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Congo Tetra Care & Info | Jewel Of The Congo Basin

When thinking of aquarium fish that hail from the waters of Africa, most minds will immediately go to the African cichlids from the rift lakes. But did you know there’s much more?

Some of the most beautiful species available in the aquarium trade are naturally found in Africa. One of them is the Congo tetra, an absolute jewel with flowy fins and shimmery shades of orange and blue.

Keep reading for everything you need to know to keep the Congo tetra in your own aquarium!

Name (common, scientific)Congo tetra, Phenacogrammus interruptus
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Minimum group size8
Temperature75-81 °F
pH6.0-7.5
Difficulty levelIntermediate

Congo tetra description

The Congo tetra is a pretty spectacular addition to the aquarium thanks to its intense orange coloration and metallic blues that can be seen shimmering from the right angle. Although the smaller females are notably less colorful than males and lack the flowy fins, they’re still quite lovely to see. 

With a maximum size of 3”, these fish are a bit larger than we usually imagine when thinking of tetras. They make a great eye-catcher for your aquarium when kept in an appropriately sized school, and are a popular choice for African biotope aquariums due to their relatively easy care.

Did you know? There are also selectively bred albino Congo tetras available.

Congo tetra fish in the aquarium
It can take a while for new Congo tetras to color up, but they’re gorgeous once they do.

Congo tetra range & natural habitat

As its name suggests, the Congo tetra is naturally found in the Congo River Basin (plus a connected lake known as Pool Malebo) in West-Central Africa. Its range includes the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A handy 2019 study of fish in the Congo River Basin tells us a lot about the habitat type preferred by the Congo tetra. It was most abundant in waters with the following characteristics:

  • Moderate water flow
  • Acidic to neutral pH
  • Sandy substrate
  • Abundant aquatic plants
  • Shaded by overhanging vegetation

The IUCN Red List considers the Congo tetra to be a species of Least Concern in its natural habitat, meaning it’s not threatened.

Congo tetra aquarium & tankmates

Aquarium

If you’re looking to set up a Congo tetra aquarium, the best route to take is heavily planted African biotope style. This allows you to really see the amazing colors of this species: in bare aquariums, they can become stressed and revert to a dull grey.

Luckily, the habitat characteristics mentioned above give us quite a lot to go on! Lots of plants, dimmed lighting, moderate water flow, and a sandy substrate are clearly the way to go. A pH between 6-7.5 should work well.

It’s advisable to go for at least a 55-gallon long aquarium. The Congo tetra is a large and active fish that should be kept in shoals, so it’s not a good choice for smaller tanks.

In terms of décor, any plant species is fine. If you want to keep it specific to the Congo tetra’s natural habitat, though, you can use the common Anubias, which happens to hail from the same waters. Nymphaea zenkeri, the popular red tiger lotus, is also a good option.

You can also add rocks and driftwood, though sure to leave some swimming space as well. The Congo tetra is an active swimmer that likes having room to move.

Tip: Like other fish that naturally inhabit flowing waters, the Congo tetra is used to a clean and well-oxygenated environment. The tank should always be fully cycled and it’s important to keep up with weekly water changes.

Tankmates

As mentioned, this is a shoaling fish. You should keep at least 8-12 Congo tetras: they’re rather shy and will be visibly uncomfortable when they can’t count on safety in numbers.

When it comes to tankmates, choose species that won’t bother your tetras too much. Special care should be taken to avoid fish that might nip the males’ long fins, which are irresistible to some species. Friendly catfish, other schooling fish, and peaceful small cichlids will make good neighbors for your Congo tetras.

If you want to keep things biotope-friendly, choose other species from the Congo River Basin:

  • Synodontis catfish
  • Butterflyfish (Pantodon)
  • Buffalohead cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius)
  • Pelvicachromis cichlids (like the kribensis)
  • Leopard bushfish (Microctenopoma fasciolatum)
  • Alestopetersius tetras

Long-finned species should be ruled out. Although peaceful and shy, the Congo tetra can be a little nippy at times.

Shoal of Congo tetras in a planted aquarium.

Congo tetra diet

Diet-wise, Congo tetras are omnivores and not picky at all. In the wild, they feed on a variety of bugs (worms, small crustaceans), as well as algae and pretty much anything else they can find.

In the aquarium, a high-quality mini pellet or flake food works just fine as a staple. Do be sure to switch things up regularly: variety is the key to a healthy fish.

Thawed frozen foods will be much appreciated, though it’s live foods that will really spark this species’ enthusiasm. You can also try greenery-based foods like spirulina tabs.

Breeding Congo tetras

Yes, the Congo tetra can be bred in the aquarium! It’s an egg-scattering species. The females usually spawn in moss or spawning mops, but the matter is complicated by the fact that they have no qualms about eating their offspring.

If you want to try your hand at raising Congo tetras, try the following:

  • Obtain a mixed-sex group of tetras and feed them nutritious live foods, keeping the water quality high.
  • Once the males have colored up nicely and begun to chase the females, which should hopefully be round with eggs, select a vibrant-looking pair.
  • Place the pair in a breeding tank with a sponge filter plus a few spawning mops or some Java moss. Match the water values in the main tank and keep the light dim.
  • If all goes well, the male will start displaying for the female, and she’ll eventually deposit a large amount (often hundreds) of eggs on the plants or mops.
  • Place the parents back in the main aquarium before they can eat the eggs.
  • It takes up to 7 days for the eggs to hatch. The fry feed on their yolk sacs for the first 24 hours, after which they can be started on powdered fry food or infusoria.
  • Once the fry have grown a little, they can be switched to baby brine shrimp.

Conclusion

A West African biotope aquarium that imitates the Congo tetra’s natural habitat, the Congo River Basin, is a fascinating addition to any home. Not sure how to go about setting one up? That’s where we come in: just contact us and we’ll get your dream aquarium installed.

Sources & further reading

Zamba, A. I., Vreven, E., Mamonekene, V., & Snoeks, J. (2019). Fish community assemblages in relation to environmental variables in the Lefini River, middle Congo River basin (Republic of Congo). Cymbium, 43, 83-95.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

2 thoughts on “Congo Tetra Care & Info | Jewel Of The Congo Basin”

    • You know, since they’re not bottom dwellers, they really don’t care much! If you really want to keep things as natural as possible, the Congo River Basin is mostly muddy, though there are probably larger particles mixed in. I quite like this Congo River biotope. This one’s pretty cool too. This care guide is due for an overhaul, so I’ll include that info 🙂

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