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Aquarium Fish

Dwarf Puffer Fish for freshwater aquariums

Dwarf Puffer Fish for freshwater aquariums

Longtime Aquarium hobbyists were always intrigued by Dwarf Puffer fish, and a beginner who is stepping into the hobby has also probably heard of the Puffer fish species from other areas of life – like from the marine tanks or cartoons. In this article, you can learn how big they are, what they prefer to eat, and a lot more exciting things about the Dwarf Puffers.

There will probably be a specific moment in our lives as aquascapers in which we realize that we are out of ideas for new layouts. This is a moment when we indeed welcome new ideas with open arms.
If you're in a similar situation, this article might be useful because we are about to introduce the beautiful world of Dwarf Puffer Fish to you. The smallest Puffer Fish in the world could be an interesting choice for all of us, bringing a unique style and a very different fish behavior to our planted tanks.

Dwarf Puffer Fish - Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Photo by: Gábor Horváth

"Let me introduce myself. I'm the smallest Puffer Fish if the world, or so I'm told. Most of us are 2.5 cm long and fully grown. As a proud member of an elite group of super-fish, I'm one of the most exotic creatures in the freshwater aquarium fish hobby. It seems like you guys call me by different names: Dwarf Puffer Fish, Pygmy Puffer Fish, Pea Puffer Fish, Malabar Puffer Fish or Carinotetraodon travancoricus if you spoke Latin. Who does that any more?

I'm usually chilling in India; that's my natural habitat! I tend to have a crazy look; my eyes are moving independently of one another. Don't worry, that's quite normal. I'm fine. It just looks funny. Some people think I'm venomous. Calm down, guys; I'm not a rattlesnake. I'm super harmless for you guys!
Also, I'm not a gifted swimmer nor too aerodynamic… Wait, what am I talking about? I live in water! So, I won't win any speeding contests, but the way I move is very special, very different from other inhabitants of my aquarium. Don't you think that moving like an underwater helicopter isn't incredibly cool… It is awesome!

My slightly awkward looks and behavior conceal my true nature: I'm a fierce hunter. When stressed or frightened, my saltwater cousins will inflate like a little balloon. I'm also able to do that, I really can, but the chances are low that one of you will catch me doing that. Sorry, I wouldn't want to lose the smallest Puffer fish title.
Please check out some videos if you wish to see how the Puffer fish from the big blue sea pop.

OK, it's time for me to go back to work. I must continue to observe my territory, the 60F planted aquarium made by Balazs, in a YouTube video, here, at the Green Aqua Gallery in Budapest, Hungary.
The Green Aqua team will take over from this point and provide you with valuable information about my species. Trust me; it'll be important that you know how to make Dwarf Puffer Fish's life happy."

Natural Habitat – What conditions do Dwarf Puffer Fish prefer?

Most members of the Puffer fish family prefer brackish or salt water. The Dwarf Puffer Fish is different: it populates the freshwater rivers of the Western Ghats, a mountain range in South India, so it prefers freshwater. A natural habitat example would be the shallow and slow-moving waters of the Pampa River. This fish thrives in areas filled with heavy vegetation and covered by floating plants like Limnobium laevigatum or others. Puffer Fish use the vegetation as a hiding place in their natural habitat to increase their chances of not ending up as prey. Most common community tank fish do not pose a threat to them. Nevertheless, the Dwarf Puffer Fish will appreciate aquarium conditions that resemble their original environment, like shallow tanks with small, peaceful fish, and floating plants.

Dwarf Puffer Fish - Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Photo by: Gábor Horváth

Challenges of keeping Dwarf Puffer fish

Because of its predatorial behavior, it might not be a good idea to keep shrimp or snails with Dwarf Puffers. A healthy biological ecosystem needs shrimp and snails to keep the planted tank clean. They take care of organic waste and eat some or all the algae. In this case, introducing different types of Otocinclus as algae eaters might be a good workaround solution. We have a few Otocinclus Affinis in our Dwarf Puffer tank, and we observe their behavior daily. We found that until now, they, the Dwarf Puffers and the Otocinclus have a very peaceful relationship. Nevertheless, if you have no shrimp or snails, you'll have to put more effort into maintenance.

Dwarf Puffer fish require a very good and stable water quality. Puffers don't tolerate poor water conditions. Keep your aquarium as clean as possible. Remove as much organic waste as possible, like food leftovers, mulm, and dead plant particles. Have regular cleaning and do a minimum of 50% weekly water changes (two times, 30%-35% is even better). If you wish to clean the gravel or soil more frequently without making a water change, use an aquarium gravel cleaner.

Dwarf Puffer Fish - Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Photo by: Gábor Horváth

Dwarf Puffer fish have four continuously growing teeth, two at the top and two in the lower jaw. Like rodents, they need to wear their teeth down. This is no problem in nature, they'll find enough crunchy stuff to chew on, but when they're kept in an aquarium, they need our support. Therefore, feeding should be a daily practice, and most Dwarf Puffer fish like to be fed with both live and frozen food, such as tiny snails (crunchy food for tooth care), mosquito larvae, daphnia, or bloodworms. You can feed them flakes or granulated fish food, but they might not accept it.

Optimal Water Conditions

Temperature: 23-28 °C. Water pH: 6 - 8 pH (keep the pH as stable as possible). GH: 5-25. The water test will help classify your water parameters.

Aquarium and Livestock Size

Anything above a volume of around 40 liters will be fine, as long as it's not overpopulated and filtered well. The larger the aquarium, the more Dwarf Puffers can be kept inside. These are shoaling fish; they need a group of at least 5-6 to thrive. Try to keep the male / female ratio at 1 to 3. The ideal conditions will allow one Dwarf Puffer fish to have around 8-10 liters of aquarium space.

Hardscape and Substrate for Dwarf Puffer Fish

There are no limits, and you can use a wide range of hardscape, any kinds of stones and wood, as long as they don't leach harmful substances into the water. It is safe to use active soil if you plan to have plants with a more extensive root structure like Cryptocoryne or Stem Plants. You might also want to use sand or gravel, as we did in the YouTube video. Use fine sand – like the ADA La Plata Sand because the Dwarf Puffers can bury themselves in the substrate if they want to hide. You could cause serious injury if the bottom gravel is too sharp.

Planting – more or less…what to do?

Dwarf Puffer fish will need some places to hide when they're stressed. You might want to go for a minimalist layout style, but if you do so, please observe the behavior of your Dwarf Puffers and add more plants if needed. Floating plants, stem plants and ferns might be good choices.

The secret to successfully breeding Dwarf Puffer fish is having an abundance of moss – like Weeping Moss, Christmas Moss, etc. These are well-accepted spawning mediums and offer an appealing look to your planted tank. You might use a pressurized CO2-System for your aquarium plants to be healthy and lush.

Dwarf Puffer Fish - Carinotetraodon travancoricus

Filtration and Filter Media

We cannot stress the importance of good water quality. Adequate filtration is the basis! Installing a proper canister filter with good filter media is the first step to keep your livestock healthy – Dwarf Puffer fish included. A larger filter offers more space for mechanical, biological, and chemical media, which can positively affect the water quality. The external filter, an EHEIM 2271 Professionel 4+ 250 for our 29-liter Dwarf Puffer shallow planted tank is equipped with 2 liters of high-quality biological filter media, Seachem Matrix. It also has 100ml of Seachem Purigen as chemical filtration. Dwarf Puffers prefer slow-moving waters, so the flow rate was reduced to 50% (it has no adverse long-term effects on the filter-pump). A nice and steady, equal distribution of flow is preferred. Try a Lily Pipe or a Spin Pipe for smaller tanks for the water outflow.

Good luck in your journey keeping these beautiful Dwarf Puffer fish in your planted tank!

Dwarf Puffer Fish - Carinotetraodon travancoricus

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