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 tend to be more popular due to their smaller size and relative affordability. However, they do prefer softer water and a lower pH environment. African tetras are more adaptable to a variety of water parameters and can be kept with larger fish in community aquariums. Find out more about our top-selling Tetras in our fish shop.


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. This 1.5-inch (4 cm long) fish features a red eye and a pair of horizontal black lines running 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. Luckily, black neon tetras are very cheap so you can buy a huge group to fill up a larger aquarium. You can make an amazing design by placing them in a large aquarium filled with green plants and a red fish as the centerpiece, like a betta or betta fish. For more details, read our complete care guide.

2. X-Ray Tetra or Pristella Tetra

Pristella maxillaris

Although many tetras are shorter and more torpedo-shaped than others, the pristella is a longer-bodied fish that can grow to as much as 2 inches (5 cm). Its semitransparent body makes it easy to see inside organs. The standard type of xray tetra will have a silvery body with a reddish tail, and striking yellow, black, or white fin markings. 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. 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). They also enjoy warmer water and are often kept with Sterbai corydoras, German bluerams, and discus. Because they can become more active at higher temperatures, it is important to keep them well-fed.

4. Silver Tip Tetra

Hasemania nana

Silvertip Tetras can be a highly interactive schooling fish. 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. You can get large groups of these energetic Tetras by placing your hand in front of the glass. They will follow you from one side to another. 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 African species is our largest tetra and it thrives in 30 gallons of fish tank. 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. The females are smaller and have a more 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 used them as dither fish to house our shy clown loaches.

6. Rummy-Nose Teetra

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 horizontal black and white stripes along its tail. It is sometimes called the “canary of the coal mine” by fishkeepers because its rosy color quickly fades when stressed. These fish are highly valued for their schooling habits. There is nothing quite like watching a group of rummynoses swimming back-and-forth in a beautifully landscaped tank.

7. Glowlight Ttra

Hemigrammus erythrozonus

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 are a result of the dark, tannin-rich waters in South America. Therefore, their fluorescent stripes may help them see each other better and allow them to stay together as a group. Because the colors complement each other, this 1.5-inch (4cm-tetra is a great 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 entire body is translucent orange which makes them stand out against the background of green aquarium plants. Like other tetras mentioned in this article they prefer to swim in central aquariums. This allows you to keep them with bottom dwelling corydoras as well as surface-dwelling larvae to fill out the remainder of the space. Due to their small size, you can feed them slow-sinking food like nano pellets, 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 shop often look very pale and colorless. But, take them home and see how their pigmentation changes over time. It’s okay to see males “sparring” among themselves. They are only showing off to the females, and rarely do any harm.

10. Coral Red Pencilfish

Nannostomus mortenthaleri

Pencilfish, technically, are not Tetras. But we wanted to include one because they are frequently categorized as Characins. If you are willing to pay for something a bit rarer in the hobby, consider this stunning species. They are wild-caught coral red pencilfish and tend to be fragile. They also require stable, high quality water. Plus, we strongly suggest that you first quarantine them in a separate area to prevent the spread of potential diseases.

The fire engine red color of males is well-known, while the flame engine pink of females is more common. However, they have black stripes that run down their bodies in high contrast. 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. For their vibrant crimson color, you can give them tiny floating foods such Easy Fry, Small Fish Food and Daphnia. Read our complete article on pencilfish for more information.

Our preferred online retailers can ship your favorite tetra to your home if you cannot find them at the local fish market. We wish you the best with your community aquarium. Enjoy nature every day.