Aquarists searching for truly unique fish often fall in love with Pea Puffers. Native to India, Pea Puffer is one of the smallest fish in the world.
They are famous for their helicopter-like maneuverability, independently moving eyes, and the capability to inflate like a small water ballon.
In this post, we will hand you the ultimate guide to care for Pea Puffers, including housing, feeding, and feeding knowledge.
Now let’s begin!
Facts about Pea Puffer
Pea Puffer has a lot of names, including Pea Puffer Fish, Dwarf Puffer, Dwarf Pea Puffer, Pygmy Pufferfish, and Malabar Pufferfish. It gets these different names due to its size. It is one of the smallest members of the fish’s family, extending to a maximum size of 1.4 inches.
Their tiny size and lifespan of a maximum of 4 years have made the popularity of this species skyrocket for several decades.
Unluckily, this has led to wild-caught specimens being caught, and this fish is listed as vulnerable to extinction. That’s why you should try and source your fish from a reliable supplier that breeds them in captivity.
Pea Puffer in The Wild
Pea Puffers are known to live in at least 13 rivers throughout Kerala and southern Karnataka, in the West Ghats of Peninsular.
Different from most other species of freshwater pufferfish, with some exceptions, Pea Puffers are naturally seen in huge shoals of their own kind, for security and social reasons.
The beds of the streams and rivers which these fish come from are filled with leaf litter from the overhanging vegetation. And this offers the ideal environment for the water fleas, copepods, insects, and their larvae which these pea puffers feed on because they patrol the bottom of their environment in swarms of their kind.
Pea Puffer in The Aquarium
Pea Puffers are the most widely raised species of pufferfish, thanks to their average full-developed of just 2.5 cm. They are very common and demand for them has continued increasing. Imports of wild-caught pea puffers are prevailing, but they are regularly bred in home aquariums and commercial breeding places.
Pea Puffers best grow in intensely planted aquariums that provide the fish with numerous areas to hide, with plenty of visual barriers to break wide and open spaces. They are prey animals and do not love feeling too exposed. A dense and busy scape will help the fish feel secure, knowing that they can take over rapidly if necessary. That will stimulate them to be more active across the tank.
There are a huge number of aquascaping styles used in an aquarium for Pea Puffers, with almost limitless possibilities. Some hardscape materials that can be used in your Pea Puffers tank include rounded boulders, driftwood, Mopani wood, red-Moore, Lava Rock, and Dragon Stone.
Java Ferns provide plenty of bushy coverage and can be attached to your hardscape with other epiphytes, at different heights within the tank to break up open spaces. You can also use background plants like Amazon Swords and stem plants like Limnophila sessiliflora to fill the rear of the tank and bring the fish areas of dense overhead coverage, as well as hiding equipment like filters and heaters.
Pea Puffers prefer a number of different moss types, including Weeping Moss, Christmas Moss, and Java Moss. A great amount of moss is the secret to breeding Pea Puffers because they use it as a spawning method.
Most of the time, Pea Puffers live in comparatively shallow, slow-moving waters, covered by floating duckweeds and thick vegetation which protects huge groups of them from overhead threats. Plus, you can use some floating aquarium plants, like Water Lettuce and Amazon Frogbit, to mimic their natural habitats and create areas of dappled shade and extra hiding places.
These fish are reclusive, shade and shelter-enjoying critters as they are prey animals. They can become delicious prey of bigger fish and even piscivorous birds like Herons, Cormorants, and Kingfishers.
What’s more, you should set the flow in the tank slow to medium and never overpower it. Pea Puffers are not really good swimmers, so a powerful current is not proper.
They are extremely adaptable fish, but they cannot tolerate poor water conditions. A minimum water change schedule of 50% is highly recommended every week.
Group Size & Shoaling
Unlike the majority of freshwater pufferfish, Pea Puffer is a social fish and is naturally seen in large shoals.
Belonging a large group helps them improve predator detection, with more eyes watching around. That decreases the chances of individual capture and makes it challenging for a predator to target a fish. Therefore, shoaling creates a sense of security, which leads to calmer and less depressed Pea Puffers.
Shoaling has aided in the survival of this whole species for hundreds of years, and these instincts also appear as the fish are in captivity. Careful observations of Pea Puffers of both captive and wild origin have shown that they are more confident, more expressive with their owners, and are less aggressive with conspecifics as they are raised in groups of at least 6. Moreover, they have a better feeding response and live a long time.
Studies have indicated that social fish are less stressed than solo ones. Communal fish tend to have slower metabolic rates than loners, meaning they gain more energy and stamina. Besides, fish living in bigger groups get higher development rates and their bodies are in healthier general condition than isolated ones.
A harmonious and balanced group dynamic tends to include at least 6 members, while smaller groups usually witness more infighting. Pea Puffers will feel less secure in lower numbers as this leads to stress and worry, contributing to aggressive tenancies.
Dominant members are important to a group dynamic, yet dominance assertion can become an issue when there is a lack of members of the shoal for any aggression to be widely spread.
As a dominant fish has two or three other conspecifics in the tank, they may focus all of their aggression on one or two specific fish, which can be dangerous for the individuals.
In addition, lower numbers also show that dominant members have less competition in the hierarchy, which usually leads to those dominant fish becoming intensely more aggressive. Small groups might be a good idea initially, but it is crucial to consider that behavior can alter over time, particularly when the fish experience some different stages of their physical and psychological evolvement.
It is proven that raising Pea Puffers in groups of 6 and above is the ultimate way to guarantee long-term success in captivity.
Tank Setup for Pea Puffers
Theoretically, a single pea puffer can live in a 5-gallon aquarium. Bear in mind, nevertheless, that smaller aquariums are more challenging to keep clean. And, being carnivores, puffers will create plenty of waste.
If you choose to raise different puffers, the basic rule is 5 gallons for the first member and 3 gallons for every additional puffer.
Three Pea Puffers thrive well in a 10-gallon aquarium, which is also simple to control – provided that you decorate properly.
You can take it easy with your filter selection. Pea Puffers do not swim well. If your outflow is too strong, they might have to spend their lives competing against the current.
Sponge filters enable you to control the strength, which might be your best bet.
Pea Puffers are derived from tropical regions, You need to remain the water temperature at a stable 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some aquarists try not to use aquarium heaters, but if the room’s temperature varies too much, you can make your puffers stressed.
Even though puffers are tolerant of pH ranges between 6.5 and 8.4, their “sweet zone” is about 7.2 -7.5.
If you can keep a stable pH, they will be delightful. They don’t like the sudden fluctuations in their water. That’s also true to the hardness level of 4-10 dH.
If you want to achieve that four-year lifetime, you will need pristine water conditions. Pea Puffers struggle a lot to handle some ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite fluctuations. 0 ppm is the ideal standard. Therefore, once again, the smaller tank, the harder it is to gain those numbers.
Pea Puffers are known for nipping the fins of other fish, so a species-only tank is highly recommended. Nevertheless, as Pea Puffers are raised in big shoals (with more than 20 members) and large aquariums, they become far less interactive with other mates since they are occupied with themselves.
If they are kept in big shoals, they can be raised with some other fish. However, this is not totally without risk and the keeper should be ready to track the behavior and isolate the other fish if there is any sign of harrassment or fin nipping.
Pea Puffers’ tank mates should be short-finned, peaceful, fast-swimming, able to grow in the same water parameters, and not fight with Pea Puffers for food. They can be Guppies, Betta, Gournami, Angelfish, and Barbs. Ideally, any tank mate should have the same origin as Pea Puffers.
You should not house Pea Puffers with any bottom-living fish, like Corydoras, who might encroach on the fish’s hiding spaces within the tank.
Some keepers record a harmonious relationship between their Pea Puffers and small shrimp like Amano and Red Cherry.
As long as the water values are proper, the smaller species of catfish from the Otocinclus genus can be kept with Pea Puffers for minor algae control.
Diet and Feeding
Pea Puffers are classified into the group of stric carnivores. Fortunately, unlike other puffer species, you don’t need to do any crazy tooth care, provided that you feed them well.
Puffers should feed on a healthy combination of live and frozen protein sources. You can given them freeze-dried foods, but rehydrate them for 20 minutes first.
Some of Pea Puffers’ favorite foods include:
- Grindal worms
- Brine shrimp
- Young ramshorn snails
Pea Puffers become interested in you during feeding time. When they’ve adjusted to the aquarium, they will swim to the “feeding zone” as soon as you go to the tank. This “begging” behavior often leads to overfeeding, so be careful.
Moreover, hand feeding also supports your puffers. That slow swimming capabitlity makes them poor competitors against quicker members of the tank.
Plus, you can feed them in a separate spot in the aquarium to ensure they get enough food.
Breeding Pea Puffers
Sexing Pea Puffers
Males carry a sleeker body shape than females. When they grow up, most will contain a dark strip that goes from their chin to their anus.
Males also get small iridescent blue markings behind their eyes that are similar to tiny wrinkles or cracks. Additionally, males tend to have a brighter yellow color.
Females typically possess a pale or white belly that contains no spots or stripes. They also get a roudner body shapes without any blue markings behind their eyes.
The big issue with sexing Pea Puffers is that they won’t demonstrate these distinctive features until they are fully grown up.
The fish are often sold as juveniles but they all look like females at that time.
You might need to get a group of puffers, let them grow and then shuffle around fish until you achieve the accurate proportions of 1 male to every 2-3 males.
You will have to create a dedicated breeding tank for these fish as the adults will need to be isolated from the babies.
It’s ideal to simulate the conditions of the main aquarium in your breeding tank so that you can transfer fish with ease.
Noticeably, Pea Puffers do not require much inducement to spawn. Provided that you keep males and females together, they’re delightful and healthy, they will most probably spawn.
The females will lay eggs in the quieter zones of the tank. They will usually lay eggs on decoration, rocks, or plants toward the back of the scape. When the eggs are laid, bring the adults to a different tank. The eggs will hatch in 24 to 48 hourse and the babies can swim freely within one week later.
You should provide the fry with a commercially prepared liquid fry food until they are big enough to digest baby brine shrimp.
Health and Disease
Pea Puffers are short of scales, making them prone to skin infections.
As water conditions decrease below optimum, putting stress on the fish, their immunity also becomes worse, and such diseases have higher possibilities of gaining hold.
Especially, Pea Puffers get a higher chance of surrendering to the following when conditions within the aquarium dip below optimum:
- Fish lice
Unluckily, you might not identify these problems until they’ve developed. It’s easy to overlook these common infections because of the fish’s small size and natural skin patterns. Hence, you should invest in a magnifying glass, or stay on top of your water quality.
Water temperature is one of the most vital problems for puffer health. It’s difficult to find a heater for nano aquariums, Inexperienced aquarists might not notice their Pea Puffers have to get chilled overnight, resulting in them catching illness.
Are Pea Puffers for You?
Pea Puffers may easily lie in the palm of your hand, but they feature plenty of personalities into their tiny bodies.
You need to ensure you’re ready for all of their specific requirements – especially that territorial streak.
Have you ever kept Pea Puffers? Have you had any interesting experiences with these fish? Or have you managed to breed your puffers?
Share with us your questions and stories here. We would love to hear from you.