15 Fantastic Tetra Species for Freshwater Aquariums

Aquarium Tetra Species

Tetra fish are one of the most popular groups of fish for personal freshwater aquariums. With over 700 different species, tetra fish span the spectrum of colors, shapes, and sizes. Therefore, the hardest part about adding a tetra species to your aquarium is narrowing it down to just one!

Below, we’ve provided an overview of the tetra family and compiled a list of our favorite tetra species to help you pick the perfect species for your tropical freshwater tank.

Tetra Fish: An Overview

Tetra fish are freshwater fish belonging to the family Characidae. They are native to the Amazon Basin and river systems in Central and South America. To date, over 700 species of tetras have been identified, with more being discovered all the time.

Tetras are typically small, brightly colored fish that grow no longer than 2 inches in length (though some, such as the Disk Tetra, grow much larger). Fish in the tetra family are identifiable by the presence of a small adipose fin located between their caudal and dorsal fins.

Given their size, most tetras are comfortable in 10-20 gallon tanks, though they’ll always appreciate more space to swim. In general, they prefer temperatures of 75-80 oF and a water pH of 6.8 to 7.8.

Most tetras are omnivores. Therefore, they should be fed flakes, along with algae, brine shrimp, and small bloodworms.

Make sure you research the specific requirements of your unique tetra species before creating your aquarium habitat.

Tetra Fish Temperament

Tetra fish are generally peaceful species that do well in community aquariums. Given their peaceful natures and small statures, they tend to do well with other species of similar size and temperament.

Some tetra species are known to be more assertive and aggressive. The most common aggressive behavior seen in tetra species is nipping at the fins of long-finned fish in the tank. The aggression portrayed in most tetra species can be minimized by keeping the tetras in larger schools.

Tetra Fish Schooling Behavior

Tetra fish are schooling fish, so they should always be kept in groups of multiple fish of the same species. While some are content in schools as small as four or five individuals, other tetra species require schools of at least 10 individuals to thrive.

Though most tetra species can coexist happily with other tetra species, members of different species will rarely school together. On the rare chance that different tetra species school together, it will likely only happen for species that are the same size and similar in appearance.

Therefore, when adding tetras to your tank, make sure you add multiple members of the same species, even if another species of tetra is present.

Most importantly, though these fish are small in stature, they are active schoolers that need plenty of room to move. Make sure you have plenty of open swim space before adding a new tetra school to your aquarium.

Our 15 Favorite Tetra Fish

1. Neon Tetra and Black Neon Tetra

Black Neon Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 1.2″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Every tetra list has to include the Neon Tetra. After all, the Neon Tetra is arguably the most popular of any tetra species. It’s easy to understand why- Neon Tetras are exceptionally beautiful, friendly, and hardy fish.

Neon Tetras are schooling fish that prefer to live in schools of at least 8 individuals. With their iridescent blue and red stripes, Neon Tetras will instantly become the centerpiece of any aquarium.

If you want the size and disposition of the Neon Tetra in a slightly less mainstream package, consider the Black Neon Tetra. The Black Neon Tetra looks similar to the Neon Tetra but lacks the telltale bold red stripes.

Black Neon Tetras will school together in the upper water column and coexist well with Neon Tetras, as well as other peaceful tetra species.

2. Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 2″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Cardinal Tetras closely resemble the iridescent blue and red coloration of the Neon Tetras. However, Cardinal Tetras have a red stripe that extends the full length of their bodies and grow to nearly double the size of their Neon Tetra relatives.

Cardinal Tetras are active fish that prefer tanks with equal parts plants for hiding and open water for swimming. Unlike Neon Tetras, Cardinal Tetras will only school when some sort of fear stimulus is present.

Though Cardinal Tetras are relatively easy to care for, they can be sensitive to changing chemical conditions in the water. They are, therefore, best to add to an established tank that is maintained regularly.

3. Diamond Tetra

Diamond Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 2.4″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-6 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

It’s easy to overlook the Diamond Tetra when you see them at a pet store. After all, as juveniles, Diamond Tetras are rather unremarkable fish. However, these fish go through beautiful metamorphism as they grow into adults.

Diamond Tetra adults are a beautiful silver color with shimmering scales reminiscent of diamonds (hence the name). Male Diamond Tetras tend to be brighter than females, with longer, flowing dorsal fins.

Diamond Tetras are commercially bred, so they tend to thrive in a wide range of water conditions and temperatures. They prefer tanks with rich plant life and tinted water similar to their natural habitats.

Diamond Tetras are incredibly peaceful and get along with virtually any community tank fish. When adding Diamond Tetras to your tank, it is best to add them in schools of at least eight fish to avoid any nipping or aggression within the school.

4. Glowlight Tetra

Glowlight Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 1.6″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Lifespan: 2-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Glowlight Tetras are easily one of the best tetras for new aquarists. With their resilient natures and peaceful personalities, they are the perfect addition to any calm community tank.

In fact, when picking tank mates for Glowlight Tetras, it’s important to ensure that they aren’t with fish that are too large or aggressive because they are easily bullied. Glowlight Tetras do great with other peaceful species, including other friendly tetras.

When adding Glowlight Tetras to your aquarium, make sure you add them in groups of 6 fish or more to keep the school active and destressed.

While Glowlight Tetras will thrive in a variety of tank environments, they will be happiest in aquariums with lower lighting and plenty of hiding spaces. You will also love having them in a dimmer tank, as their bold red stripe seems to glow in darker environments.

5. Bleeding Heart Tetra

Bleeding Heart Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 3.5″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Bleeding Heart Tetras, also known as Red-Tipped Tetras, are so named for their red-tinged fins and the unmistakable red dot in the middle of their body. Like many tetra species, male Bleeding Heart Tetras tend to be thinner than the females, with longer flowing dorsal and anal fins.

Bleeding Heart Tetras are ideal for calm blackwater tanks, as they thrive in habitats similar to their natural environment. Bleeding Heart Tetras are generally resilient to changing water conditions and are therefore a good option for newer aquarists.

Unlike many tetra species, Bleeding Heart Tetras spend their time schooling in the middle and lower water columns. They do best in mixed-gender schools of four to eight fish.

Though generally a peaceful species, male Bleeding Heart Tetras tend to be feisty and can easily stress out peaceful tankmates. Therefore, they do best with other sturdy, blackwater species.

6. Buenos Aires Tetra

Buenos Aires Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful, occasionally nippy
  • Maximum Size: 2.5″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Buenos Aires Tetras, also known as Red-Finned Tetras, are one of my personal favorites. In both appearance and personality, Buenos Aires Tetras tend to break the stereotypical tetra norms.

They are active and assertive fish that, unlike most tetras, don’t do well in peaceful community tanks. Buenos Aires Tetras tend to dominate smaller species and nip at the fins of long-finned fish. They will also devour vegetation, so they need to be placed in a heavily-planted tank or a tank with exceptionally hardy plants.

However, that’s not to say that they can’t make a great addition to your aquarium. When placed in a well-planted aquarium with other active fish, Buenos Aires Tetras will easily relax into peaceful coexistence. To decrease their assertiveness towards other species, make sure that you keep your Buenos Aires Tetras in a group of at least 6 individuals.

One of the biggest assets of Buenos Aires Tetras is that they thrive in an environment with fluctuating temperatures. Therefore, if you have an unheated aquarium, the Buenos Aires Tetra is the perfect tetra for you.

7. Lemon Tetra

Lemon Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 1.5″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 8 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Though not as flashy as many of the other tetras on this list, the Lemon Tetra is nonetheless just as spectacular. Its golden body and black-tipped fins beautifully highlight its bright orange eyes.

The Lemon Tetra’s eyes aren’t just for show- they’re also useful! As a Lemon Tetra’s health deteriorates, the orange in its eyes will fade, giving you a clear indicator that something is amiss. Luckily, even beginner aquarists shouldn’t see this too often, as Lemon Tetras are extremely resistant to environmental changes.

Lemon Tetras are one of the shiest tetra species and do best in very peaceful community tanks. Because of their timid demeanors, Lemon Tetras prefer tanks with plenty of live plants and décor for protection. They also do best in schools of at least eight to ten individuals.

If you are looking to add a large school of peaceful fish to your aquarium, you cannot beat a school of Lemon Tetras.

8. Bloodfin Tetra

Bloodfin Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful, occasionally nippy
  • Maximum Size: 2″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 5-7 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

It is easy to see where Bloodfin Tetras get their name; their bright red fins are perfectly highlighted by their sleek, silver bodies. Bloodfin Tetras are one of the most elongated tetra species, and therefore tend to appear far sleeker than many of their relatives.

Bloodfin Tetras are extremely active fish that should be kept in schools of at least 10 individuals. Therefore, it’s important to make sure they have plenty of open water space to swim in.

When choosing tankmates for your Bloodfin Tetras, avoid slow and fragile species. Because of their active natures, Bloodfin Tetras tend to stress out slower species and have been known to nip at the fins of their tankmates.

That being said, when placed with other active and hardy species, Bloodfin Tetras are relatively peaceful tankmates and do well in community aquariums.

10. Ember Tetra

Ember Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 0.8″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Show the best colors in a well-planted tank
  • The larger the school, the better this fish will look. It schools tightly

Ember Tetras are named for their cheerful orange coloration. As one of the smallest tetra species, Ember Tetras are ideal for micro aquariums. Though their space requirements are minimal, they prefer long aquariums that maximize their horizontal swim space.

Ember Tetras are incredibly peaceful. Because of their size and temperament, they can be vulnerable in larger tanks with bigger, more aggressive fish. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your tank will be a safe space for your Ember Tetras.

When creating a habitat for your Ember Tetras, keep in mind that their color will be most resplendent in a well-planted tank. However, make sure you maintain plenty of open space for them to swim.

Ember Tetras are tight schoolers. Therefore, the larger the school you purchase, the better the fish will look, and the happier they will be.

10. Black Skirt Tetra

Black Skirt Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 1.7″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Black Skirt Tetras, also known as Black Tetras, Black Widow Tetras, and Skirt Tetras, are one of the more unique members of the tetra clan. They are subdued black and white fish with delicately-elongated fins and tails. Though they don’t have the flash of other tetras, they nonetheless command your attention with their graceful antics.

Where their coloration is muted, their personalities are not. Black Skirt Tetras are enthusiastic, playful fish that will bring lighthearted energy to the middle and upper water columns of your tank.

Black Skirt Tetras are easygoing when it comes to housing and water chemistry, making them an excellent fish for beginner aquarists and aquarists creating a low-maintenance tank system.

Black Skirt Tetras do best in groups of five or more individuals and thrive in peaceful community tanks.

11. Emperor Tetra

Emperor Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 1.7″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

If you want a fish that exudes quality and prestige, look no further than the Emperor Tetra. With their sleek bodies and black, blue, and purple striations, it’s not surprising that they’re the emperors of the tetra family.

One of the coolest physical attributes of Emperor Tetras is their eyes. Distinguishing between the sexes is easy with Emperor Tetras because males have blue eyes while females have green eyes.

Emperor Tetras are peaceful fish that do well in community aquariums and in Amazon River habitat recreations. They mix exceedingly well with other peaceful tetra species. Emperor Tetras should be kept in schools of ten or more individuals, or they will be withdrawn and skittish.

Emperor Tetras are highly adaptable and will happily thrive in a wide range of water conditions and temperatures. They are, therefore, a great tetra species for new aquarists.

12. False Penguin Tetra

False Penguin Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 2.4″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

False Penguin Tetras, or Penguin Tetras, are small white fish with a bold, black line running from their gills to the end of their tails. False Penguin Tetras are one of the larger tetra species, and therefore require a larger aquarium space.

False Penguin Tetras are a safe choice when picking a tetra species for your tank. They are hardy and will thrive in both community tanks and blackwater-style tanks. Though they can be bullied by more aggressive tankmates, False Penguin Tetras will co-exist peacefully with most fish.

When planning an aquarium for your False Penguin Tetras, make sure to provide them with plenty of floating plants and décor to hide in. They will be most active in a tank with lots of covers and in a school of eight or more individuals.

13. Congo Tetra

Congo Tetra

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 3.2″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallons
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

If you’re looking for a larger tetra species, Congo Tetras are one of the larger aquarium breeds. Congo Tetras are iridescent blue and orange fish with long, transparent fins. Male Congo Tetras tend to be much brighter than their female counterparts.

Congo Tetras prefer to live in schools of six or more individuals and do best in peaceful community tanks. They tend to be sensitive to bad water quality, and are therefore recommended for aquarists with some experience under their belts.

Though Congo Tetras will get along with most fish species, its best to keep them with other peaceful fish, as aggressive and nippy tankmates will see their long fins as easy targets.

14. Serpae Tetra

Serpae Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Nippy, assertive
  • Maximum Size: 1.6″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

Serpae Tetras, also known as Rosy Tetras, are another tetra species that contradicts the stereotypes. Serpae Tetras have feisty personalities that are just as bold as their orange and black coloration, making them a poor addition to peaceful community tanks.

When choosing tankmates for your Serpae Tetras, consider choosing other active and assertive species. Serpae Tetras should not be placed with fragile or long-finned species, as they tend to nip at the fins of their tankmates.

Their challenges aside, Serpae Tetras are the perfect tetra species for the biology enthusiast. When placed in schools of ten or more individuals, Serpae Tetras form complex hierarchies and perform fantastic sparring and schooling displays. If you enjoy studying the antics in your aquarium, the Serpae Tetra is the fish for you.

15. Blind Cave Tetra

Blind Cave Tetra

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Maximum Size: 3.5″
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Diet: Omnivore

If you want a conversation piece for your aquarium, look no further than the Blind Cave Tetra. The Blind Cave Tetra, also known as the Blind Mexican Cave Tetra, is a fish that has evolved to live in the complete darkness of freshwater cave systems.

As their name suggests, Blind Cave Tetras are pink fish that have evolved to have no eyes, making them completely blind. This adaptation comes with both benefits and challenges.

Blind Cave Tetras cannot see, so they do not require any specific tank features. However, if you want them to feel most comfortable, consider adding caves or overhangs to your tank décor.

Blind Cave Tetras need peaceful tankmates that won’t take advantage of their lack of sight. Though Blind Cave Tetras will occasionally nip at their tankmates while they search for food, they are a peaceful species that will happily thrive in a peaceful community tank.

Final Thoughts

When most people think of tropical freshwater aquarium fish, they usually think of tetras. With their peaceful dispositions, enthusiastic personalities, and a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, tetras are a fantastic addition to almost any tank. While this list introduced some of our favorite tetras, it nonetheless only scratched the surface of the wonderful, whimsical species that this family has to offer.

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