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Dwarf Puffers, What All Potential Owners Should Know

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Jul 18, 2005
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Dwarf Puffers (Cariontetraodon travancoricus) are cute, small (1.5" max), and personable. They sound like the ideal desktop critter don't they? Well, they are and they aren't.

Facts all potential owners should know about dwarf puffers

- They are messy fish.
Regardless of their size, they produce a lot of waste. This can make life difficult if you are keeping them in a small tank, because in order to keep the water in good condition (which is crucial with all puffers species) , you will need to have strong filtration, and perform frequent water changes.

- They are aggressive fish
They're small, but don't be deceived. Dwarf puffers in most cases are vicious critters which don't play nicely with other fish, be it with their own species, or other fish. Some people report success of keeping them in community tank settings, but, more often than not, you will be unable to keep dwarf puffers with other species. The only suitable tankmates recognised for DPs are Armoured plecs, and Ottos. Of course, this rules out a "desktop critter" setup because plecos are one of the messiest fish around, and ottos should be kept in 3's at the least. Ottos are a shoaling fish and do well in the company of others.

- They will not eat dried food.
If you're planning on getting a DP, you need to ask yourself, where will you get the food for it? Live blackworms, whiteworms and bloodworms are all taken by dwarf puffers, but even then, not always readily and it can be difficult to get them to eat these foods in captivity. They will also eat frozen bloodworm. Other suitable foods include small snails, small chunks of prawn etc. Do not forget of course to remove these foods from the tank soon after feeding times, as they can also make tankwater unfit for fish to live in because of the pollution they can create.

- They do best in planted tanks/tanks with lots to interact with.
Dwarf puffers are intelligent fish despite their size, and enjoy interacting wth their environment. Keeping them in a tank which has little to offer in the way of hiding places and hang outs leaves them prone to stress. If keeping more than one DP, I can say with some certainty you will need to offer plenty of plants or cover. DPs often squabble amongst themselves and can often inflict harsh damage with their sharp beaks, however if you offer somewhere for the attacked DP to cool off, you can avoid most painful incidents.

So I want to keep a Dwarf puffer, or maybe a few Dwarf Puffers, what sort of setup am I looking at?

Bearing in mind all of the above, we're looking at a tank which can house the fish with room to move, room to keep out of the way of other DPs (It's when DPs cross paths of course that aggression can occur), plenty of cover and of course, a tank with a water volume large enough to dilute their waste.

Minimum tank size - For this I would offer 3g. This is a little lower than I would be willing to house my puffers in, as I'm occasionally slack with water changes. However, if you're very particular about water changes, and can find an effective filter for a 3 gallon tank that will cope with the waste, you're looking at 3g for a single dwarf puffer. More realistically, I would offer 5g per puffer. Overfiltering a 5g tank is easier to do than overfiltering a 3g tank, and, you have the extra 2gallons per puffer to dilute waste, meaning that you have a little room for error, and to make an error is only human. If you are keeping 2 puffers together, then I recommend 5g per puffer to keep arguments and squabbles to a minimum.

Quoted are recommended DP setups -

3g - Single Dwarf Puffer (if overfiltered and maintained religiously)
5g - Single Dwarf Puffer (if overfiltered and maintained religiously. Of course, you have a margin for error in this setup)
10g - A Pair of dwarf puffers, 3 ottos.

Water requirements - All puffer species are intolerant of Ammonia and Nitrite, so a fully cycled tank is essential in order to avoid illness and stress. Regarding PH, these fish are adaptable to most PH values, but extremes are best avoided. They are a truly freshwater fish. Unlike some other puffer species, Dwarf Puffers do not benefit from having salt in their water. They are a tropical fish and do well in temperatures between 72 and 84 degrees, but they appreciate the higher end of the scale.

Sexing Dwarf Puffers - Frequently, males will be smaller than females, and have a brown stripe on their white abdomen. Males also are known to have "wrinkles" behind their eyes, tiny creases that females do not exhibit.

So DPs are great desktop critters, but despite their size they need a little work, and need careful consideration when housing. They're fantastic fish, intelligent and personable, but in order to make the most of these fish, it's worth considering their requirements. Enjoy your DP's!
fantastic article fella, very informative :good:

pin it! pin it! pin it! :)

i heard there was also a maximum tank size for DPs too because of their small size? or is this merely a myth?
Total myth. Of course they don't live in 3 gallon puddles in the wild!

The thing is that they are animals of thickly overgrown tangles of weeds and wood, so in a big, open tank they are likely to be very nervous. Just like, say, cardinal tetras or driftwood catfish. They are, after all, small and slow moving, and easy prey for any predatory fish or bird. (Puffers may, sometimes, be toxic to humans, but lots of animals eat them.) Provided they have cover and shade and places to lurk, the bigger the tank, the better. Though in a very large tank, you might never see them!



[quote name=''genesis' post='1142359' date='Apr 6 2006, 03:49 PM']
i heard there was also a maximum tank size for DPs too because of their small size? or is this merely a myth?
Nmonks is right. These fish live in vast rivers and lakes in asia, and as such a large tank would not phase them. I cannot think of any fish which does better in the instance of having smaller living quarters. Keeping a single one alone in a 75g of course may prove a very difficult way to appreciate them, as they do only grow to an inch and a half after all.
I agree. You'll often see people say bettas do best in 1-gallon tanks or whatever, but their arguments strike me as being the same ones as farmers make about keeping chickens in battery farms. They are easier to feed, you can control their behaviour, disease treatment is easier, etc. But I can't imagine a betta in a bucket is any more happy than a chicken in a cage barely bigger than it is.



I cannot think of any fish which does better in the instance of having smaller living quarters.
Even with frequent water changes a 3 gallon may be too little for an active happy dp. I had my Missy in a community tank ( I was sold her as a com fish for a snail problem....now know MUCH more about dps!) When I had to separate her she went into my daugters 5 gallon and lost a lot of her color and activeness. Once her brand new 10 gallon was ready she became a happy, active well spotted dp again! Also, everyone, please be aware, you may not be able to add a new dp to an existing dp's home. I tried it, the 1st couple of days they zipped around together as happy as could be, day 3 there was a huge fight, and although I added more plants and hiding places, rearranged things, the new one never became active. Dip is now gone, and Missy is happy again.
Of course, a fish will be more active in a tank where it has more room to move :)

I agree, bigger tanks are always better, but 3g is the stated bare minimum, and as you can tell, I'm warding against it, and recommending a larger tank.
Upgrading from a 10g to 75g and adding a few more DP's was a succesful move for me. They have plenty of space and there is limited aggression.
How can I be sure that my single Dwarf Puffer is supplementing his diet with snails in my planted tank?

I've seen him peck at a few and the snails usually get dislodged and fall to the substrate, but I have no idea if that means the snail has been consumed or not.

He'll eat blood worms, but I'd like to know that he's eating snails a) because it's good for his beak and b ), because we'd like the bonus of him keeping the snail population under control.

Mine has shown no sign of harrassing the other fish in the tank (Danios, Corys, Dwarf Gouramis, Neons and an Ancistrus) and seems to have set up a home base in a large Java fern away from the filter outlet. Had him three days now.



PS Here is a picture of him (or perhaps 'her' but he seems to have the wrinkles behind his eyes and a faint line along his belly that males are supposed to have?):

Dwarf puffers don't seem to crunch snails in the shell like other puffers, and even so most keepers say they don't seem to have problems with overgrown beaks like other puffers. The "pecking" is exactly what my puffers do, and judging from the amount of empty snail shells that get hoovered up when I clean the substrate, they rarely miss their target.

Some D.P.'s are a lot more amicable to tank mates than others. I have mine in with five Amano shrimps and after two months there have been no attacks, dead shrimp or amputee shimp. This is by no means normal, and my advice would be "Don't try this at home". I added the shrimp not realising how vicious D.P.'s could be, and it is only by chance that they weren't all dead within a day.

It's great that your D.P. is getting along well, but judging by other keepers' accounts you're lucky just like me.

Just a general note here, but Fella is absolutely right when he talks about planted tanks, and tanks with plenty to explore and mark teritory would definately be my advice. My puffers have got a lot more amicable with each other scince I made their tank into a "jungle" of plants and bogwood.

Anyone wishing for an insight into puffers' habits, likes and loves should read our own Nmonks' article on puffers in the august PFK.
All the best, Bill.
My one has shown no interest in the other fish apart from getting out of their way and they seem unconcerned about him, too.

My tank is heavily planted and yesterday he spent most of his time exploring the undergrowth. He's spent more time at the front of the tank staring outward and being wafted by the filter current. Can't say I have seen him eat anything today.

I'm a bit worried he expects to be fed blood worm, like at the shop, even though ramshorn and pond snails of all sizes are all over the tank.

Could he have forgotten (or not even learned) how to eat snails?

Any reason this thread isn't pinned (and closed) yet? It makes more sense to keep the original posting what it was -- an FAQ -- rather than let it become a generic dwarf puffer thread. Fella: maybe you can ask CFC or one of the other mods to pin this?


I've not seen him go for any snails for a couple of days now. He's had a bloodworm today, but doesn't seem desperately hungry. He spends most of the time patrolling the front of the tank looking out. No aggression to the other fish has been seen at all.

He doesn't look thin, though - are there any pix of an underweight dwarf Puffer I could compare?

I cannot think of any fish which does better in the instance of having smaller living quarters.

I have discovered an exception to this hypothesis would be the betta splendens which (in my experience) does not appreciate a deep tank or a large tank with lots of open space.
I think you need to be careful here. All fish do best in bigger aquaria. Otherwise they wouldn't survive in the wild. Bettas live in streams, ditches, and ponds many times bigger than the biggest aquarium.

What may be a fair comment is to say that bettas that have been artificially-bred to have fins much longer than normal are not very good swimmers. Because we've crippled them, deliberately, they can no longer compete with other fish for food or to escape from aggressive tankmates. Because they are weak swimmers, they cannot swim against anything more than the feeblest water current.

But if you made a 200 gallon tank, and filled with fast-gorwing plants instead of a filter, you'ld probably end up with a betta's idea of paradise! Certainly one it would prefer to a 1-gallon betta bowl or somesuch.



[quote name=''genesis' post='1332610' date='Oct 4 2006, 08:01 PM']
[quote name='Fella' post='1142925' date='Apr 7 2006, 12:52 PM']
I cannot think of any fish which does better in the instance of having smaller living quarters.
I have discovered an exception to this hypothesis would be the betta splendens which (in my experience) does not appreciate a deep tank or a large tank with lots of open space.

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