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If there is one fish that has grown dramatically in popularity over the last 5 years, it has to be the Dwarf Puffer. I have been keeping fish for over 30 years, but I only came across Dwarf Puffers 6 or 7 years ago.
These tiny fish are truly fascinating and a great introduction to the world of pufferfish. It is easy to see why Dwarf Pufferfish are now the most widely kept pufferfish in the freshwater fish keeping hobby.
What are Dwarf Pufferfish?
The Dwarf Pufferfish (Carinotetradon travancoricus) is the smallest known member of the pufferfish family. Dwarf Puffers are also known as Pea Puffers, Indian Pufferfish, and Pygmy Pufferfish and they are a true freshwater species of pufferfish. Dwarf Puffers do not require any salt in their aquarium and they do not require brackish conditions.
Dwarf Puffferfish Appearence
Dwarf Pufferfish are predominantly yellow with dark green to black patches randomly spread across their bodies as well as their dorsal and tail fins. Their rounded, slightly elongated bodies give them one of the most often used common names, the Pea Puffer.
As Dwarf Pufferfish grow and mature, the males’ coloration intensifies and they become brighter and more colorful than the females.
Like pretty much every member of the pufferfish family, Dwarf Puffers have very large eyes compared to the size of their bodies. Pufferfish have excellent eyesight, which they certainly use to their advantage when hunting snails, bloodworms, or small crustaceans.
Dwarf Pufferfish also have relatively large pectoral fins and tail fins, both of which they use to ‘putter’ around their aquarium. Dwarf Pufferfish often swim forwards, backward, and even sideways occasionally.
How big do Dwarf Pufferfish get?
In our aquariums, Dwarf Pufferfish grow to around 1″ (2.5cm) with the largest Dwarf Pufferfish recorded being just 1.4″ (3.5cm) making the Dwarf Pufferfish the smallest freshwater pufferfish ever recorded.
Where do Dwarf Pufferfish come from?
Kerala and southern Karnataka in the Western Ghats of Peninsular, India are where the Dwarf Puffer calls home.
According to research, Dwarf Pufferfish are naturally found in around 13 separate rivers and estuaries across the region, most noticeably Chalakudy, Pamba, Periyar, Kabani, Bharathappuzha.
Dwarf Puffers are also known to inhabit a couple of freshwater lakes in the region as well as the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary where it enjoys protected status.
Dwarf Pufferfish Natural Habitat
Dwarf Puffers choose to make the slower flowing areas of the river their homes and they naturally choose areas with ample overhanging vegetation. The overhanging vegetation leads to a thick layer of leaf litter on the floor of the river bed.
The leaf litter provides a perfect breeding ground for the waterborne creatures and crustaceans that Dwarf Puffers like to hunt and eat.
One feature of Dwarf Pufferfish which is unusual in the world of puffers is their desire to live in shoals. In their natural habitat, Dwarf Pufferfish can be found in large groups, which provides the security through safety in numbers they desire.
Dwarf Pufferfish Wild Status?
According to the IUCN Red List (The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species), Dwarf Pufferfish are currently listed as vulnerable.
Research has shown that wild populations of Dwarf Puffers are declining at an alarming rate. In some locations, populations are down by well over 50%. This decline is believed to be partly due to overharvesting for the fishkeeping trade and partly due to pollution as well as habitat loss and destruction.
Fortunately, protected areas have been set up for Dwarf Pufferfish and there is hope populations will increase over time.
Bearing this decline in wild populations in mind, it is extremely important that we as hobbyists only ever buy captive-bred Dwarf Pufferfish. Before committing to buy a group of Dwarf Pufferfish, ask your local fish store or online retailer where they source their Dwarf Pufferfish from and confirm they are not removed from the wild.
How long do Dwarf Pufferfish live?
Typically, Dwarf Puffers will live for about 4 to 5 years in an aquarium. This is very much subject to them being kept in optimal conditions and their dietary needs being met.
At the time of writing, I have a group of Dwarf Puffers that have been in my care for the last 3 years, and I suspect they were around a year old when I first got them.
Dwarf Pufferish Tank Set Up
In my experience, Dwarf Pufferfish should be kept in an aquarium that has been set up with their needs in mind. When a Dwarf Pufferfish tank is set up correctly, the puffers will feel safe and secure and will exhibit many of their natural traits.
What size tank for Dwarf Pufferfish?
Dwarf Pufferfish may be small, but they are also highly territorial. If they are not given sufficient space, these little fish will fight and bicker just like their much larger cousins.
For me, a single Dwarf Puffer kept as a specimen fish should be kept in a tank which is at least 5 gallons (19 liters). If you want to keep a trio of Dwarf Puffers (a combination I find works very well), you will want to keep them in a tank that is at least 10 gallons (38 liters).
If you are hoping to keep more than 3 Dwarf Puffers together, I would highly recommend adding about 3 to 5 gallons (12 to 19 liters) for every additional Dwarf Puffer you add to the group.
A rough guide to number of Dwarf Puffers/Tank size
The following chart is just meant as a rough guide and is based on my own experience. The numbers assume the aquarium has plenty of hiding places as well as line of sight blocks in the form of plants or other decorations.
- 1 Dwarf Puffer: 5 gallons (19 liters)
- 3 Dwarf Puffer: 10 gallons (38 liters)
- 5 Dwarf Puffer: 20 gallons (76 liters)
- 8 Dwarf Puffers: 30 gallons (113 liters)
- 10 Dwarf Puffers: 40 gallon (150 liters)
I currently have a group of 10 Dwarf Puffers living in a heavily planted 55 gallon (210 liters) tank and it is a pleasure to watch.
What substrate for Dwarf Pufferfish?
For me, sand is the only substrate I can recommend for Dwarf Puffers. Like almost all pufferfish, Dwarf Puffers will occasionally want to bury themselves and sand makes the ideal substrate.
I have had great success with the Super Naturals Aquarium Sand (which I just order from Amazon.com). I find it looks natural, plants grow in it and the Dwarf Puffers can move it around when they want to.
I have seen Dwarf Pufferfish aquariums where the substrate has been aquarium gravel, and the fish are happy enough, I just prefer to recreate their natural environment as best I can.
My Dwarf Puffer tank substrate has a decent layer of Catappa leaves (Indian Almond leaves). The leaves add to the natural feel, turn the water a very weak tea color, which is to the Dwarf Puffers liking and provide a place for small shrimp, snails, and daphnia to live until the Dwarf Puffers discover and eat them.
What decoartions for a Dwarf Pufferfish tank?
Truth be told, Dwarf Pufferfish do not care what decorations they have in their aquariums, they just want places to hide and line of sight blocks to help define territories.
As mentioned above, I like the natural look, so I have chosen rocks and pieces of aquarium safe wood, but if you want to add a castle or a SpongeBob Pineapple house, the fish won’t care!
Whatever decorations you choose to add to your Dwarf Pufferfish tank, make sure you add them in sufficient numbers to create individual territories, places to hide, and line of sight blocks. For Dwarf Puffers, being able to get out of one another’s sight is an important part of controlling bullying.
What plants can go in a Dwarf Puffer aquarium?
Adding live plants to a Dwarf Puffer aquarium offers three benefits. Firstly, live aquarium plants absorb some of the waste from your fish, making your aquarium a cleaner, nicer place for your fish to live. Secondly, more plants mean more hiding places and more line of sight blocks. Thirdly, live plants enhance the natural feel if that is what you are aiming for.
In my own Dwarf Puffer Aqaurium I have lots of Java Fern, as it is extremely tough and grows slowly, so I dont’ have to keep trimming it. I also use Amazon Swords because they grow tall and create large line of sight blocks.
If you don’t want to use live plants, fake plants can work just as well. I have had good luck using these fake plants in many of my aquariums.
Do Dwarf Pufferfish need a filter?
Dwarf Pufferfish, like every other freshwater pufferfish, are sensitive to poor water quality. The best way to keep your Dwarf Puffers water clean is to use a good quality filter.
When Dwarf Pufferfish go to the bathroom, their waste is high in ammonia. Unfortunately ammonia is toxic to fish. To prevent Dwarf Puffers dieing from ammonia poisoning caused by their own waste, we use an aquaiurm filter.
Aquarium filters use bacteria, known as good or beneficial bacteria, to convert the Dwarf Puffers waste from ammonia (which is very toxic to the fish), to nitrite (which is still toxic, although less so), then finally to nitrate (which is safe for fish in low concentrations).
There are many different filters on the market that are suitable for a Dwarf Puffer aquarium, and which filter you ultimately choose will usually be decided by the size of your tank and the size of your budget.
Below I have listed 3 different filters for 3 different setups. I have each of the following in my fish room at the moment and all will work for Dwarf Puffers.
This sponge filter from AQQA is ideal for smaller tanks. It has a built-in motor to move the water through the sponges, and as such doesn’t require a separate air pump.
If you are keeping your Dwarf Puffers in a 5 or 10-gallon aquarium, this little filter will do the job perfectly for you. I use mine in a 10 gallon that houses 3 Dwarf Puffers.
If your Dwarf Puffer tank is larger than 10 gallons (38 liters) then I would consider using a hang-on-back filter.
This filter from AquaClear has always worked really well for me. It keeps the water clean without creating so much current the Dwarf Puffers can’t swim against it.
As an added bonus, this filter is really easy to clean when it needs servicing.
If you find yourself keeping a large group of Dwarf Puffers, or keeping them in a big aquarium, I would seriously recommend the Fluval 407 canister filter.
I have been using this filter for years and I have a number of them currently running in my fish room.
This filter will keep your Dwarf Puffers water in tip-top condition giving them the best conditions to live, thrive, and maybe even breed in.
In my experience, to get the best from any filter in a Dwarf Puffer tank, the filter should turn the aquarium volume over about 4 to 6 times every hour. Much less than that and the water may not stay clean enough. Any more than 6 times per hour and the water may be flowing so fast the Dwarf Puffers can’t swim against it.
Whatever filter you choose, make sure you maintain it to keep it running at an optimum level. Most filters will need servicing every 3 to 6 months at least.
Do Dwarf Pufferfish need a heater?
Short answer, YES! Dwarf Pufferfish come from rivers and streams in India. They require their water temperature to be somewhere between 74°F and 82°F (23°C and 27°C).
Water temperature stability is key to keeping Dwarf Puffers happy and healthy. If you live in a part of the country where the days are warm, but the nights are much cooler, or if you live in a house that runs A/C, you will need a heater to prevent temperature swings.
When we keep Dwarf Puffers in aquariums that don’t have aquarium heaters, and the water temperature frequently drops below 74°F the puffers can become stressed, and a stressed Dwarf Puffer is extremely susceptible to pests and diseases.
What is the best heater for a Dwarf Puffer tank?
These days I heat my whole fish room, however, I do have a couple of aquariums in the house, and in those tanks, I tend to use the Fluval E Series heaters.
These heaters are a little more expensive than a standard aquarium heater, but I like the fact they have a digital display on the front That tells me the temperature of the aquarium water.
In my experience, these heaters are well worth the extra expense.
Do Dwarf Puffers need a light?
Dwarf Puffers themselves do not need a light. They don’t directly gain anything from having a light shining into their tank.
With that said, all fish benefit from a set day/night cycle, giving them a part of the day they are out and about and a part of the day they are resting. Fish really do benefit from a period of ‘sleeping’ even though they don’t really sleep as we do.
A secondary benefit of having a light above a Dwarf Pufferfish tank is that it makes it much easier for us fishkeepers to enjoy and observe our Dwarf Puffers. After all, what is the point of keeping an aquarium filled which such personable fish, if we can’t really see them?
I have had great success using the Aquasky from Fluval. I have written many articles about it over the years, but this article titled Does the Fluval Aquasky Grow Plants? is probably my most frequently read one.
Dwarf Puffer water parameters
As mentioned back at the start of this article, Dwarf Puffer like stability in their water and they do not tolerate poor water quality at all. Below is a shortlist highlighting some of the main water parameters we as fish keepers should keep a close eye on.
If you don’t have one already, I strongly urge you to buy yourself the Freshwater Aquarium Master Test Kit which is made by API. It is an indispensable tool when it comes to keeping your Dwarf Puffer aquarium water stable.
- Temperature: 74°F to 82°F (23°C to 27°C)
- pH: 6.8 to 8.0
- Hardness: 5 – 25°H
As Dwarf Pufferfish are found over a fairly wide area, the water they originate from varies a lot by location. As such, Dwarf Puffers can tolerate variation on the above-listed parameters.
Essentially, Dwarf Puffers want the water to be stable and consistent rather than perfect!
What do Dwarf Pufferfish eat?
Dwarf Puffers, like all puffers, are hardcore carnivores. They want a meaty diet and you will be hard pushed to eat them to eat anything else.
In the wild, Dwarf Puffers would eat snails, worms, and other waterborne crustaceans. In our aquariums, we need to try to recreate this natural diet as closely as possible.
I feed my Dwarf Puffers a selection of live and frozen foods including bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae. I also feed my Dwarf Pufferfish a lot of snails. Dwarf Puffers love snails.
What snails can Dwarf Pufferfish eat?
There is a wide selection of snails Dwarf Puffers can eat. I feed mine Ramshorn Snails, Malaysian Trumpet Snails, Mystery Snails, and Pond Snails. The key to feeding Dwarf Pufferfish snails is to make sure the snails are small. Mystery Snails grow very large, so I just feed my Dwarf Puffers the baby ones.
There is a lot of talk on the internet that Malaysian Trumpet Snails are so hard that they will break Dwarf Pufferfish teeth. I have fed hundreds of Malaysian Trumpet Snails to my Dwarf Puffers, and I am yet to witness a broken tooth.
One word of caution when feeding snails to Dwarf Puffers, only add as many snails as your Dwarf Puffers will eat. From personal experience, I can tell you, if you add a handful of snails to a Dwarf Puffer tank, the puffers will eat a few, then just kill and leave the rest of the snails to rot in your tank.
I thought I was being clever putting 50 or 60 small Ramshorn Snails into a tank with just 3 Dwarf Pufferfish. Within a couple of hours, the tank was just full of dead snails sitting on the substrate!
Do Dwarf Pufferfish have teeth?
Like all pufferfish, Dwarf Pufferfish have teeth that they use to break through snails shells. These teeth are surprisingly sharp and Dwarf Pufferfish can give the fishkeeper a nip.
Unlike other pufferfish, Dwarf Puffers do not have to eat hard foods to keep their teeth trimmed.
How much do Dwarf Puffers eat?
I try to feed my Dwarf Puffers at least twice a day, and often they will get three feedings a day. I like to give them something different at each feeding if I can, which is why I keep a lot of frozen fish foods in my freezer.
If I am feeding frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp, for example, I will swish the frozen cube in the aquarium water for a few seconds, just so that a little bit of food drops into the water. I then return the frozen cube to the freezer for the next feeding.
Luckily, pufferfish have a belly that protrudes when they are full. A well-fed Dwarf Puffer will have a small, round belly hanging down below its body.
Don’t waste your time trying to feed Dwarf Pufferfish flakes or pellets, they will simply ignore them and the food will end up fouling your aquarium water. The one exception to this rule is Vibrabites, which is made by Hikari.
Vibrabites have been developed to look like bloodworms. Dwarf Pufferfish love eating bloodworms, and my people have found their Dwarf Puffers will eat Vibrabites.
Dwarf Pufferfish behavior and temperament?
Do not be fooled by the Dwarf Puffer’s cute appearance. They might look like little balls of joy, but they are actually incredibly feisty, highly territorial, and they will fight with any other fish that enter their space.
Unless you plan to keep a single Dwarf Puffer as a specimen fish in a small aquarium, providing the Dwarf Pufferfish with sufficient hiding places, territories, and line of sight blocks is the only way to keep a group of Dwarf Puffers in the same tank without them murdering one another.
Dwarf Puffers are inquisitive little fish that are always looking for something to do. They will spend hours investigating the substrate, the plants, the rocks, and anything else that is in their tank.
A Dwarf Pufferfish tank is a tank that is always full of movement and never gets boring to watch.
Dwarf Pufferfish tankmates
Dwarf Pufferfish are nippy, aggressive, and generally don’t play well with others. In my experience, Dwarf Pufferfish are definitely best kept in a species-only aquarium with other Dwarf Puffers.
With that said, the pufferfish forums are littered with examples of people successfully keeping other fish with their Dwarf Puffers.
If I were going to try and keep other fish with my Dwarf Puffers, I would try fish which were 1, quick swimmers, and 2, did not have long flowing fins.
Tank mates to try
Tanks mates to avoid
Remember, if you are planning to add tank mates to your Dwarf Puffer aquarium, you will probably need to increase the tank size. Any fish added to a 10-gallon tank that already houses 3 Dwarf Puffers is going to get battered!
Dwarf Puffer Pests and Diseases
Dwarf Pufferfish, like all freshwater tropical fish, can and do occasionally suffer from common ailments such as Ich (whitespot), fin rot, and bacterial infections. Many of these issues basically boil down to tank hygiene and lack of regular aquarium maintenance.
Dwarf Pufferfish do not suffer from any special or unique illness to speak of. However, there is one issue that is especially prevalent in Dwarf Puffers and that is internal parasites, especially internal worms.
The nature of the Dwarf Puffer diet, eating live snails and crustaceans, means they often ingest parasites that are using the snails or crustaceans as intermediate hosts.
Internal parasites and worms, especially tapeworms, can prove fatal to Dwarf Pufferfish. I strongly recommend treating your Dwarf Puffer for internal parasites when you first get them, then again once a year or if you notice a change in their behavior, especially their eating or pooping behavior.
I have found Paracleanse by Fritz to be the best way to treat Dwarf Pufferfish for internal parasites and worms. Whenever I acquire new fish, I always quarantine them and give them a dose of Paracleanse just in case.
Breeding Dwarf Pufferfish
Dwarf Puffers are one of the few puffers that are regularly bred in captivity. They are probably the only puffer fish most of us will ever breed in our aquariums.
How to sex Dwarf Pufferfish?
Sexing Dwarf Puffers can be tricky, and to the untrained eye, males and females can look identical. However, if you know what you are looking for it is possible to tell the boys from the girls.
Male Dwarf Puffers
- Males tend to be more aggressive than females
- Males usually have deeper coloration
- Males will have a stripe or a dot on their belly
- Males bodies tend to be more slender than the females
Female Dwarf Puffers
- Females are generally plumper and rounder in the belly than males
- Females have yellow bellys, usually with no markings
- Females tend to be more placid than the males
Before you can begin sexing Dwarf Puffers, you need to make sure you have mature fish, so ideally at least 7 or 8 months old, and the more fish you have, the easier it is to see differences between males and females.
Dwarf Puffer breeding tank setup
If you hope to breed your Dwarf Pufferfish you will ideally want to set up a dedicated breeding tank. That way, after spawning, you can remove the adult fish from the breeding tank, and raise the baby puffers without fear the adults will eat them.
A Dwarf Puffer breeding tank only needs to be small, maybe just 5 gallons. The Dwarf Puffers will hopefully only be in there for a few days until they spawn.
Even though the Dwarf Puffers will only be in the breeding tank for a short period, you will still want to run a filter on the breeding tank. I like to use the AQQA Sponge Filter from Amazon.
The breeding tank will also need a heater. I set my heater to 79°F (26°C).
In my Dwarf Puffer breeding tank, I use a lot of live plants to give the puffers cover and provide line of sight blocks, which reduces aggression between the puffers. I typically use Java Fern, Java Moss, or Wisteria.
As well as live plants, I make sure there is at least one cave in the breeding tank. Dwarf Puffers are secretive spawners and they will want a selection of different places in which to spawn and lay their eggs.
Conditioning Dwarf Puffers to spawn
Before we encourage our Dwarf Puffers to spawn, it is really important we make sure they are in top condition. To condition my Dwarf Puffers, I feed them lots of live or frozen bloodworms and snails.
I fed my puffers maybe 4 or 5 times a day. These extra feedings really bulk the Dwarf Puffers out and get them ready to spawn.
Dwarf Pufferfish Spawning
Providing you have set the aquarium up correctly and provided plenty of hiding places and a good clump of Java Moss or similar, your Dwarf Puffers should start to spawn.
Before the spawning starts, you will probably notice the male will take up position above the clump of moss. He will hang around, waiting for a receptive female to swim over. Once a female decides to join him, they will swim around one another for a moment or two, then she will dive down into the moss to scatter some eggs. The male will quickly follow her and fertilize the eggs she has released.
This swimming, diving, and egg scattering can carry on for several hours, and in some cases, several days. The female or females will release hundreds of eggs, and with a bit of luck, the male will fertilize them all.
Once the Dwarf Puffers lose interest in spawning, they should all be removed from the breeding tank. Dwarf Puffers show no care to their offspring, and they will happily eat their own eggs and babies.
How to raise Dwarf Puffer fry (babies)
As mentioned above, Dwarf Puffers take no parental care of their babies. The eggs and subsequent fry are left entirely to their own devices.
Within a few days of the eggs being laid, they will hatch. The fry are tiny. You probably won’t know the eggs have hatched until you start to see tiny Dwarf Puffers swimming around the breeding tank.
For the first 24 to 48 hours after hatching, the fry survive by consuming their yolk sack, which will be attached to their stomachs. After that, they require very small food.
The best food to feed baby Dwarf Pufferfish is infusoria (single-celled organisms), followed by freshly hatched brine shrimp. Like so many freshwater fish species, baby Dwarf Puffers really need to eat constantly to grow at a reasonable rate. I try and feed my baby Dwarf Puffers up to 6 times a day, each time adding just a little freshly hatched brine shrimp or occasionally some micro-worms or vinegar eels.
As the Dwarf Puffers grow, continue to feed them plenty of good quality live food, increasing the size of the food as the babies grow.
Dwarf Pufferfish Frequently Asked Questions
Can Dwarf Puffers live in a community tank?
Dwarf Pufferfish are best kept in a species-only aquarium with other Dwarf Pufferfish. The size of the tank will dictate how many Dwarf Pufferfish can be kept in a tank.
Can Dwarf Puffers live with shrimp
Dwarf Puffers should be ok living with large shrimp such as Amano Shrimp, and they will probably be ok with adult Cherry Shrimp. However, Dwarf Puffers should not be trusted with baby or juvenile shrimp as they will probably eat them
How much do Dwarf Puffers Cost?
The cost of Dwarf Puffers ranges from $3 to $15 each depending on where you buy them. The cost will increase depending on how much medication (during quarantine) and food the Dwarf Puffers require to get them to sellable condition.
Are Dwarf Puffers hard to keep?
Whilst I would never suggest a Dwarf Puffer should be someone’s first-ever tropical fish, with a like knowledge and a bit of experience in keeping and maintaining a tropical aquarium, anyone should be able to keep a Dwarf Puffer. The secret is setting the aquarium up the right way to start with.
Do Dwarf Puffers puff up?
All pufferfish have the ability to puff up. Puffing up is a defense mechanism against being eaten. The theory is, if another fish wraps its jaws around the pufferfish, the puffer inhales water sharply, puffing up and increasing its size by up to double. This motion forces the attacking fish’s mouth open.
Dwarf Puffers do puff up. Occasionally we will see them in the aquarium puffing up as a practice, exercising the puffing muscles.
Do Dwarf Puffers make good pets?
I believe Dwarf Pufferfish make excellent pets. If you keep a 10-gallon aquarium with 3 Dwarf Puffers in it, I guarantee it will be an aquarium you never get tired of watching.
Other Members Of The Puffer Family
Pufferfish are extremely popular in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby at the moment. There are different-sized puffers to suit different-sized tanks and different experience levels.
Pufferfish range from the relatively cheap and easy to care for Pea Puffer which only reaches around 1.5 inches, to the giant Mbu Puffer which will reach 3ft or more and is only suitable for aquarists with extremely large aquariums, possibly needing 1000 or more gallons.
Below I have listed some of the most popular puffer species available in the hobby. One note of caution, common names for pufferfish vary by country, so always be sure to find the correct scientific name of the puffer you are purchasing before completing the sale.
- Red-tailed Red Eye Puffer (Carinotetraodon irrubesco)
- Hairy Puffer (Tetraodon baileyi)
- Red Eye Puffer (Carinotetraodon lorteti)
- Dwarf Malabar Puffer (Carinotetraodon imitator)
- Amazon Puffer (Colomesus asellus)
- Arrowhead Puffer (Tetraodon suvattii)
- Humpback Puffer (Tetraodon palembangensis)
- Congo Puffer (Tetraodon miurus)
- Mbu Puffer (Tetraodon mbu)