The dwarf puffer, also known as the pea puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), is the smallest of the pufferfish available in the aquarium trade and is native to the rivers of southwest India. Unlike the larger puffers commonly available in the hobby, the dwarf puffer is a freshwater fish and should never be placed in brackish water.
The dwarf puffer stays quite small, and is usually sold at close to its maximum size. The adults usually grow to a maximum length of 1 inch (2.5cm), with some staying significantly smaller. Upon reaching maturity, the males become more brightly colored than the females and have banded stripes behind the eyes. They will also sometimes develop a dark stripe in the center of their belly.
This fish is relatively new to the aquarium hobby and depending on where you live, can be difficult to find. But with its striking colors and fascinating behavior, it’s a fantastic little fish to own and you should definitely make the attempt to pick up some of these fish.
In fact, the dwarf puffer is one of the few fish that keenly watch the world outside their tank, and they quickly come to recognize their owner. They are incredibly interactive, and will often remind people of more intelligent cichlid behavior. As soon as you walk in the room, they will begin to frantically move up and down the glass at the front of the aquarium, trying to get your attention. This may be just begging for food, but it’s still nice to get some interaction and attention from your fish.
It’s important to realize that because the dwarf puffers are such a new fish, much of the information about them on the internet is inaccurate at best. No matter what you may read, dwarf puffers only thrive in freshwater, and under no circumstances should they be kept in brackish or salt water tank. Any attempt to keep a dwarf puffer in a brackish aquarium, will result in a severely shortened lifespan.
They should also be kept in a species only tank, and if you make the mistake of keeping them in a community fish tank, their tankmates will “mysteriously” start losing miniature bite shaped pieces out of their tails and fins. Even in a species only tank, dwarf puffers should be lightly stocked, and a good rule of thumb is to provide each fish with 3 gallons of water.
If you find that you are having a problem with aggression in a dwarf puffer tank, you can add more live plants to the tank (fake plants will also work). When an aquarium is heavily planted, fish can’t maintain a line of sight on other fish, and they tend to chase them less. But don’t overdo the plants in an aquarium – too many plants will crowd the fish together and actually cause more aggression.
When choosing a filter for dwarf puffers, it is important to over filter if at all possible. Dwarf puffers are notoriously messy eaters, and water quality can quickly suffer if you don’t have sufficient filtration. When choosing the type of filter, a hang on back (HOB) filter or a sponge filter are good choices, but a canister filter is the best choice if you can afford the hefty price tag that comes with it.
If choosing an HOB filter, I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a dwarf puffer tank. This filter combines excellent filtration with a durable design, and it will keep your tank sparkling clear for years to come. You can also read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Filter Review here.
The proper feeding of a dwarf puffer is the most difficult aspect of owning them. No matter what someone tells you in a fish store, they will not readily accept flake food or pellets. In the wild, they primarily feed on molluscs (snails), small invertebrate and insects. In the aquarium, this diet needs to be reproduced, or the dwarf puffer will slowly starve to death.
The best way to reproduce this diet in the home aquarium is to feed both small snails and frozen food to the dwarf puffer. When choosing frozen food, without question their favorite food is bloodworms, though some pufferfish will also accept daphnia and brine shrimp.
If you are having trouble getting a puffer to eat, then you can start with live foods mixed in with frozen foods. Nothing triggers the hunting response quicker than fast moving or wriggling live food. In the summer, mosquito larvae or daphnia can easily be provided, and in the cooler months, you can purchase live blackworms.
As for snails, these can be cultured separately in a small aquarium, or they can be removed from any existing aquarium to feed to the dwarf puffer. They tend to ignore the larger snails, but will aggressively hunt any smaller snails in their tank. Even the heavily armored Malaysian trumpet snails aren’t safe from dwarf puffer, and they will be relentlessly hunted until the fish finally figures out how to pull them out of their shell.
Breeding dwarf puffers isn’t difficult, and if they are well feed and kept at their ideal temperature for an extended period, they will breed on their own. This usually involves the male chasing the female until she finally accepts his advances, and then moving towards a spot under the cover of plants with him.
In my experience, they tend to choose an area of dense plant cover, such as java moss or particularly overgrown cabomba or hygrophilia. Once under this cover, the two fish will move together for up to a minute, while the eggs and sperm are released.
The eggs are scattered over the plant, and the parents and any other fish should be removed at this point. The eggs will hatch in 24-48 hours, and can be feed a combination of infusoria and baby brine shrimp until they become large enough to accept frozen foods, or hunt the smaller snails.