-dried, or pellet food. But you can feed them the following:

  • Snails
  • Worms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Frozen meat shrimp
  • Small insects
  • Larvae 
  • Copepods
  • Water fleas
  • Microscopic algae 
  • Cyclops 

You can offer the suggestions above in live or frozen form. It’s also highly recommended to keep the pea puffers’ options varied. Doing so ensures you can meet their nutritional requirements and keep them from getting bored. 

Like other fishes, do not overfeed your pea puffers. It makes them sick and obese. Moreover, uneaten food can rot in the tank, making the water foul, thick with algae, and unsafe for the puffers. 

Give Pea Puffers Fine, Soft Substrate

Pea puffers are burrowers, especially when they’re scared or anxious. Thus, you must provide them with a suitable and safe substrate

A suitable substrate for your pea puffer tank would be fine, soft sand. If you can’t do a whole sand layer, at the very least, you can also use soil topped with a layer of fine sand. 

If you use hard substrates, like rocks or pure soil, there’s a good chance it can harm or injure your pea puffer. These fishes tend to dive right into the substrate, which would be disastrous if the substrate is tough. 

Decorate Your Tank With Lots of Plants

Pea puffers need somewhere to retreat to, as they’re naturally shy and reclusive. Thus, you must provide your puffers with good foliage or plants. You can also add other intricate decorations, like driftwood or twigs. 

Some plants you can use for your tank are the following: 

  • G’z Amazon Frogbit: The Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum) is a floating plant native to Central and South America. This specific Amazon frogbit is alive, suitable for freshwater environments, and there’s a guarantee if the plant arrives dead.
  • Big Pete’s Aquatics Java Fern: If you need a non-floating plant, Java fern is a good choice for puffer tanks as it’s pretty bushy, giving the fish a secluded area to retreat to. It’s known by two scientific names: Leptochilus pteropus or Microsorum pteropus. This one on is alive, pet- and beginner-friendly.
  • Aquatic Arts Java Moss: Many moss types are suitable for puffers, such as java, weeping, and Christmas. This specific moss comes alive, is ideal for freshwater environments, and can thrive on different surfaces, from driftwood to rocks.
  • Water Lettuce : Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is a popular floating water plant. As the name implies, the plant leaves are arranged similarly to regular lettuce. This water lettuce from Amazon is pesticide-free, mature, and useful for biofiltration.

Get the Right Tank Mates

Pea puffers are pretty social. They’re used to shoaling naturally, so it’s best to have them in groups. That’s why I recommend getting a big tank with at least six pea puffers.

Moreover, you should be careful with the male-to-female ratio. Having too many males and too few females can cause aggression and territorial instincts. The recommended ratio is 2 males to 4 females. 

But do pea puffers make good tank mates with fishes outside their species? Not entirely – that’s why many recommend keeping them in a tank separate from others. That’s because of several reasons:

  • Pea puffers are known to nip the fins of other fishes. 
  • Their small size makes them prone to harassment from other fishes. 
  • Larger fishes may try to eat them, and that can harm both the puffer and the predator. 
  • Pea puffers like to burrow, and other burrowing fishes may compete with them for the fine substrate. 

But if you have to get pea puffer tank mates, take note of the following:

  • Do not house puffers with bottom-dwelling or burrowing fishes to avoid them encroaching on each others’ spaces.
  • Shrimps are not recommended. They’re part of the dwarf pea puffers’ diet, so you can expect they will become fodder.
  • Other carnivorous fishes or potential food competitors are discouraged as competition can lead to conflict. 
  • Pea puffers are nippers, so don’t get long-finned tank mates. 
  • Do not house these puffers with potential predators. The predators may try to eat them, and the inflated puffer may harm the predator. 

Some tank mates you could consider

If you try to house pea puffers with other fish, there’s always a significant risk of one harming the other, especially when you’re not often there to monitor them. So, if you’re still a beginner with pea puffers, stick with a species-only tank. 

Clean Your Tank Regularly

It’s best to keep pea puffers in a species-only tank. Because it can be tricky to find good tank mates for dwarf pea puffers, there will be a lack of other species that can clean the tank.

Thus, be ready to do the tank maintenance and cleaning by yourself. Set a regular schedule else your fish will suffer in foul waters. 

Where and How To Buy Dwarf Pea Puffers 

If you’ve taken all this information to heart and are still committed to having your own dwarf pea puffers, then you’re ready to have them. But even with purchasing this fish, there are essential things you should keep in mind. 

Get Your Pea Puffers From Physical Stores 

Firstly, avoid ordering pea puffers online. If you do so, you won’t be able to see them for yourself and ascertain their health and other conditions. You might receive a malnourished and sick pea puffer, which would be a significant challenge. 

Thus, find a reputable pet store nearby. They’re very likely to offer you a healthy group of pea puffers. They may also sell some supplies you’ll need to start taking care of them, like food or tanks. 

Do Not Choose Wild Pea Puffers 

Next, ensure you’re getting pea puffers bred in captivity or not taken from the wild. As I’ve discussed above, this species is heavily exploited, leading to its vulnerable conservation status. 

Although it may not sound too impactful, not participating in the trade of wild pea puffers would help discourage the business. This might allow the pea puffers to flourish in India again. 

Also, buying your pea puffers from a reliable pet store can help you avoid purchasing wild ones. 

Choose Healthy Pea Puffers

Once you are at your chosen pet store, inspect the pea puffers first. Make sure they are healthy, plump, and alert. Avoid buying one that appears ill, weak, malnourished, or has other signs of poor health. 

You can also ask the store attendants to feed the puffers in front of you. Thus, you can see if they are eager eaters, which is an indication of good health. 

However, don’t make appetite a make-it-or-break-it factor. Sometimes, stores can’t feed the fish in front of you because they’ve already fed them. 

Treat Pea Puffers for Parasites After Purchase 

Whichever way your puffers look, it’s best to give them parasite medication as they adjust to their new home. Some healthy-looking fishes are actually riddled with parasites, so medicine is the best way to purge those. 

You can consult a veterinarian for the best parasite medication you can give your new puffers. Do not use antibiotics for such purposes, especially if unprescribed. 

Care for Your Pea Puffers

The last step is to care for your pea puffers. Provide them with a good tank, abundant, clean water, and a varied diet. If they show any signs of illnesses, it’s best to consult a veterinarian for the best advice and treatment. 

Dwarf Pea Puffer FAQs

How smart are Pea Puffers?

The pea puffer fish is one of the most intelligent breeds of fish, they exhibit an ability to identify and engage with their owner.  Initially, they may seem shy but they are very curious and once they get to know you, they will actively look out for you.

Are Dwarf Pea Puffers hard to take care of?

Dwarf pea puffers do require specific needs and care that only a person with intermediate knowledge of fish care can provide. You’ll need to make sure you are knowledgeable about their tank setup, habitat, water quality, and diet.

How big do Dwarf Pea Puffers get?

Dwarf pea puffers can grow up to 3.5 cm (1.38 in), much shorter than most people’s thumbs.

What size tank does a Dwarf Pea Puffer need?

The recommended amount of water per pea puffer ranges from 2.64 to 10.5 gallons (10 to 40 liters). The advice provided by Pufferfish Enthusiasts Worldwide is 2.64 gallons (10 liters) per fish.

How often do I feed Dwarf Pea Puffers?

You’ll need to feed your Dwarf Pea Puffer fish twice a day, in the morning and at night.  Take care not to overfeed them, it’s not only bad for them but the leftover food will settle in the tank affecting their water quality.

Wrapping Up

Dwarf pea puffers are interesting, lovable creatures. They may be smaller than your thumb, but they’re best suited for intermediate to advanced aquarium owners. If you do decide to purchase a dwarf pea puffer from a reputable breeder, make sure you provide it with the following:

  • At least five tank mates
  • A large tank with 2.64 gallons (10 liters) of water per puffer fish
  • A carnivorous diet
  • Plenty of aquatic plants to hide in
  • Soft, fine substrate to burrow in
I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...