Dwarf Puffer: Species Profile

Category: Puffer

Common Names: Dwarf Puffer, Puffer

Scientific Name: Tetraodon travancoricus

Family: Tetraodontidae

Minimum Tank Size: 55 Gallons

Care Level: Moderate

Temperament: Aggressive

Max Size: 1 Inch

Temperature: 74-72 F

pH: 7.0-8.0

Tank Level: Middle

Colors: Tan, Yellow, Black

Diet: Carnivore

Breeding: Moderate

Till Kresslein [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Dwarf Puffer: Species Overview

Dwarf puffers are adorable and energetic fish to keep in a tropical aquarium. Because of their small size, they get referred to as dwarf pea pufferfish.

Given the unique patterns and energy the dwarf puffer adds to a tank, they’ve become well-liked fish. They’re so popular that their population is on the decline in the wild due to overfishing.

So, you should be a responsible dwarf puffer owner by purchasing your fish from reputable vendors who breed dwarf puffers in captivity.

The good news is that dwarf puffers are easy to care for once you establish their tank parameters. So, they’re an excellent species for beginner fish keepers.

Distinguishing Features

Dwarf puffers have thick, round bodies, with their bellies being the girthiest area. But by the time their belly reaches their dorsal fin, their body tapers out into a relatively narrow caudal peduncle.

They also have a more pointed nose, adding to the round appearance of their centermost body.

Minute, nearly transparent fins keep the dwarf puffer afloat. But when you look closely, you’ll see that their dorsal and pectoral fins are practically the same size.

Color-wise, dwarf puffers have a goldish-green body as a base. They then have a series of large and small greyish-brown dots that give a beautiful color combination.

A few black circular dots are also apparent, particularly towards the back of the tail.

The entire underbelly of the dwarf puffer is a cream to white color without any markings.

What’s fascinating about the dwarf puffer is that its colors change according to its mood. So, it might develop deeper or lighter variations of its colors, depending on how it’s feeling.

While the style of the upper markings varies according to the fish, all dwarf puffers have rectangular mouths and eyes that appear too big for their heads.

Dwarf Puffer with Plants


Dwarf pufferfish originate from southwest India. These freshwater fish were widespread in Kerala and southern Karnataka before overfishing started.

In the wild, dwarf pufferfish live in lakes, estuaries, streams, and rivers as long as the current is slow-moving. They prefer clear water but tolerate cloudy conditions during monsoon season.

While dwarf pufferfish spend much of their time in the middle to the upper portion of the water they live in, they will nose-dive to the bottom in search of food or if something is chasing them.

These fish live in areas with sandy and muddy substrate in nature.

Dwarf pufferfish gravitate to water with dense plant vegetation. They use it for eating and hiding, as the males can get aggressive.

Stargrass, java moss, and java fern are all favored aquatic plants for wild dwarf pufferfish.


Adult dwarf pufferfish average one inch long, although some can grow as large as 1.5 inches.

Female pufferfish typically grow a bit larger than males. They also have an even stockier, rounder appearance, especially before spawning.


Dwarf puffers have a decent lifespan for tropical fish, averaging four to five years.

By following the recommendations we’ll be sharing here, you’ll increase the chances of helping your puffer live to its full lifespan potential.


The best way to tell male and female dwarf puffers apart is by looking for the following two characteristics:

  • Dark line on the belly
  • Wrinkly appearance behind the eyes

The presence of these two features is classic for males. So, if your fish doesn’t have these characteristics, you can feel confident that you have a female.

As mentioned earlier, females are also rounder and slightly larger than males. They also sometimes have tiny spots between the wide grey markings that are iconic of this species.


Despite their small size, dwarf puffers are notoriously aggressive fish.

The males are aggressive towards females of the same species and fish of other species, as they’re highly territorial. That trait emerges more prominently during the spawning season.

One of the biggest mistakes that newbie fish keepers make is putting too many dwarf puffers and other fish in the same tank, assuming their small size means they need less space.

It’s possible to house multiple dwarf puffers and other fish species together. But you must offer them ample room and hiding spaces.

Tank Parameters

Preparing a dwarf pufferfish tank with the appropriate parameters is crucial if you’re ready to bring one home. Below are the must-knows on doing so.

Minimum Tank Size

You should provide your dwarf puffers with a minimum of ten gallons per fish.

Some say that five gallons per fish are sufficient, but we disagree. Between these fish being territorial and them loving to race around the tank exploring, the more space they have, the happier and more peaceful they’ll feel and be.

Water Parameters

It’s essential to strike the right balance with the following three water parameter conditions for your dwarf puffers.


Dwarf puffers are warm water-dwelling fish, so you should keep their tank water between 72°F to 82°F.

Temperatures that drop below or above this range could send your fish into shock, increase their chance of disease, and even lead to death.


You should keep the water pH in your dwarf pufferfish aquarium between 7.0 to 8.0. That means these fish prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.

Ordering pH testing strips online is fast and easy, allowing you to routinely monitor your tank water’s pH, particularly after a partial water change.


Dwarf puffers have genetic wiring to be freshwater fish. But in the wild, you can encounter a small number of these species living in brackish water.

Since brackish water isn’t their ideal environment, we don’t recommend adding salt to your dwarf puffer’s tank.

The exception to this is if your pufferfish becomes ill. In that case, adding some freshwater aquarium salt to the water can improve your fish’s immune system and help kill bacteria, fungi, and parasites.

Tank Setup

Now you know the ideal water conditions for dwarf puffers. Let’s explore the physical aspects of setting up their tank.


Dwarf puffers don’t live at the bottom of a tank, but they frequent it in search of food and curiosity.

Since these fish enjoy poking their heads in the substrate to find leftovers, you’ll want to offer them soft areas to ensure they don’t scratch their heads.

Fine sand substrate is ideal for dwarf puffers.


Decorations are essential to all dwarf pufferfish tanks. The reason is threefold:

  • Protects pufferfish from each other
  • Protects other fish from pufferfish
  • Provides a playground

Setting up decorations at various levels in your tank is wise. For example, floating driftwood, rocks, castles, or other decors that reaches midway into the water are all excellent choices.


Plants are a must in all dwarf puffer tanks. They offer excellent hiding spots, play areas, and a food source.

Furthermore, you don’t need to be shy about packing plants into the tank.

Since these fish are so small, they don’t need (or want) excessive amounts of open space. They’d much prefer to swim between areas of dense vegetation.

Some excellent plants to add to your dwarf puffer’s tank include:

  • Anubias
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Java fern


In the wild, dwarf puffers move up and down the water column, experiencing higher amounts of sunlight at the top of the water and darker conditions in the substrate.

Therefore, providing your puffers with an average amount of light is a happy medium.

We encourage you to purchase a tank light that has an automatic timer. You can set this timer on a 12-hour cycle of turning on and off or arrange it to follow the changing daylight where you live.


All dwarf puffer tanks require a high-quality filtration system. Filters help remove everything from larger pieces of debris to invisible chemicals that will otherwise kill your fish.

We recommend splurging on a high-quality filter, preferably one with biological and mechanical filtration systems.

Purchasing a filter with chemical filtration is also an excellent option, as it’ll complement the work of the other filtration systems.


You’ll need to invest in a heater for your dwarf puffer tank. If the water temperature falls below our 72°F to 82°F recommendation, your pufferfish could die.

In addition to buying an aquarium heater, you should also get a thermometer. Attach the thermometer to the side of your tank and develop a habit of checking it each time you feed your fish.

That way, you’ll be able to catch any malfunctions that might be happening with your heater.

Dwarf Puffer in Front of Dark Background


Dwarf puffers are omnivores with carnivore leanings. They’ll eat algae in the wild and might nibble on live plants in their tank out of boredom.

But the ideal foods for dwarf puffers include:

  • Tubifex
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Mosquito larvae

It’s okay to feed your dwarf pufferfish pellets and flakes occasionally. But don’t make a habit of this, as their health depends on live or frozen protein sources.

You should feed your dwarf puffer twice daily. Let them eat as much as they can in a two-to-three-minute window. Then, remove the remaining food to prevent them from becoming obese and toxins from building up in the water.


Breeding dwarf pufferfish is relatively simple. You should set up a breeding tank following the water parameters discussed here, except for ensuring the water temperature is around 80°F.

Place lots of plants in the breeding tank and feed the fish you want to mate with high-quality protein.

Then, place the male and female in the breeding tank. The male will chase the female, and eventually, she’ll lay eggs in the plants.

It can take as many as a few months for the male and female to be ready to spawn, so practice patience.

Once the male fertilizes them immediately, we recommend moving the fish back to their original tank.

The dwarf pufferfish fry (babies) will hatch within a few days. You can feed them small brine shrimp shortly after to encourage healthy growth.

Common Diseases

Dwarf puffers undergo similar risks to common freshwater fish diseases as other species. While genetics affect how likely a dwarf puffer will obtain an illness, maintaining excellent fish-keeping practices also significantly impacts your fish’s health.

Below are some of the most common diseases a dwarf puffer encounters. Keep in mind that copper-based medications are dangerous to these fish.


Since dwarf puffers lack scales and gill covers, they are more likely to get this parasitic infection.

Ich also goes by the name of white spot disease, given that it causes salt-like white spots on a puffer’s body from the parasite burrowing into its flesh.

Treating ich requires an intense treatment using a combination of ich medication, water changes, and a higher water temperature.

Velvet Disease

Velvet disease is yet another parasitic infection caused by the Oodinium dinoflagellate parasite.

Like ich, velvet disease commonly happens when you introduce a new infected fish into the tank. For this reason, it’s vital to quarantine the fish before adding them to your aquarium.

You can treat velvet disease by raising the water temperature, adding aquarium salt, and keeping the lights shut off until your dwarf puffer is better.

Ammonia Poisoning

Ammonia poisoning is a preventable but all-too-common illness in dwarf pufferfish. It happens when you don’t change the water regularly enough or when the tank’s filter malfunctions.

Signs that a dwarf pufferfish has ammonia poisoning include bloody-looking gills, mucus production, and darker body color.

Most dwarf puffers die quickly once ammonia poisoning occurs. But you can try to save your fish by performing a 50% water change, adding a chemical filter, and ensuring your primary filter is in working order.

Potential Tank Mates

In an ideal world, you’ll keep your dwarf puffer fish in its tank. But we understand that’s not always possible for fish keepers.

So, as long as you offer your dwarf puffer sufficient space, you can add more than one of these fish to the same tank or different species, such as:

  • Kuli loaches
  • Golden puffers
  • Otocinclus
  • Neon tetras

You can also consider adding cherry shrimp, as they’re fast movers and mind their own business.