Top 10 Tetras for your Next Community Aquarium

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, 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. Check out our fish store to learn more about the top-selling tetras.


1. Black Neon Tetra

Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi

This fish is an underrated gem that we love to recommend to beginners and more experienced aquarists. They are hardy and virtually bulletproof. 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. We recommend placing them in a tank with green aquatic plants and a red center fish, such as a betta fish, to create a stunning aquarium. For more details, read our complete care guide.

2. X-Ray Tetra or Pristella Tetra

Pristella maxillaris

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)

Because of their bright blue and red horizontal stripes, the cardinal tetras make a great addition to any aquarium. Sometimes they are confused with neon Tetras and green Neon Tetras. However, cardinal Tetras are slightly larger and have more red on the bodies. They are also able to swim in warmer waters, so they can be kept with Sterbai corydoras and German blue rams. You should keep them well-fed as higher temperatures can cause an increase in their metabolism.

4. Silver Tip Tetra

Hasemania nana

If you’re looking for a very interactive schooling fish, you have to try silvertip tetras. The color of mature males is bright yellow-orange, while the colors of their female counterparts are more yellow. Both sexes have distinct, sliver white tips on their tails and fins, as per their common name. 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. Keep them with other fast swimmers so they don’t get outcompeted at mealtimes.

5. Congo Tetra

Phenacogrammus interruptus

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 thrive in a diverse set of water parameters and can be housed with bigger, peaceful fish that won’t nip their fins. They have been used as dither fish in the past for our shy clown loaches.

6. Rummy-Nose Ttra

Hemigrammus bleheri

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. Because of its rosy color, fishkeepers call it the “canary” in the coalmine. Its color rapidly fades under stress so be aware of this warning sign and check your water conditions. They are prized for their very tight schooling habits. It’s amazing to see a large group of rummynose Tetras swimming around in a well-tended tank.

7. Glowlight Tetra

Hemigrammus erythrozonus

The common name is misleading. It’s not a genetically altered GloFish. Instead, it’s a naturally colored species that has a striking neon orange line along its silvery body and some of the fins. These fish are native to South America’s murky and tannin-rich waters. The fluorescent stripe may aid them in seeing each other so that they can form 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

Hyphessobrycon amandae

If you have a nano tank, ember tetras are a wonderful choice because they are only 0.8 inch (2 cm) long. Their translucent orange body looks great against a backdrop of green aquarium plants. They like to swim in the middle, just like other tetras. You can keep them with bottom-dwelling corydoras or surface-dwelling hatchetfish to take up the remaining space. You can feed them small, slow-sinking foods such as frozen cyclops and baby brine shrimp.

9. Lemon Tetra

Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis

You might prefer a more lemony shade if orange is not your favorite color. 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. If you see males “sparring”, it is normal and not harmful.

10. Coral Red Pencilfish

Nannostomus mortenthaleri

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. This stunning species is worth considering if you’re willing to spend a little more for something rarer. 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 well-known for their fiery red color. Females, on the other hand, are paler and have black stripes running down their body. The 1.2-inch (3-cm) surface-dwelling species loves to spend time at the aquarium’s top. To prevent them jumping out, get a tight-fitting lid. Their name is a reference to their pointed mouth and narrow, pencil-like face. 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. You can read the full article about pencilfish.

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.