Tetra Fish: A-Z Best Types Of Tetra

Choosing the right fish for your aquarium can be hard. With such a great variety of species it is very easy to get confused.

One of the most popular groups is Tetras.

This family is full of little sparkling beauties, that are a true wonder. They can be kept by beginners and experienced aquarists with just as much satisfaction. They will fit in just perfectly into almost any kind of setup.

Whether you are looking after a large or a small tank, there are Tetras to suit every kind.

If you want to learn more about these stunning fish, then join us as we discuss the best-looking varieties, maintenance and much more…

Types of Tetra Fish

Ranging in size and color, there are plenty of Tetras to choose from.

Some of them are a little less than an inch while others are much larger. Some might be a mix of purple, green and yellow while others seem a bit dull at first glance.

Here are some of the best Tetras out there:

Black Tetra

Black Neon Tetra

Coming from South America, the Black Tetra is not only one of the most popular species in the group but one of the most popular aquarium fish in general. These modest looking schooling fish only reach up to about 3 inches, which makes them a great choice for a community tank.

Their appearance is a beautiful combination of dark shades with pretty black patches running vertically across their body and small ripple-like dots covering the area of their body closer to the tail. All their fins form a neat, densely packed greyish fan seamlessly attaching to the body.

This is an amazing choice if you are looking for a small yet incredibly beautiful addition to your small community tank.

Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetra

Bearing a beautiful name, this little member of the Tetra family has earned its popularity through it’s stunning appearance and size.

They can grow up to 1.5 inches in good aquarium conditions, and if you are lucky they may end up being slightly bigger than that.

These fish come from the Paracheirodon genus whose distinctive feature is an iconic bright iridescent line that spans both sides of their body. Combined with their outstanding red coloring, these fish put on amazing lightshows in the tank when the sunlight hits one of them.

Neon Tetra Fish

Neon Tetra

Relatives of the Cardinal Tetra, these iconic species have been in the aquarium of pretty much every fish keeper in the world. They come from the same tropical basins of South America as the other two species mentioned above, and reach up to 1.5 inches in length.

What separates them from Cardinals is the difference in coloring. The upper part of their body is significantly darker and is usually black or greyish.

There is a lot less red in the Neon Tetra, but they have retained the iconic line, however it only stretches half way across their body.

They will be a great choice for a community tank or any other kind of setup that would fit into small/medium sized aquarium.

Green Neon Tetra

This is a case where the name speaks for itself.

This little tropical beauty comes from the same genus and family as both ordinary Neon and Cardinal Tetra. You can easily mistake it for one of them because of how masterfully it conceals the greenish shade.

Although for the most part they keep the coloration of their relatives, the Green Neon’s abdomen has a little mix of green and so does the upper part of their body. You will also notice that their signature line also has a greenish shade to it.

As for the size, there is still very little change – they grow up to 1.5 inches.

Flame Tetra

Flame Tetra

Also simply known as Red Tetras, these fiery specimens are known as some of the most beautiful species by some aquarium enthusiasts. Their incredible appearance will light up any community tank like no other breed.

Their scales are so delicate that most of their body is almost transparent. The coloration of these fish is an exciting mix of red and orange.

Depending on the individual fish, they may have a couple of black patches closer to their head. They are also the smallest of the bunch so far with the maximum length of 1.2 inches.

Blue Tetra

Blue Tetra
Blue Tetra by V.v (Flickr)

An Amazon native, the Blue Tetra has one of the most unique appearances in the family despite being only one color. Most of its body is either dark blue or purple with central parts being more saturated and darker.

The iridescence can still be seen in those fish if the lighting is right. If you are looking straight at it and the light hits their side just at the right angle, you will witness nature at its finest.

These active little guys reach up to 2.3 inches in length and usually live up to 3.5 years in good conditions.

Ruby Tetra

The Ruby is an interesting member of the Tetra family.

They have the most unusual body shapes of all – it’s quite thin, compressed on the sides and while other species have a more rounded body, this one is prolonged.

Their coloring consists of light orange with some red gradients, especially closer to the upper side of the body. Their abdomen is white and so are their fins for the most part. They grow up to 1.6 inches in length but surprisingly, can grow larger in captivity.

Rainbow Tetra

One of the most in demand aquarium species in the world, the Rainbow Tetra continues to spark up a flame of excitement in aquarists of all ages. No matter what angle you look at it, it will never appear the same twice.

It is blue, green, white and grey but the iridescence plays its part in making it look like all the colors of the rainbow have come together. They don’t grow too big either with most adults reaching up to 1.5 inches.

These species are a great addition to your community tank and are bound to bring a nice colorful splash into every aquarium.

Ember Tetra

A peaceful and small fish, the Ember Tetra is a beautiful playful species. Their personality combined with vivid appearance makes them an outstanding choice.

Their body glows bright orange and their skin is so thin that it makes them look see-through.

These little swimmers grow up to 1 inch and are quite easy to care for. They look majestic on a planted background and will be a great fit for a community tank. If you are keeping a planted tank, Embers are a must have!

Lemon Tetra

Lemon Tetra

Also native to the South American region, the Lemon Tetra is a well-known and sought-after tropical aquarium fish. Their appearance makes them easy to spot even in a very crowded tank thanks to their signature bright yellow markings.

Their body is covered in tiny, compressed, densely packed scales and is covered in grey while their eyes are pitch-black with a beautiful red outline. They reach up to 2 inches in length, and are quite easy to breed.

Diamond Tetra

Diamond Tetra

An exquisite jewel among Tetras, this fish gets its common name from their intricate scale pattern that makes them shine bright like a diamond.

Their body is a greenish color with a little mix of grey, black and yellow. They have beautiful veil like fins and a black eye brightly outlined with vivid red.

They look magical in a medium planted community tank alongside other members of the family or different small freshwater fish. They are not a demanding species and can be easily bred in the tank.

Emperor Tetra

Emperor Tetra

How about a drop of royal blood in your tank?

These peaceful little guys are known for their coloring and sturdiness.

An interesting thing to note is the difference between male and female Emperors – males have dark purple coloring while females have a more modest greyish coloration.

Originating from Colombia, these pretty species have become a favorite for many aquarists due to how well they fit into community and single setups. They grow only up to about 1.5 inches in captivity and don’t require a lot of attention.

Congo Tetra

Congo Tetra

Coming from the diverse Congo River, this little fish has a radiant appearance. Their main coloration is a colorful mix of blue, red, yellow and green. It’s scales are large and easily distinguishable.

Their fins are mainly grey with only the tail having a black outer lining.

They will stand out in an aquarium not only because of their unique appearance but because of their size. It can reach up to 3 inches, which is considered large for this family.

If you are looking for a new exciting fish to add a bit of color in your tank, the Congo is a great choice.

Bloodfin Tetra

Bloodfins are a wonderful choice for beginners because of their sturdiness and sociable attitude.

They form schools – this is extremely useful in community tanks.

Their body is grey with the exception of fins that are bright red.

Depending on the individual fish and the environment, the coloration of fins may be either more or less saturated (it is a good indicator of the water quality in your tank).

Rummy Nose Tetra

Rummy Nose Tetra

Showcasing an interesting fusion of styles and color, Rummy Nose Tetras are loved by many fish keepers because of their long lifespan and peaceful temperament. Their body is covered in a net of small scales tightly packed together.

Their bright red head is what earned it its common name. Their tail is a much more tasteful pattern with a mix of black and white patches all beautifully coming together.

They reach up to 2.5 inches and can live up to 8 years old. Not a fish to miss if you are a true aquarium enthusiast.

Buenos Aires Tetra

Buenos Aires Tetra

Combining multiple appearances of other family members in one, this South American beauty is a highly regarded fish. First described more than a century ago, this species has become a staple for many aquariums since then.

Their appearance is a combination of red fins and striking glaring line of Neons. It wears those colors proudly and looks amazing in community tanks. They are also quite large for Tetras, growing up to 3 inches.

Although a great choice for community tanks, it will require a bit more attention when it comes to water quality.

Penguin Tetra

Penguin Tetra

Last but not least, these species also go by other names like the Blackline Penguinfish or the Hockey-Stick Tetra.

Highly sociable fish, they easily form schools and feel comfortable with at least two other companions in a tank.

Their appearance is very distinctive consisting of a dark black line spanning both of its sides with a light-yellow outline. Their body is colored in grey and their fins are very thin and almost see-through.

Tetra Care Guide

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Tetra Habitat

Tetras are a very diverse group whose members come from many different environments. Some are native to tropical regions of the South America while others are more used to the damp climate of East Africa with its seasonal heavy rains and wide rivers.

Typically they are encountered in medium or large lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands.

The basins in these places vary but most of the time they would have a riverbed covered in leaves or wood and have a canopy formed by the surrounding trees above.

What is unique about them however, is how well you can keep all those varieties together in the same tank. Although it may seem that they are incompatible because of their geographic distribution, all of them can thrive within the same range of parameters.

Tank Setup

Most Tetras will feel comfortable in a moderately warm tank with a temperature ranging between 75-80.5°F.

Keeping the water range within these limits is important to prevent sickness – lower temperatures drastically reduce the activity of your fish and slow down their metabolism.

These fish require a pH of 6-7 and water hardness of 12-15 dGH.

As these little guys are active swimmers, you need to install a good filter in order to create a medium to hard flow. This will help to closely resemble their natural environment that is never static and is always moved around by either the wind or the natural water current.

The substrate choice is completely up to you and would depend entirely on your personal preference as Tetras are not too picky. The substrate in their natural environment has always been moved around and resembles more of mix rather than a matching material.

Another important aspect of the aquarium is live plants.

Whereas some fish will tear down any plants in their sight, with Tetras you are able to keep even the most delicate plant species.

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?
They should be kept in a tank that is at least 10 gallons. However, this size should increase depending on how many species you decide to keep and whether you are planning on making a community aquarium.

How Many Can Be Kept Per Gallon?
You should allow at least 2 gallons for each Tetra.

Caring for Tetras

Tetra Fish Care

What is good about this family is how little maintenance they require.

This is because of their size and natural sturdiness. It’s a true win-win situation for aquarists.

The majority of species are not prone to any particular disease, but they are very susceptible to changes in water conditions – so you will have to keep this in mind.

Given the number of species in this family, you should also check whether your fish has any individual illnesses or chronic conditions, such as mycobacteriosis.

Sometimes when a fish falls ill many people assume straight away that this has to deal with the quality of the water.

That is not always the case and sometimes the disease might just have been triggered by a slight change in the environment or any small chemical. This is especially dangerous if you are installing new equipment in your tank and invasive microorganisms sneak in.

Because of their size they can be kept in small aquariums and finding compatible neighbors will not be a hard task. They are very sensitive to water changes, so you should always perform bi-weekly water changes.

This helps keep the water aerated and does not let it become stale, which is important to break life cycles of parasites and harmful bacteria.

What To Feed Tetras

The majority of Tetras are native to tropical regions of South America. The well-known Amazon River, its tributaries and countless estuaries have proven to be a very fertile environment for aquatic life.

Here you will find warm, well oxygenated waters with an abundance of food.

These fish will eat everything they can get to including insects that end up on the water surface or smaller freshwater organisms.

Just like in the wild, in the aquarium this species are not picky with food. They will happily feed on all sorts of foods, including granules and flakes. It will eat frozen or dry foods and will also gladly feast on live food.

Because Tetras are usually kept in schools it is worth getting an automatic food dispenser which will help you avoid overfeeding.

Feed them twice a day, as much as they can eat in a period of around 2 minutes.

Summary

The Tetra group is a very exciting family of beautiful fish whose appearance is truly unmatched.

Coming in all colors of the rainbow, there is a color to suit everyone.

They are often recommended to beginners because they are hardy and setting up their tank is very straightforward.

All they need is a usual tropical set up with basic equipment.

They are a wonderful choice for community tanks due to their calm and peaceful temperament.

Which one is your favorite Tetra fish? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

3 Comments

  1. We love tetras! We have some in every one of our tanks. We have rummynose, black, neon, ruby, lampeye, black neon and my favorite bloodfins oh and glow lights (I think I’m missing another one). They really bring a tank together and completes. When I moved in with my boyfriend 3.5 yrs ago we got a 55 gal tank given to us and we set it up. He has kept and bred fish since teenager but was all new to me. Our first fish for that tank was bloodfins. School of 12 of them and we had one left until last night. We call her granny and she finally passed away. I cried she’d been with us so long. One more cool think then I’ll be done. We actually got our ember tetras to spawn and we raised ember terra fry into adult fish and they were added to our school. I think that’s cool everytime I look at that. We raise blue ram fry continuously about but that was our first and only attempt since at spawning embers. I enhoy your articles so thank you for the work you do for your site

  2. I am fascinated with tetras. Right now have Buenos Aires tetra and the Red eye tetras. The Buenos Aires tetra are very active especially doing feeding. I want get a larger aquarium for them,aleast a 75 gallon. Right now I have them in fourty gallon tall. To me it’s not enough room for them to swim.The tetras and the danios are favorite. I enjoyed your article about your experience with breeding tetras.

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