Dwarf Puffer Fish – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Dwarf Puffer Fish

Quick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Care Level: Moderately Difficult
Water Conditions: PH 6.8-7.5 and Soft to Fairly Hard
Temperature: 72-79 F (22-26C)
Maximum Size: 1 inch (2.5cm)

The dwarf puffer, also known as the pea puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), is the smallest of the pufferfish available in the aquarium trade and is native to the rivers of southwest India. Unlike the larger puffers commonly available in the hobby, the dwarf puffer is a freshwater fish and should never be placed in brackish water.

The dwarf puffer stays quite small, and is usually sold at close to its maximum size. The adults usually grow to a maximum length of 1 inch (2.5cm), with some staying significantly smaller. Upon reaching maturity, the males become more brightly colored than the females and have banded stripes behind the eyes. They will also sometimes develop a dark stripe in the center of their belly.

This fish is relatively new to the aquarium hobby and depending on where you live, can be difficult to find. But with its striking colors and fascinating behavior, it’s a fantastic little fish to own and you should definitely make the attempt to pick up some of these fish.

In fact, the dwarf puffer is one of the few fish that keenly watch the world outside their tank, and they quickly come to recognize their owner. They are incredibly interactive, and will often remind people of more intelligent cichlid behavior. As soon as you walk in the room, they will begin to frantically move up and down the glass at the front of the aquarium, trying to get your attention. This may be just begging for food, but it’s still nice to get some interaction and attention from your fish.


Housing

It’s important to realize that because the dwarf puffers are such a new fish, much of the information about them on the internet is inaccurate at best. No matter what you may read, dwarf puffers only thrive in freshwater, and under no circumstances should they be kept in brackish or salt water tank. Any attempt to keep a dwarf puffer in a brackish aquarium, will result in a severely shortened lifespan.

They should also be kept in a species only tank, and if you make the mistake of keeping them in a community fish tank, their tankmates will “mysteriously” start losing miniature bite shaped pieces out of their tails and fins. Even in a species only tank, dwarf puffers should be lightly stocked, and a good rule of thumb is to provide each fish with 3 gallons of water.

If you find that you are having a problem with aggression in a dwarf puffer tank, you can add more live plants to the tank (fake plants will also work). When an aquarium is heavily planted, fish can’t maintain a line of sight on other fish, and they tend to chase them less. But don’t overdo the plants in an aquarium – too many plants will crowd the fish together and actually cause more aggression.

When choosing a filter for dwarf puffers, it is important to over filter if at all possible. Dwarf puffers are notoriously messy eaters, and water quality can quickly suffer if you don’t have sufficient filtration.  When choosing the type of filter, a hang on back (HOB) filter or a sponge filter are good choices, but a canister filter is the best choice if you can afford the hefty price tag that comes with it (Click here for HOB filter reviews).

Feeding

The proper feeding of a dwarf puffer is the most difficult aspect of owning them. No matter what someone tells you in a fish store, they will not readily accept flake food or pellets. In the wild, they primarily feed on molluscs (snails), small invertebrate and insects. In the aquarium, this diet needs to be reproduced, or the dwarf puffer will slowly starve to death.

The best way to reproduce this diet in the home aquarium is to feed both small snails and frozen food to the dwarf puffer. When choosing frozen food, without question their favorite food is bloodworms, though some pufferfish will also accept daphnia and brine shrimp.

If you are having trouble getting a puffer to eat, then you can start with live foods mixed in with frozen foods. Nothing triggers the hunting response quicker than fast moving or wriggling live food. In the summer, mosquito larvae or daphnia can easily be provided, and in the cooler months, you can purchase live blackworms.

As for snails, these can be cultured separately in a small aquarium, or they can be removed from any existing aquarium to feed to the dwarf puffer. They tend to ignore the larger snails, but will aggressively hunt any smaller snails in their tank. Even the heavily armored Malaysian trumpet snails aren’t safe from dwarf puffer, and they will be relentlessly hunted until the fish finally figures out how to pull them out of their shell.

Breeding

Breeding dwarf puffers isn’t difficult, and if they are well feed and kept at their ideal temperature for an extended period, they will breed on their own. This usually involves the male chasing the female until she finally accepts his advances, and then moving towards a spot under the cover of plants with him.

In my experience, they tend to choose an area of dense plant cover, such as java moss or particularly overgrown cabomba or hygrophilia. Once under this cover, the two fish will move together for up to a minute, while the eggs and sperm are released.

The eggs are scattered over the plant, and the parents and any other fish should be removed at this point. The eggs will hatch in 24-48 hours, and can be feed a combination of infusoria and baby brine shrimp until they become large enough to accept frozen foods, or hunt the smaller snails. You can find a brine shrimp hatchery at Amazon.com here.

Comments

    • Matthew Seymour says

      I’ve never tried keeping them in the same tank as the eggs. Most people say that they will eat the babies though and the best bet is to remove them from the tank after spawning.

  1. Cory says

    I somehow ended up with a Dwarf puffer that coexists PEACEFULLY with 5 neon tetras and a guppy. I guess I either lucked out or for the only pea puffer that isn’t at all aggressive!

    • says

      I have personally had success keeping them with otto cats, but it was a larger aquarium, so it might be dicey in anything smaller than 90 litres (20 gallons. I have also heard many people have also had success with otto cats, so you should be pretty safe giving it a try.

      As for caves, they aren’t completely necessary, but anything that breaks the line of sight is helpful in creating territories and helping to reduce aggression. This can also be accomplished through rocks, plants and decorations.

  2. says

    I have a dwarf puffer fish and he was happy with the gold fish in the tank. The gold fish died (swim bladder problems) and I introduced a fantail goldfish. My puffer went all weird. Sitting at the bottom of the tank swimming up and down and merely floating about. The fantail was attacking it (after I watched them for a while). I removed the fantail but my puffer is still not herself. Just floating about. Any ideas.

    • says

      What is the temperature of the tank set at? Goldfish and puffer fish have very different temperature requirements, and the water may not be warm enough for it. Beyond that, does it look healthy and well fed?

      If the temperature is alright, and the fish looks healthy, it may just be stressed. It may take a little while to recover.

  3. ron says

    I have 7 peapuffers in a 90 gal. 6 neons, one rope, two roseline sharks,one Hillstream and one long fin bushy nose they all live well together I find my dwarf puffers hang out in groops of 2-3 most of the Time and spend most of there time under the roseline sharks just following him around they will not eat live snails but love blood worms

    • says

      Really? What kind of snails do you have? I’ve never had dwarf puffers that will avoid snails. I have heard that they will ignore larger ones, like apple snails, but I’ve never wanted to test that theory.

      It sounds like you have a great setup though. I’ve been wanting to get hillstream loaches for a while now.

  4. Sid says

    I have 3 in a 10 gallon along with 8 neons, 5 celestial pearl danios, 3 pigmy corydoras, 2 honey dwarf gouramis, 2 electric blue rams, and a butterfly/hillstream loach. The only fish showing any sign of fin nipping surprisingly are the mated pair of rams which had only a few small bites on the lower caudal fin before they kept a good eye on the locality of the little nippers. The tank is filtered via undergravel with 2″ gravel at front center and increases to 2.5″ at the front sides and aquascaped to 4″ and 4.5″ across the back. It is a ram tank mostly and densely aquacultured in 4 areas with 18 different species of plants. The foreground is scattered with “patches” of microswords, bacopa, and small crypts. Mid planted with 3 and 2 strands of myriophyllum on far right fwd and a deep-purple sword 3″ from right side and slightly more rearward. Back “wall” L to R is purple cabomba, another deep purple sword, a mixture of some 8 – 10 reuben, compacta, and argentinian swords, and green cabomba. The surface is half covered with a mat of riccia. The bottom is further broken up by MANY nice pieces of whitish granite witspeckled much with black and varying rose tints. All granite was broken/hammered from larger pieces and reduced to 3″ heights and less. ALL edges hammered till somewhat rounded until no sharp edges could be felt. Feeding is a bit tricky with the frenzied tactics of the neons and danios. Flake food top left or freeze dried tubifex on front left glass, and frozen blood worms to the bottom right via a 1/2″ opaque tube where the corys, rams and puffers forage. Lighting is provided by a Solar Flare 115 and med high uplift speed on filter (the plants and rock-work slow the current tromendosly). Ph is 6.6 – 6.8 IAW plant load, ammonia and nitrite both at 0ppm. Nitrate holds steady between 5 and 10ppm depending on the amount of riccia I permit in the tank. Small snails and culled fry are added regularly in limited numbers to keep the puffers interest focused on the few so as not to have injured “food” dieing in the thick plantings and fouling the water. This setup is working very well.

    Of note… I was amazed at how fast these little puffers are. The neons and danios out-swim them; the corys out maneuver them; the rams have learned to face them, and the gouramis simply avoid them altogether. They don’t bother the hillstream loach at all and I’m still not sure why. At feeding time I make sure the puffers each have a fat little belly to reduce their desire to nip.

    • says

      That’s great that the setup is working for you. I experimented a few times with them, but I always ended up with lots of tailless fish. It wasn’t pretty. Maybe the key is sticking with fast fish, but even that didn’t seem to help too much in my case.

    • Nils says

      I really want to get a dwarf puffer for my 2.5 gallon tank (which is currently housing a mexican dwarf orange crayfish) Can I keep the dwarf crayfish and the puffer together? Thanks in advance,
      Nils

      • says

        Generally speaking, dwarf orange crayfish are the only crayfish that I know of that does well with fish. The problem that you will face, is that your tank is too small for either of those to really do well. I would recommend at least 10 gallons to prevent major issues.

        Something else to be concerned with, is that most dwarf crayfish are OK with fish. While rare, there have been some people who have claimed that they attack smaller fish. I’ve never experienced this, but just something that I wanted to mention too.

        • Nils says

          Okay thank you I have a ten gallon planted tank with five cory cats and three dwarf crayfish. I went out and boight a 2.5 gallon for one of the mal. crayfish that was in the ten gallon because he was a fin nipper. I wanted to always have a dwarf puffer and I wanted to give the crayfish some company. I was just wondering if it was possible
          Thanks for replying,
          Nils

  5. Holly says

    I have a 5 gal. tank which housed a zebrafish who recently died of extreme old age. (He was great. Will miss him) . I’d love to get a pea puffed if I can find one (preferably bread here in the US not wild caught) I have another community tank with lots of snails so a constant food supply. Three questions:1. what substrate is best for the bottom of the tank? 2. Should I have the snails living in the same 5 gal tank as the puffed or just retrieve one from my other tank when its feeding time? 3. How can I find a puffed breeder in my area?

    • says

      Sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I use sand with my puffers, but gravel is fine. Its also fine to keep snails in the same tank, especially if they are Malaysian trumpet snails as they hide in the substrate. In my experience they will not hunt when hungry.

      As for the breeder, I would look at local forums and many fish stores can do special orders for fish like that. I may also know someone. Where are you located?

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