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. Find out more about our top-selling Tetras in our fish shop.
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. To ensure that the fish feel secure and protected from predators, you’ll need to buy a school at least six fish of the same species. You can purchase large quantities of black neon tetras to fill larger aquariums. If you want to make a visually stunning design, we highly recommend putting them in a fish tank full of green aquatic plants and a red centerpiece fish like a betta fish. For more details, read our complete care guide.
2. X-Ray Tetra or Pristella Tetra
The profile of many tetras is slimmer and more torpedo-shaped, but the pristella Tetra is longer and can reach 2 inches (5cm) in length. 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. Another great choice for beginners is this species. They are adaptable to a wide range of pH, GH and other water conditions.
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. Although they can be confused with neon tetras or green neon tetras sometimes, cardinal tetras are slightly larger than them and have more red skin. They also enjoy warmer water and are often kept with Sterbai corydoras, German bluerams, and discus. Keep them well-fed because higher temperatures can increase their metabolism.
4. Silver Tip Tetra
Silvertip tetras are an interactive schooling fish. The mature males turn a bright yellow-orange color while the females are a lighter yellow. Their common name refers to their distinctive, sliver-white tail tips and fins. 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
The largest tetra species on our list is the 3-inch (8-cm) African species. It thrives in fish tanks with 30 gallons and more. The males are brightly colored and have a red-orange horizontal stripe, with shiny blue scales underneath. They also have long, flowing finnage that is edged in white. 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. We have even used them as dither fish for our shy clown loaches in the past.
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. Fishkeepers sometimes refer to it as the “canary in the coal mine” because its rosy coloration rapidly fades away when stressed, so use this warning sign to check your water conditions and other potential problems that may have arisen. This fish is also highly prized for their close schooling behavior. There’s nothing like seeing a huge group of rummynose tetras swimming back and forth in a lushly 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
Because they measure only 0.8 inches (2 cm) in length, nano tanks will love ember tetras. Their entire body is translucent orange which makes them stand out against the background 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. Due to their small size, you can feed them slow-sinking food like nano pellets, frozen cyclops, and baby brine shrimp.
9. Lemon Tetra
Orange isn’t your thing? Try a lemony color 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. You shouldn’t be alarmed if you see males “sparring,” as they are only showing off to the females, and rarely cause any harm.
10. Coral Red Pencilfish
Technically, pencilfish are not tetras, but we wanted to include one on the list because they are often categorized as characins and share the same order Characiformes as tetras. This stunning species is worth considering if you’re willing to spend a little more for something rarer. Because coral red pencilfish are wild-caught, they tend to be more delicate and require stable, pristine water quality. To prevent potential diseases spreading, it is strongly recommended that you quarantine them in separate areas.
Males are well-known for their fiery red color. Females, on the other hand, are paler and have black stripes running down their body. 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. Like their namesake, they have a narrow, pencil-like shape and pointed mouth. They will respond well to small floating foods like Easy Fry and Small Fish Food. Our full article on pencilfish provides more details.
Our preferred online retailers can ship your favorite tetra to your home if you cannot find them at the local fish market. Best of luck with your community aquarium and enjoy nature daily.