Care Guide for Pea Puffers – The Smallest Pufferfish in the World
Pea puffers are one of the coolest oddball species you can keep in a smaller-sized aquarium. Their helicopter-like maneuverability, independent moving eyes and ability to inflate as a small water balloon are some of their most notable attributes. This practical care guide answers the most frequently asked questions regarding these tiny, adorable creatures.
What is a Pea Puffer?
Carinotetraodon travancoricus – also known as the pea puffer, Indian dwarf puffer, Malabar puffer, and pygmy puffer – is the smallest pufferfish in the world and comes from fully freshwater environments in the southwestern tip of India. They can grow to just one inch in length and are available for purchase at your local fish shop. These fish are not usually sold at pet stores chains. When choosing your pet puffer, make sure to pick a healthy fish with a nicely rounded belly. You can also ask staff at the fish store what they feed puffers, since they can be picky eaters.
Most pea puffers are captive-bred. However, wild-caught animals may require additional deworming medication. We’ve used our quarantine medication trio as a preventative treatment on thousands of pea puffers with no harmful effects.
These three medications have been proven safe for puffers, even though they are considered “scaleless” and are not recommended for them. Make sure to use the full recommended dosages on them, or else pathogens may survive the treatment.
Do Pea Puffers Puff Up?
Yes. It is rare, but you may catch your pufferfish in act of puffing up as a defensive mechanism or just for practice. Pufferfish puff up by sucking in water to increase their size and discourage would-be predators. It will eventually return to its original shape if left alone.
Do not stress your pet to make it inflate. Instead, you can find plenty of pictures and videos online to see what it looks like. Also, if you need to move or transport your pea puffer, it’s best to use a cup or small container (instead of a net) so that the fish remains submerged in water at all times and won’t accidentally suck in air.
How many pea puffers can you have in a 10-gallon tank?
Given how territorial pea puffers can be, many people have a lot of success keeping just one pea puffer in a five-gallon aquarium by itself. You can keep one puffer, but you should provide water for five puffers and water for three for each additional. This means that you can keep up to three puffers in your 10-gallon tank and six or seven in your 20-gallon. But, their success rates will vary depending on how well they are set up. If the tank is mostly bare without a lot of cover, expect to see a pufferfish battle zone. If you have a lush, densely planted aquarium, you might be able to handle three puffers in a 10-gallon space.
Of course, the larger the aquarium, the better. A larger aquarium will provide more water volume, which means less waste. This is important because poor water quality can cause health problems for puffers. It also gives the puffers more space to avoid each other. Plus, having a ratio of one male for every two to three females tends to decrease aggression, but most pea puffers are sold as juveniles, which are hard to sex. You may have to rehome at most one male if you are in a situation where three young puffers were purchased and one female was left.
Up to six or seven pea puffers can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium (with no other tank mates) if you provide lots of cover in the form of aquarium plants or decorations.
How do you distinguish between a male or female Pea Puffer?
Although it can be difficult to see, males are more likely to have darker coloration with a stripe of dot on the belly. Their bodies are more slender and they display more aggressive behavior. Females on the other side have a yellow stomach and tend to be slimmer.
Are Pea Puffers a Good Use for a Heater?
They do well in stable, tropical temperatures from 74 to 82degF, so if your room temperature is below this range or tends to fluctuate a lot, you need an aquarium heater. For more information on what size heater is right for you, read our full article here.
In terms of other tank parameters, people have kept them at pH levels of 6.5 to 8.4. A pH range between 7.2 to 7.5 is ideal, but it’s more important to keep the pH levels stable rather than aim for a specific number. You should use a gentle filter that has a slower flow rate, as they are not the fastest swimmers.
What do Pea Puffers eat?
Hardcore carnivores prefer to eat frozen foods, such as brine shrimp and frozen bloodworms, and live foods like little pest snails and blackworms. They typically will not take dry foods, but we’ve had good luck with Hikari Vibra Bites because they look and even move like bloodworms as they’re sinking.
Pea puffers, unlike larger pufferfish, don’t need to be fed hard, crunchy foods in order to reduce their growing teeth. If you are unable to get hold of live snails it is not an issue. Just make sure to feed a wide variety of frozen foods so that they get all the essential nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life.
Frozen bloodworms are a favorite food for pea puffers, but offer them a diverse assortment of foods to ensure they have a well-rounded diet.
Pea Puffers Can Live with Other Fish
This is one of our most frequently asked questions about pea puffers. It’s not an easy question to answer. Although some puffers may be timid, most are aggressive and territorial. This is like having a dog that is prone towards fighting. Most dogs and pets you bring home are likely to be attacked. It’s fine if they do, but it may not be worth the effort to find your dog a roommate, as friendship is unlikely.
Therefore, if you want to keep pea puffers, buy them with the expectation of keeping them in a species-only aquarium with no other tank mates. This means you won’t have any other tank mates or algae eaters, and you will need to maintain the tank more yourself. Pea puffers can be a little messy, especially if they don’t catch every bit of food that falls in the water, so it would be beneficial to use live aquarium plants to help consume the toxic waste compounds. A well-balanced and densely planted tank will have very little algae growth. This creates a beautiful underwater jungle that your little helicopter fish can navigate.
Are Pea Puffers Good Pets?
This unusual species is more of a intermediate-level fish and we don’t recommend them for first-time fish keepers. They have special dietary requirements and don’t get along with other community fish. Pea puffers can be very curious and have their own unique behaviors and looks. They are even able to recognize you as your owner. If you’re looking for an amazing water pet that can live on your desk or kitchen counter, try a pea puffer and you won’t regret it!
Pea puffers are very curious fish with excellent eyesight, so you’ll often see them carefully examining everything in their aquarium.
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