The Ember Tetra, Hyphessobrycon amandae, is a beautiful species of blackwater tetra that has been in the hobby for a long time. Recently though, it’s seeing a surge in popularity as people rediscover this aquarium classic.
In pet stores they often look pale yellow to pink and aren’t nearly as beautiful as photos suggest. But take a small group home and given half a chance, they will surprise you with a beautiful ruddy red tone (both males and females) and outgoing nature!
What is the Ember Tetra?
The Ember Tetra was discovered in 1987 by explorer, filmmaker, and researcher Heiko Bleher. The man is famous for being extremely multi talented in several disciplines, including ichthyology (the study of fish). “Amandae” is in honor of his mother.
Heiko was a world traveler and actually has a few tropical fish named after him, including another tetra (Moenkhausia heikoi), the Firehead Tetra (Hemigrammus bleheri), a Snakehead, and a Rainbowfish. But the Ember Tetra is the species we see the most often in pet stores!
These fish are true schooling fish and not nearly as quarrelsome with one another as other tetras. Some, such as Cardinal and Gold Tetras, will briefly school, only to set up little territories and stand off against each other.
Ember Tetras prefer as much of their own kind to be around as possible. They will also school with other tetras, especially fish that are similarly sized and colored, like Glowlight Tetras (Hemigrammus erythrozonus).
But a school of Ember Tetras on their own offers an impressive contrast to a dark substrate and the greenery of a planted tank. Let’s take time to get to know the Ember Tetra better!
- Common Names: Ember Tetra
- Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon amandae
- Origin: Araguaia River, Brazil
- Length: ¾ inch
- Aquarium Size: 10 Gallons
- Temperament: Peaceful; Schooling
- Ease of Care: Easy
Caring for Ember Tetras
This sections covers several Ember tetra care topics such as aquarium size, water parameters, feeding, and more.
Being so very small (¾ inch fully grown) Ember Tetras are very easy to house. Some sources suggest keeping them in aquariums as small as 5 gallons. While the volume isn’t an issue so long as you keep them clean, I don’t think these tanks are spacious enough for such active fish.
A 5 gallon long nano tank could work but a 10 gallon aquarium has a much better footprint, especially since you want to be keeping them in groups of 6-10 fish, minimum. Ember Tetras can, of course, be kept in much larger tanks, where they will fill the space with a cloud of smoky red bodies darting in and out of the plants.
The Araguaia River basin is the home region of the Ember Tetra. While the river basin is contiguous with the Amazon Rainforest, the Amazon River itself is separate from the Araguaia. While they have slightly different parameters the care requirements for Ember Tetras are identical to the many Amazonian fish that are a part of the hobby.
They prefer elevated tropical temperatures of 76-84℉, which can be stressful to cooler water aquarium staples like Danios and Goldfish. Ember Tetras mostly live in blackwater tributary streams that flow through the rainforest.
These streams are stained a dark tea color from all of the leaves and branches that release tannins and humic acids. The rainforest soil itself also contributes to demineralization of the water, leading to soft, highly acidic conditions.
Ember Tetras therefore prefer a softer pH (pH 5.5-7.0). While they will still do well in even moderately alkaline water (pH 7.0+) you won’t see them breeding and they may even show reduced disease resilience.
- Establishes similar water conditions to those...
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There are a few ways to replicate a blackwater environment in a home aquarium. What’s most important is getting a steady source of plant tannins. And the easiest way is to keep them bottled and ready to add when you do a water change!
You can also add slow-release sources like driftwood and Indian Almond leaves to your tank bottom. These also improve the general aquascape aesthetic and invoke a chaotic, natural-looking river bottom.
Ember Tetras are fortunately not super susceptible to ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Still we always want to aim for 0ppm as much as possible. This is next to impossible if you’re keeping plants since nitrogenous wastes are a source of nutrients for them
However a good, well-cycled power filter will ensure that your biological capacity keeps pace with your fish waste. Power filters also facilitate gas exchange (aeration), ensuring carbon dioxide doesn’t build up and oxygen finds its way back into the aquarium ecosystem.
Plants & Substrate
Live plants are a great idea to keep alongside schooling tetras. Plants do a lot for an aquarium ecosystem. They remove ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates by using them as fertilizer.
They suck up carbon dioxide and release oxygen for fish to breathe. Plants also help cultivate biofilm for algae eating fish and provide shelter for both fish fry and adults. Lastly, they are beautiful and interesting in their own right to grow.
If you’re looking for low maintenance plants, try keeping low light plants like Anubias and Java Fern. Both of these plants need only a bare trickle of lighting to prosper. They won’t grow very much unless given more light and nutrients but they will thrive in nearly any aquarium.
Java Moss will grow like a weed in nearly any aquarium. The thick tangles it creates provides shelter for fish fry and gives Ember Tetras a place to scatter their sticky eggs. Stick to plants that enjoy acidic, high temperature environments.
Plants for discus and angelfish tanks are especially well suited to keep alongside Ember Tetras. Amazon Swords and other species tend to grow in the same acidic, steamy Amazonian conditions.
When it comes to the substrate you can use whatever you like since Ember Tetras are midwater dwellers. They don’t dig or disturb the substrate in any way.
I do recommend choosing a planting substrate that will foster the growth of live plants. And a darker color since light backgrounds cause fish to fade, hoping to stay hidden from predators.
Tank Mates for Ember Tetras
Ember Tetras are true nano fish (fish 1 inch and under in size). They should be kept with similarly sized fish as even medium sized community fish can be intimidating for them.
The largest tank mate I would consider would be a Betta. Other great nano fish include Pea Puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), most smaller tetras, Guppies and other small livebearers (Poecilia sp.), and freshwater shrimp.
Dwarf Shrimp like Red Cherry and Bamboo Shrimp are especially good alongside Ember Tetras. But avoid Crayfish, Crabs, and the large, long-clawed freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium sp.). They are all opportunistic predators and will gladly eat a slow or sleeping Ember Tetra.
Aggressive fish, even if small, should also be avoided. Some smaller cichlids can be very territorial, especially when breeding. And even smaller predatory fish like African Butterfly fish should not be kept.
Peaceful Dwarf Cichlids can live alongside them, including Apistogramma and Blue Rams, which also come in an Electric Blue morph. Most catfish are also compatible, including Corydoras and smaller suckermouth cats like Otocinclus and Bristlenose Plecos.
Lastly, always buy at a bare minimum, six Ember Tetras as the more you have the more secure and willing to swim out in the open they become. Smaller groups can still be somewhat shy, with 10 tetras being the point where you have a true school.
Good Tank Mates for Ember Tetras
- Tetras, Livebearers, Rasboras, Cherry Barbs, and other Small Community fish
- Apistogramma, Blue Rams, and most other Dwarf Cichlids
- Corydoras, Otocinclus, and other small, peaceful bottom dwellers
- Red Cherry, Bee, and other small Shrimp
- Snails and other invertebrates
Feeding Ember Tetras
Feeding Ember Tetras is fortunately a very easy process! They have been tank bred for decades now and are accustomed to eating flakes and small food pellets.
- Tropical fish food that contains up to 40%,...
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Still, I always recommend reading over the ingredients labels. Many prepared foods have starch-based fillers that most fish can’t digest, like wheat and potato starch. Go for products that use mostly animal protein as the main ingredients!
In the wild Ember Tetras fill the role of micro predator. This means they spend all of their time hunting around for small worms, fish fry, baby shrimp, plankton like water fleas (daphnia), and mosquito larvae. Therefore, you want to keep a ready supply of similar foods on hand live or frozen, especially if you want to breed them.
Some of the best live fish foods include adult and baby brine shrimp, which can also be raised at home very cheaply. You can also get daphnia, tubifex, and blood worms both live and frozen at many pet stores and most aquarium shops.
Each of these items offers valuable minerals and nutrients that many prepared foods lack. They also help condition your fish to spawn by providing extra protein and fat for gametes (eggs and sperm).
Breeding Ember Tetras
Many Tetras are difficult or impossible to breed in home aquariums. Thankfully, Ember Tetras aren’t like their cousins. So long as you care for them well by giving them clean, warm water, and supplement their diet with tasty invertebrates you’re nearly guaranteed to see some eggs!
Sexing Ember Tetras can be a challenge because unlike most fish, Tetras don’t have visible color or behavioral differences between females and males. At most, the females will be slightly bulkier, which is true of these Tetras.
In Ember Tetras you can often detect a slight difference in the shape of their swim bladders as well. Since they are translucent you can see right into their bodies. Swim bladders are a gas-filled organ that fish use to regulate buoyancy. (Fun fact: the swim bladder of fish is what evolved into the first true lungs once fish took to land and evolved into amphibians!)
Ember Tetra females have a more rounded swim bladder to go along with their generally plumper form. Male Ember Tetras have a more pointed swim bladder and are slimmer.
Still, these are schooling fish. So as long as you buy enough, you’re guaranteed to have some females and males on hand for spawning.
Usually offering the right food and temperatures is enough to get a few mature Tetras to spawn. Live plants that are thickly tangled offer places for the eggs to be deposited. If you find your Tetras aren’t in the mood you can also simulate seasonal water fluctuations.
The winter dry season can be induced by lowering the temperature a 3-5 degrees and even the water level for about a month. Afterward, you can recreate the spring floods by gradually refilling the tank with distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water.
This influx of fresh water simulates the spring rains as does raising the temperatures back to normal. Lastly, skip the prepared foods altogether and feed only frozen and live food. This should get your females producing eggs and the males looking to spawn.
All Tetras are egg scatterers, meaning they provide no parental care. During the pre dawn or dusk hours the males try to lead willing females into tangles of plants to spawn. There, they mix their eggs and sperm and allow their eggs to simply fall into the plants.
The eggs are sticky and attach to the first thing they touch. Once laid, the Tetras quickly forget about them and go back to their business. In fact, they will eventually forget that they spawned and may even eat the eggs they find.
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You’re better off keeping a separate breeder aquarium if you want to be certain to raise the babies. Or you can use an artificial spawning mop for the Tetras to lay their eggs on that you then remove to a new fry tank.
The eggs will hatch in 24-48 hours, depending on the water temperature. Like all fish fry, the babies don’t eat right away. Instead, they absorb their nutritious yolk sac and sit unmoving for the first few days.’
Once they begin swimming freely you know they are ready to be fed! The fry are so tiny though, that you can’t feed them brine shrimp nauplii. Instead, you’ll need to grow infusoria, which is a catchall term for single celled organisms like paramecia and amoebas.
Infusoria is very easy to grow and can be on hand in just a few days. Within 1-2 weeks your Ember Tetra fry should be large enough for micro worms, brine shrimp nauplii, and even powdered flake foods.
From there, it’s just a matter of patience and keeping the water clean until they are ready to enter the main tank or be sold to your local aquarium store!