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Malabar Dwarf Puffer Pea Puffer

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Malabar Dwarf Puffer "Pea Puffer"

One of the smallest pufferfish species in the world, pea puffers (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) only reach about an inch long! This is a true freshwater species that doesn’t require a hint of salt in its water, as it originates from inland, weed-choked shallows in southern India’s Pamba River.

Like all freshwater puffers, pea puffers are predators that use their beak-like front teeth to crack and tear apart small invertebrates. The teeth of most puffers will slowly grow throughout their lives, so they must be worn down by cracking hard-shelled mollusks such as snails and clams. Pea puffers seem to have less of this problem than larger relatives—most can be kept on a diet of standard frozen fare such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. However, housing them in a tank containing small snails will still provide them with an excellent source of supplementary nutrition and behavioral enrichment!

Although it is tempting to slap a pea puffer in any old tank, there are reports that some individuals can be prone to nipping the fins of slower-moving fish. These diminutive fish might also get pushed around during feeding time by larger tankmates. As long as you stock your aquarium carefully, pea puffers usually do well with other small fish, and are particularly comfortable when their environment is heavily planted. Males can get quite territorial and aggressive with conspecifics, so in smaller tanks, it is highly recommended that you keep just a single puffer. Given an appropriate setup, the pea puffer is an inquisitive and expressive fish that won’t bust your tank like its giant cousins!


Common name: Pea puffer, dwarf puffer, Malabar puffer

Scientific name: Carinotetraodon travancoricus

Distribution: Pamba River in southern India

Habitat: Slow moving, weed-choked shallows

Temperature: 74 – 80°F

pH: 6.0 – 8.2


Adult size: 1 inch

Sexing: Adult males have a thinner body, a yellow belly with a dark longitudinal line, and shiny “wrinkle lines” around their eyes. Adult females have a rounder body and a pale white belly. Juveniles look very similar and are difficult to sex.

Diet: Frozen or live invertebrates such as bloodworms, blackworms, and brine shrimp. It is recommended to provide small snails for them to hunt such as pond snails or Malaysian trumpet snails.

Conspecifics: Males are territorial and should not be kept together except in large tanks. Should be kept singly in small (2 foot and below) tanks.

Tankmates: Peaceful with most unaggressive fish, might nip at the fins of slower-swimming individuals. Keep with small tankmates that will not outcompete them during feeding time.

Notes: There are varying reports on Carinotetraodon travancoricus’s fin-nipping tendencies, so it is advisable to have a backup plan when adding them to community tanks. The teeth of most puffers will slowly grow throughout their lives and must be worn down by cracking hard-shelled mollusks such as snails and clams. Carinotetraodon travancoricus seem to have less of this problem than their larger relatives, but it is still advisable to keep them in a tank containing small snails for extra nutrition and enrichment.