Dwarf Pea Puffer 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size, And Diet (2023)

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
  1. Species Summary
    1. Lifespan
  2. Appearance
  3. Size
  4. Pea Puffer Care
    1. Tank Size
    2. Water Parameters
    3. What To Put In Their Tank
    4. Common Possible Diseases
  5. Pea Puffer Tank Mates
  6. Breeding
  7. Wrapping Up

Species Summary

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!

(Video) Pea Puffer Tank Mates for a Community

Dwarf Pea Puffer 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size, And Diet (1)

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.

Tank Size

The minimum pea puffer tank size is 10 gallons. These are active fish that like to have room to swim and hide.

(Video) Pea Puffer Care and Breeding: A Tiny Fish with a BIG Attitude!

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.

Water Parameters

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.

Dwarf Pea Puffer 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size, And Diet (2)

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.

Dwarf Pea Puffer 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size, And Diet (3)

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.

(Video) Top 5 POSSIBLE Pea Puffer Fish Tankmates.

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
  • Otocinclus
  • Neon tetras (both normal and green)
  • Ember tetras
  • Danios
  • 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.

Wrapping Up

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!



What do dwarf pea puffers eat? ›

What Do Pea Puffers Eat? These hardcore carnivores are best fed on a diet of frozen foods (like frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp) and live foods (like little pest snails or blackworms).

What is a pea puffer fish diet? ›

Pea puffers are carnivores, meaning they live off a diet of meat rather than plants. They thrive on a diet of frozen foods, such as brine shrimp and frozen bloodworms. They will also take live foods, such as blackworms and pest snails.

Can pea puffers live with Tetras? ›

Neon tetras are hardy, popular fish that reach an adult length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) and can live up to 10 years. Their coloration and playful behavior bring activity to the middle level of the tank. Keep these schooling fish in a group of 15 to be happy, occupied, and out of your pea puffer's territory.

How hard are pea puffers to keep? ›

The Pea Puffer is generally considered a low-maintenance fish to keep but it requires the right tankmates and conditions. The species is highly regarded for its swift movements and cute look and is a good choice for beginner to expert aquarists.

Do pea puffers need live plants? ›

Live plants are the most important thing to a pea puffer aquarium. These fish prefer a heavily planted tank. They will feel happier and more secure living in a tiny jungle. This is especially true if you plan on keeping more than one puffer.

What should I feed my dwarf puffer? ›

Dwarf puffers should have a varied diet. I feed mine daily with an assortment of live foods like newly hatched brine shrimp, grindal worms, and occasionally larger worms like blackworms and whiteworms. They enjoy Daphnia and Moina, and they are able to eat adult brine shrimp if it is offered.

Are pea puffers happy alone? ›

Unlike people, Puffers do not need friends or companions for their well-being. They will not get lonely nor will they become depressed because they do not have another Puffer around. In many cases, quite the opposite is true, and they can be much more personable to their keeper if kept as individuals.

Do pea puffers bite? ›

Unfortunately, yes. The playfulness of the Dwarf Puffer belies an unfriendly, villainous character. These fish are infamous for biting off chunks of the fins of slow-moving fish. However, there is an explanation as to why they do this.

Are dwarf puffers hard to keep? ›

Dwarf puffers may sometimes nip at them, but these catfish are fast swimmers and quickly learn to avoid trouble. However, Otocinclus aren't especially easy fish to keep. Their mortality level immediately after import is high — being prone to starvation and sensitive to poor water quality.

Do dwarf puffer fish need a heater? ›

You need the water temperature to remain at a constant 74-82°F (23-28°C). Some people try to get away without using heaters, but if the room's temperature fluctuates too much, you'll end up stressing your puffers.

Are pea puffers beginner fish? ›

Pea puffers aren't beginner fish and require some moderate fish care. It takes some planning to get a correct male to female ratio, which is needed to keep aggression levels down. They also need to be fed a mainly carnivorous diet with a variety of live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods.

Do pea puffers need their teeth trimmed? ›

If the hard foods are not filing down their beaks enough, your puffer's teeth may become so overgrown that they can no longer properly eat. To prevent them from starving, you need to clip the tips of their teeth using a pair of sharp cuticle trimmers.

What are the best snails to feed pea puffers? ›

Pea puffers will eat small snails, such as young Segmentina nitida (ramshorn snails) and Physella acuta (Bladder snail), but they do not need to be fed these snails on a very regular basis. The beak of this species does not grow as rapidly as some others, so the need to feed hard-shelled foods is reduced.

Can pea puffers be put in a betta tank? ›

Bettas are small and somewhat scrappy themselves. However the long-finned variety that are so popular won't do well with fin-nipping Pea Puffers.

What fish can live with puffers? ›

Freshwater Puffers Behavior/Compatibility

Some species, like Dwarf, Redeye and Golden Puffers, can be kept together or with other fast-moving fish like danios. Others, such as Mekong, Nile and Mbu Puffers, must be kept solitary.

How do I know if my pea puffer is happy? ›

As a rule, a white, fat belly is an indication of a happy, healthy Puffer. Diodon species do not have this telling sign; subsequently their health is harder to gauge. The eyes: A healthy Puffer is always curious, and will explore the tank, looking for food, or anything that attracts its attention.

What is a puffer fish's favorite food? ›

Clams, cockles, and mussels are among the puffer's favourite foods. Puffers prefer the thinner shells of mussels, which they can easily crunch with their beaks. For larger puffers, feed these whole; for smaller ones, dice them finely.

Will puffer fish eat flakes? ›

Although your puffer might adapt to eating pellets, flakes and other frozen foods like bloodworms, it's best not to make them the main part of its diet. Keep in mind that puffers are very messy eaters, and they're greedy too.

Can pea puffers change gender? ›


Sexing of juveniles is impossible because these fish "choose" their sex as they mature. Once one puffer begins male he excretes hormones to prevent the other puffers from becoming male. However, if two fish start to mature into males at the same time one will become the dominant male.

What is the easiest puffer fish to keep? ›

Probably the most popular and also the easiest freshwater puffer to keep are dwarf puffers (pictured above), also sometimes known as pea puffers or Malabar puffers.

Are pea puffers fast swimmers? ›

Pea Puffers are slow swimmers, so fast-moving peaceful fish (like danios), or other nano fish like Bumblebee Gobies will work well as tank mates.

How much room does a dwarf puffer fish need? ›

Aquarium and Livestock Size

These are shoaling fish; they need a group of at least 5-6 to thrive. Try to keep the male / female ratio at 1 to 3. The ideal conditions will allow one Dwarf Puffer fish to have around 8-10 liters of aquarium space.

Do puffer fish like to be alone? ›

Puffer fish aren't community fish, and must be kept alone, as they are carnivorous. “They will either eat the other fish that are small enough, or they will bite at the other fish's fins if they are too big to eat,” she said.

How many years do you have to train to serve puffer fish? ›

In order to prepare fugu, chefs must first train tirelessly, preparing hundreds of fish at a cost of thousands of dollars. Then and only then can they legally sell it in their restaurants. Chefs must be at least 20 years of age and generally train for between four and six years.

What algae eaters can live with pea puffers? ›

Some folks have also had luck mixing larger shrimp species, like glass shrimp and Amanos, with pea puffers. Glass shrimp are great for cleaning up uneaten food and Amanos are fantastic algae eaters, even eating tough pest algaes like black beard and staghorn algae.

Can puffer fish bite you? ›

Pufferfish do not bite. Pufferfish are one of the most dangerous and deadliest fish on the planet, but the ironic thing is they do not sting or bite. They have several defense mechanisms that make them one of the most challenging prey to eat, both for animals and even humans.

Are puffer fish poisonous to touch? ›

The pufferfish's skin is covered in spines and spikes, which are exceedingly hazardous. Carry a toxin called tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is deadly to other fish and humans. You should avoid touching a pufferfish, especially if it is "puffed out." Your hands could be damaged and you could die.

Will puffer fish eat snails? ›

In captivity, dwarf pufferfish benefit from a varied diet and will eat small snails such as ramshorn snails, bladder snails, and Malaysian trumpet snails, as well as foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp, which can be fed live or frozen.

Are pea puffers good in community tanks? ›

Many people feel like they are best kept in species-only tanks, but Pea Puffers can be kept in community tanks with the right environment and tank mates. It's important to carefully choose tank mates for your Pea Puffers to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy.

What happens if a puffer fish touches you? ›

The pufferfish's skin is covered in spines and spikes, which are exceedingly hazardous. Carry a toxin called tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is deadly to other fish and humans. You should avoid touching a pufferfish, especially if it is "puffed out." Your hands could be damaged and you could die.

Do puffer fish know their owners? ›

Pufferfish are among the most popular oddball fishes for freshwater and brackish-water aquaria. They are very entertaining fish, full of life and constantly on the move. Most also seem to be quite intelligent, quickly learning to recognize their owners and often becoming tame enough to be hand fed.

Do pea puffers need planted tanks? ›

Live plants are the most important thing to a pea puffer aquarium. These fish prefer a heavily planted tank. They will feel happier and more secure living in a tiny jungle. This is especially true if you plan on keeping more than one puffer.

Do you have to feed pea puffers snails? ›

Pea puffers will eat small snails, such as young Segmentina nitida (ramshorn snails) and Physella acuta (Bladder snail), but they do not need to be fed these snails on a very regular basis. The beak of this species does not grow as rapidly as some others, so the need to feed hard-shelled foods is reduced.


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