The Complete Pea Puffer Fish Care Guide: From Tank Setup to Feeding

The pea puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), also known as the dwarf puffer fish or pygmy pufferfish, is a small freshwater fish species belonging to the Tetraodontidae family. The fish comes from India and unlike the other species, it inhabits only in freshwater. It’s important to note that keeping pea puffers requires experience and careful attention to their specific needs.


Dwarf puffers may become a perfect addition to your collection of aquarium fishes. Is quite easy, you just have to keep in mind that:

  1. it’s better to keep them away from other fishes
  2. they are predators
  3. they require clean tank water and they pollute it very fast with feed leftovers
  4. although the fish is small, it’s aggressive
  5. the diet requires snails in it

Habitat in the wild

Pea puffers, scientifically known as Carinotetraodon travancoricus, belong to the family Tetraodontidae. The family Tetraodontidae is commonly referred to as the pufferfish family or the tetraodontid family. It is a diverse family of fish that includes various species of pufferfish found in both freshwater and marine environments.

The Tetraodontidae family is known for the unique ability of many of its members to inflate their bodies by ingesting water or air, turning themselves into a ball-like shape as a defense mechanism against predators. However, it’s important to note that pea puffers, despite being part of this family, do not possess the same degree of inflation capability as some larger pufferfish species.

Pea puffers, or dwarf pufferfish, are among the smaller members of the pufferfish family and are known for their vibrant colors, active behavior, and intriguing personalities. They are primarily found in freshwater environments, as opposed to some larger pufferfish species that inhabit marine or brackish waters.

Dwarf puffer is from Kerala state, India. The dwarf puffer fish inhabits in the river Pamba which comes down from the mountains and pours into Vembanad lake (which is habitat). The Pamba river has a slow flow and it’s rich with water plants. In the wild, they can be found in slow-moving rivers, streams, and shallow, vegetation-rich waters, including rice paddies and flooded fields during the monsoon season.

Pea puffers are closely associated with vegetation-rich habitats. They can be found among submerged or emergent plants, such as water hyacinths, water lettuce, and dense underwater vegetation. These plants provide them with shelter, hiding places, and hunting grounds for small invertebrates.


Overall, pea puffers possess a unique and captivating appearance, with their vibrant colors, round body shape, and expressive eyes. Their small size and charming features make them popular choices among fish enthusiasts.

  • Body Shape: They have a rounded and chubby body shape. When well-fed, their bodies can appear plump and spherical.
  • Coloration: Pea puffers display a variety of colors and patterns. The dominant coloration is typically green, with shades ranging from olive green to bright green. They often have black or brown patches and spots scattered across their bodies. Abdomen is white or yellowish The coloration can vary slightly between individuals, and the intensity of the colors may change depending on their mood or environment.
  • Eyes: Pea puffers have prominent eyes that are often black or dark in color. Their eyes contribute to their adorable and expressive appearance. The eyes move independently of each other, that allows to observe surroundings almost without moving.
  • Beak-like Mouth: One distinctive feature of pea puffers is their beak-like mouth. Their mouth is designed for crushing the shells of snails and other small invertebrates, which are part of their natural diet.
  • Finnage: Pea puffers have relatively short fins. The dorsal fin, located on their back, is usually small and triangular in shape. The pectoral and pelvic fins are also relatively short.

How big do pea puffers get?

Pea puffer fish it’s one of the smallest (if not the smallest one) of Tetraodontidae family – the size is bout 3.5 cm (1.4 in) and are commonly referred to as dwarf pufferfish or pygmy pufferfish. Despite their small size, they exhibit a lot of personality and can be quite fascinating to observe in an aquarium setting. Their compact size makes them suitable for smaller aquarium setups or nano tanks.

How long do pea puffers live?

Pea puffers have a relatively shorter lifespan compared to some other aquarium fish species. On average, pea puffers can live for about 3 to 5 years in captivity. It’s important to note that individual variations and circumstances can affect the lifespan of any fish species, including pea puffers. Monitoring their behavior, health, and any signs of illness or stress, and promptly addressing any issues that arise, can contribute to their overall well-being and potentially prolong their lifespan.

How smart are pea puffers?

Pea puffers are considered intelligent among fish species. They exhibit behaviors and characteristics that suggest a certain level of cognitive ability. While their intelligence may not be comparable to more complex animals like mammals or birds, they display several notable traits that indicate a higher level of cognition for fish.

It’s one of few fishes which observe with interest what is happening behind the tank glass and starts to recognize its owner. Is a very clever fish and its behavior often reminds other intelligent fishes – cichlids. Once you enter the room, the fishes start swimming near the tank glass trying to attract your attention. Of course, they’d like to ask for some feed, but it’s always nice to see such a reaction from the fish.

Common NamesPea puffer, Dwarf pufferfish, Pygmy pufferfish
Scientific NameCarinotetraodon travancoricus
SizeAround 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length
Body ShapeRounded, compact body
ColorationGreen, yellow, and brown patches
Native HabitatFreshwater habitats, particularly in India
BehaviorActive, curious, and intelligent
Tank SizeMinimum of 10 gallons (37 liters) for a small group
Tank SetupWell-maintained aquarium with plants and hiding spots
Water ParametersClean, well-filtered water; monitor ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels
DietCarnivorous; primarily feeds on small invertebrates like snails, worms, and insects
CompatibilityNot suitable for community tanks; can be territorial and aggressive
BreedingChallenging to breed in captivity; separate breeding tank with dense plants may be required

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

For pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), it’s recommended to provide a suitable tank size that allows them to thrive and exhibit their natural behaviors. While they are small fish, they still require adequate space to swim and establish territories.

Dwarf puffer fish doesn’t require a big tank, however different references provide us with different info, one say that 2 gallons for one fish is enough, the others – 10 gallons are enough for a small dwarf puffer school. A minimum tank size of 10 gallons (37 liters) is typically recommended for a small group of pea puffers. This size provides enough room for them to move around comfortably and establish their territories. However, larger tanks are always preferable if space and resources permit.

In a larger tank, such as a 20-gallon (75 liters) or 30-gallon (113 liters) tank, you can create a more enriched environment with additional plants, hiding spots, and open swimming space. This helps to mimic their natural habitat and provides opportunities for exploration and social interactions.

Water parameters

It’s important that tank is balanced and completely set, since the dwarf puffer fish is rather sensitive to ammonia and nitrates content in the tank water. Addition of some salt into the water isn’t advisable, moreover it’s harmful, however this recommendation can be quite often seen over the Internet.

In the tank puffer isn’t very demanding to water parameters. The main thing is to avoid anything extreme, the fish will adapt to the rest. Optimal water parameters: pH 6.0-7.5, 5-20 dGH. Naturally, this Indian inhabitant requires warm water – within 25-26 °C.

So, you should install a powerful filter and renew the water regularly. It’s very important to maintain the low level of nitrates and ammonia content in the water, especially in small tanks. But keep in mind that the fish doesn’t like strong water flow, so you’d better decrease it as much as possible.

Tank decor

The thing is that the fish is a rather new one and there is very few reliable info about it, but we know for sure that adding some salt into the tank shortens lifespan. Even the information about dwarf spawning differs – in the references both hard and soft, acidic and alkali water is mentioned.

There are always lots of leftovers after the fish was fed. If you try to put some snails into the tank and see what happens – the pea puffer will attack and eat the snails and their rests will lay on the tank bottom and soon they will start to rot.

All these show that fish has high adaptivity level. So, if you provide the fish with proper tank conditions – clean water and good feed, it’ll be a delight for your eyes for quite a long time.


Care crucially depends on the proper feed. Pea puffers are carnivorous fish with specific dietary requirements. In the wild they feed on snails, small spineless species and insects. Pea puffers have constantly growing teeth, and their diet should include food with harder shells, such as snails or crustaceans, to help wear down their teeth naturally.

The best way to create a fortified diet for pea puffer is to feed it with small snails (ramshorn snails, MTS) and frozen feed.

Frozen feed

If we speak about frozen one – favorite food is bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and small insects. If your fish refuses to feed on frozen feed you can mix it with the live feed. Nothing improves the appetite as live and moving feed.


Pea puffers have a strong instinct to hunt and feed on snails. Introducing small pest snails, such as Malaysian trumpet snails or Ramshorn Snails, can provide them with mental stimulation, natural foraging behavior, and a valuable food source. You can give snails to mini puffer fish regularly, since they are its basic food in the wild and the dwarf puffer fish uses snail’s shell to mill its teeth. So, the fish will quickly eat all the snails in its tank and you’d better have some plan B in this respect. They will ignore large snails, but they’ll eagerly feed on small ones whose shells they can crack.

Even MTS snails don’t feel themselves safe in their hard shells, since the fish will still try to crack smaller species. Dwarf puffers hunt in a strange way – the fish stays above its target and studies it (a snail), then it attacks the snail when the moment is right. This is quite a time-consuming process. The dwarf puffer fish has some area around its target (about 5 cm in diameter) and the decision as for attacking the target is made within this area.

Commercial foods

To ensure a balanced diet, you can supplement their meals with high-quality commercial foods specifically formulated for carnivorous fish. Look for products that contain a mix of protein sources suitable for small fish.

Tank mates

Pea puffers are known for their territorial and aggressive nature, particularly towards their own species and similar-looking fish. As a result, it’s generally recommended to keep them in a species-only setup or with carefully selected tank mates that can coexist peacefully.

Here are some potential tank mates that can be compatible with pea puffers:

  1. Snails: Pea puffers have a natural diet that includes snails, so adding small, pest snails (such as Malaysian trumpet snails or bladder snails) can serve as a food source and provide enrichment. It’s important to ensure an adequate snail population to prevent the puffers from exhausting their food supply.
  2. Bottom-dwelling fish: Some peaceful bottom-dwelling species that can tolerate the puffer’s aggressive behavior may work well. For example, small Corydoras catfish or otocinclus catfish can be considered. Choose species that are active and fast enough to avoid being targeted by the puffers.
  3. Non-aggressive, fast-moving fish: Certain small, fast-swimming fish that occupy different areas of the tank may be compatible with pea puffers. Examples include certain species of danios (e.g., zebra danios) or small rasboras (e.g., chili rasbora or harlequin rasbora). However, closely monitor their interactions and be prepared to separate them if aggression occurs.

Can dwarf puffers live in a community tank?

In fact, all pea puffers have rather different behavior in different tanks. Again, one say that they successfully keep together with other fishes, the others complain about some nipped fins and the fishes being pressured. It’s possibly about each fish temper and tank conditions.

In general, it’s recommended to keep dwarf puffer in a separate tank, since they are more active and this way no other fish gets hurt.

Sometimes, this dwarf puffer fish can be kept together with shrimps, but keep in mind that despite the fish’s small mouth in the wild it feeds on different spineless species, so at least small prawns will be treated as feed.

How many pea puffers should be kept together?

When it comes to keeping pea puffers together, it’s important to strike a balance between social interaction and minimizing aggression. Pea puffers are known to be territorial and may display aggression towards their own species, especially if they feel their territory is being invaded or resources are scarce. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider tank size, individual personalities, and providing ample hiding spots for each fish.

You may keep puffer in a small school of 5-6 dwarf puffer fish species in a thickly planted tank with lots of covers. In such a tank the intraspecific aggression will lessen sufficiently, it’ll be easier for the fish to define its territory and to find a mate.

Can a pea puffer live alone? It’s generally recommended to keep pea puffers in small groups rather than pairs or solitary. A group of three to five pea puffers is often recommended to minimize aggression and provide social interaction.

Maintaining a proper sex ratio can help reduce aggression. Ideally, keep a larger number of females to males. Having multiple females can help distribute aggression and reduce the likelihood of one female being excessively harassed.

Create a well-planted aquarium with plenty of hiding spots and visual barriers. This allows each pea puffer to establish its own territory and reduces aggression by providing escape options. Dense vegetation, driftwood, rocks, and caves can serve as hiding places.

Gender differences: male vs female

Distinguishing between male and female pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) can be challenging as there are no pronounced physical differences between the sexes. However, there are a few subtle characteristics that may help in determining their gender:

  1. Size: In some cases, females may appear slightly larger and have a rounder belly compared to males. However, this difference in size may not always be noticeable, and it is not a definitive method for sexing pea puffers.
  2. Behavior: During breeding or courtship, males may display more vibrant colors and exhibit particular behaviors to attract females. They might chase or display courtship rituals to gain the attention of the female.
  3. Egg Laying: In a breeding context, only females will produce eggs. If you observe a pea puffer laying eggs, you can determine its sex as female. However, breeding behavior in captivity can be challenging to induce and observe.

It’s important to note that these characteristics are not always reliable, and visual identification of the sex of pea puffers can be difficult without expert knowledge or examining them closely during breeding behavior. In most cases, pea puffers are sold unsexed in the aquarium trade.


How often do pea puffers breed?

Pea puffers are known to be challenging to breed in captivity, but unlike lots of related species the dwarf puffer successfully breeds in a tank. Their breeding frequency can be influenced by various factors, including water conditions, diet, and the availability of suitable breeding partners.

In general, pea puffers may not breed frequently in a home aquarium setting. Breeding behaviors and successful spawning have been observed sporadically, but they are not as commonly bred as some other fish species.

How do pea puffers breed?

The majority of experts advise to put a couple or a harem (one male and several females), since males are known for their cruelty – they hit their enemy to death.

Also, if there are several females and one male – it decreases the chances that the male will haunt one of the females too severely. If you take a couple or three of them for breeding the tank may be small sized. Light filtration is required, but if the water is renewed regularly you may not use the filter.

The spawning tank should be thickly planted with lots of small leaved plants – cabomba, Limnophila aquatica or Java moss. Pea puffer especially likes laying eggs on some moss.

After moving the fishes into the spawning tank you should feed them high with live feed and snails. The male color becomes more saturated and it means that he’s ready for spawning. The courtship behaviour shows when the male starts chasing the dwarf puffer female one and biting her if she’s still not ready. The chase ends somewhere in the moss where the couple stays for a while to lay eggs and milt.

The eggs are almost transparent and small (about 1 mm), not sticky and they just fall down. The spawning takes place several times till the female fish lays all the eggs.

How many eggs do puffer fish lay?

There are very few eggs – about 10 or less. But, dwarf puffer can spawn every day, so if you want to have more eggs just keep several females in the tank. The breeding dwarf puffer fishes may eat their eggs, so you should remove the eggs from the spawning tank by means of large pipette or hose.

What do pea puffer eggs look like?

Pea puffer eggs are small and translucent. They are usually round or oval in shape and have a sticky texture, allowing them to attach to various surfaces in the aquarium. The size of the eggs is typically around 1 millimeters in diameter.

When freshly laid, pea puffer eggs may appear slightly opaque or milky. However, as they develop, they become more transparent, making the embryo inside visible. The developing embryos can be seen as dark spots or tiny black dots within the egg.

But you’ll barely see the eggs, so if you see the breeding like behavior of the fish and you see no eggs, use the hose and move it over the areas where the fishes seem to have spawned. It’s possible that together with the rubbish you’ll gather some hardly seen eggs.

The juveniles hatch in a few days and for some period of time they feed at the account of their umbilical vesicle. Start feed for juveniles is very small – Vinegar eels, infusorian. Some time later you may feed them with brine shrimp nauplii and in about a month with frozen feed and small snails.

If you raising several generations at the same time you should sort the juveniles, since there may be cases of cannibalism. The juveniles grow fast and in two month the fish may be about 1 cm long.