Pea Puffer Care Sheet: Tank Mates, Health, Diet and More…

Pea Puffer

When you think of a Pufferfish you probably think of a spiny saltwater fish that blows up like a balloon.

However, the Pea Puffer is a rare freshwater Pufferfish.

They can still puff up however they are not poisonous like their saltwater cousins.

Just one look at these fish and you will see why they are so popular.

They are absolutely adorable, intelligent and surprisingly inquisitive. You will love watching these little explorers investigate your aquairum.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this unique freshwater fish…

Pea Puffer
Other Common Names: Malabar Puffer, Dwarf Puffer, Pygmy Puffer
Scientific Name: Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Family Name: Tetraodontidae
Distribution: Kerala (India)
Size: 1 inch
Color: Green
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Lifespan: 4-5 years
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Compatible with other nano fish

Overview

A Pea Puffer Swimming

The Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) is also known as the Dwarf Puffer because they are the smallest Pufferfish in the world.

They come from the Tetraodontidae family, which includes all Pufferfish species.

Interestingly most Pufferfish are found only in marine or brackish environments but the Pea Puffer is one of the few that is found in freshwater. They are endemic to the rivers of Kerala, India.

A pair of these tiny fish will fit into a 10 gallon aquarium.

They are among the easiest Puffers to care for but we recommend having at least an intermediate amount of experience with freshwater fish before taking this one on.

In your aquarium you can expect them to reach an inch long and live for up to 5 years.

They will cost about $7-$10 per species.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Intermediate freshwater fishkeeping experience.
  • Nicknames: Malabar Puffer, Pygmy Puffer, Dwarf Puffer.
  • Color Forms: Green.
  • Size: 1 inch.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 10+ gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 75°F to 82°F.

Are Pea Puffers Poisonous?

Most Puffers carry a dangerous poison called tetrodotoxin.

Species from lower salinities tend to carry saxitoxin instead.

Both of these toxins are obtained by eating a certain type of algae that grows on the shells of snails and clams. They are both extremely lethal and can cause respiratory failure.

However, your aquarium Pea Puffer is not likely to be poisonous.

This is because the algae they need to eat to synthesize the toxin is not available in aquariums.

Wild caught specimens may carry small amounts of saxitoxin, but without access to the algae it will leave their system over time. While you do not need to worry about getting poisoned by your Puffer, you should still handle them as little as possible and wear gloves when you do.

Pea Puffer Care Sheet

Pea Puffer Close Up

The Pea Puffer is not a good beginner fish.

Because of their sensitivity and semi-aggressive nature they are better suited to those who have some experience with freshwater fish.

Once you have kept other slow moving freshwater fish you will be ready to keep the Pea Puffer. They make the perfect introduction to the Tetraodontidae family and are among the most manageable Pufferfish.

These fish are very sensitive to the water parameters. Sudden fluctuations in water quality will stresses them out and make them very sick. Inconsistent water temperature is the leading cause of sudden illness too.

The most common illness with these fish is ich.

You will notice a sprinkling of white dots over the fish’s scales. Fortunately, ich is also one of the most treatable illnesses. Medication is readily available at just about any aquarium supplier.

It is easy for these fish to injure each other while fighting and a bite can also lead to some nasty bacterial infections. You should also keep an eye out for blood, lacerations, or any unusual marks on your fish’s body and fins. An injured fish should be immediately isolated and given antibiotic treatments.

Diet

This fish is a carnivore and must have access to live prey.

In the wild they eat mollusks, worms and larval insects.

When you keep them in an aquarium they need to eat live prey just as much as they do in the wild. For such a little fish they have a big appetite!

Tubifex, bloodworms and mealworms can be given as live feeders. All worms should be purchased from an aquarium supplier and not from a bait shop.

Nerite Snails and Trumpet Snails can be given as well.

Crushed up snail or clam shells make a great calcium packed snack.

You can offer mosquito larvae and small grubs to satisfy their appetite for insects. They will also eagerly snack on water fleas, brine shrimp, copepods and other tiny zooplankton.

Because of their small size they are easy to overfeed.

You should set a strict feeding schedule in the morning and just before sundown, and make sure that every meal can be finished in 2 minutes or less.

Here is everything that they can eat:

  • Mealworms
  • Bloodworms
  • Tubifex worms
  • Daphnia
  • Moina
  • Brine shrimp
  • Copepods
  • Cyclops
  • Snails
  • Clams
  • Insect larvae
  • Algae

Behavior

They have big personalities and this is a major part of their charm.

These rambunctious fish tend to nip and bite at the other fish in the tank. Even if they are only play their beak is sharp enough to cause serious injuries.

Boisterous behavior can be discouraged by limiting the number of males in a group.

They swim very slowly but will explore all levels of the tank and can be spotted anywhere at any given time.

Pea Puffers have shown surprising aptitude when given small puzzles and brainteasers to solve. You can enrich their big brains with a feeding puzzle or an underwater maze.

Do Pea Puffers Puff Up?
Yes.

They will puff up when they feel threatened or distressed.

Puffing is a defensive mechanism which is meant to intimidate a potential predator. It is also an involuntary stress reaction when something is not right.

To puff up your fish sucks in large amounts of water to inflate their body.

Once the stressor is removed their body slowly deflates.

Never try to make your fish puff up on purpose. It is cruel to intentionally distress your fish and the reaction is very taxing on their body. If your fish is puffing frequently then something in their environment is distressing them. This could be poor water quality, an incompatible tank mate, or competition with the males in their shoal.

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

A Pea Puffer

In their native habitat in India these fish inhabit slow moving and slightly acidic streams with salinities on the upper end of freshwater.

They live in areas that are dense with submerged vegetation and the water temperatures are always above 75°F. The substrate here is composed of fine grains that can support plant roots.

In the wild Pea Puffers spend most of their time exploring these underwater jungles while hunting for prey. They are exposed to sunlight for most of the day and are active during the daylight hours.

To create the perfect habitat for them you will need at least a 10 gallon tank. Use a 20 gallon to keep a group of up to 6 Puffers. Make sure to read the table below to learn what water parameters they need.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 10 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater planted
Temperature 75-82°F
pH 6.5-8.0
Hardness 7-15 dGH
Flow None
Substrate Sand or mud

Your filter should generate the bare minimum amount of flow. Even mild currents are difficult for these slow movers to withstand so a sponge filter or HOB are your two best options. HOB filters also oxygenate the water so your Pufferfish will very much appreciate this one. If you do not have a HOB filter you can use small air stones to add some extra oxygen.

The tank should be exposed to at least 10 hours of light from a full spectrum aquarium lighting system. It should also be covered with a hood or lid to stop these curious fish from escaping.

For substrate you can use fine grained sand or mud.

These fish will want a heavily planted tank just like they are used to in the wild.

You can get very creative here and design the perfect underwater jungles and gardens for your fish. The best plants to use are Anubias, Indian Water Ferns, Green Cabomba, Tapegrass and Java Moss.

Decorations other than plants are generally not necessary but there is no harm in including a few boulders or some driftwood for a natural look.

Appearance and Color

Dwarf Puffer

The Pea Puffer is the smallest Pufferfish in the world.

They will grow to a maximum length of just one inch.

You will only find this fish in one color variety: olive green with black or brown spots. These deep black spots can appear iridescent blue in certain light. The spots can be irregular or perfectly round, and their underside is either white or light yellow.

If you look close enough at their colors and patterns you can tell the difference between males and females.

Males are a darker green color, while females are mustard yellow.

The ventral side of the male is bright yellow and the female’s underside is white. Males also have dark stripes along their ventral side and alongside the spots on their body.

As for their body they are very fat and wide towards the front, but gradually thin towards the caudal fin. The snout is pointed slightly which conceals a very hard beak. Their eyes are very large and strangely expressive for a fish.

Their fins are very short and stubby so they can be difficult to see. But if you look very closely you can see that there are 5 of them: a dorsal fin, caudal fin, anal fin and a pair of pectoral fins.

Perhaps the most interesting part about their appearance though if when they puff up.

This happens when they feel threatened or when they are competing with another fish. When they puff up they expand to 3 inches in size. This defensive response is very taxing on their body though, so you should never make your fish puff up on purpose.

Tank Mates

Although they are small this fish is not very peaceful.

It is recommended that you keep them in a single species setup.

However if you do want to keep them in a community tank, then popular nano fish are they way forward.

Fast moving fish will be able to keep out of the way of the slow moving Puffer.

Some good picks include:

  • Tetras (Ember, Flame, Bloodfin and Neon)
  • Rasboras (Mosquito, Chili and Harlequin)
  • Zebra Danio
  • Cherry Barb
  • Killifish
  • Bluefin or Redfin Nothos
  • Otocinclus
  • Corydoras

Unfortunately this is not the right tank to keep invertebrates in.

Pea Puffer are carnivorous and will eat most invertebrates. Even if a larger snail or shrimp does not get eaten, it risks being harassed and bitten to death by your Puffers.

Long finned fish like Gouramis, Swordtails, and Angelfish should also be avoided.

Of course you should also not mix different species of Puffers together.

Any fish that you select for this community should be faster than the Pea Puffer itself. And make sure not to include any fish that is over 2 inches long.

Keeping Pea Puffer Together

These fish are meant to be kept among their own kind and they do remarkably well in a single species setup.

They usually form schools of about 6 individuals.

There should be one male for every 2 females in the group.

In a school you can observe their social behavior and watch them explore the aquarium together.

They will often gather in the same feeding spot and even team up to get past a particularly trifling obstacle. At times they will even share food with one another.

Carinotetraodon travancoricus

Breeding Pea Puffers

Pea Puffers are very easy to breed in home aquariums.

The only difficulty with breeding them is their behavior when it comes to courtship.

Competition for mates brings out their most aggressive side. Males in competition will fight to the death so it is important to keep this behavior in check when your fish are in breeding condition.

There should be 2 females for every male in your breeding group.

The male will chase the females around the tank while selecting a mate. Once he pairs off with one he will spend all of his time chasing her.

You should place your pair in a breeding tank with a mat of Java Moss and a Water Sprite.

Include a sponge filter and raise the water temperature above 79°F.

When they are ready to spawn the male male will chase the female into the Water Sprite and they will stay out of sight while the female lays her eggs.

You will be able to spot about 10 tiny eggs clinging to the leaves and moss.

Remove both of the parents immediately once the eggs are laid.

The eggs will take about 2 days to hatch and the larvae will survive on their yolk sacs for 2 to 3 days. After this you will have to feed them with infusoria. After a week or two the fry will be large enough to eat insect larvae, brine shrimp, microworms and small snails.

Once they reach one month old they can take full sized prey and join the main tank.

History and First Sighting

The Pea Puffer was first discovered in Kerala back in 1941.

Their popularity in home aquariums began in their native country and spread to the rest of the world by the 1990s.

By 2005 overharvesting for home aquariums led to a 30% decline of their wild populations. The species was classified as vulnerable by the IUCN in the late 2000s. It is not yet officially endangered but it is on the verge of becoming so.

Fortunately though captive breeding programs have opened up in order to preserve wild populations. Thanks to these breeding programs wild fish do not need to be removed in order for hobbyists to enjoy them.

As of 2010 the Pea Puffer is still listed as vulnerable and their current population numbers are unknown.

While they are still relatively uncommon they are gathering a cult following among Pufferfish enthusiasts.

Summary

The Pea Puffer is an excellent choice for those who are looking to try their first Pufferfish.

Compared to other species, they are quite easy to manage. But remember though that they are very sensitive and are easily distressed by their environmental conditions.

Their intelligent and outgoing nature is all part of what makes them so lovable.

With so many things to love about this spectacular fish, you can see why they have earned such a following in the freshwater hobby.

Do your Pea Puffers get along well with their tank mates? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.