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13 Awesome Tetra Fish Types: the Complete Tetra Species Guide

Tetra fish are perfect for those looking for schooling fish to brighten up the middle water layer of the aquarium.

From the subtle x ray tetra fish to the vibrant neon tetra and more…There are an endless number of colorful species out there so it’s guaranteed there’s a tetra for you.

types of tetra fish

After all, some of the most classic aquarium fish are tetras.

To celebrate the beauty of tetras, we’ve compiled a list of 13 types of tetras that are guaranteed to draw anyone’s eye to your aquarium. Let’s take a look at the different types of tetra fish as well as how to care for them.

Popular Types of Tetra Fish: 13 Different Species

Here are 13 of our favorite tetra species:

Neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)

neon tetra

What better way to start off a list of tetras than with the most classic species out there? Even most non-aquarists have heard of the neon tetra at some point, and for good reason. This small tetra fish lends its name from its eye-catching blue, red and silver coloration.

Neon tetra fish are very beginner friendly. In fact, neons are so popular that we’ve even created our own guide to Neon Tetra Fish Care right here.

Besides their colors, neon tetra fish are also loved for their temperament (peaceful and community proof) and hardiness.

Keep your neon tetras in a rectangular aquarium of at least 15 gallons to provide the swimming room they need. Go for a group of at least 8 but ideally more fish, as schooling species will become shy and withdrawn when safety in numbers is lacking. Combining males and females comes with the added bonus of being able to see the species’ natural spawning and sparring behavior.

Did you know? There is also a black neon tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi), which looks very similar to the normal version but lacks red coloration. A great option if you want something a little more uncommon, or even mixed with regular neons. Additionally, you could consider the slightly larger cardinal tetra fish (Paracheirodon axelrodi) or the more blue-greenish green neon tetra (Paracheirodon simulans).

  • Scientific name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • Size: Up to 1.2”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 15 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Lemon tetra (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis)

lemon tetra
Waugsberg CC BY 2.5, from Wikimedia Commons

Interested in keeping tetras but looking for something slightly more ‘original’ than the ever-popular neon? You might like the equally beautiful but less frequently kept lemon tetra. Healthy fish of this species display beautiful silver coloration with neon yellow fins and orange eyes.

Like most of the small tetras, the lemon tetra is a peaceful species that works perfectly in the community aquarium. Its yellows and oranges add a bright note to the tank and its hardiness means that this fish is suitable even for beginners. Just keep the water soft and relatively acidic to imitate the species’ natural habitat.

Lemon tetras grow to a maximum size of around 1.5” and are active swimmers, which means you’ll need a rectangular aquarium of at least around 20 gallons to keep a group. Provide plenty of cover in the form of live plants and other décor to help your fish feel safe. Tankmates should be peaceful and of a small enough adult size that they’re not able to eat this small tetra, which might be seen as an appetizing snack by larger species.

  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis
  • Size: Up to 1.5”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Buenos Aires tetra (Hyphessobrycon anisitsi)

buenos aires tetra
Nick Sc. [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Significantly larger than the previously mentioned two species, the Buenos Aires tetra is also quite a bit more feisty. This red-finned tetra is active and assertive, making it less suitable for communities but all the more fascinating to keep.

Buenos Aires tetras are known for their tendency to display nippy behaviors, but this doesn’t mean you should exclude them as an option for your aquarium altogether. Just make sure you don’t keep this species with slower tankmates that might easily become stressed, and get a large enough group so that the tetras can focus on territorial squabbles with their own species rather than pestering other fish.

A rectangular 30 gallon aquarium is the absolute minimum tank size you should consider if you want to keep Buenos Aires tetras. Plant the tank heavily.

Did you know? Buenos Aires tetras can thrive in a wide range of water temperatures. They make a great choice for unheated aquariums and will actually suffer when exposed to temperatures higher than around 77 °F for extended periods of time.

  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon anisitsi
  • Size: Up to 2.5”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 30 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Can be nippy

Congo tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus)

congo tetra
André Karwath [CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons
The Congo tetra is a bit of an odd duck in this list of tetra types. Rather than most tetra species it isn’t naturally found in South America. Rather, as its name suggests, this species’ natural habitat is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Africa). We just can’t skip it though: this species is quite the eye-catcher.

Congo tetras grow relatively large and need bigger aquariums than most tetras, but their stunning appearance makes the extra effort more than worth it. The females are beautiful to see, but it’s the males that really steal the show. Their long fins and shimmering blues and oranges make for a beautiful display. To top it all off, this species is peaceful and works well in some types of communities.

Keep your Congo tetras in an aquarium of at least 55” (which comes down to 40 gallons and up, usually). Provide plenty of cover and avoid tankmates that might be nippy or, alternatively, too shy. Additionally, keep in mind that this isn’t an ideal species for those without much aquarium experience. Congo tetras can be a little sensitive to bad water quality and won’t be forgiving to beginner mistakes.

  • Scientific name: Phenacogrammus interruptus
  • Size: Up to 3.2”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 40 gallons (long – 55” or up)
  • Difficulty level: Medium
  • Temperament: Active, peaceful

Glowlight tetra (Hemigrammus erythrozonus)

glowlight
gonzalovalenzuela [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The attractive glowlight tetra makes a great choice for those just starting out in the aquarium hobby, especially if they’re looking to set up a peaceful community aquarium. This small tetra fish is easy to keep and will cheer up any tank with its bright red and silver coloration. It can be found in most aquarium stores and is known for being quite hardy.

You won’t need a large aquarium to keep glowlight tetras: a rectangular tank of 15 gallons or up should be enough for a group. In larger set-ups this species actually combines quite well with some of the other colorful tetra fish in this list.

This tetra looks its best when kept in soft and slightly acidic water and makes a great option for South American biotopes. A blackwater aquarium would work well. Use plenty of leaf litter to stain the water and low-light live plants to provide cover. As paradoxical as it might sound, you’ll actually see your fish more if you provide more hiding places, as they’ll feel safe enough to venture out into the open if they know they can dart into hiding if need be.

Sometimes they are mistaken for the glo tetra fish however these are actually tank raised black skirt tetras (see below).

  • Scientific name: Hemigrammus erythrozonus
  • Size: Up to 1.6”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 15 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Bloodfin tetra (Aphyocharax anisitsi)

bloodfin tetra

Another perfect tetra for beginners is Aphyocharax anisitsi, better known among aquarists as the bloodfin tetra. A group of these silverish, red-finned fish looks quite spectacular in your aquarium, especially if you keep at least 10. The species is hardy and can adapt to a pretty wide range of water values and temperatures.

Bloodfin tetras don’t grow very large, but because they are so active it’s a good idea to go for at least a 20 gallon long tank if you’d like to keep them. Plant and decorate the aquarium heavily and be sure to avoid very slow or fragile tankmates: this species is known to nip on other fish’ fins from time to time.

Did you know? Feeding your freshwater tetra fish commercial dried foods is fine, but try to switch things up with the occasional frozen or even live foods from time to time. These fish are naturally omnivores that will feed on small insects if they can find them, meaning they’ll really appreciate the occasional opportunity to hunt. Maintaining a colony of live food isn’t as hard as some might think.

  • Scientific name: Aphyocharax anisitsi
  • Size: Up to 2”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Occasionally nippy

Ember tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)

ember tetra
Cedricguppy – Loury Cédric [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Coming in at just under an inch, the ember tetra is the tiniest fish on this list. It makes the perfect choice for those that don’t want to set up a large aquarium, as you won’t need much more than a 10 gallon to keep it. Do make sure to go for a long tank, as all tetras including this one appreciate plenty of horizontal swimming room.

Ember tetra fish show their best coloration (from which they lend their name) in a well-planted aquarium, preferably with plenty of leaf litter to stain the water. Soft and slightly acidic water is ideal. Prevent tankmates that are too large or might have an appetite for smaller fish: the ember tetra is peaceful and its size makes it somewhat vulnerable.

The larger the group, the better this fish will look, as it schools quite tightly. If you’ve got a big aquarium at your disposal, consider splurging on 20+ ember tetra fish for a spectacular display that is sure to draw anyone’s attention.

  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon amandae
  • Size: Up to 0.8”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 10 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Bleeding heart tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma)

bleeding heart tetra
CC BY 3.0

The bleeding heart tetra fish lends its rather dramatic common name from its color markings. Mostly silver and with red fins, the species is named after the bright red dot on the middle of its body.

The bleeding heart tetra is a perfect choice if you’re looking to set up a calm, Brazilian-style blackwater aquarium. It naturally occurs in quiet habitats without strong water flow that feature plenty of cover and very soft, often highly acidic water. Dimmed lighting, driftwood, live plants and a large group of bleeding heart tetras make for a very spectacular display. Although the fish can withstand a relatively wide range of water values, it does best with a low pH.

Combine plenty of male and female bleeding heart tetras if you’d like to see their natural sparring behavior. Keep in mind that the males of this species can be quite feisty, so they might stress out very peaceful tankmates. Try going for sturdier fish like Corydoras and dwarf cichlids instead.

  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma
  • Size: Up to 2.4”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 30 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Emperor tetra (Nematobrycon palmeri)

emperor tetra
Sitron [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
A colorful tetra fish with beautiful finnage that’s peaceful too? Yes, it exists. The regal emperor tetra makes a great addition to a peaceful community aquarium, even if you’re not an experienced aquarist yet. Its hardiness makes it forgiving to the occasional beginner mistake and it can adapt to a relatively wide range of water values and temperatures.

If you’re interested in keeping emperor tetras, go for a rectangular aquarium of at least 20 gallons in order to provide plenty of room for a good-sized school. If you don’t keep this fish in sufficient numbers it might become more withdrawn and you’ll miss out on the males’ fascinating territorial displays, so be sure to get a school of at least around 10 specimens.

Tankmate-wise the emperor tetra fish is very easy. It’ll co-exist peacefully alongside pretty much any species that requires similar water values and isn’t large enough to have an appetite for smaller fish.

  • Scientific name: Nematobrycon palmeri
  • Size: Up to 1.7”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Black skirt tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi)

black skirt tetra
Marrabbio2 [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
The ubiquitous black skirt tetra is another classic when it comes to tetras, long appreciated by aquarists all over the world for its easy care and interesting appearance. This species doesn’t have many specific requirements when it comes to housing and water consistency, making it a great choice for beginners and those looking for something low-maintenance.

This decorative freshwater tetra fish works for peaceful community tanks and plays well with most common aquarium fish. Provide plenty of cover, but do keep in mind that this is an active swimmer that needs room to move around. The water should ideally be soft and acidic, but since most varieties are captive bred they are not too fussy when it comes to exact water values.

Did you know? Not fond of the black skirt tetra’s colors? There is also an white variety of this species available in the aquarium trade. As their dark eyes reveal these white skirt tetras are not albinos: they are leucistic. There is even a glo tetra fish variety genetically engineered to display fluorescent jellyfish proteins.

  • Scientific name: Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
  • Size: Up to 2
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

False penguin tetra (Thayeria boehlkei)

penguin tetra
Juan R. Lascorz [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Sold as both ‘penguin tetra’ and ‘false penguin tetra’, Thayeria boehlkei is the most popular member of the tiny genus Thayeria. The ‘original’ penguin tetra is actually its close cousin Thayeria obliqua, which is why most sources refer to boehlkei as false. You’ll find boehlkei sold in aquarium stores under both names, but it’s safe to assume almost all penguin tetras you find for sale are this variety.

Penguin tetras are a hardy and decorative species that looks great in a blackwater-style biotope tank but also works well in a regular community aquarium. Whichever aquarium style you go for, provide plenty of cover in the form of live (floating plants) and slightly dimmed lighting. Go for a reasonably sized school of at least 8+ fish and avoid very active or aggressive tankmates.

The false penguin tetra can reach a size of up to 2.4”. Although many sources recommend a minimum tank size of 15 gallons (long), we definitely prefer a larger aquarium for this species. A 30 gallon rectangular aquarium or even something larger provides all the space this schooling fish needs.

  • Scientific name: Thayeria boehlkei
  • Size: Up to 2.4”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 30 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Diamond tetra (Moenkhausia pittieri)

diamond tetra
Michael Palmer [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Because many aquarium fish including tetras are usually sold as juveniles in aquarium stores, some species tend to be overlooked due to their relatively bland looks. Moenkhausia pittieri, also known as the diamond tetra fish, is one of these species. Don’t be fooled by the juveniles’ average appearance, though: this shimmery species is an absolute stunner.

In addition to being beautiful, diamond tetras are also relatively undemanding. Most are commercially bred and don’t have very specific demands when it comes to water values and temperature. Soft and slightly acidic water will work best, though, as do densely planted tanks with tinted water.

Like many of the fish on this list, this tetra appreciates a South American style biotope with leaf litter, low-light plants and plenty of driftwood. A rectangular aquarium of at least 20 gallons is ideal. Keep a group of at least 8 fish to disperse nipping and aggression. Peaceful tankmates that appreciate similar water values work well, but due to its size you can also keep this species with some cichlids.

  • Scientific name: Moenkhausia pittieri
  • Size: Up to 2.4”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Serpae tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques)

serpae tetra
CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

In search of a tetra species that’s a little more feisty and can stand its ground? The serpae tetra is known not just for its stunning orange coloration, but also for its behavior. Although it doesn’t make the best community aquarium inhabitant, this species is definitely worth a shot for those that enjoy seeing their fascinating sparring behavior and don’t mind adjusting their stocking plan.

If you’d like to keep serpae tetras, set up a biotope-style rectangular aquarium of at least 20 gallons (ideally more) and get a sizable group of at least 10 fish. This ensures you’ll have both males and females, so that a hierarchy can be formed and you’ll be able to witness the males showing off and squabbling for territory.

Avoid fragile tankmates, long-finned fish and anything that closely resembles a serpae tetra. Although keeping a large group of these fish lessens their aggression towards tankmates, they’re still known for being quite nippy and are best kept with more assertive species instead.

  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon eques
  • Size: Up to 1.6”
  • Minimum aquarium size: 20 gallons (long)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Temperament: Nippy

Aquarium Tetra Fish Care

Now that we’ve provided you with a nice selection of tetra fish types to choose from let’s talk a little about tetra fish care.

Water Conditions for Tetra Fish

As South American tropical fish you want to provide tetras with similar conditions in your home aquarium. This means soft, acidic water with a pH of around 5.5-7.0. Many species, including cardinal tetra fish, even enjoy blackwater aquariums where the pH can be as low as 4.0.

That said, many captive bred tetras do well even in the slightly alkaline chemistry that urban tap water tends to have. Just don’t expect them to breed so easily.

A tetra fish tank filter is very important for these pets. Without a filter, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate will accumulate over time. Unlike many beginner-friendly fish, tetras are a little more sensitive to poor water conditions and may die if you are lax with water changes. So always add a tetra fish tank filter when setting up a new aquarium.

Choosing the Best Tetra Fish Food

Nearly all tetras are carnivorous. A few will nibble plants, including the Buenos Aires and Mexican tetra fish. But most eat only aquatic insect larvae, water fleas, worms, baby fish, and other tiny sources of protein.

So any tetra fish food that we offer should be very rich in animal protein, with little vegetable filler to get in the way. Supplement your prepared food choice with brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and other frozen fish food. This way they will get all of the nutrients they need for ideal health, color, and maybe even breeding.

Breeding Tetra Fish

Assuming you are feeding your tetras well, are providing the right conditions, and have good numbers of fish, you may be lucky enough to have them breed. Tetras aren’t as easy to breed as livebearing fish and other super easy aquatic pets. They are a little more sensitive to water conditions and less eager to lay eggs. Only the best tetra fish tank conditions are likely to induce your fish to spawn.

It does not help that it is almost impossible to tell males from females. A thick, pregnant tetra fish may be the only indication you have that one of them is female. While females are usually a little bit larger than males it’s a very subtle difference.

This is why numbers are so important. The more tetras you have the greater the chances are of having suitable male and female partners for breeding purposes.

Finding Tetra Fish Eggs

Tetra fish eggs can be difficult to find if you haven’t prepared for the spawning event. All tetras are egg scatterers, meaning they spread their sticky eggs on plants and other decorations. If they don’t have places to scatter their eggs  then they will simply fall onto the gravel and may become lost.

If you suspect your fish are preparing to spawn then place live or fake plants in the tank as preparation. Soon you will find pale yellow tetra fish eggs scattered among them after they spawn.

The eggs are quick to develop; you will often see baby tetra fish within 3 to 5 days of the eggs being laid. Since baby tetra fish are very small you will need to culture infusoria and other microscopic food sources. Or the babies might find their own food if your tetra fish tank is well established.

Conclusion

A freshwater tetra fish tank can be a joy to behold. They come in so many colors and are easy to care for that the possibilities are truly endless. What’s more, you can mix and match them so long as you keep a few of each of the many tetra fish types together.

While tetra fish lifespan is often not as long as that of larger aquarium fish, they offer loads of joy for the few years that you have them. So let us know below what kind are your favorites; we’d love to hear from you.

More Frequently Asked Questions about Tetra Fish

Still interested in learning more about tetras? Then let’s talk a little more about tetra fish care.

How Long Do Tetra Fish Live?

Most tetras are not very long lived aquarium fish. An average tetra fish lifespan is between 3 and 5 years of age. Sometimes larger tetra fish types will live several years longer but not always.

How Big Do Tetra Fish Get?

Most tetra types will grow anywhere from 1 to 2 inches long. This means that a tetra fish tank can be on the smaller side; even 5 and 10 gallon tanks are enough space for a small school of them. For some of the larger kinds like the black tetra fish you will want 20 gallons or more for a small school.

How Many Tetra Fish Should Be Kept Together?

In a tetra fish tank you want at least 6 tetras living together. More is always better for them because they are quite social and interact with each other continually. When kept alone tetras will become very shy and stressed out. Their colors can even wash out and eventually they die.

Do Tetra Fish Need a Heater?

Nearly all tetras (except for the Mexican tetra fish) need a heater. The majority come from the tropical regions of the Amazon and can’t stand cold conditions. Therefore an ideal tetra fish temperature is between 75℉ and 84℉

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

2 thoughts on “13 Awesome Tetra Fish Types: the Complete Tetra Species Guide”

  1. I have 5 Serpae tetras in a 40 gallon tank with a powder blue dwarf Gourami a German blue ram and a pair of Australian Rainbowfish. They all get along fine and the dwarf gourami can’t stand it’s ground despite what people think. The Serpae tetras have tried to nip him, but the dwarf gourami will stand its ground in its territory

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  2. Just an fyi: 1st image of your list is indeed a Neon Tetra. However in your info for P. innessi, you use an image of definately Cardinal Tetras. Suggestion? Simply reverse the images. Just ttyimg to help. Happy fish keeping! 😊😎

    Reply

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