Dwarf Puffer and Neon Tetras – Can They Live Together?

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Dwarf puffers, or pea puffers as you may know them, are tiny and cute nano tank fish that have a reputation for being rather snappy and violent.

They’re also carnivorous, which allows them to bring a different dynamic to your aquatic environment.

Then you have neon tetras which are highly beloved in the aquarium world thanks to their friendly and calm demeanor and energetic presence.

But can these 2 species live together? They don’t seem compatible at a first glance, but let’s dive deeper into the issue!

Do Pea Puffers Get Along with Neon Tetras?

On paper, the 2 seem compatible since they share a lot of similarities. They both only grow up to 1.5 inches at most, enjoy similar water requirements, and have similar food preferences.

The only problem you should consider is the puffers’ more unhinged behavior.

These small fish use violence to make up for their lack of size. They are highly aggressive and territorial, especially the males, and will attack anything that moves around their habitat.

Pea puffers have a bully mentality, making it difficult to find reliable tankmates for them.

Fortunately, you can pair pea puffers and neon tetras, provided you consider several critical aspects first. So, let’s get into those!

Keeping Pea Puffers with Neon Tetras

You have several parameters to consider when pairing these 2 species. These include:

– Tank Size

This is the most important point because puffers require more space than you might expect. Neon tetras need a lot of space too, but for different reasons.

Puffers require a lot of space due to their innate tendency towards violence and territoriality.

These active swimmers will protect their habitat fiercely against any intruder, no matter how big or small.

Pea puffers rank as ambush predators, lurking around plants and aquatic decorations and waiting to strike unsuspecting prey.

They require a lot of space, especially if you have more than one male per tank. Confrontations are also more likely when overcrowding the fish, so you need sufficient space to prevent that.

Pea puffers require approximately 5 gallons of water per initial fish and 3 other gallons for each new puffer. This space requirement is strictly related to the fish’s territorial tendency, despite its small size.

Neon tetras are the direct opposite in terms of behavior and temperament. These are gentle and friendly fish that couldn’t be bothered to care about other fish in their tank.

The problem is that they have no means to protect themselves from predators and bullies, so they rely on their numbers to intimidate attackers.

Neon tetras are shoaling fish and do best in groups of at least 6-8 individuals. I highly recommend keeping your tetras in larger groups so that they can deter puffers from bothering them.

This means that you probably require at least 25-30 gallons to accommodate both species.

This should include the space necessary for live plants and other decorative elements that your fish will use as hiding areas.

– Water Requirements

Both pea puffers and neon tetras thrive in temperatures in the mid-70s, although balancing their temperature preferences can be a bit tricky.

Neon tetras prefer temperatures around 68-79, while puffers are comfortable with a range of 74-82 F.

There is some wiggle space there, but you must balance the environmental temperature perfectly to keep all fish happy. So, you absolutely need a heater for them.

Other than that, both species demand clean and clear water. Have a sturdy tank maintenance routine in place to keep your fish healthy in the long run.

Keep in mind that poor water quality also causes fish stress and heightened aggression, and you don’t want that. Not in a pea puffer tank.

– Feeding & Diet

Neon tetras are omnivorous fish, so they have no problem eating pretty much anything. Live foods, frozen foods, flakes, granules, and veggies are all great for your tetras.

Feed them twice per day in small portions to prevent digestive issues associated with overfeeding.

Pea puffers, however, are carnivorous, so they require a lot more protein. Live foods are necessary daily to provide them with the required protein content. These fish also eat twice per day.

You can feed your pea puffers frozen or freeze-dried meals, but I recommend live foods as the primary source.

So, you might want to invest in feeder cultures to grow bloodworms and daphnia, among other things.

These cultures are easy to keep and set up and will provide your fish with a constant supply of fresh live food.

You can even have multiple bloodworm cultures with minimal effort. You only need to set up the cultures and collect the bloodworms every day until the culture crashes. Then you set up another.

– Number of Fish

This is a delicate topic because most people want as many fish as possible. It’s what brings an aquatic setup to life.

Unfortunately, a neon-puffer setup requires more careful planning due to the dynamics between the 2 species.

You can have around 3 puffers in a 10-gallon tank and around 5-6 in a 20-gallon setup, but these numbers change when you also add neon tetras to the mix.

Ideally, you want each puffer to have at least 3 gallons of water at its disposal. Tetras will do just fine with 2 gallons per fish.

Also, consider having more neon tetras than puffers. Pea puffers are more violent and territorial, and neon tetras need strength-in-numbers to ensure their own safety and comfort.

I would go with 3 puffers and 8-10 tetras for a 30-gallon setup, but you can work on these numbers a bit, depending on your situation.

Also, keep in mind that fish have different personalities; they’re not all the same. Some puffers may be more aggressive than others.

Make sure you monitor your fish dynamics regularly to detect early signs of unhinged behavior among puffers that may qualify them as trouble.

If you find no way of mitigating their violent behavior, you might want to remove them from the environment altogether.

Will Pea Puffers Eat Neon Tetras?

It’s very unlikely for this to happen. Neon tetras are fast swimmers and quite powerful for their size.

They’re basically the same size or slightly larger than dwarf puffers, so it’s unlikely that the latter can threaten their lives.

That being said, puffers are quite notorious for their fin nipping behavior, so you might want to look into that.

While puffers won’t hunt and kill your tetras directly, they can injure them via constant nipping and bullying.

This is where you require some violence-mitigating strategies, such as:

  • More tetras – We’ve already discussed this point. Keep tetras in a larger school, and they will handle their business more effectively. Shoaling fish like neon tetras use numbers and power display to intimidate potential attackers.
  • More plants – Pea puffers require a lot of plants for hunting and safety purposes. Fortunately, neon tetras also appreciate lush ecosystems and feel safer in a plant-rich habitat. Add more plants to your aquarium to cut the line of sight between the fish and reduce their aggressive tendencies.
  • Dimmer lights – Neither species appreciates bright environments. Tetras like to live in shady ecosystems with dim lights, causing many aquarists to place dark panels on some of the tank walls. This will make it more difficult for puffers to keep track of the moving tetras around them, causing them to eventually lose interest in the chase.

Eventually, if nothing works, separate the aggressor(s) from the rest of the population.

Consider the trolley solution and sacrifice one for the benefit of the many, as this is actually the right thing to do in this circumstance.

Conclusion

Pea puffers are rather difficult fish in terms of temperament and behavior. This makes them difficult to pair with any other fish species.

Especially when lacking the proper setup or knowledge on how to defuse the tensions between the tank cohabitants.

Fortunately, neon tetras are among the few species that rank as compatible tankmates for your pea puffers.

Make sure you consider each species’ environmental requirements, and the 2 will coexist happily with one another.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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