Dwarf puffers may not be the best fish for a community aquarium, but their interesting behaviour and adorable looks make setting up a special tank more than worth it!
|Tank size||10 gal (40L) for one puffer|
|Temperature||77-79 °F (25-26 °C)|
|Length||1 inch (2.5 cm)|
Carinotetraodon travancoricus, Dwarf Puffer, Dwarf Indian Puffer, Malabar Pufferfish
Dwarf puffer natural habitat
Dwarf Puffers are naturally found in slow moving waters in south-west India, like the Pamba river. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, the deforestation, urbanisation and overfishing for the pet trade in this area have resulted in the Dwarf Puffer being listed as Vulnerable.
These little guys are the smallest known puffer species – most of them grow to an adult size of about an inch (2.5 cm). Their eyes can move independently, which allows them to closely look at something without having to move.
Depending on their mood, their colors vary from green to brown with dark spots. The belly should be white or yellowish and smooth after feeding; if your Dwarf Puffer’s belly looks lumpy even after a meal, it may have internal parasites.
The males can be distinguished from the females by the dark line that runs along their belly and the “wrinkles” behind the eyes.
Dwarf Puffer requirements
Dwarf Puffers don’t need big tanks, but try to keep them in at least 10 gallons (40l) for the first fish and 5 extra gallons for every additional one. The tank should be completely cycled before the puffer is introduced; any traces of ammonia or nitrite can be deadly. Adding salt is not necessary and might actually harm this freshwater puffer, even though it’s still recommended sometimes.
When setting up a tank for a dwarf puffer, it’s very important to create lots of hiding places to make sure the fish feels safe; this helps prevent stress. Also be sure to add some interesting stuff for your puffer to explore, as they are quite intelligent and get bored very easily. They show this by glass surfing: swimming up and down the glass of the tank, so if your puffer shows this behavior it’s a sign that it’s time to add more plants, rocks and decorations!
Live plants like Java Moss and Java Fern are essential and my personal favorites because they are so easy to grow. If you have multiple dwarf puffers, this will help them establish their own territories more easily. The photo below is a good example of what a dwarf puffer tank could look like.
Dwarf Puffer tank mates
Many people add Dwarf Puffers to their aquarium because of their effectiveness when it comes to eating snails, without thinking about what they’re going to do with the puffer when all the snails are gone and it starts nipping at other fish. Be careful when choosing tank mates. They may be small, but that doesn’t mean these puffers are suitable for any community tank. They’re best kept alone or with small, quick tankmates like Kuhli Loaches and Otocinclus to prevent fin-nipping and chasing.
If you’d rather set up a Dwarf Puffer community, be sure to go for at least 5-10 gallons per puffer and a heavily planted tank. Non-aggressive shrimp like cherry shrimp have also succesfully been kept with Dwarf Puffers, but this is always a bit of a gamble and they may end up as a tasty snack.
Dwarf puffer diet
Unlike their larger cousins, dwarf puffers don’t need hard snail shells to keep their teeth short. This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy eating snails: in the wild, these are their main food source. You can breed common pond snails yourself or ask around in pet stores, they deal with snail problems often and are usually very willing to give you some.
Most Dwarf Puffers will also happily accept frozen foods like bloodworms, mosquito larvae, tubifex. The gif below shows our dwarf puffer happily slurping up a bloodworm! Live foods like blackworms are also appreciated. These are great main food sources, but don’t forget to soak any frozen foods in water before feeding and make sure you don’t overfeed your puffer. Pellets and flake foods are rarely accepted and shouldn’t be fed too often because of the lack of nutritional value.
Their intelligence, curiosity and high activity level make these fish incredibly interesting to watch. They often learn to recognize their owners and will closely monitor your every move when you’re near the aquarium.
Breeding Dwarf Puffers is considered to be fairly difficult, but very important! According to the IUCN, their population in the wild has declined by30-40% over the past five years, and yet they’re still being caught from the wild. If more people tried to breed them responsibly, then maybe this wouldn’t be necessary any more and the population would get a chance to restore itself.
If you want to breed Dwarf Puffers, be sure to get more females than males to prevent the females from being overchased. Spawning behaviour can be triggered by doing water changes with slightly cooler water. The eggs will be deposited in spawning mops or Java Moss and can be kept in floating containers or a small tank until they hatch – be sure to choose a container/tank that allows fresh water to flow past the eggs, or they can become infected with fungus.
When the fry hatch, they can be moved to a barebottom grow-out tank, which should be kept very clean. The fry can be fed with tiny foods like microworms. Grindalworms and baby brine shrimp can be given when they’re slightly bigger and will do fine until they can accept regular sized foods.
In my opinion, Dwarf Puffers are one of the most interesting fish species around. The way their eyes follow you around the room makes it clear that they’re much more intelligent than the average aquarium fish, and their feeding behaviour is just adorable! If you have an extra 10 gallon lying around and are looking for an interesting fish, I’d definitely recommend looking into getting a Dwarf Puffer.
If you need help setting up a Dwarf Puffer tank or if you’re having some trouble, the folks over at The Puffer Forum might be able to help you out.
If you still have questions about keeping dwarf puffers or if you want to share your experience with them, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!