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 more popular because of their small size and relatively inexpensive price, but they often prefer softer water and lower pH environments. African tetras, on the other hand, tend to be larger and more accepting of a wide range of water parameters, so they can be kept in community aquariums with bigger fish. Learn about some of the best-selling tetras at our fish store.
1. Black Neon Tetra
This underrated fish is one of our absolute favorites to recommend to both beginners and seasoned aquarists because they are so hardy and practically bulletproof. 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. 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
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. The reason why it has the common name “x-ray tetra” is because it has a semitransparent body that allows you to see some of its internal organs (especially if you get the gold or albino varieties). The normal type of x-ray tetra has a silvery color with a reddish tail and eye-catching yellow, black, and white markings on its fins. This species is another great pick for newbies because they are adaptable to a broad spectrum 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. 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). Additionally, they enjoy warmer waters and are frequently kept with discus, German blue rams, and Sterbai corydoras. Keep them well-fed because higher temperatures can increase their metabolism. For more info, see our full care guide.
4. Silver Tip Tetra
If you’re looking for a very interactive schooling fish, you have to try silvertip tetras. 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. When you get a big group of these energetic tetras and put your hand up to the glass, they will gather in a frenzy and follow your fingers from side to side. 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 colorful males feature a red-orange horizontal stripe with shiny blue scales underneath and long, flowy finnage edged in white. Females are smaller and have more of a silvery-gold sheen. Congo tetras thrive in a diverse set of water parameters and can be housed with bigger, peaceful fish that won’t nip their fins. We have even used them as dither fish for our shy clown loaches in the past.
6. Rummy-Nose Tetra
Currently, there are three similar-looking species of South American fish that are commonly sold as “rummy nose tetras.” This 2-inch (5 cm), slender-bodied fish is known for its bright red snout with black and white horizontal striping on 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. These fish are also prized for their tight 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
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 like to keep this 1.5-inch (4 cm) tetra with similar-sized, blue-colored tank mates because the complementary colors create an eye-catching combination.
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 entire body is translucent orange, which looks amazing against a background of green aquarium plants. Like many tetras in this article, they like to swim in the middle of the aquarium, so you can keep them with bottom-dwelling corydoras and surface-dwelling hatchetfish to fill out the rest of the space. Because of their minute size, feed them tiny, slow-sinking foods like frozen cyclops, baby brine shrimp, and nano pellets.
9. Lemon Tetra
If orange is not your style, how about a lemony hue instead? This 1.5-inch (4 cm) species has a bold red eye and translucent yellow body that really pops against a black background. Many times, juveniles at the pet store look rather pale and colorless, but take them home and watch their true pigmentation develop 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
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. If you are willing to pay for something a bit rarer in the hobby, consider this stunning species. 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 1.2-inch (3 cm), surface-dwelling species enjoys spending time near the top of the aquarium, so get a tight-fitting lid to prevent them from jumping out. Like their namesake, they have a narrow, pencil-like shape and pointed mouth. Therefore, feed them little floating foods, such as Easy Fry and Small Fish Food, daphnia, and crushed krill flakes that will bring out their crimson colors. 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. Best of luck with your community aquarium and enjoy nature daily.