Dwarf Puffer Fish Guide Best Tank, Food, Breeding and Lifespan
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Dwarf puffer fish have become quite popular among freshwater fish keepers owing to their attractive colors, small size and relative ease of maintenance.
Also called pea puffer fish or pygmy pufferfish, they are tiny fish that can be kept in small freshwater aquariums. Not only that, they are popular for controlling snails and especially feed on live ramshorns.
Dwarf puffer fish are endemic to Southwest India hence prefer a tropical fish tank with temperatures anywhere between 75°F and 80°F. They also like neutral to alkaline water between 7.0 to 7.8 ph.
Since most puffer fish species are saltwater, there is a common mix-up on which aquariums to keep dwarf puffers. Well, they are completely freshwater and should not be kept in salty or brackish water.
That being said, today we’ll delve into dwarf puffer fish world, learn everything from the best fish tank, food and diet to breeding, lifespan and more.
Dwarf Puffer Fish Overview
Traditionally, the biggest challenge in keeping pufferfish was size and salinity. Then this hurdle was solved by the introduction of the adorable pygmy puffer fish to aquarium fish keeping.
The fish are tiny and entirely freshwater, plus quite subtle given their family’s reputation. Generally, pygmy puffer will grow to a maximum length of 1.4 inches.
Both sexes are yellow with dark green to black patches on the flanks and dorsal fin.
They naturally occur in the Kerala and Karnataka region of the Western Ghats of Peninsular India.
In the wild, dwarf puffer fish food includes small animals such as crustaceans, insects and near microscopic organisms. But also eat plants such as diatoms commonly called brown or black algae in aquarium culture.
Breeding pygmy puffer fish is somewhat difficult. Nonetheless, they’ll lay their eggs on plants like Java Moss or on gravel hidden within the plants.
They usually fertilize their eggs externally. Interestingly, dwarf puffer fry select their sex as they mature, when one baby puffer start becoming male, he’ll excrete hormones to prevent the others from being male.
Pygmy puffer may (or may not) be poisonous like some members in their family. If they are, the toxins are not as potent as in their wild cousins.
Poisonous puffers get a substantial amount their toxins from eating toxic organisms (though they may produce small amounts of poison on their own). Hence without access to toxic food sources, there is little reason why dwarf puffer fish in aquariums would be a health risk. Moreover, people mostly get poisoned when they ingest toxins from puffer fish organs. So, why anyone would eat their pet beats me.
Behaviour and Temperament
Most fish in the puffer family are known to be solitary and fiercely territorial but not dwarf puffers.
Put simply, certain individuals fish will show aggressive tendencies, but in most cases, they remain subtle. They also may occasionally nip smaller fish in community tanks, but that should not worry you too much.
Male pygmy puffers are most times the ones that become territorial and will defend their turf with zeal. Therefore, leave enough space for them; plus a few hiding spaces.
Allow at least 2.5 gallons of water for every pea puffer in your tank.
On the flip side, when dwarf puffers are introduced into a new tank, they generally tend to be shy. So don’t put them in a tank with aggressive fish or nippers, they’ll need a period of peace to be comfortable and get bold.
Aswell, acclimate the fish in low light to keep them less stressed and give them enough time to know their way around.
Dwarf Puffer Fish Lifespan
The average lifespan of dwarf puffer fish is about 4 years. Of course, this will depend on how well you take care of your pet.
Given the best conditions, the lifespan can even be extended a few months or a year above the average.
The fish is also fairly new in the market hence limited information on it, but a thing I’ll recommend is zero salts in dwarf puffer tanks, that will definitely shorten their lifespan.
Best Tank and Water Conditions for Dwarf Puffer Fish
A clean tank is paramount for any aquarium fish but so is the size, water chemistry, and temperature.
Fish tank water should generally be ammonia and nitrites free, and the nitrates levels low as possible.
Nevertheless, each fish has it’s own preference.
This is how puffer fish love their tanks.
Due to their small size, dwarf puffers can be kept in a small fish tank, even a 5-gallon tank, though a 10 gallon is the ideal size.
However, since the fish are from an inherently territorial family don’t overcrowd them especially if you have male pygmies.
Dwarf puffer fish will also live comfortably in community tanks without a problem, they do prefer a species tank though. A female to male ratio of 3 to 1 is recommended to reduce aggression in aquarium fish.
Because dwarf puffers do get quite shy at times, keep them in a planted tanks with a couple of hiding spaces. These aquatic plants will also play a big part when your fish are breeding since they’ll have a place for their eggs on or below the cover.
Pea puffers are not too picky about water parameters and are quite adaptive as long as extreme conditions are avoided.
They generally love water with a neutral ph or slightly offset either on the acidic or alkaline side. A total hardness around 125ppm and a temperature in the mid to upper 70s F is quite Ok.
That said, dwarf puffers are considerably sensitive to ammonia and nitrate content in the tank water. Plus the situation does get worse in small tanks which have poor filtration.
For this reason, you’ll need to add them in a planted tank with a powerful filter that frequently removes any toxins that accumulate. Also, do 10 to 20 percent water changes weekly.
Can Dwarf Puffer Fish live with Other Fish? ( Tankmates)
Simply put, dwarf puffer fish have not been around long enough for aquarists to tell which species they get along with.
Plus, different puffers have expressed varying behavior with some outrightly belligerent and others awfully shy.
As a result, the safest bet is to put pea puffers in a species tank. Keep them in a small school of 5-6 because they express shoaling tendencies in the wild.
Dwarf fish will also live freshwater aquarium shrimp, prawns, and snails but should your puffer get hungry and a tankmate fits in their mouth, well, let’s just say they’ll be fair game.
Small algae eating shrimp such as Amano and cherry make good choices as long as they are big enough.
According to practicalfishkeeping dwarf suckermouth catfish are also widely recommended as good companions.
Although pea puffers will occasionally nip these tankmates, the dwarf catfish are fast swimmers and quickly escape aggressive puffers.
By and large, avoid putting pygmy puffers with any community fish that show liking for fins of slow-moving species such as angelfish, gouramis and corydoras.
Dwarf Puffer Fish Diet, Food and Feeding
Dwarf puffer fish diet in the wild includes small live animals but will occasionally feed on plants matter like diatoms.
Consequently, in aquariums they prefer live food as opposed to flake or pellets and freeze-dried food.
Among their favorite live foods are small pond snails and worms which conveniently are rich in proteins. However, they’ll also feed on brine shrimp but since these foods have little nutritional value, consider them to be occasional treats.
If you have to feed your dwarf puffers frozen food, meaty diets such as bloodworms, blackworms, and snails are all good choices.
There is a chance your fish will refuse to eat frozen food, in which case, try to mix them with live feeds.
That said, dwarf puffers don’t need snails to mill their teeth the way other puffers do. Hence, snails in their diet are only ideal because they form a large part of their preferred food.
Hence beware if you have snails in the tank, dwarf puffer will enjoy hunting them. They will, however, suck them out of their shells instead of crushing them.
Feed you dwarf puffers two to three times a day, so they have gently rounded but not bloated abdomens. Overfeeding them will result in constipation mostly manifested as swollen abdomens in fish.
Eventually, remove uneaten food from the tank after a short while to keep the water quality in top condition.
Breeding Dwarf Puffer Fish
Getting dwarf puffers to breed is not difficult. In fact, if you feed them appropriately, and maintain the temperature within ideal breeding range, they will reproduce naturally.
Overall, fill your dwarf puffer breeding tank with slightly soft, acidic water with the temperature anywhere from 77°F to 82°F. The ph should range between 6.5 and 7.5.
Mating largely involves the male chasing the female until she gives in and moves into a space under the plant to mate.
For this reason, it is imperative to have a densely planted aquarium if you intend to breed your dwarf puffer fish. Good aquarium plants include Java moss, Cabomba and Indian waterweed.
Java moss plants are especially useful because the fish are egg scatterers and need mat-like plants to hold the eggs.
Normally, the eggs will hatch within 48 hours to 5 days, but you will need to remove other fish from the tank or use a breeding tank to ensure the fry survive.
The fry start swimming within a week or two and should be fed with tiny live foods such as microworms.
Growth is fairly rapid, and your baby dwarf puffers should be about 0.4 inches in two or so months.
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