Freshwater Tetra Owners Guide-Care, Diet, Cost.

Take a walk around the aquarium section of any pet store and you will find an array of freshwater tetra. From chubby to slim, spotted to striped and multi-colored to neon there is a species to suit us all. Found mainly within community tanks but occasionally species only a school of these delights really is a sight for sore eyes.

Nothing beats a large shoal of Cardinal tetras in full bloom in front of some lush green plants.

In this article, we will share everything you’ll need to know to keep these beautiful freshwater fish in your home aquarium – A complete freshwater Tetra Guide.

Neon Tetra Owners Guide

The freshwater tetra is from the family Characidae and has over 150 species to choose from. They are distinguished from other fish by the small adipose fin that other species do not have. This is located between the dorsal and caudal fin.

There is some discussion about where the name tetra came from with some believing it is relating to the fact they have teeth. Others think that it comes from the Greek word tetragonopterus meaning square finned.

Hailing from West Africa and southern and central America tetras the most popular tetras can be anywhere between 1.5 and 2 inches in size. They come in colors ranging all over the spectrum and can be chubby, slim, spotted and striped.

In a home aquarium tetras are mainly ket in larger schools as part of a community. In the main, they do well in this environment although some are more aggressive than others and may nip at longer finned fish. They are middle of the tank swimmers and can live for up to approximately 8 years.

Popular species of tetra include neon, cardinal, glow light, black, lemon, rosy, bloodfin, and bleeding heart. These fish have become more popular in recent times with the explosion of freshwater Aquascaping. If you’ve never heard of this topic, simply put its tanks that are planted to the extreme making them look like the bed of the Amazon or Like a tropical rainforest with waterfalls.

In these tanks, it’s all about the illusion of making the space look bigger. Making a 4-foot aquariums look like miles of Amazon river beds. Tetras really help with the illusion due to their small size and shoaling qualities.

This popular hobby is exploding in certain parts of the world and competitions and even World titles in Aquascaping are now coveted prizes.


Tank Set Up Tips for Tetra Fish

The appropriate aquarium size for tetra will vary based on the adult size of the species you choose, how many you have and what other species of fish you have as tank mates. However, as a general guideline, you could use the inch per gallon rule for a tetra that is under 3 inch at adulthood.

Just like any other species of freshwater tropical fish tetra need a heater and good filtration. They also benefit from being kept in water that is at the optimum parameters. Tetra thrives in slightly acidic water with a pH somewhere between 5 and 7.5 and a temperature of 22 – 30℃ or 72 – 86℉.

Appropriate lighting is also of importance to tetras as they prefer shady areas and can find bright lights stressful. They also like to have the ability to hide in places such as heavy vegetation which also doubles up as shady spots.

Tank decor should be as natural as possible. A biotope tank, for example, is perfect meaning you are replicating nature from a certain habitat. South American tetras like soft water that is stained with a sand substrate and bogwood. This resembles a waters edge rainforest. Be careful with live plants, however, as some species of tetra may eat them.

Feeding And Caring for Freshwater Tetra

Tetras are very easy to care for making them suitable for all levels of experience fish keepers. They are also very undemanding fish so long as they are kept in schools of five plus. They do, however, make easy prey for carnivorous fish so care should be taken when choosing tank mates for them.

Food wise, tetras are omnivores who need a varied diet. They will enjoy and benefit from a mix of pellet, wafer, flake, frozen, live and freeze-dried foods. Pellet, wafer, and flake should be mainly meat based with some vegetable matter. Live, frozen and freeze-dried suggestions would be brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, fruit flies and micro worms. Any food they do not eat within 3 to 5 minutes should be removed from the aquarium.

If your fish becomes ill or starts to show unusual behaviors then read our complete guide to diagnosing and treating many of the common diseases in our complete guide. 

Leaving excess food or overfeeding can cause a build-up of ammonia and other harmful chemicals leading to illness in tetras. Whilst easy to care for, in general, they still need a well-maintained water quality. Water changes and maintenance should be performed on a weekly basis with around 20 to 25% of the water being changed.

Not performing weekly tank maintenance can lead to your tetras developing illnesses such as ich, dropsy, flukes, fin rot and neon tetra disease. The latter, although named after one specific tetra, is common to all types and usually fatal. Parasitic spores enter the fish after it consumes infected materials with embryos hatching once in there and burrowing through the intestinal walls.

Signs of neon tetra disease include loss of color, a lumpy body, difficulty swimming and a curved spine. If you see signs of this disease, you should separate them from the main aquarium and euthanize.

neon tetra care guide

How to breed Neon Tetra

Tetras often eat their own offspring and for this reason, need separating from their eggs. Males can be distinguished from females by size with the smaller ones, in general, being male.

In order to successfully breed tetras a separate spawning tank of 2.5 to 5 gallons needs to be set up. This should be bare bottom with a large pile of java moss for the female to scatter her eggs on.

The female of the spawning pair needs to be placed in the breeding tank approximately 24 hours before the male is added. This gives her time to settle in and explore the tank. Once the male had been added and the eggs have been laid the male and female will need removing back to their usual tank within 24 hours.

A tetra egg will be less than 1 millimeter in size and completely clear. They will hatch within 48 hours of being laid. It will, however, take up to a further 48 hours for the larvae to start to swim free. Once they are free swimming, you should feed the fry on infusoria, baby brine shrimp and micro worms.

Top 10 Most Common Freshwater Tetras For Home Aquariums

  1. Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) . These fish are one of the most common freshwater fish of any species kept in home aquariums. This is possible due to the fact they are brightly colored, inexpensive and very easy to keep. They are not a bright and as desirable as their counterparts Cardinal Tetra. They are more colorful but more expensive and not as hardy.
  2. Emperor tetra (Nematobrycon palmeri) This regal looking Tetra comes from South American and offers a different color and character to your tank. In large groups, these fish really stand out from the crowd.
  3. Black neon tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi) These Tetra are also very hardy and make for a great first Tetra and are suitable for new tanks. As these fish get older their bodies become slightly larger than Neon Tetra and therefore are less likely to be eaten by Angelfish and other large freshwater predators.
  4. Serpae Tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques) These Tetra stand out with their longer fins than most other tetras. Watch out they do have a tendency to nip other fish with long fins. Best kept in groups of 5 or more and provide plenty of plants and hiding places in case of attack.
  5. Glowlight Tetra (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) These tetras look stunning but have one small drawback, they are not as hardy as Neon Tetra. We suggest not housing them in a newly setup aquarium. Make sure you have a well-established tank before introducing them into your main community aquarium. They grow about 2″ Long and look stunning with their bright iridescent red and orange colors and stripes from the eye to the base of their tails.glowlight tetra
  6. Diamond Tetra (Moemkhausia pitteri) These fish make perfect community aquarium fish due to their peaceful nature. Their amazing colors will not be at their fullest until they reach adulthood. So every day they get better and better. They have a good appetite and need to be fed regularly with a mixture of flake food and live foods like Brine shrimp and Bloodworms.
  7. Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) In my eye and my opinion these are one of the best shoaling fish in the world. Forget your saltwater tangs and Angelfish, a shoal of 100 cardinal Tetra in a well-planted aquarium cannot be beaten. Look at the picture below and tell me I’m wrong?
  8. Ember Tetra – (HYPHESSOBRYCON AMANDAE) These fish have become very popular with aquascaping enthusiasts. Their small size makes the tanks look bigger. This and their amazing orange colors make it a perfect shoaling fish. These and Cardinal Tetra are the number one choice for freshwater aquascape tanks.
  9. Penguin Tetra (Thayeria boehlkei) Coming from the river banks of south American these distinctive shoal fish will make a lovely addition to any tank. Hardy and inexpensive they are perfect for a community aquarium. 
  10. Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus) The Congo Tetra is classed as the jewel of the tetra fish species due to its amazing color and shimmering silver and orange glow. More expensive than most tetra, these fish can cost $6-8 per fish. Which is 4 times more expensive than a neon tetra, but we think they are worth it.


If you are looking for an easy to care for schooling fish to brighten up your aquarium, the tetra is a fabulous species to pick. Especially with over 150 different varieties to choose from. They come in large and small, thin and thick and all the colors of the rainbow.  

Tetras are also remarkable community fish that make a delightful and compatible addition to any aquarium. If you want to be different, however, you could always go for one species only. After all, there is nothing like the viewing of a large, colorful school of tetras!

Resources Used

Science daily – Tetra research