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Emperor Tetra Care & Info

In need of a schooling fish to spruce up the middle water layer of your aquarium? Not really into the idea of the regular old neon tetra or harlequin rasbora? Look no further: the emperor tetra is likely exactly what you’re looking for. 

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping this regal tetra species in your freshwater tank!

Name (common, scientific)Emperor tetra, Nematobrycon palmeri
Minimum tank size40 gallons (long)
Minimum group size10
Temperature73.5-80.5 °F
Difficulty levelEasy

Emperor tetra description

Nematobrycon palmeri, also known as the emperor tetra, is a striking schooling fish that can reach a maximum size of around 1.5”. Naturally found in calm waters in Colombia, it makes a great option for the middle water layer of a tropical community aquarium.

Although the females are also a joy to look at due to their lively behavior, the larger male emperor tetras really steal the show. Their yellow fins, jet-black body stripe and iridescent blue eyes and back make them pretty hard to miss, particularly when they’re displaying and squabbling over territory.

Emperor tetra aquarium fish

Emperor tetra aquarium

The emperor tetra requires similar water values to most South American fish species. Often found in blackwater areas, it appreciates a low pH (although the captive-bred specimens in the aquarium trade will be fine up to 7.5). The water should be soft and, in ideal situations, darkened by tannins from leaf litter of driftwood. Plenty of live plants, possibly including floating species that dim the tank lights, finish the look.

The emperor tetra is a very peaceful species that will go fantastically with other calm fish in a community aquarium. It’ll get along just fine with peaceful bottom dwellers like Corydoras catfish or Pangio loaches, as well as fellow schooling fish like other tetras or rasboras.

Gourami and dwarf cichlids will also work, as the emperor tetra is large enough to avoid being harassed or eaten. That being said, anything significantly bigger should be avoided, lest these beautiful tetras might end up as dinner.

Keep in mind that the emperor tetra is a schooling fish that relies on the concept of safety in numbers in order to feel comfortable. A solo tetra is an unhappy tetra that won’t be much fun to look at. To keep things lively and fun, get a group of at least 10 emperor tetras. That’s a minimum; more is better and a very large group makes for an amazing display.

Caring for Emperor tetra

As long as you keep your aquarium clean by performing regular water changes and keeping an eye on your water values using a drop test kit, the emperor tetra is not very demanding.

Like other tetras this species feeds on small organisms in the wild. Luckily it takes dried foods in the aquarium, so any sufficiently small commercial pellet or flake food of high quality will work just fine.

Do keep in mind that variety is the key to a healthy fish, especially for those species that would normally consume live foods. Try switching things up regularly by feeding different (thawed) frozen foods, or even consider maintaining your own live food colony. All your fish, not just the emperor tetra, will be thankful! Daphnia or blackworms are easy starter options.


A South American biotope aquarium with a striking school of emperor tetras is an absolute treasure for the home. Dark water, driftwood and shimmering fish: few aquarists haven’t considered it at one point or another!

If you don’t feel like you have the time, energy and knowledge to set up and/or maintain your emperor tetra aquarium, we can help. We’re here for aquarists from design to maintenance, so contact us here if you just want to sit back and enjoy!

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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.

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