Dwarf Pea Puffers - Planted Tank Mates
Dwarf pea puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus).

Dwarf Pea Puffers


Dwarf Pea Puffers are awesome little predators.  They’ve become popular in the aquarium world for their adorable appearance and personality.  Let’s not forget their unique way of swimming.  They have tiny fins that flutter fast like a hummingbird, suspending themselves and maneuvering through the aquarium like a helicopter or drone.  If startled, they can dart across the tank super fast, or like the name suggests, puff up like a balloon.  Although hardy and adaptive with water conditions, they’re not the easiest fish to keep for beginners.  


Dwarf Pea Puffers are an intermediate level fish.  A heater is recommended to keep warm water conditions around 74-82 degrees.  Although they can adapt to neutral and slightly acidic water conditions, they prefer more alkaline waters with a PH ranging from 7.2 – 7.5.  

Don’t be fooled by their size.  These tiny puffers can be aggressive and territorial.  You can keep a single puffer in a 5 gallon tank, but they do prefer to be in groups and can thrive with 6 or more.  It’s important to have a balanced male to female ratio of at least 1:2 or 1:3.  Males tend to have deeper coloration with a decorative spot or stripe on their belly.  Females normally have a rounder, yellow belly without any markings.  It can be challenging to tell them apart, especially when they’re juveniles.

When it comes to food, they’re extreme carnivores and may not eat dry or flake foods.  They prefer fresh bloodworms and brine shrimp, but the frozen type will do just fine after a transition period.  One of the joys of keeping Dwarf Pea Puffers is that you can feed them manually with a pair of tweezers.  Hold up a worm nearby and watch them grab it.  They’re also great for snail population control, especially the smaller bladder snails.  This gives them a bit of crunch and calcium in their diet, but note that this is NOT a solution for eradicating snails. 

dwarf pea puffer eating bloodworms 

Tank Setup

For a single puffer, provide at least a 5 gallon tank.  This puffer may get bored though as they’re found in large groups in the wild.  For every additional puffer, add another 3 gallons.  Ideally, you want a larger tank that’s wide and gives them room to swim back and forth.  They’re mid-dwellers so the ability to swim back and forth is better than up and down.  If you’re able to accommodate a larger aquarium, do so to mitigate territorial behaviors.

Make sure the tank is densely planted to provide shelter and reduce line of sight.  Keeping multiple puffers in a bare bottom tank can lead to a battle zone, especially if there are a lot of males.  Although social, puffers don’t always like to be exposed, especially when they sleep at night.  A densely planted tank will ensure they have some relief from others as well as feel comfortable in the evening.

Include a good filtration system as they can be messy eaters.  Although they’re tiny and their bio-load can be minimal, leftover food can quickly rot and become waste in the system. Also, a larger filtration system will ensure that the water parameters are stable and it does not fluctuate dramatically during water changes.

Tank Mates

Tank mates for Pea Puffers can be a hit or miss.  They’re fin nippers, so definitely avoid fish with long, flowy fins like guppies.  Many people have reported success keeping them with larger community fish like tetras, danios, otocinclus, corydoras and even dwarf shrimp!  At the same time, many have reported puffers beating them all up, or turning those shrimps into expensive snacks.

Having a large, densely planted tank will definitely help.  Managing a good ratio of males to females will increase your chances of success.  What you can’t control is the personality and temperament of each individual puffer you get.  Similar to dogs and other household pets, some may be calm and easy going, while others can be more bold or anxious.  It’s a total crap-shoot, which is why a lot of people would recommend keeping a species only tank.

All Things Considered

Dwarf Pea Puffers are amazing little creatures.  It’s easy to sit in front of the tank and feed them, watching their bean-shaped body maneuver like drones.  Try your best not to startle or make them “puff up”.  If they inflate near the surface and bring in air, they may not be able to expel it and die.  Puffing up is actually their defense mechanism, so let’s not stress them out.  While they’re not extremely demanding, their aggressive and territorial personalities require more attention and care.  Having the right setup is just as important as having a quarantine strategy ready.  Once they’re established in your aquarium, you’ll really enjoy them as they’re a delight to see everyday.  Get those bloodworms and brine shrimps ready!  

Dwarf Pea Puffer Eating Bloodworm

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