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Care Guide for Red and Black Phantom Tetras — Housing, Food, & More

When it comes to choosing the perfect schooling fish, there are so many options available at the local fish store. At Aquarium Co-Op, both black and red phantom tetras are very popular because of their striking appearance, energetic yet peaceful personalities, and hardiness. Learn about their easy care requirements when it comes to the aquarium setup, tank mates, preferred foods, and breeding.

featured image -  Red Phantom Tetra (Hyphessobrycon sweglesi)

School of red phantom tetras in a planted tank

What are Black and Red Phantom Tetras?

While these two tetras have similar common names and features, they are actually two different species. The reason why they are called “phantom tetras” is because the males have extended dorsal and anal fins that kind of look like the flowy tendrils of a ghost. In terms of their differences in appearance:

  • Black or shadow phantom tetras (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus) have a silvery-gray body, a tall and black dorsal fin, and a black, vertical oval that is located behind the gills. They grow up to 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long and have a very full-bodied profile compared to other tetras. They are sometimes confused with the black skirt tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) — a similarly colored but larger, 3-inch (7.5 cm) fish with two black bands and a wider anal fin.
  • Red phantom tetras (Hyphessobrycon sweglesi) are slightly smaller than black phantoms at around 1.25” (3.2 cm). They have a translucent red body with vibrant reds mostly in the face, fins, and tail, and there is a black, circular patch behind the gills. They are often mistaken for the serpae tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques), which has an anal fin edged in black and an oblong-shaped, black spot running vertically behind its gills. Plus, serpae tetras are known to nibble on plants, unlike red and black phantom tetras.

Both types of phantom tetras are peaceful but quite lively and fun to watch. You may notice them constantly pivoting directions or twitching their fins when hovering in place. As a schooling fish, they do best in a group of at least 6 or more of the same species. While the males may look more impressive than the shorter-finned females, the boys display the best colors, show off their beautiful finnage, and engage in interesting sparring behavior with each other when there are plenty of ladies around.

Black phantom tetra (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus)

Black phantom tetra with a full-bodied profile and prominent black patch that sometimes has white edging

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Phantom Tetras

Both species are found in various river basins of South America, with black phantom tetras coming from Bolivia and Brazil and red phantom tetras coming from Venezuela and Columbia. They’re usually found in slow-moving streams and flooded waterways, clustered around the aquatic plants and other hiding spots. Because of their active lifestyles, they would prefer a 15- to 20-gallon aquarium or larger with lots of plants and hardscape for cover, as well as some open space to freely swim in. Because they live in a wide range of habitats, they do fine in pH levels of 6.0–7.5, soft to moderate hardness, and temperatures between 70–82°F (21–28°C).

What fish can live with black and red phantom tetras? We personally have found them to be very peaceful and not prone to fin-nipping other fish, but it’s always a good idea to use a little caution when mixing Hyphessobrycon species with long-finned, slow-moving species like halfmoon betta fish. Common tank mates include other tetras, danios, pencilfish, corydoras, honey gouramis, dwarf cichlids, and otocinclus catfish. However, they will most likely make a snack out any dwarf shrimp or baby fish they find.

school of Red Phantom Tetra (Hyphessobrycon sweglesi)

Red phantom tetras in a planted tank with other tetras

What Do Red and Black Phantom Tetras Eat?

These omnivores are not picky eaters and will feed on anything small enough to fit in their mouths. In the wild, they enjoy hunting for insect larvae, worms, crustaceans, and other microfauna. For the home aquarium, they are happy to eat fish flakes, nano pellets, freeze-dried foods, and Easy Fry and Small Fish Food. You can also go to your local fish store to buy frozen daphnia, cyclops, and mini bloodworms. For extra enrichment or to condition them for breeding, live foods like micro worms and baby brine shrimp are also excellent choices. The key is to provide lots of variety in their diet to avoid any nutrient and vitamin deficiencies.

How to Breed Red and Black Phantom Tetras

If the fish happy and eating well, then phantom tetras will naturally spawn all the time in your aquarium, but the adults usually consume all the eggs. However, if you have tons of thick, dense plants, a few fry may survive here and there. To increase your yield, the trick is to protect the eggs from the adults. Prepare a breeding tank with slightly acidic pH, a sponge filter for gentle flow, and some kind of method of hiding or separating the eggs — such as a large mass of java moss or spawning mops, a layer of marbles as substrate, or a mesh barrier as described in our article on breeding egg-scattering fish. Condition the adults for breeding by spoiling them with lots of live and frozen foods that will entice their appetites. Once the females are swollen with eggs, place the adults in the breeding tank. Be prepared to remove them the next morning as soon as the females have deposited their eggs and are visibly slimmer than before. The tiny newborns must be fed nearly microscopic foods like vinegar eels, green water, and infusoria. After two weeks, they are usually large enough to start eating live baby brine shrimp, which is the best food for growing fry big and strong.

school of  black phantom tetra (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus)

Black phantom tetras swimming together

While we do not ship live fish, you can check out our list of online preferred retailers to see if they have any black and red phantom tetras in stock. For more inspiration on finding the perfect tetra, read our article on the Top 10 Tetras for Your Next Community Aquarium.

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