- Scientific name: Carinotetraodon travancoricus
- Common name: Dwarf Puffer, Pea Puffer, Pygmy Puffer, Malabar puffer
- Origin: Asia – Kerala State, India
- Max length: 1.0 – 1.2 inch
- Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
- Stocking: 1 male and 2-3 females for a 10-gallon aquarium
- Temperament: fin nipping, males can kill each other, only suitable for a single-species tank
- Feeding: carnivore; prefer live foods (snails, shellfish, and worms); accept frozen foods but not dried foods
- Breeding: very hard
- Habitat: slow-flowing, heavily-vegetated waters in Pamba River, Kerala State, India
- Tank setup: lots of cover and hiding places are recommended, but ensure much swimming space
- Active tank levels: all over the tank, with a preference for the bottom
- Temperature: 71.6 – 82.4°F
- pH: 6.8 – 8
- Water hardness (dGH): 5 – 25
- Lifespan: 3-7 years
- Interesting facts about Dwarf Puffers
- Tank setup, layout, and stocking
- Tankmates for Dwarf Puffers
- Diet, foods, and feeding
- Diseases and treatments
Interesting facts about Dwarf Puffers
Carinotetraodon travancoricus, a big name for one tiny, little, fish! And what a fish he is! Who could resist that face?
Dwarf puffer, pea puffer, bumblebee puffer, Malabar puffer, pygmy puffer, they’re all names for Carinotetraodon travancoricus.
Puffer’s eyes move independently of one another – think chameleon (it’s pretty cool).
Puffers will inflate with water – this is a defense mechanism to make them look bigger, and hopefully, less appetizing to larger fish that may prey upon them.
Male dwarf puffers are brighter, and less round than their female counterparts and will have a dark stripe down the length of their bellies.
Puffers, look like miniature sailboats as they glide through the water. The resemblance becomes even more pronounced when you notice that they’re using their tail as a rudder.
Uncommonly curious, the puffer is well aware of what goes on in and around their tanks! Once they become adjusted to their surroundings, they’re quite outgoing and will swim up to the glass to greet you.
Although hardy, we do not consider this a fish for the beginner.
Tank setup, layout, and stocking
For several reasons, careful attention should be paid to the layout of a puffer’s tank. First and foremost, is to break up any aggression. Sometimes, dwarf puffers just need to get away from each other, so you’ll want to provide them with plenty of hiding places.
They are extremely curious fish and a tank with lots of nooks and crannies for them to explore will keep them happy and alleviate some of the aforementioned, aggressive behavior.
Puffers don’t care if your plants are real or plastic, just as long as the tank is interesting. If you plan on using live plants, keep in mind that they prefer subdued lighting and plant accordingly.
Since most of their time is spent hovering and exploring, they don’t really need open spaces for swimming per se. This is not to say that they are lazy, because they are not, but they aren’t zoomers; they don’t dart about the tank willy-nilly.
They’re fairly active but in a very methodical way. They will thoroughly check out one section of the tank, before moving on to the next.
One should allow 2.5 to 3 gallons per puffer – this will give your fish the space it needs to establish its own territory. Because of their small size, it’s tempting to cheat on the 2-3 gallon per fish rule, but unless you know the personality of the fish you are getting, it’s better to play it safe.
We have one male and four females, yet, there is still a bit of chasing and unruly behavior. Thankfully, the out of sight, out of mind rule seems to apply to them (which is why you need lots of plants and hiding places).
The cleanliness of the water is far more important than the actual water chemistry itself. Dwarf Puffers will tolerate a wide variety of conditions; what they will not tolerate is a dirty or uncycled tank. Unfortunately, their diet consists of a lot of messy foods, so if you have, or want dwarf puffers, then large (40-50%), weekly water changes are in your future.
When younger, they may school loosely, but the older they get, the less often this will occur. Keep in mind, puffers don’t like a lot of movement/current in the water, so dial back the filter.
Tankmates for Dwarf Puffers
Species tanks and dwarf puffers are like peanut butter and jelly – they just go together. As notorious fin nippers, these little rascals need a tank of their own.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and there are those of you who like to push the boundaries. If you simply must house your puffer in a community tank, then there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
(1) Some fish will view your puffer as dinner, so don’t put them in with large and/or aggressive fish.
(2) Meal times will take some careful planning. Dwarf Puffers are not gobblers; they eat at a much more leisurely pace. Feeding them separately will ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need and are not being outcompeted for food.
(3) Dwarf puffers eat snails; if you’d like to keep your snails, then don’t put the two together.
(4) Slow fish, and/or fish with long, flowing, fins and puffers,… do not a good combination make.
There have been reports of successfully housing Otocinclus and puffers, as well as shrimp and puffers together. However, we have never attempted and wouldn’t recommend you to do what we aren’t sure about.
Diet, foods, and feeding
If flakes and pellets are all you ever feed your fish, then a puffer is not for you! This pint-sized carnivore can be quite finicky!
Bloodworms are supposed to be one of their favorites, but we had a hard time getting ours to accept them. Dousing the bloodworms with garlic finally did the trick, but they (puffers) are still not overly enthusiastic about them. They have, however, taken to blackworms, so it’s not all bad news.
They also like snails and who doesn’t have some of those? Because of their soft shells, pond snails are the easiest for them to eat. Added note, unlike their larger cousins, dwarf puffers do not need snails to assist with their dental needs. However, they do enjoy them as a tasty treat!
You can also try brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, small live ghost shrimp, grindal worms, daphnia, etc. It may take some experimenting before you figure out what your puffer likes, so be patient. Start with bloodworms, and go from there. You will need to remove any uneaten portions of food.
Diseases and treatments
Be aware that a fair amount of dwarf puffers are imported with internal parasites. You will want to observe your fish closely for any sign of this pest – a sunken belly is one telltale symptom. If you see sunken bellies on any fish at your local pet store, then pass them by.
If you don’t already have one, then now, might be a good time to invest in a first aid kit for fish. Because they are scaleless, you need to be a bit more cautious when dosing puffers. Natural products such as Herbtana and Artemiss, by Microbe-lift or Pimafix and Melafix by API, are generally considered safe and can be used for bacterial and fungal diseases and infections.
Salt (in the form of a bath), may also be used for external parasites. As far as internal parasite medications go, there are a number of brands on the market, but we’ve never used them so can’t make a recommendation. Hopefully, you have a go-to person at your local fish store, who can steer you in the right direction.
As a precaution, we dose all our fish weekly with garlic (for internal parasites). Whatever medication you decide to go with, make sure that it doesn’t contain copper since it’s toxic to puffers.