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 smaller and more affordable, but they prefer soft water and lower pH environments. African tetras on the other hand are larger and more tolerant of a wider range of water parameters. They can be kept in community tanks with 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 1.5-inch (4 cm) fish has a red eye with a pair of white and black horizontal lines 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
Many tetras have a more torpedo-shaped profile than the pristella tetra, which is why it can grow up to 2 in (5 cm) in length. 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)
Because of their bright blue and red horizontal stripes, the cardinal tetras make a great addition to any aquarium. They sometimes get confused with neon tetras and green neon tetras, but in comparison, cardinal tetras have more red on their bodies and get slightly bigger (up to 2 inches or 5 cm). 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. 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. If you gather a large group of energetic tetras, and place your hand on the glass, they will follow your fingers side-to-side in a frenzy. Due to their activity level, they should be kept with other swimmers who aren’t outcomed when it comes time for meals.
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 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 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. 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
Don’t be fooled by the common name – this is not a genetically altered GloFish but rather a naturally colored species with a shocking neon orange line on its silvery body and parts 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
Because they measure only 0.8 inches (2 cm) in length, nano tanks will love ember tetras. 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. Due to their small size, you can feed them slow-sinking food like nano pellets, frozen cyclops, and baby brine shrimp.
9. Lemon Tetra
You might prefer a more lemony shade if orange is not your favorite color. This species is 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length and has a bright red eye and translucent yellow bodies that pop against a black background. Juveniles at the pet store often look very pale and colorless. But, take them home and see how their pigmentation changes over time. 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. If you are willing to pay for something a bit rarer in the hobby, consider this stunning species. Coral red pencilfish, which are wild-caught, tend to be delicate and require high quality 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. 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. Their name is a reference to their pointed mouth and narrow, pencil-like face. 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.
Our preferred online retailers can ship your favorite tetra to your home if you cannot find them at the local fish market. Good luck to your local aquarium, and remember to enjoy the outdoors every day.