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 have a higher popularity due to their small size and low price. However, they are often more comfortable in softer water and lower pH environments. African tetras are larger and more comfortable with a variety of water parameters. This allows them to be kept in community aquariums alongside larger 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. The red eye of the 1.5-inch (4cm) fish is accompanied by a pair white and black horizontal lines that run 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. You can purchase large quantities of black neon tetras to fill larger aquariums. 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 xray tetra has a bright silvery color and a reddish tail. There are also eye-catching white, yellow, and black markings on its 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 a showstopper fish because of their brilliant blue and red horizontal stripes that stand out in a planted 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 also enjoy warmer water and are often kept with Sterbai corydoras, German bluerams, and discus. You should keep them well-fed as higher temperatures can cause an increase in their metabolism.
4. Tetra with 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. As per their common name, both sexes have very distinctive, sliver-white tips on their fins and tails. You can get large groups of these energetic Tetras by placing your hand in front of the glass. They will follow you from one side to another. Because of their high activity level, keep them with other fast swimmers that won’t get outcompeted for food during mealtimes.
5. Congo Tetra
As the largest tetra on our list, this 3-inch (8 cm) African species does best in fish tanks of 30 gallons or more. The brightly colored males have a red-orange horizontal line with shiny blue scales beneath and long, flowing finnage. The smaller, more shiny-gold-colored females are larger and more delicate. Congo tetras thrive in a diverse set of water parameters and can be housed with bigger, peaceful fish that won’t nip their fins. In the past, we have used them as ditherfish for shy clown loaches.
6. Rummy-Nose Tetra
There are currently three South American fish species that look similar. They are often called “rummy nose Tetras” and come in two-inch (5 cm) sizes. This fish has a bright red snout, with black horizontal stripes along its tail. It is sometimes called the “canary of the coal mine” by fishkeepers because its rosy color quickly fades when stressed. They are prized for their very tight schooling habits. Nothing is more amazing than seeing large groups of rummynoses tetras swimming in a beautifully planted tank.
7. Glowlight Tetra
Do not be misled by the common name. This is not a genetically modified GloFish, but a naturally colored species with an alarming neon orange line on its body and parts. 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. Because of the eye-catching combination of complementary colors, we like to keep this 1.5-inch (4cm) Tetra with blue-colored tank mates.
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. They like to swim in the middle, just like other tetras. You can keep them with bottom-dwelling corydoras or surface-dwelling hatchetfish to take up the remaining space. You can feed them small, slow-sinking foods such as frozen cyclops and baby brine shrimp.
9. Lemon Tetra
You might prefer a more lemony shade if orange is not your favorite color. This 1.5-inch (4cm) species features a strong red eye and a translucent yellow body. It really stands out against a dark 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 technically aren’t tetras but we included them on the list as they are often classified as Characins and belong to the same order Characiformes. This rare species is worth looking at if you’re willing and able to pay a premium. Because coral red pencilfish are wild-caught, they tend to be more delicate and require stable, pristine water quality. Plus, we strongly suggest that you first quarantine them in a separate area to prevent the spread of potential 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. This surface-dwelling, 1.2-inch (3cm) species likes to spend time near the top. Make sure you have a tight fitting lid to keep them from jumping out. They have a pointed mouth and a pencil-like body like their name. 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. For more information, read our full article on pencilfish.
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.