Pea Puffer – Species Profile & Care Guide

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Do you know what’s cuter and more exhilarating than a large aquarium predator? A tiny aquarium predator. This brings us to the pea puffer, or the dwarf pufferfish as you may know it.

These fish have gained increased popularity recently thanks to their behavior, looks, and overall demeanor.

It’s worth noting that these are rather vulnerable fish in the wild, primarily due to their increased popularity in the aquarium world.

Don’t worry, they’re not particularly difficult to breed in captivity if you plan on growing your pea puffer community over time.

So, let’s see how you can accommodate these fish and what conditions they require to thrive. As you can tell, pea puffers aren’t quite like other fish you may have cared for so far.

What is a Pea Puffer?

Pea puffers are the smallest species of pufferfish from southwest India that have adapted to life in captivity quite well.

These fish can only grow up to 1.2-1.5 inches at most, although most of them will remain below 1 inch.

Their size transmits the erroneous impression that they’re easy to house, but that’s not the case. Despite being absolutely tiny, pea puffers require more than double the swimming space that guppies do, for instance.

And guppies can reach 2.5 inches, almost 3 times the size of a regular pea puffer in many cases.

Pea puffers are aggressive and territorial, especially males. You can’t have more than 1 male per tank unless you have a very large setup fit to accommodate multiple fish species.

If not, only get one male and a handful of females, especially since the pea puffer has a more distinct social behavior.

The fish is known to live in shoals in the wild, although males have strict hierarchies and cannot be part of the same group.

Where do Pea Puffers Live in the Wild?

Pea puffers live in freshwater environments in southeast India and were once widespread in the region.

Unfortunately, intensive farming has greatly caused their numbers to dwindle, causing the pea puffer to rank as vulnerable in the wild today.

These fish are rather intelligent, curious, and energetic, so they require a lot of space to swim around and investigate.

Their natural environment is lush with vegetation, allowing the puffer to hide from predators and other, more aggressive pea puffers in their group.

Their environment should replicate the fish’s natural living conditions for optimal accommodation.

Pea Puffer Aquarium Requirements

The pea puffer isn’t too pretentious about its environment, but it does require some special conditions to remain comfortable and safe in the long run.

The tank’s layout actually makes a big difference in the fish’s state of mind, among other things.

What Tank Size is Best for Pea Puffers?

Pea puffers require at least 5 gallons for 1 fish. This may seem excessive, given that these pufferfish rarely go above 1 inch in size, but it’s understandable once you grasp the fish’s behavior.

Puffers are generally aggressive and territorial fish, and this micro-species is no exception.

Pea puffers love to patrol their environment constantly and make use of their environment to set up ambushes when feeding.

So, when it comes to aquascaping the puffer’s aquarium, consider the following points:

  • The more space, the better – Most aquarists stick to 10-20-gallon tanks when housing their pea puffers. A 10-gallon tank is enough for up to 3 puffers, given that one fish requires 5 gallons and you can then add 3 more gallons for each subsequent puffer. So, a 20-gallon tank can accommodate 6-7 pufferfish, but I would go even bigger than that. A larger puffer aquarium is easier to maintain and clean since it doesn’t require as many water changes and waste removal efforts. I would go for a 50-gallon setup, especially if you’re aiming for a community tank with several fish species mixed together.
  • More plants – Pea puffers are ambush predators that like to stick to the shadows. They love to roam around live plants in their environment to avoid conflicts and scan for potential prey. You can also have some open swimming areas, but those aren’t an absolute necessity. Puffers prefer a lusher environment, so you should remember this point in case you’re going for a community setup.
  • Fewer males – It is possible to have more than one male per tank, especially since you may not have a saying in the matter. You’ll most likely get your pea puffers when they’re young and difficult to sex. So, you may get 2 or more males whether you like it or not. These are territorial and vicious animals that won’t get along with each other unless the setup is right. We’re talking about many plants, rocks, and other decorations that can provide safe areas for the bullied to hide and recollect. If your puffer males seem to be overly aggressive despite all your efforts to prevent that, you may have to relocate one or more for the same of the remaining population.

Do Pea Puffers Need a Heater?

Yes, pea puffers most likely require a heater, given that their optimal water temperature is 75-82.

These small pufferfish deal with varying temperatures in the wild, varying between 75 and even 92 F in some areas.

They can’t cope with low temperatures, which can cause them stress and send them into thermic shock.

A heater is necessary to prevent temperature fluctuations depending on the time of day and environmental conditions.

You should keep the pea puffer’s temperature around 77 F as this is the optimal range for maximum comfort.

What Substrate to Use for Pea Puffers?

The idea isn’t to choose the ideal substrate for pea puffers but for the plants decorating their habitat.

These fish don’t care much about their substrate, since they’re middle-tank dwellers.

So, consider the best type of substrate for your tank that also comes with a meaningful esthetic value.

Fine gravel or sand are great options in this sense, provided you realize that these are inert substrates.

So, you need root tabs to fertilize the plants properly and bring in all the minerals and nutrients that tank plants require to grow properly.

Enriches soil is also a good option since it’s highly nutritious and offers better anchoring support for your rooted plants.

It also doesn’t require much additional fertilization since it’s already rich in minerals.

Do Pea Puffers Like Live Plants?

Yes, they do. Pea puffers love lush and heavily-planted environments, so you need to perform some logistics work to make everything fit.

The idea is that pea puffers require approximately 10-12 hours of light per day and an additional of 12-14 hours of darkness. These are also ideal conditions for your live plants.

The problem is that live plants produce CO2 and consume oxygen during nighttime which is what all fish species do throughout the 24-hour period.

This isn’t a problem in moderately-planted aquariums, but it can become one in heavily-planted setups. Especially if you have a heavily-planted tank with a lot of fish as well.

So, you need to make sure that the pea puffer’s habitat remains properly oxygenated during nighttime to prevent suffocation. A filter is necessary for this sense.

Do Pea Puffers Need a Filter?

Yes, pea puffers absolutely need a filter. These fish live in slow-moving waters and require a well-oxygenated and clean habitat to remain comfortable and healthy in the long run.

Pea puffers live approximately 4 years in optimal conditions and are rather sensitive to poor water conditions.

Filters are extremely important, especially in a heavily-planted tank, because plants tend to produce a lot of mess over time.

When getting your tank filtration system in place, consider the following:

  • The intake’s placement matters – The filter’s intake sucks in the water, gets it through the media and spills it back via the output. Don’t place the intake close to any plants or the areas where your pea puffers spend most of their time. You don’t want plant leaves or fish to get sucked in and clog the filter.
  • Secure the filter – The problem here is that the filter can easily suck in some smaller pea puffers if you don’t secure it. One way to do that is by placing the intake somewhere where pea puffers don’t go. As you may suspect, this isn’t really failproof. So, consider placing a sponge over the intake to prevent puffers from getting in. And keep the filter’s power manageable not to disrupt the plants and fish, or cause harm to the environment.
  • Perform regular cleaning – Heavily-planted aquariums require intensive cleaning to remain fresh and stable. The filter already does much of the work, but it’s not enough. You should also vacuum the substrate, remove visible dead plant matter and dying leaves, and clean algae deposits wherever you might see them. Water changes are also necessary when keeping a pea puffer tank. You should perform 2 partial water changes weekly for nano tanks and at least 1 change per week for the rest.

What do Pea Puffers Eat?

Pea puffers are carnivorous fish, so their diet should reflect this preference. In the wild, pea puffers consume tiny insects and insect larvae, copepods, water fleas, and even microscopic algae occasionally.

In captivity, you can feed them a variety of foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, cyclops, and even snails.

They prefer live foods to exercise their hunting capabilities but can also adapt to eating frozen meals.

Some algae wafer treats are welcome 2-3 times per week.

Pea puffers require around 2 meals per day, but be careful when feeding them. These fish can be quite greedy and will always appear hungry.

So, it’s quite easy to overfeed them, seeing how fast they ingest their food. Make sure you only offer them enough food for them to consume in 3 minutes at most.

And try to clean after them, provided there are many food residues left.

As an interesting point, pea puffers will eventually recognize you when coming close to their tank and swarm in your direction as they know food is coming.

What Fish Can Live with Pea Puffers?

As small as these fish are, finding the ideal tankmates for them is certainly not easy.

These are rather vicious and temperamental fish that like to engage in fin nipping behavior.

They will always attack and bother larger and slower fish, especially if they have rich fins and nowhere to hide.

So, you need to handpick their tankmates after careful consideration to prevent rising tensions in the tank.

Some viable tank partners include kuhli loaches, ember tetras, Siamese algae eaters, zebra danio, harlequin rasbora, and neon tetras since these are more active and energetic fish.

They will flee and hide from the pea puffer if the environment allows it. Adult cherry shrimp are also good options, so long as you stress the ‘adult’ part.

Young shrimp may fall victims to the puffer’s insatiable appetite for meat and hunting.

You can also craft a puffer-only setting, so long as you separate the males. These tiny monsters are far too aggressive and territorial to share the same space.

How Big do Pea Puffers Get?

Pea puffers grow up to 1.4 inches, but most of them remain smaller than 1 inch. You can boost their overall size by providing a nutritious meal plan and impeccable living conditions, but don’t get your hopes up.

Pea puffers will live up to their name despite all your efforts.

How Long do Pea Puffers Live?

Pea puffers live up to 4 years, but most live less than that, up to 2.5 years.

Are Pea Puffers Aggressive?

Yes, they are. Pea puffers remain faithful to the classic pufferfish demeanor. They bug other fish and bully each other over space, food, females, and simply because they can.

The pufferfish’s aggression is what makes it difficult to find reliable and safe tankmates for them.

You can mitigate the fish’s aggression by adding more plants, driftwood, and other decorative elements to offer multiple hiding areas.

But this won’t always work because pea puffers are energetic fish that like to roam around their environment.

Puffers will eventually run into each other and other fish, at which point violence is almost ensured.

If any of your pea puffers is excessively aggressive, despite all your efforts, consider removing it from the environment altogether.

‘Sacrifice one for the benefit of the many’ is the right choice here if you aim for peace and stability.

Do Pea Puffers School Together?

No, pea puffers don’t school, but they do form shoals. It’s normal to see them forming groups occasionally, especially when feeding or breeding.

Do Pea Puffers Puff Up?

Yes, pea puffers tend to puff up when scared or rattled. Interestingly enough, they may also do it to exercise their puffing muscles, but this is rather rare.

The mechanism behind the puffing behavior is quite impressive. The pea puffer unhinges its jaw and sucks in as much water as it can to inflate its body and appear larger.

This can deter some predators and intimidate potential competition during the mating season.

As a side note, don’t cause your pea puffer to puff up intentionally. The act of puffing up is a reaction to stress, and you don’t want to stress out your fish.

Just observe its natural behavior regularly, and you might catch the puffer puff up naturally at some point.

Are Pea Puffers Good for Beginners?

I wouldn’t recommend pea puffers if you’re a ground-zero beginner. Pea puffers demand more specialized settings and are difficult to keep due to their unhinged behavior.

Pea puffers are more fitting for intermediate aquarists with a bit more experience under their belts.

Where to Buy a Pea Puffer?

You can find pea puffers for sale in most online fish stores. This is quite a widespread species, given that these tiny puffers have gained massive popularity recently.

Get your fish from trustworthy sources to prevent sick or dying specimens. You only need several of them to start your own pea puffer setup, after which you can breed them yourself.


Pea puffers are tiny predators that are deceptively difficult to maintain.

You should only get into pea puffer keeping if you aim to create an environment specifically for them.

These are not side characters, they’re the actual protagonists, so you should treat them as such.

This being said, pea puffers are great choices for nano tanks with lush environments and a personalized decorative layout.

Just remember that pea puffers require clean water and a stable environment to remain healthy. Regular maintenance is vital, especially for nano tanks which require even more frequent cleaning.

Author Image Fabian
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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