Out of the infinite species in the aquatic world, there are very few who manage to create records for various factors. One such freshwater species is the Indian dwarf pea puffer fish, which is considered the shortest pufferfish ever found to date, holding the Guinness Book of World record for the smallest Puffer Fish.

These species are always breathtaking to watch when they inflate and magnify their body structure to scare away predators. Fish enthusiasts are crazy about this ornamental fish due to its beauty and impulsive reactions.

They have moderate difficulty while in captivity, as they expect specific choices about their surroundings. But every fish species has its own set of dwelling complications. Therefore, the fish keeper must follow guidelines to make sure the fish stay active and healthy.

We have covered a complete care guide on dwarf pea puffer, including sale and availability, tank mates, behavior, feeding habits, breeding patterns, and other interesting facts.

Characteristics Analysis

Species Details
Scientific Name Carinotetraodon Travancoricus
General Names Malabar pufferfish, pygmy pufferfish, dwarf puffer fish
Family Tetraodontidea
Origination Western Ghats of Peninsular India
Approximate Lifespan 6 – 9 years
Length (Size) 3.5 cm
Fish Type Freshwater
Color Greyish-yellow
Average price in Dollars $16

Where are They Naturally Found

These special fish types are exclusively found in the southwestern part of India. Some Southeast Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and China also have a small number of them.

The dwarf pea puffer’s natural habitat is inland waters or rivers with flooded and vegetated regions. These are bottom-dwellers and only live in freshwater. They are seen in almost thirteen rivers in the coastal and connecting regions of the Kerala and Karnataka states.

Popular rivers like Pamba, Perifie, Kechery, Vembanad and even Nelambur harbors majorly support them.

They are also seen in lakes, streams, ponds, flooded areas, irrigation fields, tanks, canals, and often in brackish water bodies. They prefer staying in shallow waters, filled with sand, silt, and gravel.

Fact: The Thattekad Bird Sanctuary and Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary are also home to these species.

What is Their Physical Appearance

The dwarf pea puffer appears as a mix of light green and yellow colors. They have small lustrous patches in dark shades of black, brown, and dark green on the sides and upper parts of their body.

The longest of these species ever found is about 1.37 inches, but otherwise, they hardly reach one inch in length.

Their fins are too tiny to be considered specific shapes. The caudal fin is the largest of them all, with vertical edges. The pectoral fins are fanned out with tips turning downwards, while the dorsal and anal fins are round and small.

The fish altogether appears as a round ball, with big circular eyes, also called “puppy dog eyes,” at the center of the head. Their mouth is located slightly towards the lower base of the head.

Note: A unique phenomenon attached to puffer fish is its ability to intake water, and expand the body structure like a balloon. In this condition, the fish’s height increases by up to one-third of its total length.

How Long do They Survive

While in the wild, the dwarf pea puffer fish gives a tough fight to its predators, and if not being consumed by other aquatics, they may live up to seven or eight years.

But keep monitoring them in aquariums, as they are too choosy about the place. If proper care and maintenance are provided, they may survive in the tank for nearly five years.

How to Differentiate: Male/ Female Fish

How to Differentiate: Male/ Female dwarf pea puffer fish
CC BY-SA 4.0 Image Credit: wikimedia.org Beta Mahatvaraj – Own work

The dwarf pea puffer shows significant differences in its gender for the identification of male and female species.

But most of the differences appear once an individual attains adulthood, because during its birth and juvenile stage, both of them look almost identical.

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Here are some recognizable observations that one can notice in them to find out the gender difference in the species.

  • Colors: The males continuously acquire dashing and vibrant colors once they mature, while females look duller with blunt colors.
  • Patterns And Markings: The males have a yellowish stomach with dark stripes and nice color textures with wrinkles on the eyes. The females, on the other hand, have whitish bellies with yellow patches below the mouth.
  • Body structure: The males have a slightly longer body shape, while the females have spherical structures. The stomachs of the females start to swell during the mating season.

Price in International Market

The dwarf pea puffer seems to have recently been introduced into the fish trade. It has gone through long research of six decades after 1941 to be finally listed in this genus and the smallest in its category.

Well-established organizations because of the decline in its population, Bharathapuzha, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, as well as the IUCN Red List, have considered these species in the risk zone. Aquarium trade, water pollution, dams, or deforestation might be hampering their existence.

They have some unique features like iridescent shades, or body inflation, which attracts a lot of aquarists.

Along with their appearance, the dwarf pea puffer’s rarity makes it a high-priced fish in online and offline sales. In the international market, their average price ranges between $12 and $20.

Fact: Carinotetraodon Imitator, and C. Travancoricus (dwarf pea puffer) were initially considered the same species because of the least observable differences. The latter finally got its unique name in 1999 for its pea size.

Expert Care Guidance

Quick Details
Care Level Moderate
Social Non-Interactive
Predators Yes
Territorial Yes
Temperament Highly Aggressive
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Easy
Size of Maturity 1.83 cm

What do They Prefer to Eat: Feeding Habits

Dwarf pea puffer fish are typical carnivores and prefer to feed on a variety of meaty foods. As an alternative in the wild, they often consume green algae and diatoms, and unwillingly intake detritus or sand while feeding.

These species have pretty soft teeth, and so cannot crush hard shell structures. But they are strong hunters and can predate most of the small living creatures in the water.

Their smaller body structure never stops them from eating more, as they can continue to feed for as long as the food is available. Experts suggest providing them food not more than twice a day and only about what they can consume in five minutes.

You must offer them protein-rich food in the aquarium, but alternatives like pellets and flakes should be avoided. Here is a list of food items that you can provide them in captivity, either in live or frozen form.

  • Insect larva – Odonata, Ephemeroptera, Hemiptera, Diptera
  • Crustaceans – Benthic, Molluscs
  • Snails – Ramshorn, Bladder, Malaysian Trumpet
  • Bloodworms, Black worms, White worms, Tubifex
  • Water Fleas
  • Annelids
  • Cladocera
  • Rotifers
  • Copepods
  • Ostracods
  • Zooplankton
  • Brine Shrimps

Note: Unlike other puffers in the family, they do not require teeth clipping or cutting. Their teeth grow equally fast, but due to the soft texture, they easily get trimmed off while crunching the soft shells of snails.

Their Behavior and Temperament

Observing their size and appearance, one may always consider them a friendly, and cute addition to the fish tank. But the well-known fact is that the dwarf pea puffer is utterly opposite to what is expected.

This species is a little hooligan of the water world. It is intrusive and destructive in nature, and ever-ready to claim the area where it swims at a steady speed. In their aim to dominate, they can also eliminate fishes of greater size than themselves.

While in the wild, the fish travels in a wide region, either alone or in small groups. So, if you keep them in a confined space, they usually consider it as their private place.

The fish has high elasticity in its stomach, which lets them ingest water for inflation and threaten intruders. When they inflate the spines on the body get erected that can potentially harm other species.

Fact: Researchers have found that the dwarf pea puffer acquires neurotoxic elements through natural feeds, and thus, can convey paralytic diseases if consumed by humans. The theory is yet to be proved.

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How to Make Them Breed in Aquariums

A mature dwarf pea puffer can reproduce through the year, although their preferred season for spawning is mid-monsoons, and winters.

It is easy to breed them in artificial setups, provided you maintain the basic settings required to make them begin the reproduction cycle.

Breeding Setup

You primarily need a mature pair for successful breeding. These species are found to mature once they attain an approximate length of 0.72 inches.

At this time, the ventral and dorsal ridges of the males turn deep brown in the shade, while the females attain a more pronounced belly.

It is best to introduce the pair in a separate tank, which should have about 8-10 gallons of water at 27 degrees Celsius.

They prefer thick vegetation for laying eggs in their natural space. So, you should fill the bottom with Java Moss or other such greens.

Mating Process

Once the tank settings are complete, you can put the pair inside it, and feed them with protein-rich food.

After some time, the males begin to chase their partners and pinch their belly portions in a way to propose mating.

Females accept the offer and move to a better place near the green mosses, where they can comfortably spawn.

Note: You must put the tank in a low-light area, which particularly provokes spawning in these species. While in the wild, they lay eggs in the evening.


Soon after the females find a suitable place, they wait for their chosen partner to begin spawning. Now the females scatter the eggs on the moss, which are between 1-5 at a single shot.

If there is more than one pair in the tank, then each male tries to put away others from its female partner as well as eggs, so that others do not fertilize them.

The pair leaves the place after the process, while the males do return to guard the eggs. The females can spawn for up to four days in multiple schedules.

Fact: The eggs of the dwarf pea puffer appear as tiny transparent sticky balls inside oil globules. Their maximum diameter is 1.43 mm.

Eggs Hatching

It takes about 5-7 days for eggs to hatch. The reddish-brown larva comes out of the eggs after consuming the egg yolk, and is approximately 3.15 mm in total length.

It takes almost 5-6 days for them to start swimming, only after their eyes develop properly. Now, you can feed them with infusoria, brachionus, bloodworms, and brine shrimps.

Are These Species Prone to any Diseases

The dwarf pea puffer is a robust fish and does not easily acquire any major health problems in its lifetime. They are accustomed to living in flooded areas with algae growth, and thus, their bodies are immune to most of the infectious bacteria.

They do not have gill covers or scales, which makes them vulnerable to certain health issues. You need to be cautious about certain factors that may hamper the long life of this fish.

  • Ich is mostly observed in these fish, which are also familiar to other freshwater aquatics. The main cause of the disease is terrible water conditions, and the symptoms are white spots on the fish’s skin.
    They are also observed to rub themselves against the tank wall. Normal medications can heal them quickly.
  • Overeating can also be harmful to the dwarf pea puffer. It damages their liver and kidneys over time, and the symptoms are a bulging belly portion.

Note: You must deworm the species, if they are caught in the wild and directly brought home. Such fish are prone to having internal parasites, which will hamper their health in the long run.

Aquarium Care & Maintenance

Quick Stats
Capacity 40 Litres
Water Temperature 72 to 82 F
Hardness Range 8 to 15 dGH
Tank Lighting Moderate light
Water pH Level 7.5 to 8.3
Tank Type Singular Tank
Substrate Soft sand & pebbles
Brackish No

What is the Optimum Aquarium Size for Them

It is pretty obvious that a fish of this small size can comfortably settle down in a minimal capacity tank. But the dwarf pea puffer is a territorial fish, and therefore, you must arrange a tank of ten gallons or higher volume.

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They love to move in various directions, and anything less than this tank size can stress them out. You can keep one male with three females to avoid anguish encounters, and thus, a bigger tank of about 20-25 gallons is better to keep them happy.

Tank Setup

The dwarf pea puffer is one of the curious fish types that are inquisitive about their surroundings. You would rarely see them resting in the daytime. You can leave a few necessary and useful items in their tank to keep them busy.


Surface greens are the basic features of their natural homes. Therefore, you must put some Java moss and other such vegetation that covers the substrate entirely. The fish can relax or hide between the plants during the night.

Tall plants are also helpful to provide cover and control the glass reflection that often irritates them. The fish can play along the branches.


These species do not require bright lights in the tank, as they usually stay in muddy areas. However, you can install dim LEDs in the tank for medium visibility, and it will also attract flies and insects on which they can feed.


The dwarf pea puffer spends most of its time in the middle or near the water beds. Therefore, soft sand at the tank bottom is considered the best option for these species. You can also include a few pebbles in the sand.

Oxygen & Filtration

Eating habits are one of the concerning behaviors of this fish. They create a lot of mess while eating, which creates impurities in the water.

A canister filter is necessary in these aquariums for the fish to stay healthy while also oxygenating the water. Filters also create water currents, which mimic the natural environment for these species.

Tank Decor

Instead of keeping a plain surrounding, you can always use a few decorative items to keep the dwarf pea puffer engaged in swim-around activities. Floating driftwoods or resting pipes are also good, through which they can move in and out.

Explore the Star Wars theme for aquarium decoration for small fishes.

Tank Water Specifics

The dwarf pea puffer easily adapts to variable water conditions. But it is imperative to manage the conditions and maintain standard parameters for a healthy, living fish.

You must read the below given scales while setting up the tank for this fish.

  • Use filters that can turn the water over 6-8 times an hour.
  • 30% to 50% of the weekly water change is necessary to remove rotten leftover food and other impurities.
  • The suitable temperature in their tank is between 22.2 to 27.8 degrees Celsius.
  • The optimum alkalinity of water should be around 7-8 pH.
  • These species are sensitive to nitrates and ammonia levels

Good for Community Tanks

Dwarf pea puffer is a fighter fish and wants to dominate the place wherever it stays. Because they attempt to fin-nip or combat slightly bigger fish, their potential tank mates can be those fish that are non-aggressive and swim faster.

Larger fish types are definitely not good, as they can hunt them down for food. A few compatible aquatics are listed below, which you can consider keeping together with them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to keep invertebrates with dwarf pea puffer?

Dwarf pea puffers are best kept as a single species in the tank, but there are a few small water dwellers that can survive with them.

It is never advised to put any invertebrates in their tank, such as snails or shrimps, which will be easily sucked in by them. However, few shrimps are able to survive in these tanks.

Are pea puffers and dwarf puffers the same?

A dwarf puffer is the name given to the smallest puffers, and because they have a shape that resembles a pea, the same species is also known as a pea puffer. So, both the fish are the same.

Can pea puffer and African dwarf frog be good tank mates?

Having a common name does not mean they can live together in a place. These frog species are highly peaceful creatures, while this puffer is completely the opposite in character.

So, if kept together, the puffer, though smaller in size, will start nipping and pricking its body. The frog may protect itself by finding a hide-out. But soon, it will make a movement and will attract attention from the puffer to bully it.

Final Thoughts: Are These Recommended for Petting

There is no doubt about the eye-catching tiny bright looks and activities of the dwarf pea puffer, which draw the attention of the viewers and fish keepers.

However, we cannot ignore their unsanitary eating habits and bad behavior toward other species. It may worry the owners and put them involved in water filtration or tank cleaning jobs.

So, we do not recommend you buy them if this is your first experience with the aquarium. Otherwise, watching dwarf pea puffers in funny acts and using intelligence to recognize their owner is incredible.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets. Career Highlights:…

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