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Pea Puffer versus Dwarf Puffer (What’s the Difference?)

As an aquarium hobbyist, you may be thinking about expanding your community tank to include a few puffer fish. Unique in their ability to inflate to evade predators, puffers have long been a favorite among aquarists. Perhaps you’ve heard about pea and dwarf puffers and are wondering which one is ‘better’ and what’s the difference between the two?

The Pea puffer – also known as the dwarf puffer – is the same fish. The Pea puffer is the smallest puffer fish in the world. It resides in freshwater environments along the southwestern tip of India and has a unique spotted appearance reminiscent of a leopard.

Now that you know pea and dwarf puffers are essentially the same, let’s explore this topic further. Together we’ll learn how to distinguish males from females, what size tank they need, what water conditions they require, what food they like, which fish make the best tankmates, and whether (or not) they make good pets.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about the illusive and intriguing pea/dwarf puffer fish, then let’s begin!

Are Dwarf Puffers the Same as Pea Puffers?

Dwarf and pea puffer fish are basically one in the same. Indian dwarf puffers or pea puffers can also be referred to as Malabar puffers or pygmy puffers. Carinotetraodon travancoricus appear as gold or green in color with dark brown or black spots, a white belly, rounded eyes, and a pointed head. Their tiny side fins flutter when the swim, making them appear to be hovering in the water.

How Big Do Pea Puffers Get?

Pea puffers are tiny fish, reaching maximum lengths of a mere 1.5 inches. But don’t let their small size deceive you. They’re highly territorial, aggressive, carnivorous aquatic creatures and will nip at fins or flesh, even on tankmates that are far too big for them to devour. As the tiniest species of puffer fish in the world, they can easily be kept in small 5- to 10-gallon tanks.

Are Dwarf Puffer Fish Poisonous?

Dwarf puffer fish aren’t poisonous to the touch. However, if ingested, a toxin known as TTX can cause paralysis and a complete shutdown of vital organs, including the heart. Should an aquarium fish choose to dine on a puffer tankmate, it won’t live long once the poison kicks in. For this reason, it’s best not to house them with larger predatory fish.

dwarf pea puffer

How Many Pea Puffers Can You Keep in a 10-Gallon Tank?

Since pea puffers are highly territorial and aggressive by nature, you should keep just two in a 10-gallon tank – a male/female pair or two females, if possible. The general ‘rule of thumb’ is one puffer fish for every 5 gallons of water. You may be able to house two females with a single male in a 10-gallon tank but no more than that.

The tank must also be planted with lots of hiding places to prevent a puffer fish ‘battle’ from ensuing, especially if you have more than one male. Fighting for territory and dominance is common among pea puffer males in captivity. Should you have multiple males, I recommend a 20-gallon tank minimum with some java moss/fern or anubias plants to provide both coverage and shade.

What Equipment do Pea Puffers Require?

As a type of tropical freshwater fish, pea puffers prefer warmer water which is why a heater is required. An adjustable LED aquarium lamp is also necessary since bright bulbs that turn on and off suddenly can startle this fish and cause stress. Since shade is favored by this species, diffused light or a blue ambient feature is recommended.

A low-flow filter like a sponge or hang-on-back type is best for pea puffers. These tiny fish are gentle swimmers and don’t like a heavy current. As with all freshwater aquarium fish, pea puffers need a clean environment with the right equipment to thrive in captivity, so you’ll want a filter of high quality like the Aqueon Quiet Flow Power filter available online through Amazon.

What Type of Water Conditions do Pea Puffers Need?

Stable, tropical water conditions are needed for pea puffer fish. A temperature between 78- and 82- degrees Fahrenheit is best with a pH ranging from 6.5-7.0. If you have a filter with an adjustable outlet, make sure to point it towards the back of the tank to help reduce the water flow. This species is highly sensitive to fluctuations in tank parameters, especially pH levels, so doing regular water tests is a must.

What do Pea Puffers Eat?

Pea puffers are carnivores and require meaty foods like frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms. Live foods including blackworms and snails are other good options. Flaked foods are typically rejected by this species although some aquarists claim to have luck with Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze-Dried Bloodworms available both online and in-store.

How do You Tell the Difference between Male and Female Pea Puffers?

Distinguishing pea puffer males from females can be tricky since they’re so small. Typically, males are more aggressive with darker or brighter coloration and a stripe along their bellies. Females tend to be rounder in appearance with a calmer disposition. It’s near impossible to tell the genders apart when they’re juveniles so purchasing them young may require rehoming some of the males once they mature.

Best Tankmates for Pea Puffers?

A species-only tank is recommended for aggressive fish like pea puffers. That said, you should keep them in male/female pairs or small groups of females since multiple males will fight each other for territory and dominance when kept together in captivity. The only way to sidestep this is to house them in a large tank with lots of plants and hiding places.

If you’re looking to stock your pea puffer aquarium with other fish, then consider larger, peaceful bottom-dwelling species like kuhli loaches, bristlenose plecos, and otocinclus catfish. Neon tetras, chili rasboras, leopard danios, clown killifish, dwarf rainbowfish, cherry barbs, and cherry shrimp are other possible options – just make sure the tank is large enough to support a community tank environment.

puffer fish

Are Pea Puffers Good Pets?

Pea puffers make good pets for intermediate to advanced aquarists. Beginner hobbyists should steer clear of this species since they require much care and skill in keeping their aquatic environment stable, clean, and safe. They’re highly susceptible to ammonia and changes in water parameters, especially fluctuating pH levels. This can put them at-risk of developing skin infections such as ich.

Inquisitive and intelligent, pea puffers make a unique addition to a freshwater tank – under the right circumstances, that is. Ideal water parameters, plenty of space, and suitable tankmates are all vital to the wellbeing of this species in captivity. Believe it or not, they can even learn to recognize their owners and will swim to the top of the tank when you enter the room in anticipation of being fed!

Final Thoughts

To conclude, the pea puffer and dwarf puffer are one in the same fish. Also referred to as the Malabar puffer or the pygmy puffer, it’s the smallest puffer fish species in the world and native to freshwater environments of southern India. Distinctive in both its appearance and behavior, pea puffers make a good pet and a welcome addition to a planted freshwater aquarium.

I trust this article has been of help to you. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your aquarist hobby!

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