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Pea Puffer Fish : How Not To Kill Them

The pea puffer fish, also known as the dwarf puffer, pygmy puffer, or Carinotetraodon travancoricus, is a small yet lively freshwater fish that has recently surged in popularity in the aquarium hobby.

Pea Puffer Fish

Though tiny in size, these little goofballs pack huge personalities and have even earned themselves the nickname “aquarium puppy” thanks to their dog-like behaviors.

But don’t let their cuteness fool you – pea puffers require some special care and considerations compared to other freshwater fish.

With their unique needs, keeping pea puffers healthy and thriving can be a challenge for even experienced aquarists.

That’s why in this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about successfully caring for these quirky fish, including:

  • Pea Puffer Natural History & Facts
  • Aquarium Set Up Considerations
  • Water Parameters & Filtration
  • Feeding Your Puffer
  • Tankmates & Compatibility
  • Lifespan & Health Concerns
  • Breeding & Raising Fry
  • FAQs & Common Mistakes to Avoid

So if you’re thinking about adding one of these pint-sized predators to your tank, read on to learn the ins and outs of pea puffer care!

An Introduction to Pea Puffers

In their native habitats in India and surrounding countries, pea puffers spend their days hunting small invertebrates in thickly vegetated freshwater streams, rivers, and rice paddies.

Their scientific name, Carinotetraodon travancoricus, tells us a bit about their background.

Carinotetraodon refers to their genus and species, letting us know they are a type of tetraodontidae or pufferfish. Travancoricus indicates where they were first discovered back in the 1930s – in Travancore, India.

Some quick facts about pea puffers:

  • Native to freshwater habitats in India and surrounding countries
  • Small size – only about 1 inch (2.5 cm) fully grown
  • Can live 2-5 years with proper care
  • Peaceful toward other puffers, aggressive to tankmates
  • Carnivorous – eats small live foods like snails and shrimp
  • Breathes air – needs aquarium lids and low water level
  • Sexually dimorphic – males are larger with longer fins
  • Brackish water can induce breeding and improve health
  • Highly intelligent compared to other aquarium fish

Now that you know a bit about the background and traits of these fish, let’s jump into the specific care they need to thrive in our aquariums.

Aquarium Setup for Pea Puffers

While they may be small in stature, pea puffers need a well-maintained, adequately sized tank to stay healthy. Here are the basic requirements for their aquarium setup:

Tank Size

Due to their active nature and social tendencies, pea puffers should be kept in a minimum tank size of 10 gallons.

Some aquarists recommend at least 5 gallons per puffer. Keep this in mind if housing multiple puffers.

Ideally, give them as much horizontal swimming space as possible, with a tank length of at least 2 feet. Height is less important than length for an active puffer.

Aquascape & Decorations

In a pea puffer tank, a natural setup mimicking their native habitat is essential. Heavily plant the aquarium, providing ample hiding spots among stems and leaves.

Floating plants are great too, limiting their line of sight to help curb aggression.

Add plenty of branches, rocks, and caves to break up sight lines and create territorial markers. This allows multiple puffers to establish their own spaces.

Sand or very fine gravel substrate is ideal, as coarse substrates can scratch their belly when rooting around. Items like coconut shells, tunnels, and clay pots make good hideouts as well.


Pea puffers are sensitive to water currents, so filter strength should be minimal. A sponge filter or air-driven corner filter work nicely to provide gentle water movement.

You’ll want moderate filtration to help manage waste – a low gph hang-on-back or canister filter designed for small tanks is sufficient. Just baffle the outflow with a prefilter sponge if the current is too turbulent.

Water Parameters

Consistent, high-quality water is a must for healthy pea puffers. They thrive in soft, slightly acidic freshwater. Ideal parameters are:

  • Temperature: 74-82°F (23-28°C)
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • KH: 3-8 dKH
  • GH: 5-12 dGH

A heater is needed to maintain water temperature, along with regular testing and water changes to keep parameters stable. We’ll cover more specifics on that shortly.

Tank Lid & Low Water Level

Unlike most fish, pea puffers require open access to air at the surface. Keep the tank covered tightly with glass or acrylic – no large gaps. Maintain the water level 3-5 inches below the top rim.

This allows them to swim up and gulp oxygen whenever desired. If they become oxygen deprived, it can lead to serious health issues.

With the basics of setup covered, let’s move on to the water care these fish truly need to thrive.

Pea Puffer Fish

Caring for Pea Puffer Water Quality

Pea puffers are extremely sensitive to poor water quality. Pollutants like ammonia and nitrite, even at low levels, can be deadly.

Staying on top of tank maintenance is crucial. Here are the specifics on how to maintain suitable water for your puffers:

Nitrogen Cycling

You’ll need to properly cycle the aquarium before adding your puffers. This means establishing colonies of beneficial bacteria that convert toxic ammonia and nitrite into safer nitrate.

Fishless cycling with an ammonia source is ideal, allowing the tank to mature without harming your puffers. Read up on the nitrogen cycle if you need guidance cycling your specific setup.

Only add pea puffers once ammonia and nitrite show 0ppm on your tests for several days, and nitrate reads above 0ppm.

Water Changes

With pea puffers, more frequent but smaller water changes are better than large occasional ones. Aim for 25-40% twice per week, using an appropriate dechlorinator to remove chlorine and chloramine.

Match temperature and parameters as closely as possible when replacing water. Use a siphon to vacuum waste from the substrate during changes.

Chemical Filtration

In addition to biological filtration, chemical media helps manage dissolved organic compounds.

Peat pellets in the filter are great for softening water and maintaining the ideal acidic pH puffers need. Activated carbon removes odors, discoloration, and some toxins – replace monthly.

The Right Diet for Pea Puffers

In nature, pea puffers are voracious predators that hunt small live foods. Replicating this varied carnivorous diet in captivity is vital to their health. Here’s how to feed them properly:

Live and Frozen Foods

The bulk of a pea puffer’s diet should comprise live or frozen meaty foods like:

  • Snails – a puffer favorite!
  • Bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia
  • Small crickets, flightless fruit flies
  • Grindal worms, mosquito larvae
  • Shrimp, crab, mussels, clams
  • Chopped seafood like squid, fish, scallops

Offer 2-3 feedings per day, providing as much as they can eat in 5 minutes. Vary food types for a balanced amino acid profile.


Though primarily carnivores, peas puffers benefit from occasional blanched veggies to aid digestion. Good options are zucchini, spinach, shelled peas, and cucumber. Start with just a bite per fish.

Prepared & Dried Foods

freeze LA14 High-grade prepared diets and freeze dried treats can supplement the main live foods but should not replace them. Offer these only 1-2 times per week for variety.

Snails for Teeth Maintenance

Hard-shelled snails like ramshorn and trumpet snails are a critical part of a pea puffer’s diet. The shells help wear down constantly growing teeth, preventing overgrowth that hinders eating.

Always have snails available in the tank. Breed your own colony or purchase regularly from a trusted source. Avoid using snails collected from outdoor waterways, which risk introducing pathogens.

Speaking of tankmates, let’s discuss what types of fish and invertebrates can safely live with your puffers.

Selecting Suitable Tankmates

While peas puffers tend to play nice with their own kind, they are generally aggressive toward other fish and invertebrates, viewing them as food!

However, with plenty of plants, line-of-sight breaks, and cautious selection, certain tankmates can coexist successfully:

Good Tankmate Options

  • Other pea puffers (5g per puffer)
  • Snails like nerites and mystery (food source)
  • Shrimp like amano and ghost (may get eaten)
  • Otocinclus catfish (peaceful, low bioload)
  • Pygmy corydoras (bottom-dwellers, shoal tight)
  • Small rasbora like chili or mosquito (top swimmers, fast)

Questionable Tankmates

  • Dwarf cichlids like scarlet badis (aggression likely)
  • Larger shrimp like bamboo and flower (likely prey)
  • Other small puffers like dwarfs (nipping possible)
  • Snail eating loaches (compete for food)
  • Bettas, gourami, guppies (fin nipping risk)

Avoid These Tankmates

  • Fish with long fins that can be nipped
  • Slow swimmers the puffers can catch
  • Bottom feeders that may be territorial
  • Shrimp with very small offspring
  • Large cichlids and other aggressive fish
  • Crabs and crayfish (dangerous claws)

Go with cautious combinations. Never add tankmates all at once. Introduce new additions slowly and watch carefully for signs of aggression. Be prepared to separate any fish that become targets.

Now that you know how to set up their tank and select appropriate tankmates, let’s talk about typical pea puffer lifespan and health.

Pea Puffer Lifespan & Health Concerns

If cared for properly and fed a varied diet, pea puffers can live 2-5 years in captivity. Make sure to source your fish from a reputable breeder or store that ethically wild collects them.

Some common aquarium-related diseases to watch for include:

  • Ich (white spot disease)
  • Fin rot and body fungus
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Bloating and constipation
  • Overgrown teeth/beaks

Consider an initial quarantine period for new puffers to observe health before adding to your main tank. Use separate equipment to prevent cross-contamination.

Providing pristine water quality, appropriate tank setup, and a natural diet is key to avoiding most disease issues. But genetics also plays a role, so seek out hardy captive-bred specimens when possible.

Breeding Pea Puffers

Pea puffers are not the easiest fish to breed in aquariums, but with diligent care it can be accomplished. Here’s an overview of the process:

Mature Adults

You’ll need a proven breeding pair – one male and one female. Males have longer fins and brighter colors while females appear plumper with an ovipositor. They must be mature, around 7-10 months old.

Brackish Water

Slowly transition the pair to brackish water over several weeks, with specific gravity around 1.005. This stimulates breeding behavior. Sodium chloride (aquarium salt) can be used to raise salinity.

Planted Tank

Heavily planted 10 gallon tanks work well, with fine sand substrate. Include tunnels, caves, floating plants, and diffuse lighting. Cut back on feedings, only offering live foods. Maintain excellent water quality.

Spawning Behavior

If conditions are right, the male will display courtship rituals like shimmying and zig-zag dancing. After mating, the female lays up to 60 eggs on plants, decor, and substrate. The male fertilizes them externally.

Egg Care

Leave the eggs in place – the parents will not care for them. After 24 hours remove the adults. The eggs hatch after 5-7 days. Baby brine shrimp and infusoria make good first foods.

Raising Fry

The tiny fry are challenging to raise and grow painfully slow. Feed them gradually larger live foods like vinegar eels and microworms 4-5 times daily. Weekly water changes are a must.

It can take 6+ months for the juveniles to reach maturity. Providing ideal water quality and varied live foods are critical during this extended growing phase.

And that covers the basic process of breeding pea puffers in the home aquarium! While not easy, it can be quite rewarding.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pea Puffers

For first-time puffer keepers, several questions often come up. Here are answers to some of the most common:

Are pea puffers good for community tanks?

While peas are less aggressive than other puffer species, they should only be combined with select peaceful tankmates. Planted tanks with sight breaks help, but watch for fin nipping and predation.

Do peas get along with bettas and guppies?

These tankmates are risky. Even short-finned varieties like plakats can become targets. Guppies may nip flowing puffer fins. Careful observation is required.

Can they be kept with shrimp or snails?

Some hardy varieties like amano shrimp and nerite snails may be okay. But most shrimp and ornamental snails will likely get eaten or have babies picked off. Use lots of plants and hideouts.

Can peas live in pH over 7.5?

While technically possible, pea puffers do best in soft, acidic water with pH under 7.5. Higher pH can lead to fatigue and shortened lifespan. Use peat, almond leaves, and RO water to naturally lower it.

Why do my puffer’s teeth look too long?

Overgrown teeth prevent them from eating properly. Make sure hard shelled snails are consistently available to wear teeth down. If overgrowth is severe, a vet may need to trim them.

How often do pea puffers need to be fed?

Juveniles need small meals 3-5 times daily. Adults can eat 1-2 times per day, but grazing on snails helps too. Only feed what they can completely finish within 5 minutes, 2-3 times daily.

And those cover some of the most frequently asked pea puffer care questions! Still have concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to experienced puffer keepers in forums and Facebook groups.

Avoiding Common Mistakes with Pea Puffers

To wrap up this care guide, let’s quickly run through some key mistakes to avoid with these fish:

  • Too small of a tank – go bigger than you think
  • Minimal plants and hideouts – heavily plant the tank
  • Strong water flow – use gentle sponge filters and baffles
  • Infrequent water changes – 2-3 x week is ideal
  • Overfeeding – only feed what they eat in 5 minutes
  • Not enough protein variety – feed mixed live/frozen foods
  • Lacking snails in diet – offer snails continuously
  • Combining with aggressive tankmates – take it slow
  • Drastic water parameter swings – keep things stable
  • Ammonia or nitrites above 0 – monitor closely

Follow the guidance in this article, and you’ll avoid the most common pitfalls of pea puffer care. Patience and diligent maintenance will be rewarded with healthy, active puffers full of personality!

The Rewarding Challenge of Keeping Pea Puffer Fish

While pea puffers may seem like simple little fish, caring for them properly does take some specific considerations and diligent tank maintenance. But the payoff is well worth the effort!

If you provide these quirky puffers with an appropriately sized and decorated tank, healthy water conditions, compatible tankmates, and a varied carnivorous diet, they will thrive for years to come. Their energetic antics and dog-like behaviors will bring daily joy to your freshwater aquarium.

We hope this comprehensive pea puffer care guide has provided you with the key facts, tips, and advice to feel confident keeping these rewarding fish.

Let us know if you have any other puffer questions! With the right know-how, you’ll be on your way to enjoying their huge personalities lighting up your tank.

Read Next:
Hairy Puffer : Care, Breeding And Feeding Guide For Puffers
Hairy Puffer Tank Setup | Everything In Nut-Shell |
Dwarf Pea Puffer Care | Tiny Yet Competitive Fish |

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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.