Tetras make fantastic additions to the home freshwater aquarium. With a vast array of sizes and shapes, these jewel-like gems add color and visual interest to any aquarium. Freshwater aquarists from beginner to advanced love tetras due to their generally peaceful nature, fascinating personality, and curious color combinations. They really are some of the best freshwater fish on the market.
Since there are so many to choose from, how do you decide? Read on for our picks for 15 great tetras for your freshwater aquarium.
1. Ember Tetra
The Ember Tetra is one of our all-time favorite fish! This tetra is rather small and shy, so make sure there are plenty of plants and decorations to make them feel safe and give them places to hide. As with most tetras, they are most comfortable in groups. They need at least six specimens to be content, but they are so small that even bigger group numbers make them feel the most confident.
Because they measure in at between ½ to ¾ of an inch when fully grown, it is easy to accommodate large groups if you have a smaller tank set-up. They are great for community tanks, but make sure to keep them with tank mates with similar dispositions. Boisterous or aggressive tank mates will keep them from showing their best colors and cute personality. The Ember Tetra is also known as the Red Dwarf Tetra and the Fire tetra due to its color, which shines like glowing hot coals.
2. Black Phantom Tetra
The Phantom Tetra, also known as the Black Phantom Tetra, gets its name from the phantom ‘eye’ spot on its body. Then males are generally all black and grey while the female, seen above, often has a reddish-pink hue on its body. The Black Phantom Tetra does best in groups of eight or more. They grow to be almost two inches in length, so make sure your set up has enough space for all of them! They are a peaceful species, but the males can sometimes be territorial.
Keep a lookout for mirroring behavior. It will look like the two males are swimming together in tandem, but they are actually fighting. While they will not injure each other, constant fighting can cause stress. We don’t want stressed fish, so if you notice this behavior, add more plants or decorations so the feuding males can have their own territories.
3. Cardinal Tetra
The Cardinal Tetra is a perfect choice if you are looking to add a pop of color while maintaining a beautiful grace in your tank. The Cardinal Tetra has a red band that runs the length of its entire body, with an iridescent blue on top, and a cream-colored belly. They grow up to two inches in length and should be kept in groups of at least six.
They require incredibly steady water parameters, so they are recommended for intermediate to advanced aquarists. The Cardinal Tetra likes a home with soft lighting. But don’t worry, their bright bodies and personalities will shine even when the light is dim.
4. Red Eye Tetra
If you are looking for an elegant touch for your freshwater aquarium, look no further then the Red Eye Tetra. Their shiny silver and black bodies are enough to make them beautiful, but their red-topped eye gives an exciting pop of color. Like most Tetras, they like to be in groups with their own kind in a planted aquarium.
The Red Eye Tetra is also very hardy. They can tolerate a broader range of water conditions than most tetras, so they have a wider variety of tank mates with which they can live.
5. Rummy Nose Tetra
The Rummy Nose Tetra is another long-time favorite in the fish keeping world. Their white bodies contrast brilliantly with their striped tail. The red nose, where the Rummy Nose Tetra gets its name, adds a lovely splash of color. They are rather sensitive to water conditions, so make sure to check your parameters regularly.
The red nose also acts as a canary in the coal mine, so to speak, as it will turn a dull color if something is off or they are stressed. Having these lovely freshwater fish can also help to keep your tank in tip-top shape!
6. Ruby Tetra
The Ruby Tetra is possibly the most diminutive on our list, measuring in at only ½ – ¾ of an inch when fully matured. As their name implies, the Ruby Tetra is a dark red color with small black markings near their tails. They are tiny in size and very active, making them popular choices for planted nano tanks.
Because they are so small, make sure to pick tankmates that won’t consider these little fish as a snack. They are perfect tankmates to other peaceful fish, snails, and shrimp. The Ruby Tetra will show its best coloration when housed in a tank with dark substrate, plenty of plants (including floating plants), and fed a mostly carnivorous diet.
7. Black Skirt Tetra
The Black Skirt Tetra gets its name from its long, flowy fins that resemble a skirt. They are also occasionally referred to as the Black Widow Tetra, Petticote Tetra, and Blackamoor. This lovely silver-grey fish has black stripes and eyes. They are somewhat shy and prefer a home with places to hide, such as tall plants, caves, and rocks.
Like most other Tetras, they are happiest in groups of their own kind and make great additions to community tanks. The Black Skirt Tetra also enjoys dark substrate with leaf cover to mimic their natural habitat. Just make sure to replace the leaves every two or three weeks to keep your water clean.
8. Diamond Tetra
The Diamond Tetra gets its name from its brilliant scales that catch the light and sparkle with every color of the rainbow. Their red-orange topped eye makes them even more likely to draw attention. While they do like to be kept in groups, the Diamond Tetra prefers odd numbers and can be entirely happy with as few as three specimens.
They like soft water on the acidic side of the scale, so it is helpful to have some experience with fish keeping before adding the Diamond Tetra to your freshwater community.
9. Blue Tetra
The Blue Tetra, also known as the Cochu’s Blue Tetra, is a sapphire dream that hales from the Amazon River Basin. They are a fantastic, iridescent blue with accents of pink, which gives them a bashful, blushing expression. They love to be with groups of their own kind, so keeping at least six to eight of them together is a must.
While they only grow to two inches in size, they need plenty of tank space to themselves. If they feel too cramped, they might nip at each other or other tank mates. Make sure to have a home of at least twenty gallons set up for them. Like other tetras, they like a well-planted tank with plenty of cover for hiding places.
10. Neon Tetra
The Neon Tetra is possibly one of the most popular fish for beginning aquarists. Still, they remain popular for beginners and experts alike. They are straightforward to care for and make a beautiful display when kept in large groups. They love being with their own kind, and the more, the better. Having a group of fifteen to twenty will keep them very happy and make for a show-stopping display.
While similar in appearance to their cousins, the Cardinal Tetra, their bodies contain a more significant portion of light blue. Their red stripe extends only halfway up their bodies on the tail end. The Neon Tetra only reaches a little over an inch when fully grown.
11. Emperor Tetra
The regal look of the Emperor Tetra gives little doubt as to where it got its name. With translucent scales that shift and change in the light, its blue, purple, and pink body is elegantly offset with a thick black band that stretches tip to tail. The yellow fins contrast nicely with the brilliant blue eyes of this striking fish. They are tolerant of a variety of water conditions and do well with many other peaceful, community fish.
They do particularly well with some species of dwarf cichlids and pencil fish, as they originate from the same regions of South America. It is easy to tell the difference between male and female Emperor Tetras. The males have longer, more pointed fins and a tail fin with three prongs (like a trident). The females are also generally a little smaller and more rounded than the males.
12. Black Neon Tetra
The Black Neon Tetra is yet another Neon that will make your freshwater aquarium glow! Their silver-grey bodies come adorned with an onyx stripe that really stands our due to the neon white to yellowish-green stripe above it. The black strip almost seems to pixelate towards the bottom into tiny dots of green and yellow. The orangish top of its eye finishes off this incredibly exciting tetra.
The Black Neon Tetra is easy to care for and does best in tanks with soft, slightly acidic water. They love lots of plants, rocks, and driftwood that remind them of their native habitats. As they are schooling fish, they prefer to be kept in groups of at least five.
13. Black Emperor Tetra
A variation of the Emperor Tetra, the Black Emperor Tetra is a beautiful marvel to behold. Its body is almost entirely obsidian, with strikingly gorgeous, neon blue or green eyes. Its snout is a light tan color that blends down perfectly into its jet black body. As with the standard Emperor Tetra, it is easy to tell the males from the females. The males share the same three-pronged tail as their cousins, with the females being slightly smaller and rounder.
They are omnivorous and will show their best colors if they are given a varied diet with plenty of meaty foods such as blood worms and brine shrimp. They prefer their water on the acidic side with plenty of tannins, but they are adaptable fish. They can live quite happily with a wide range of water conditions.
14. Candy Cane Tetra
It is easy to see how the Candy Cane Tetra gets its name – its lovely red and white color, of course! The Candy Cane Tetra sports varied hues of pink and red, with shockingly white tips on its fins. They tolerate a pH anywhere between 5.5 – 7.5 and temperatures between 72 and 82 degrees, so you have plenty of tankmates to choose from for this peaceful, community fish.
In the wild, they mostly subsist on tiny insects and larva, so they love meaty foods. However, they are not picky and will eat almost any commercially available, high-quality flake and pellet foods. The males have longer dorsal fins than the females, and they love to be kept in groups of at least six or more.
15. Green Fire Tetra
Last but certainly not least is the Green Fire Tetra. This stunning fish sports scales of sparkling, translucent green with a bright red underbelly. They are a little more challenging to care for than many other tetras, so make sure to have some experience with fishkeeping before considering the Green Fire Tetra. They require water with a pH level between 6.6 and 7.0, so make sure to monitor your water parameters frequently.
These little fish measure in at around two inches when fully grown and prefer to be in groups of at least five. They are carnivores, so keep them healthy and colorful with a diet of live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods like blood worms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and high protein flake and pellet foods.
With such a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes, there is sure to be a tetra out there to compliment your freshwater aquarium set-up. There are plenty of varieties to choose from for both beginners and experts alike. We hope this list of 15 excellent choices for freshwater aquarium tetras has been helpful – Make sure to tell us which you’ve picked for your tank in the comments below!