Tetra Care + Some Interesting Facts (The Most Comprehensive Guide)

Tetra Care + Some Interesting Facts (The Most Comprehensive Guide)

Tetra in an aquarium

Tetras are popular for their attractive colors and lively personalities.

They’re ideal for aquarists looking for easy-to-care and hardy fish that can brighten up a fish tank.

Let’s learn more about these beautiful fish in detail.

Tetra Species Overview

Tetras belong to the Characidae (also called characin) family.

The term Tetra is a shortened version of Tetragonopterus, a genus name formerly applied to all the tetra species that have been discovered.

Tetras originated from Africa, South America, and Central America.

They primarily inhabit the Amazon river basin in South America.

However, you can now find these brightly colored fish worldwide due to their popularity in the fishkeeping hobby.

You can usually find tetras in streams, creeks, rivers, ditches, floodplains, etc.

The common thing about tetras is that most of them live in slow-moving water bodies with submerged vegetation having low to moderate currents.


Colorful neon tetra

Tetras are small, sleek, and colorful fish with unique physical features that distinguish them from other fish.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These fish are usually small, with bodies flaring outward in the middle.

Tetras have compressed (sometimes deep) and fusiform bodies. Their fins typically identify them.

Tetras have a small adipose fin between their caudal and dorsal fins that help them detect movement in the water, making it an important tool for their survival in the wild.

Although the adipose fin is considered the distinguishing feature of tetras, some tetra species like emperor tetras lack this appendage.

Another notable feature of tetras is their forked tail fin. It helps tetras swim faster, thus helping them escape predators.

Depending on the species, tetras also come in varied colors such as red, blue, orange, white, yellow, silver, black, fluorescent, and other colors.

Female tetras are a bit larger than male tetras. However, male tetras are often more vibrant than females.

Names of Species

There are over 700 known tetra species, each having its own unique characteristics.

Amongst the numerous tetra species, the smaller tetras are the mainstay of home aquariums.

Most of the tetra species preferred worldwide are readily available at pet stores at a reasonable price.

So they’re one of the most preferred fish among aquarists.

Below is a list of some popular tetra species preferred by aquarists:

  • Neon tetras,
  • Black Skirt tetras,
  • Ember tetras,
  • Congo tetras,
  • Emperor tetras,
  • Rummy-nose tetras,
  • Serpae tetras,
  • Cardinal tetras,
  • Lemon tetras,
  • Rainbow tetras,
  • Diamond tetras,
  • Buenos Aires tetras,
  • Glowlight tetras,
  • Bleeding Heart tetras,
  • Redeye tetras,
  • Mexican tetras,
  • Blue tetras,
  • Bloodfin tetras, etc.


The average lifespan of tetras is 5 to 8 years in captivity.

Their lifespan also depends on the conditions and care that you provide them.

The small-sized tetras generally live lesser than the larger ones.

They have an average lifespan of 3 to 5 years. On the other hand, larger tetras can live up to 8 years.

Some aquarists have shared their experience of Neon tetras, Mexican tetras, Congo tetras, and Glass bloodfin tetras living for 10 years or more when kept under favorable conditions coupled with a nutritional diet.

Average Size

Tetras are tiny fish. Most of the tetras grow up to 2 inches in length.

However, certain tetra species can grow a little bigger, between 2.5 to 3 inches in length.

Examples of such tetras are: Congo tetras, Bleeding Heart tetras, Diamond tetras, Buenos Aires tetras, Redeye tetras, and Colombian tetras.

Tetra Tank Setup

Tetra tank

The most crucial thing while setting up an aquarium for tetras is to have a conducive environment for them to live a healthy and comfortable life.

So it’s vital to set up the tank with all the essential equipment.

Let’s now understand how to set up a tetra tank in detail.

Tank Size

The tank size can vary as per the fish count. It also depends on whether you wish to have a tetra-only tank or a community tank.

Tetras thrive when kept in a school of at least six or more.

For housing six tetras of the same species, the minimum tank size is 10 gallons.

However, investing in a larger tank is always better as tetras get ample space to swim freely.

You can also have more hiding places for tetras in a larger tank.

It also helps enhance their coloration as tetras get less stressed when they feel secure.

A larger tank is also easy to maintain and best while breeding tetras.

Tank Equipment And Decorations

Tetras are most happy when their tank environment resembles their natural environment.

In the wild, tetras live in dense vegetation. So planted tanks are best for tetras.

You can have plants such as Java Moss, Java Fern, Anacharis, Amazon Sword, and Ludwigia Repens.

Floating plants such as Duckweed, Brazilian Pennywort, and Frogbit are also suitable for tetras.

These plants provide cover to tetras and help balance the pH level of the tank water.

Installing certain equipment is also essential for tetras to live longer.

Given below are the items required in a tetra tank:

  • Tank filter,
  • Heater,
  • Aquarium lights,
  • Dark substrate, and
  • Aquarium decorations such as artificial rocks, driftwood, caves, etc.

Tetra Care

Healthy tetra

Tetras are hardy fish that can adapt to a wide range of water parameters.

However, specific conditions must be met before keeping tetras in your home aquarium.

Tetras need clean water, stable and ideal water parameters, and a balanced and nutritious diet for optimum development.

Let’s discuss these in detail now.


Tetras are omnivores. They feed on plant matter, algae, floating insects, larvae, and tiny invertebrates in the wild.

In captivity, you can feed tetras a balanced and diverse diet.

High-quality flakes, fish pellets, food chips, and wafers are good for tetras.

You can also occasionally feed live or frozen food such as bloodworms, fruit flies, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, daphnia, etc., that are rich in proteins.

These food items also help to induce spawning.

You shouldn’t overfeed the tetras. You should feed them only the amount of food that they can eat within 3 minutes.

The food should be small enough to fit into their mouth easily without the risk of choking.

Water Parameters

Tetras live in slightly soft and acidic water in their natural habitat. They also thrive in water bodies with dense aquatic foliage.

However, the majority of the aquarium tetra species sold commercially are raised in water with higher alkalinity and pH compared to their natural environments.

Tetras are tropical fish that thrive in warm water. The only exception is Buenos Aires tetras, which do better in cooler water.

So maintaining the water parameters that best suit your tetra species is crucial.

The ideal water conditions for tetras are:

Temperature75°F to 82°F
pH level7 to 8
Alkalinity50 ppm to 140 ppm
Nitrite0 ppm
Ammonia0 ppm
NitrateLess than 40 ppm

Tank Maintenance

Tank maintenance is crucial for the healthy development of tetras. It also helps increase their lifespan.

You need to keep your aquarium clean and free from impurities like algae, debris, etc.

For that, you can clean the tank once every 15 days. Partial water changes of 25% with clean and dechlorinated water are required.

The tank equipment, decorations, and substrate should also be cleaned regularly.

Periodic cleaning also helps prevent diseases and parasites from spreading.

Common Diseases

Tetras are prone to various bacterial and fungal infections if proper care isn’t taken.

So it’s essential to provide them with a conducive environment.

Some common diseases that tetras can encounter are:

  • Dropsy,
  • White spot disease or Ich,
  • Gill Parasites,
  • Fin and Tail Rot,
  • Swim Bladder Disorder,
  • Columnaris,
  • Popeye,
  • Hemorrhagic Septicemia,
  • NTD (Neon Tetra Disease),
  • Mouth Fungus, etc.

Tetra Behavior And Temperament

Tetras are famous for their peaceful nature.

They usually don’t bother other fish in the aquarium. So they’re also favorites among aquarists for a community tank.

However, tetras can become aggressive due to lack of space, fewer females in the tank, unfavorable water conditions, food scarcity, aggressive tankmates, stress, illness, etc.

Some tetra species also display aggression toward their tankmates.

For example, panda tetras are known to harass smaller fish species, while black skirt tetras nip the fins of big fish that move slowly.

Having said that, the majority of the tetra species are docile and usually don’t cause any trouble unless the conditions aren’t ideal.

The only thing you need to do is research extensively before finalizing the tetra species.

Tetra Tankmates

Tetras with tankmates

Tetras are friendly fish that do well with other non-aggressive and similar-sized fish.

The best tankmates for tetras are other tetra species that thrive in a similar environment.

Tetras are also compatible with most of the other aquarium fish. Some of the best tetra tankmates are:

  • Guppies,
  • Mollies,
  • Platies,
  • Killifish,
  • Mystery Snails and Nerite Snails,
  • Danios,
  • Corydoras,
  • Rasboras,
  • Loaches,
  • Swordtails, etc.

Although tetras get along with most fish, you should avoid certain fish species.

Fish species that you should avoid keeping with tetras are:

  • Slow-moving fish such as angelfish. Tetras are fast swimmers and can nip the fins of fish that move slowly.
  • Aggressive fish such as cichlids, barbs, oscars, and flowerhorn fish.
  • Coldwater fish like goldfish. Tetras are tropical fish, and their water conditions don’t match with coldwater species.
  • Serpae tetras are fin-nippers. So you shouldn’t keep them with other docile tetra species. Similarly, Buenos Aires tetras grow large and can frighten the timid tetras.

Tetra Breeding

Tetras are easy to care for, but breeding them in captivity can be difficult.

They are egg-layers, meaning they don’t give live birth to their young ones.

Tetras lay hundreds of eggs on the plants, substrate, or debris in their environment. However, not all eggs are viable.

You can breed tetras successfully with the correct tank setup and proper conditioning.

Here are a few tips that can help you breed tetras in captivity:

  • Prepare a breeding tank with water conditions that closely resemble their natural habitat. A separate breeding tank helps the breeding pair have ample space in the tank to lay eggs and fertilize them. A separate tank also relieves the stress of the breeding pair.
  • Select a robust breeding pair. Both the male and female tetra should be at the peak of their health with no visible signs of any disease.
  • You need to introduce the female tetra first, followed by the male tetra.
  • Once the breeding pair is introduced, the male tetra dances around the female for attention. The spawning only starts once the female tetra accepts the proposal.
  • After the mating ritual is complete, the female lays her eggs on the substrate. You need to immediately remove the parent tetras from the breeding tank as tetras tend to eat their eggs.
  • It takes about two days for the eggs to hatch.
  • The tetra fry are very delicate and need quality food to flourish. You can feed the fry infusoria in the initial few days. Once the fry grow, you can transfer them to the main tank with the adult tetras.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Tetras Glow?

Tetras glow because of their radiant color. The radiant color of tetras is due to the physical and genetic makeup of this fish. Tetras have cells called chromatophores in them. These cells reflect and scatter particular wavelengths of light to produce the characteristic and colorful glow of tetras.

How Much Do Tetras Cost?

The cost of tetras ranges from around $2 to $8, depending on the species you buy. The various factors that determine the final price of tetras are species, age, size, location of their natural habitat, availability, and breeding difficulty. Adult tetras are usually more expensive than young tetras.

What Do Tetras Like In Their Tank?

Tetras like to have a lot of shade in their tank provided by floating and submerged plants, plenty of swimming and hiding spaces, and sufficient lighting. They also need ideal water conditions, an efficient filtration system, compatible tank mates, and a varied, nutritious diet to stay healthy.

Do Tetras Need A Heater?

Tetras need a heater since they thrive in temperatures between 75°F and 80°F and depend on the water temperature for proper metabolism and breeding. If the water temperature is not proper, the immune system of the tetras will be affected, and they will become prone to diseases and infections.

Are Tetras Schooling Fish?

Tetras are schooling fish. They swim in a school to protect themselves from predators. Most varieties of tetras thrive in groups of six or more and prefer to swim with their kind only. Keeping them alone or in small numbers will stress the tetras and affect their overall health and well-being.

Can Tetras See In The Dark?

Tetras can’t see in the dark. Although they are found under the dense forest vegetation, some amount of light passes through to the tetras that they use to see things around them. Tetras rely on light to find food like worms and small crustaceans, avoid being eaten by a predator, and locate mates.

What Do Black Tetras Eat?

The main diet of black tetras consists of algae. They eat the algae by sucking them into their mouths. Black tetras also feed on insect larvae, bloodworms, blackworms, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, flakes, granules, pellets, daphnia, tubifex worms, frozen krill, and even some types of vegetation.

What Do Bloodfin Tetras Eat?

Bloodfin tetras eat live, freeze-dried, and frozen food such as bloodworms, insect larvae, brine shrimp, daphnia, small insects, fruit flies, etc. They also eat packaged food like high-quality flakes and pellets. Since bloodfin tetras are omnivores, they need a diet made of plant and animal matter.

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