Pea Puffers: Are They A Good Fit For Your Aquarium?

by Aquarium Scoop | Last Updated: October 19, 2022

Want to learn more about the Pea pufferfish? This guide will cover everything about this cute dwarf puffer.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • What Is A Pea Puffer?
  • Are They Hard To Care For?
  • Do They Make Good Pets?
  • Are They Right For Your Aquarium?
Dwarf puffer fish also known as a Pea puffer swimming in a tank

What is a Pea Puffer?

Pea pufferfish are interesting little critters known for their unique swimming maneuvers (helicopter like), independently moving eyes, and their ability to puff up or inflate. They can be easily kept in smaller aquariums starting at 5-10 gallons. However, due to their territorial nature, you will need to increase your tank size (additional 3 gallons for each puffer) if you want to keep more than one. 

Pea puffers, scientifically known as Carinotetraodon travancoricus, are the smallest puffer fish in the world that come from freshwater environments of Southwestern India. They are also known by their common names: Indian dwarf puffer, Malabar puffer, pygmy pufferfish, and dwarf puffer fish.

They grow up to about an inch long and are more commonly found in local fish stores or specialized breeders rather than big pet stores. It’s good to ask your local breeder what they feed their pea puffers as they can be picky eaters. You should also watch out for healthy puffers that have nice rounded bellies and nice, clear, eyes. 

How Much Do They Cost?

Pea puffers can go for $3-15 and are usually captive-bred by your local specialty fish stores.

Important ⚠️

Dwarf puffer fish or pea puffers are listed as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and overharvesting for the aquarium trade. So, please make sure you are sourcing your pea puffers from reputable and responsible breeders should you decide to care for one. Make sure they are captive bred and not wild caught.

Pea Puffer Fish Care Guide

Aquarium Requirements

Pea puffers are small critters so they can do well in 5-gallon desk tanks but require at least 10 gallons to thrive. If you want to keep a group of pea puffers a 20-30 gallon tank is better or at least 3 gallons of space and water for every additional fish. 

It’s good to have dense foliage in your tank especially if you keep multiple pea puffers so your males can set up their territories in different areas of the tank. A good selection of aquarium plants will provide good hiding places for your pea puffers and lots of areas for these inquisitive critters to explore and enjoy. 

A sponge filter is preferred to keep the water flow low as pea puffers are not the strongest swimmers but full multi-stage filters with adjustable flow rates are also available. Good capacity filters will help maintain your water quality and keep your tank clean.

Habitat & Water Conditions

Pea puffers are not too sensitive to water parameters as long as these are kept stable. They do well in neutral to slightly alkaline pH (7.2 – 7.5) that are kept consistent and temperatures at about 75-80°F in water that has a gentle filter with a slower flow rate.

Clean water is, however, important for pea puffers so you definitely have to monitor ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels and keep them close to zero. Keep your tank water clean by using a good filter and performing regular water changes. Poor water quality can cause infections such as ich.

📚 Read More >> How To Get Crystal Clear Aquarium Water

A good habitat with clean water and the right diet will keep your dwarf puffers happy and healthy for many years to come. Make sure your water quality is consistent if you want your pygmy puffers to breed.

Dietary Requirements & Feeding

A varied diet of live, frozen, or freeze-dried food is best for pea puffers. These dwarf puffers won’t need to munch on hard food occasionally as larger freshwater puffers do to keep their teeth from growing too large but adding small snails to their diet is also beneficial. 

Pea puffers can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp or microworms, freeze-dried brine shrimp; live grindal worms, live blackworms or whiteworms, Daphnia, and Moina; freeze-dried bloodworms; and small ramshorns snails. They even eat mosquito larvae.

Freeze-dried food should be rehydrated by soaking in water before feeding. Certain dried pellets do work as food for pea puffers especially bloodworms and krill but pea puffers do not often take well to dry food such as flakes and pellets. Certain pellets that look like bloodworms as they fall into the water have been reported to work, though. Finely shredded freeze-dried mussels is also an option. 

Pea Puffer Temperament

Pea puffers tend to be territorial and can get aggressive and nip at the fins of slower and weaker fishes that infringe on their areas. They are therefore best kept with a small group of pea puffers or a relatively large community tank with lots of aquatic plants, hiding places, and furniture to create small territories for these fishes.

Pea puffers can be relatively peaceful and timid though, especially if kept in bigger tanks. They are intelligent creatures known to observe and be aware of their surroundings. They can even become familiar with their owners and tend to hang out and beg for food when they are around. These are curious critters that like to explore and carefully search every nook and cranny of their tank. They also have unique swimming behaviors (like small helicopters). 

Are Pea Puffers Good Pets?

Yes, pea puffers make good pets but they are best for intermediate-level hobbyists since they have specific dietary requirements, tend to be finicky eaters, and do not do well in community tanks. They require a typical tropical aquarium set up but you have to consider their tendency to become territorial so keeping one pea puffer in a 10-gallon tank (at the least) is best. Single species aquarium is the best setup for multiple pea puffers with an additional 3 gallons of space and water for each fish and lots of plants to serve as hiding places.

Dwarf Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) swimming in planted aquarium
Dwarf Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) swimming in planted aquarium

These fishes have good eyesight so they tend to be inquisitive around their tank, carefully observing the nook and crannies of your aquarium. Some can even learn to recognize you as their owners and hang around in the area you feed them in begging for food when they see you.

Can Pea Puffers Live With Other Fish?

Pea puffers are territorial and can be aggressive with other fish and pygmy puffers. They have been reported to nip at the fins of slower fishes. Though some can be peaceful and have no problem being with other fish in a tank but in general, it’s best to keep one pea puffer in at least a 10-gallon tank or a small group in a species-specific aquarium with an extra 3 gallons of space for each additional pea puffer. 

Though bigger tanks with lots of plants as hiding spaces may work as a community tank set-up with pea puffers, they usually do best with no other tank mates (of a different species). To compensate for the lack of algae eaters in your tank, add live aquatic plants, invest in a high-capacity filter, and stay on top of your aquarium maintenance. 

Expert Tip 🧠

Make sure you use a bowl to move your pea puffer out of its tank instead of a fish net to prevent it from accidentally taking in air as it tries to puff up once it feels threatened.

Do Pea Puffers Puff Up? Why do they do this?

Yes, pea puffers do puff up as their name suggests. This is done as a defense mechanism to make them seem larger to their predators and deter them. Though they sometimes do this to practice. Pea puffers inflate by sucking in water and will shrink back down once left alone.

Important ⚠️

NEVER STRESS YOUR PEA PUFFER ON PURPOSE TO MAKE IT PUFF UP. There are plenty of videos and pictures online to see what this looks like.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Pea Puffer?

Gender differences between juvenile pea puffers tend to be subtle so identifying gender can be quite tricky. To some extent, females can be a bit plumper in shape with white or yellow bellies and a golden patch on their throat. Adult females are a bit larger than males. 

Males have a deeper coloration and a golden belly with a black line from under the head to the tip of their bodies just before the tail (caudal peduncle). They can also have dark or black long ovals and stripes on their back and sides. These dark markings on females tend to be smaller spots instead of stripes. Males also tend to be slightly more slender and are generally more aggressive in behavior. 

Is A Pea Puffer Right For Your Aquarium?

Pea puffers require intermediate care and are not recommended for beginners. They are also finicky eaters that you will likely have to feed live food. You should consider this if you are not comfortable with handling worms or other live feeders. 

If you have an existing community tank then a pea puffer may not be the right choice since these fishes can be territorial. They do better in single species tanks in small groups or alone in a small tank.

Small aquariums work well for pea puffers with a proper, tropical aquarium set up. Clean water and stable water quality is required for them to thrive. They are slow swimmers so water flow in the tank should be kept to a minimum. 


What do pea puffers eat?

Pea puffers are carnivores that can be fed frozen foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp or live food such as Ramshorn snails or blackworms. Freeze-dried bloodworms also work. They do not usually take well to dry food or pellets but some dry food that looks like bloodworms as they sink can work. Pea puffers will also eat newly hatched brine shrimp, grindal worms, and larger whiteworms.

A well-varied diet of frozen or live foods is best to ensure that your pea puffer gets all the essential nutrients for a healthy life.

Can pea puffers live with other fish?

Not usually. Pea puffers are territorial and can get aggressive with other fishes. They are fin nippers that will terrorize slow fishes. It’s best they are kept solitary or in species-only tanks. Keeping them in tanks with bigger fishes can cause them too much stress as well. If you need to house multiple pea puffers, you will need a bigger tank (at least 3 gallons more for each additional pea puffer). 

What size tank do pea puffers need?

Though pea puffers are quite small, they do need at least 10 gallons. Though some are successful in rearing them in 5-gallon tanks, 10 gallons is best. 

Are pea puffers poisonous?

Yes and no. Pea puffers can be poisonous as these fishes are equipped with the ability to process saxitoxin in the wild. These toxins concentrate in the organs of puffer fishes but are also found in their flesh and can be fatal to humans when ingested. However, these toxins come from certain bacteria and algae in the diet of puffers in their natural habitat. Pea puffers bred and kept in captivity won’t have access to these toxins. That being said, do not attempt to ingest your pea puffers.



Pea puffers are inquisitive creatures that make them very interesting fishes to keep in your aquarium. They require some specialized care and are usually for intermediate fish keepers. They have the tendency to be territorial and can display aggression and nip at fins. They are best in single species aquariums in small groups or in a really big aquarium with lots of plants and tank furniture to establish different territorial areas. 

Further reading

Overview on the Pea Puffer:
Dwarf pufferfish
Dwarf Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

Informative article on Pea Puffer care:
The Dwarf Puffer – A Pleasant Little Surprise

Forums on keeping Pea Puffers:
How difficult are pea puffers to take care of? : PeaPuffers
Pea puffer care : Aquariums
Feeding Pea Puffers