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 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 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

Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi

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 red eye of the 1.5-inch (4cm) fish is accompanied by a pair white and black horizontal lines that run down its body. You will need to purchase a school of six fish, at least one of each species, so they are protected and feel safe. You can purchase large quantities of black neon tetras to fill larger aquariums. 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

Pristella maxillaris

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 type of x-ray tetra has a silvery color with a reddish tail and eye-catching yellow, black, and white markings on its fins. Another great choice for beginners is this species. They are adaptable to a wide range 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. Although they can be confused with neon tetras or green neon tetras sometimes, cardinal tetras are slightly larger than them and have more red skin. They are also able to swim in warmer waters, so they can be kept with Sterbai corydoras and German blue rams. They can be more metabolically active if they are kept well fed.

4. Tetra with Silver Tip

Hasemania nana

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. 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

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. In the past, we have used them as ditherfish for shy clown loaches.

6. Rummy-Nose Tetra

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. This fish is also highly prized for their close schooling behavior. It’s amazing to see a large group of rummynose Tetras swimming around in a well-tended tank.

7. Glowlight Tetra

Hemigrammus erythrozonus

Do not be misled by the common name. This is not a genetically modified GloFish, but a naturally colored species with an alarming neon orange line on its body and parts. They are a result of the dark, tannin-filled waters they grew up in South America. Their fluorescent stripes may help them see each other better and allow them to stay together as a group. 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

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. 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. You can feed them small, slow-sinking foods such as frozen cyclops and baby brine shrimp.

9. Lemon Tetra

Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis

Orange isn’t your thing? Try a lemony color instead. This 1.5-inch (4 cm) species has a bold red eye and translucent yellow body that really pops 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

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 rare species is worth looking at if you’re willing and able to pay a premium. Coral red pencilfish, which are wild-caught, tend to be delicate and require high quality water. To prevent potential diseases spreading, it is strongly recommended that you quarantine them in separate areas.

The fire engine red color of males is well-known, while the flame red of females is paler, but they still have high contrast black stripes that run 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. Like their namesake, they have a narrow, pencil-like shape and pointed mouth. They will respond well to small floating foods like Easy Fry and Small Fish Food. 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. Best of luck with your community aquarium and enjoy nature daily.