With their endearing round bodies and inquisitive personalities, pea pufferfish have become a hugely popular choice of fish for home aquariums. But if you’re considering getting some pea puffers for your tank, one key decision you’ll need to make is whether to get males, females, or a mix of both sexes.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to the key differences between male and female pea puffers: Males tend to be slightly smaller and more territorial, while females are often larger and less aggressive. Males also have a distinct black line between their belly and caudal fins.

When housing pea puffers together you’ll usually want either a single male with multiple females, or all males.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about telling male and female pea puffers apart, best practices for keeping them, and how to care for pea puffers based on their sex.

Identifying Male vs Female Pea Puffers

Size Differences

When it comes to size, male pea puffers tend to be smaller than females. Males typically max out around 1 inch in length, while females can grow to 1.5 inches. The size difference becomes more apparent as the fish mature. At a young age, it can be tricky to sex pea puffers based on size alone.

But once they reach adulthood, the females will be noticeably larger than the males in most cases.

Color Patterns

In addition to size, color patterns can help distinguish male and female pea puffers. Mature males tend to have brighter colors and more intense patterns. They often display vivid greens, oranges, and blacks across their bodies.

On the other hand, females tend to be more subdued in color, appearing lighter and more washed out. Females may lack some of the vibrant orange and black mottling that stands out on males. The differences can be subtle, but side-by-side, the males’ coloring pops more compared to females.


Observing behavior can also help determine the sex of pea puffers. Males are generally more territorial and aggressive. They will vigorously defend their space from other males. Females, on the other hand, tend to be more passive and reserved.

During spawning, males will actively pursue and court females. They will swim alongside and underneath the females, nudging and bumping them frequently. Meanwhile, the females will be still and largely unreceptive. Watching these spawning behaviors makes it clear which fish are male and female.

Housing Considerations for Male & Female Pea Puffers

Single Puffer vs a Group

Pea puffers are typically aggressive and territorial towards other puffers, so housing more than one together can be tricky. Males tend to be more aggressive than females. A single pea puffer housed alone is ideal as it removes the risk of aggression and bullying.

That said, some aquarists have had success housing pea puffers together in larger tanks with plenty of hiding spots and line of sight breaks. The general rule is 5 gallons of tank space per puffer. Introducing them all at once as juveniles also increases chances of peaceful cohabitation.

Ideal Male to Female Ratios

If attempting a group, ideal male to female ratios are 1 male to 2-3 females. Two males per tank is not recommended as they will likely fight relentlessly.

Here are suggested groupings:

  • 1 male + 2 females
  • 1 male + 3 females
  • 2 females
  • 3 females

All male groups often resort to bullying, fin nipping, and potentially lethal aggression. Female groups tend to be more peaceful but may still have occasional squabbles.

Tank Size Requirements

As mentioned above, pea puffers need around 5 gallons each as a minimum. Some other tank size guidelines are:

  • Single puffer: 5 gallon+
  • Pair: 10 gallon+
  • Trio: 15 gallon+
  • Group of 4-5: 20 gallon+

Tank shape is also important, with wider tanks better than tall ones. This gives more horizontal swimming space. Plenty of plants, rocks, driftwood, and other decor helps break lines of sight and establish territories.

While pea puffers are small, they are very active swimmers and will use all the space provided. Bigger is always better when it comes to reducing aggression and stress.

Caring for Your Pea Puffers

Feeding Requirements

Pea puffers are carnivorous and require a diet of live foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and small snails. It’s important to feed them 2-3 times per day and vary their diet to ensure they receive all necessary nutrients. Only feed what they can consume in 5 minutes to avoid waste accumulation.

Though small, these little guys have huge appetites!

Here’s a pro tip – breed ramshorn snails in a separate tank as a self-sustaining pea puffer food source. Your puffers will go crazy for these tasty little snacks! Just be sure the snails are pesticide-free.

Water Conditions

Pea puffers need pristine water quality – a cycled, mature aquarium is a must. Perform weekly 25% water changes, test water parameters routinely, and use a good filtration system. Ideal water parameters are:

  • Temperature: 26-28°C (78-82°F)
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness: 5-15 dGH
  • Ammonia and nitrites: 0 ppm
  • Nitrates: <20 ppm

Using floating plants like hornwort helps absorb nitrates. Since puffers are scaleless, aquarium salt should never be used as it damages their skin. Get that water pristine for a happy, healthy puffer!

Plants and Decorations

In the wild, pea puffers live among dense vegetation and debris. Replicate their natural environment with plenty of plants and decor – try floating plants, moss balls, and rooted plants like anubias or java fern. Include smooth decor like driftwood, rock caves, and clay pots for hiding and exploring.

Avoid sharp decor that can tear their delicate skin. Subdued lighting is ideal as bright light stresses puffers. Aquascaping with fine-leaf plants, floating plants, and diffused light makes pea puffers feel secure and confident.

Tankmates should be avoided as puffers are territorial and may fin nip or attack tankmates. A species only tank allows them to thrive. With excellent care and pristine water, pea puffers make awesome aquarium residents!

Breeding Pea Puffers

Mating Behaviors

When ready to breed, the male pea puffer will pursue and nip at the female to get her attention. If she is receptive, the female will allow the male to swim alongside her. The two fish may circle each other as part of an intricate mating ritual.

Spawning usually occurs in dense plant cover or in caves where the female has laid her eggs. Once the eggs are fertilized, the male plays no further role and may even eat the eggs if given the chance!

Pea Puffer Eggs and Fry

The female pea puffer typically lays 20-30 eggs during spawning, attaching them to plants, driftwood, or other surfaces. The eggs hatch in 7-10 days. The tiny fry are vulnerable and need infusoria or other microscopic foods when they first emerge.

Moving the fry to a separate rearing tank gives them the best chance at survival. The juvenile puffers grow rapidly when fed small live foods like baby brine shrimp. They will be large enough to live with adult puffers at around 6-8 weeks old.

Raising the Fry

Raising healthy pea puffer fry takes special care and equipment. The fry tank should be at least 5-10 gallons and densely planted to give hiding spots. Water quality must be pristine, with frequent testing and partial water changes. The newly hatched fry are tiny—less than 1⁄4 inch long!

Feed them several small meals per day of tiny live or frozen foods. Baby brine shrimp, microworms, vinegar eels, and infusoria are excellent starter foods. As the pufferfish grow, gradually increase food amounts and size.

By taking the effort to raise pea puffer fry, aquarists can sustain captive populations of these unique fish.

Common Health Issues

Pea puffer fish can suffer from several common tropical fish diseases if not properly cared for. Some of the most prevalent illnesses include:


Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, commonly known as ich, is a parasitic infection that attaches itself to a fish’s skin and gills. It appears as tiny white dots resembling salt grains. Ich is highly contagious and can rapidly spread to other tank mates if not promptly treated.

Fin Rot

Fin rot manifests as frayed, damaged fins with white edges. It is caused by bacteria or fungi and tends to affect fish that are stressed or injured. Puffers with fin rot may have trouble swimming and are vulnerable to secondary infections.


Popeye disease causes one or both eyes to bulge out. This is often tied to poor water quality and dirty tank conditions. It can result in permanent eye damage or blindness if untreated.


Dropsy leads to bloating, protruding scales, and a “pinecone” appearance. It is usually indicative of kidney failure and other internal complications. Sadly, dropsy has a very poor prognosis and sick fish rarely recover, even with aggressive treatment.

The best way to prevent disease in pea puffers is through excellent water quality, varied diet, ideal tank conditions, and close observation for signs of illness. Quick intervention with appropriate medications can help resolve many common fish maladies before they become lethal.

Websites like The Spruce Pets and Fishlore offer more in-depth information on diagnosing and managing tropical fish diseases.


Whether you ultimately decide to house a single sex pea puffer tank or mix males and females, understanding the key differences between the sexes will help you pick the right fish and care for them properly.

By considering size, appearance, temperament and ideal housing when choosing your puffers, you’ll set yourself up for success in keeping these personality-filled little fish. Paying close attention to factors like tank size, water quality, diet, and signs of disease will also go a long way toward having happy and healthy pea puffers.

We hope this guide gave you all the information you need to decide if you want males, females or both in your freshwater puffer tank. If cared for properly, these little oddballs will reward you for years to come with their inquisitive antics and endless character.

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