How to Keep Your New Tetras
Info from Aqualand Pets Plus on tetra species

 
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Basic Tetra Factoids

Origin

Amazon River (mostly)

Maximum Size

Most 2 to 3 inches

Longevity

3 to 5 years

Housing

Bigger the better

Security

Likes plants

Temperature

Prefers 75 to 82o

Attitude

Always schools

Foods

Not picky.  Loves live foods.

Water

Needs clean water.  Likes darker water.


LA
Neon tetras -- possibly everybody's' favorite fish and every predator's favorite dish.

LA
Even more of the cute little guys.

LA
Another neon crowd scene (of one-inchers).

LA
Gold neons do not represent any giant leap in fishkeeping.

LA
Cardinals closely resemble the neons.


Great Community Fishes.  Looking for a community fish that won’t beat the stuffing out of your other fishes?  You can’t go wrong with tetras -- the perfect community fish -- with a few notable exceptions ...

LA
Incredibly nasty buck-toothed tetras will intimidate much larger piranhas.

LA
Exodon paradoxus will rough up any fishes you try to keep with them.

Good Tank Mates.  Sure there are a few exceptions.  The illegal in Des Moines piranha comes to mind.  (We plan to talk to the new Mayor about that before you read this.)  The bucktooth tetra, pacú, vampire tetra, and freshwater barracuda also belong on your nasty list.   But on the whole, tetras make the perfect tank resident for most people.

LA
Even in large tanks, most tetra schools will not disperse.  They like each other.

LA
Even more of them.

LA
Red and blue Columbian tetras.

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Pair of diamond tetras.

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Older male diamond tetra.

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LA

LA
Head and tailite tetra.

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Black phantom tetra -- male.  Note extended dorsal fin.

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Another male.

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1-inch male black phantom tetra.

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Black phantom tetra -- female.  Note red pectoral fins.

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Red phantom tetra.

Schools.  All our tetra labels say “schools.”  Tetras swim in large groups known as shoals or schools.  Very few tetras enjoy life as singles or even as pairs.  They want to run with their own kind – lots of their own kind.

LA
Harlequin rasboras mix well with tetras but will not school with them.

LA
Brilliabt rasbora.

LA

Keep them in as large a group as possible.  Otherwise, you never see how they interact naturally.  We recommend a minimum of five.  In the wild they would gather in groups of thousands.

LA
Pencil fish give you a very different looking tetra.  This pencil swims at this odd angle.

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Another one.

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Schooling fish.

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1-inch Beckfords pencil fish, male and female.

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1.5-inch Beckfords pencil fish.

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Obviously a schooling fish.

LA
Three-line pencils work well in small tanks

LA
Penguins also swim at this odd angle.

LA
Ditto.

LA
More ditto.  Better colors over darker substrate.

LA
They also color up better in groups.

LA
3-inch black tail hemiodus.

Tetras won’t school with other tetras of a different species.   Tetras of different sizes and still the same species will school together.  You will see the various species school in different parts of your tank.  

LA
Nearly all the tetras school -- neons school best.

One reason they school is for protection against predators.  Most tetras are “bait-size”  and quite tasty. 

Tetras fit perfectly into the mouth of most cichlids.  The cichlid always gets a few but the school survives to continue its species.

Good Eaters.  You probably can’t name a picky tetra.  They eat whatever food you give them.  You might not know it, but most tetras have teeth.  They like meaty foods.  Most flake foods appeal to them.  They consider frozen brine shrimp and other frozen “bugs” very special treats.  And they really appreciate live black worms.  

LA
If your tetras look washed out, try one of the color foods to bring out their potential.

LA
Red-eye tetra.

LA
Another red-eye.

Color Foods.  The reds, blacks, blues, and greens in tetras respond quite well to the various color foods.  Color foods help bring out the full potential of most tetras.

Substrate.  Light colored gravels tend to bleach out most tetras.  Gravel colors to avoid include white, yellow, orange, and red.  The fluorescent gravels also cause them to hide their true colors.  Put them over dark gravels.  If you prefer natural colors, use a darker natural colored gravel.

Light.  Some hobbyists feel that darker tanks help bring out their colors.  However, using dim bulbs in your fixture really defeats your purpose.  You can’t see them in a dark tank.  Use a bright bulb but temper it with plants.  You get the best colors from tetras as they swim into different areas of lighting.

Plants.  Tetras love plants.  Some (like the silver dollars) eat them.  But most like plants because of the security the greenery gives them.  When threatened, they dart to safety in the friendly fronds.  The more places they have to hide, the more time they spend swimming out front in the open areas.

LA
Only specialists should keep the mondo size pacús.

Decór.  No one ever complains about their tetras tearing up their decorated tank -- except pacú keepers.  Or maybe silver dollar keepers.  Tetras are the perfect fish for aquascapers to include in their tanks.  Most plants fare well at pH levels in the slightly acidic to neutral range.  Ditto tetras.  Planted aquaria and tetras belong together.  

LA
Pair of Congo tetras spawning on bottom of their 55.

LA
Congo tetras come from a different continent.  They like the same type of water.

LA
Like most tetras, Congos like to school.

Water Conditions.  Yes, most tetras originally came from acidic waters in South America.  Some still do.  We occasionally acquire wild-caught specimens but not very often.  Cardinals quite often come from the wild, which is why so many of them do poorly at first.  Most come from fish farms in Florida or Singapore.  

LA
Hatchet fishes jump like little flying fishes.  Keep them covered.

LA
And they prefer to stay right at the top.

LA
Hatchets also prefer to school.

LA
Scissortail tetra.

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LA

LA
Glolite Tetra.

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Black neon.

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1.5-inch black diamond tetra.

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Rummynose tetra.

Change Your Water Regularly.  Do not try to duplicate their original water conditions unless you intend to spawn a particularly difficult species.  Tetras get along great in plain old Iowa water.  Yes, the “blackwater extracts” help some species color up.  Use these wisely.  Don’t just pour them in your tank willy-nilly.  Follow the directions.  Change the chemical composition of your water very carefully.  Regular water changes usually help more than chemical additives.

LA
Most cardinals come directly from South America.  They're among the hardest to spawn.

Spawning.  Tetras usually spawn in groups as opposed to pairs.  A well-conditioned school of tetras probably spawns at least weekly.  The parents and all other fishes in your tank all enjoy caviar.  You won’t get any babies unless you take several extra steps.

LA
Male bleeding hearts grow much longer dorsal fins -- clear back to his tail on mature specimens.

LA
HY511.

Sexes.  Females are usually rounder in the belly and just slightly less colorful than the males.  Males color up more, especially at breeding time.  Both sexes become more colorful and active at breeding time.  Using color foods can confuse them. You should probably stop using color foods, if you decide to breed them.

LA
Diamond tetras sparkle with reflected light.  Keep your eye on that reddish serpae.

LA
Similar shaped but smaller lemons.

LA
Closer up shot of a lemon tetra.

LA
Albino pristella tetra -- probable male..

LA
Ditto probable female.

LA
Long-fin serpaes catch your eye even more than regular serpaes.

LA
i.5-inch tetra von rio -- also known as the flame tetra.

Conditioning.  Separate the sexes if you intend to breed them.  Otherwise they breed at their convenience, not yours.  Healthy males and females separated for two weeks will usually spawn within 24 hours when reunited.  While they’re apart, condition them on several small feedings daily.  And give them a frozen or live food daily.  Plump them up.  When they start looking as if they already ate before you feed them, they are ready to spawn.

Faux Breeding Tank.  Put a layer of marbles on the bottom.  Add some spawning mops (made of nylon or Orlon) attached to cork floats.  Fill it half full of water aged 48 hours.  Add NovAqua and an airstone.  Add your school of conditioned tetras in the evening.  Leave your tank lights off and darken the room.  They will usually spawn in the morning. 

Add No Food.  Do not feed your breeders.  Any food introduced increases the food sources of all types of bacteria.  You sure don’t need any extra bacteria.  Take out the egg-eating breeders after they spawn.

Natural Breeding Tank.  Use pebble-sized natural gravel in a tank well planted on one end.  Plant with bushy, fine-leaved varieties that will catch the semi-adhesive eggs.  Natural tanks look better but are harder to keep in breeding condition and impossible to sterilize.  Their biggest plus is their high content of infusoria first foods for the fry.

Remove Parents.  If you do not remove the parents, the newly hatched, eyelash-sized fry are instant bait.  The babies swim up and attach themselves to the glass where the parents pick them off like popcorn.  Baby fish are the true natural fish food that most fishes eat in the wild.

First Food.  If you are not ready with several cultures of infusoria, all your work has gone for naught.  Most of your tetra fry will starve.  A few will always survive on the infusoria that naturally grow in every tank.  But if you feed them right, you will harvest 100-300 babies per female.  They have lots of very tiny eggs.  You need to work out a method of successfully raising infusoria before you try spawning tetras.  Do not depend upon those so-called egglayer powdered foods or infusoria powders.  Tetra fry will not eat those until they are at least two weeks old.  By that time most will have starved to death.  

LA
Black skirt tetras look best when kept in large groups (in clean tanks).  Easy spawners.

LA
Black tetra chompng on a turtle food stick.

LA
Not a real picky eater.

LA
1.5-inch blushing longfin tetra.  New to us August, 2012.  Looks like a black tetra.

LA
White black skirt tetra dyed blue.

LA
Genetically modified "glofish" white tetra,
September 8, 2013.

LA
Gold version, September 8, 2013.

LA
Emperor tetras also look good in bunches.  Not so easy to spawn.

LA
Black emperor tetra with ich.

LA
Later batch.

LA
Black neons are not really neons.  Still look good in groups.

Best Spawners.  Don’t beat your brains out trying to spawn the tougher species that come from “blackwater” areas.  Their eggs are so light sensitive, you will unlikely ever see one of their fry.  Try some of these easier spawners:

·         Black tetras,

·         Head and tail lights,

·         Flame tetras,

·         Black neons,

·         Lemon tetras,

·         Diamond tetras,

·         Red-eyed tetras.

Get a few of these under your belt before trying the neons.  The tetras on this list will usually breed for you without forcing you to jump through hoops or import water directly from Brazil.  A school of a hundred or so tetras (no matter what species) looks very impressive -- even more so when you can say you did it yourself.

Small Tanks.  Tetras never get huge (okay, the Pacú is an exception) which makes them perfect for small tanks.  Ninety percent of the people that keep fish, keep them in 10-gallon tanks.  These tanks were made for tetras and vice versa.  You don’t need a 55-gallon tank to enjoy a school of tetras, but you will enjoy them more in a large tank.  There were 1,100 neons in the 55 at the top of this page.  The pic blurred a bit because one of them moved.  Note their fat little bellies.

Price.  Inexpensive best describes most tetras.  Of course, if you buy 100 or so, even tetras start running into money.

Temperature.  Most tetras prefer 75-80o water. The black tetras (also called black skirts and black widows) can take it down to 70o.  But most need tropical temperatures to live and prosper.  This makes them fit right in with other community fishes.

LA
Blind cave tetras can't bully your fish, but they do taste them when they bump into them.

LA
Blind cave tetras don't even have eye sockets.

Not Bullies.  Few tetras (never buy an Exodon paradoxus) beat up on your other fishes.  They get along with their own kind and respect their tank mates.

LA
We hardly ever see the x-ray tetra these days.

Snails.  Snails and tetras get along fine together.  Snails help clean up any food that falls to the bottom.  Tetras basically ignore snails.  

LA
New types show up from time to time -- albino red-eyed tetras.

LA
You just can't beat neon tetras.

LA
We like neons, so here's a picture of 1,300 of the little guys.

LA
They do look better in a planted tank.

In Conclusion.  You can’t beat tetras in small community tanks.  

Go to Larger Tetras

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