Dwarf puffer fish care guide

Dwarf puffer (lat. Carinotetraodon travancoricus) is the smallest fish of Tetraodontidae family you may encounter on sale. The fish comes from India and unlike the other species, it inhabits only in freshwater. Is very small and quite often it’s sold in its max size – about 1 in (2.5 cm) long.


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

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.

So, these mean that fish is a completely freshwater one, unlike all its relatives which at least require some brackish water.

Scientific NameCarinotetraodon travancoricus
Common NamesDwarf pufferfish; dwarf puffer fish; pea puffer; pygmy puffer fish
Range and habitatIndia
Size3.5 cm (1.4 in)
Lifespan3-4 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size20 liters (5 gallons) and more
Temperature77-79 °F (25-26 °C)
Water hardness5-20 dGH


Dwarf 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). The lifespan is about 4 years.

The eyes move independently of each other, that allows to observe surroundings almost without moving. Depending on the mood its color varies from green to brown with dark spots scattered all over the body. Abdomen is white or yellowish.

Care and keeping in a tank

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.

Tank size

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. So, the proper tank capacity has some average value of those mentioned above. Anyway, we speak about small tank capacities.

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. It doesn’t matter what the sellers say, since in the real life the dwarf puffer fish doesn’t eat flakes or granules.

In the wild they feed on snails, small spineless species and insects. If you don’t keep to this diet the fish will starve. The best way to create a fortified diet for pea puffer is to feed it with small snails (ramshorn snails, MTS) and frozen feed.

If we speak about frozen one – favorite food is blood worm, daphnia and brine shrimps. 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.

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.

Tank mates

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 prawns, 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.

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.

Gender differences: male vs female

It’s hard to see between dwarf puffer male and female when they are juveniles, but adult male has a dark stripe along its abdomen, which a female doesn’t have. Also, females have more rounded body.


Unlike lots of related species the dwarf puffer successfully breeds in a tank. 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.

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.

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.