Top 10 Tetras for Your Next Community Aquarium
Tetras (also known as characids or characins from the Characidae family) are a staple of the freshwater aquarium hobby because many of them are colorful, peaceful schooling fish that go well in community tanks. South American tetras are more popular because of their small size and relatively inexpensive price, but they often prefer softer water and lower pH environments. African tetras, on the other hand, tend to be larger and more accepting of a wide range of water parameters, so they can be kept in community aquariums with bigger fish. Check out our fish store to learn more about the top-selling tetras.
1. Black Neon Tetra
Because they are tough and almost bulletproof, this fish is a favorite of both novice and experienced aquarists. This 1.5-inch (4 cm long) fish features a red eye and a pair of horizontal black lines running down its body. Like all of the animals on this list, you will need to get a school of at least six fish (of the same species) so that they feel safe and protected from potential predators. Luckily, black neon tetras are very cheap so you can buy a huge group to fill up a larger aquarium. For a striking design, we recommend that you place them in a fish aquarium with green aquatic plants. A red centerpiece fish such as a Betta fish is recommended. For more details, read our complete care guide.
2. X-Ray Tetra or Pristella Tetra
While many tetras have a slimmer, torpedo-shaped profile, the pristella tetra is a deeper-bodied fish that grows up to 2 inches (5 cm) long. Its semitransparent body allows you to see its internal organs, especially if you choose the albino or gold varieties. The normal x-ray Tetra is a silvery-colored with a reddish tail. It also has eye-catching yellow-black and white markings on the fins. Because they can adapt to many water conditions, including pH, GH, this species is a great option for novices.
3. Cardinal Tetra
Left to right: cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi), neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), and green neon tetra (Paracheirodon simulans)
Cardinal tetras are an impressive fish due to their bold blue and red horizontal stripes. They stand out in a plant aquarium. Sometimes they are confused with neon Tetras and green Neon Tetras. However, cardinal Tetras are slightly larger and have more red on the bodies. They are also able to swim in warmer waters, so they can be kept with Sterbai corydoras and German blue rams. You should keep them well-fed as higher temperatures can cause an increase in their metabolism.
4. Tetra Silver Tip
Silvertip Tetras are a great choice if you want a fish that can interact with other fish. Mature males become vivid yellow-orange in color, whereas the females are lighter yellow. Their common name refers to their distinctive, sliver-white tail tips and fins. When you get a big group of these energetic tetras and put your hand up to the glass, they will gather in a frenzy and follow your fingers from side to side. Because of their high activity level, keep them with other fast swimmers that won’t get outcompeted for food during mealtimes.
5. Congo Tetra
This tetra, which is the largest on our list, thrives in tanks of at least 30 gallons. The brightly colored males have a red-orange horizontal line with shiny blue scales beneath and long, flowing finnage. Females are smaller and have more of a silvery-gold sheen. Congo tetras are able to thrive in diverse water conditions. They can be housed alongside larger, more peaceful fish that won’t nip the fins. They have been used as dither fish in the past for our shy clown loaches.
6. Rummy-Nose Tetra
Currently, there are three similar-looking species of South American fish that are commonly sold as “rummy nose tetras.” This 2-inch (5 cm), slender-bodied fish is known for its bright red snout with black and white horizontal striping on its tail. It is sometimes called the “canary of the coal mine” by fishkeepers because its rosy color quickly fades when stressed. These fish are also prized for their tight schooling behavior. Nothing is more amazing than seeing large groups of rummynoses tetras swimming in a beautifully planted tank.
7. Glowlight Tetra
The common name is misleading. It’s not a genetically altered GloFish. Instead, it’s a naturally colored species that has a striking neon orange line along its silvery body and some of the fins. They originate from murky, tannin-filled waters in South America, so the fluorescent stripe may help them to see each other better so they can stay together as a school. We keep this 1.5-inch (4cm), tetra together with its blue-colored, similar-sized tank mates to make an eye-catching combination.
8. Ember Tetra
If you have a nano tank, ember tetras are a wonderful choice because they are only 0.8 inch (2 cm) long. Their translucent orange body looks great against a backdrop of green aquarium plants. As with many other tetras, they love to swim in middle of aquarium. To fill in the space, you can keep them alongside bottom-dwelling corydoras, and surface-dwelling fishes to help. You can feed them small, slow-sinking foods such as frozen cyclops and baby brine shrimp.
9. Lemon Tetra
If orange is not your style, how about a lemony hue instead? This 1.5-inch (4 cm) species has a bold red eye and translucent yellow body that really pops against a black background. Although juveniles in the pet shop may appear pale and uncolored, they can be brought home to see their true coloration. Don’t worry if you see the males “sparring” with each other because they are just showing off to the females and rarely cause any damage.
10. Coral Red Pencilfish
Pencilfish are technically not Tetras. However, we decided to include them in the list. They are classified as Characins, and they share the same order Characiformes with tetras. This stunning species is worth considering if you’re willing to spend a little more for something rarer. They are wild-caught coral red pencilfish and tend to be fragile. They also require stable, clean water. We strongly recommend that you quarantine them in a separate location to stop the spread of possible diseases.
Males are known for their fire engine red color, whereas females are paler but still have those high contrast, black stripes running down their bodies. The 1.2-inch (3-cm) surface-dwelling species loves to spend time at the aquarium’s top. To prevent them jumping out, get a tight-fitting lid. Like their namesake, they have a narrow, pencil-like shape and pointed mouth. You can feed them small floating foods such as Easy Fry or Small Fish Food, daphnia and crushed krill flakes that will bring out the crimson hues. Our full article on pencilfish provides more details.
If you can’t find your favorite tetra at the local fish store, check out our preferred online retailers to ship them to your house. Good luck to your local aquarium, and remember to enjoy the outdoors every day.