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Types of Tetras | 8 of Our Favorites (With Pictures)

Every aquarist has heard of popular tetra species like the neon tetra, cardinal tetra, and black skirt tetra. But did you know there’s more? There are actually hundreds of different types of tetras, many of which you can keep in your aquarium. Most are stunningly colorful and easy to care for.

Here’s FantaSEA’s ode to the tetra! Today, let’s have a look at 8 of our favorite tetra species—and discover the world beyond the neon.

What’s a tetra, anyway?

What makes a fish a tetra? Well, let us start off by noting that this is not a scientific term. The denomination of “tetra” used to apply to a specific genus of fish, Tetragonopterus, but most of the species in it have been moved to a wide range of other genera.

Because it’s not a scientifically defined name, aquarists can technically slap the denomination of “tetra” on any fish. For example, there’s a species often called the “vampire tetra” (Hydrolycus scomberoides) that can grow to over a foot in length—a true monster fish with immense teeth.

Usually, however, tetras are small. They roughly share the following characteristics:

  • Belong to the scientific order Characiformes
  • A tiny fin between the dorsal (back) and caudal (tail) fin, called the adipose fin
  • Generally no more than 3″ in length
  • Schooling or shoaling fish
  • Usually brightly colored and patterned

There are over 150 different genera of tetras. The ones you’ll most commonly encounter in your local aquarium store include Hyphessobrycon, Hemigrammus, and Moenkhausia, though there are many more to choose from.

Below, we’ll highlight some of our favorite tetras beyond the good ol’ neon. Let us know in the comments which one you like best!

Cardinal tetra fish, one of the most popular types of tetras, in a densely planted tank.
The cardinal tetra and its neon cousin are by far the most popular types of tetras available. We love them, but it’s true they are a little overdone.

Types of Tetras: FantaSEA’s 8 Favorites

Buenos Aires Tetra
(Psalidodon anisitsi)

Tank size30+ gallons
Difficulty levelEasy

We’re kicking off the list with the pretty Buenos Aires tetra, which is named after its natural occurrence in the Argentinian Buenos Aires province. This is not the only place it can be found, though: it inhabits the entire La Plata river region, which stretches into Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil.

Relatively large for a tetra at a maximum size of around 3″, this is a colorful species sporting a silvery body and a characteristic red tail fin with a black spot. There’s also an albino version. Due to its size, the Buenos Aires tetra is best kept in an aquarium of 30 gallons (long) or larger.

This tetra is hardy and not too difficult to keep, known for its wide pH and temperature range tolerance. In fact, although it’s often considered a tropical fish, it can handle temperatures as low as 64 °F just fine!

Buenos Aires tetra do well in community aquariums. Do keep in mind that this species is rather active and can even turn to fin-nipping if it’s not kept in groups of at least about 8 fish. The best tankmates are ones that don’t mind their high activity level and can stand their ground where needed, like Corydoras catfish.

Tip: You’re likely to find this tetra for sale under its old name, Hyphessobrycon anisitsi. It was recategorized to Psalidodon in 2020.

Opening the Trojan horse: phylogeny of Astyanax, two new genera and resurrection of Psalidodon (Teleostei: Characidae)
Buenos Aires tetras in the aquarium, close-up

Rummy Nose Tetra
(Hemigrammus rhodostomus)

Tank size20+ gallons
Difficulty levelIntermediate

If you’re in search of a good addition to your South American biotope tank, stop right here. Hemigrammus rhodostomus, also known as the rummy nose tetra, is naturally found in the dark waters of the Amazon basin and will love a similar environment in the aquarium.

Keep the red-faced rummy nose tetra in a tank of at least 20 gallons (long), preferably in a group of at least around 8 specimens. Tankmates should be calm and not bother these peaceful fish. Other small schooling species, as well as dwarf cichlids that hail from similar waters, like Apistogramma agassizi, make a good choice.

Keep in mind that rummy nose tetras are considered less hardy than some of the other species on this list. They’re sensitive to low water quality, so be sure to only introduce them into a fully cycled and mature aquarium.

Did you know? There are multiple types of tetras commonly referred to as the rummy nose tetra. Hemigrammus rhodostomus, Hemigrammus bleheri, and some Petitella species are easily mixed up with “true” rummy noses, but luckily their care requirements are pretty much the same.

Rummynose tetra close-up in a planted aquarium

Bleeding Heart Tetra
(Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma)

Tank size30+ gallons
Difficulty levelIntermediate
TemperamentMostly peaceful

The impressive bleeding heart tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythostigma) was named for the striking red dot on the side of its rosy-silver body. It’s naturally found in the upper Amazon Basin, where it inhabits slow-moving tributaries with plenty of vegetation, leaf litter, and fallen branches.

This species makes a great choice for peaceful Amazon-style community aquariums. It likes soft and acidic water and doesn’t usually bother its tankmates, although it can show territorial aggression towards species that look similar. We’d avoid keeping it with other tetras.

Because the bleeding heart tetra can reach a size of up to 2.5” and should be kept in groups of 8 or more, it’s a good idea to go for an aquarium of 30 gallons (long) or up. This gives these active fish plenty of space to move around and show their natural territorial displays.

Bleeding heart tetra fish in the aquarium, close-up

Emperor Tetra
(Nematobrycon palmeri)

Tank size30+ gallons
Difficulty levelEasy

Probably the most spectacular species on this list is the appropriately named emperor tetra (Nematobrycon palmeri). Its coloration (rosy-silver body, yellow-black fins, jet-black horizontal stripe and bright blue eyes), as well as the males’ impressive fins, make this a gorgeous addition to your South American set-up.

Luckily, the emperor tetra is not just nice to look at, but also quite easy to keep and suitable for beginning aquarists. It withstands a wide range of water conditions as long as the aquarium is fully cycled and clean, and will play nice with pretty much any peaceful tankmate you can think of.

Although emperors are relatively small, we’d still recommend an aquarium of at least 30 gallons (long). They really look and act their best when kept in groups of 10 or more, after all, and they’re pretty active swimmers.

You can find everything you need to know about caring for this fish in our full emperor tetra care guide!

Colorful emperor tetra swimming in a planted aquarium

Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus)

Tank size55+ gallons
Difficulty levelIntermediate
TemperamentTimid but nippy

Why, hello there! If you’re looking for an extremely flashy tetra species to add to a larger aquarium, the Congo tetra may be just the thing for you. The males of this species sport a veritable rainbow of different hues, from silvery to blue and even orange. The females aren’t quite as colorful, but still very nice to look at.

As its name suggests, this tetra is naturally found in the Congo River, which runs through West to Central Africa. One of the larger types of tetras at 3″, it should be kept in groups of at least 8. Due to these factors, plus the Congo tetra’s active nature, we would recommend keeping these in a tank of 55+ gallons.

Congo tetras are shy and vulnerable to fin nipping, but they’re also known to be somewhat nippy themselves. For the best results, keep them with species that don’t bother them. Fish that inhabit different water layers, like catfish, should work well.

You can find out everything you need to know about this beautiful species in our full Congo tetra care guide!

Congo tetra fish in a planted aquarium

Black Neon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi)

Tank size20+ gallons
Difficulty levelEasy

Like neon tetras, but want to go for something a little more original? Consider the neon’s goth cousin: Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi, better known as the black neon tetra. Although this species lacks its cousin’s bright reds and blues, it’s still a very nice fish to look at!

The black neon tetra is naturally found in Brazil, where it inhabits small tropical streams and tributaries. These waters are characterized by their heavy vegetation, medium flow, and usually light brown color.

You can keep a group of 8+ black neons in an aquarium with a water volume of 20 gallons or up. They like a heavily planted tank. Thanks to their peaceful nature, you can combine them with most small species that appreciate similar water parameters (soft and acidic water).

Did you know? Ironically given the species’ common name, an albino (and thus, white) version of the black neon tetra exists.

Black neon tetra close-up in the aquarium

Diamond tetra (Moenkhausia pittieri)

Tank size20+ gallons
Difficulty levelEasy
TemperamentSlightly nippy

Although like many aquarium fish, the diamond tetra can look a little drab in the less-than-ideal environment of an aquarium store, you’d do well not to overlook it. This is in fact an absolute stunner, named for the beautiful shimmering scales and colors it displays once it’s had some time to settle into a suitable tank.

Naturally found in Lake Valencia in the South American country of Venezuela (where it’s unfortunately considered threatened), the diamond tetra grows to a maximum size of around 2.5″. You can keep a group in an aquarium of 20 gallons (long) and up.

Diamond tetras will display the best colors in a heavily planted tank with a dark substrate and relatively dim lighting. They like soft and acidic water and are considered reasonably peaceful, although they are likely to nip at long-finned tankmates.

Diamond tetra fish close-up in the aquarium

Rosy tetra (Hyphessobrycon rosaceus)

Tank size
Difficulty levelEasy

Let’s wrap up our list with another Hyphessobrycon species! And it’s a beauty, too, with the males sporting rosy bodies and mostly red fins (though the dorsal fin can be either black or white). The females are more silvery, but they still have some colorful markings that make them stand out from other fish.

The rosy tetra is naturally found in South America, specifically in the tropical countries of Guyana and Suriname. Here, it inhabits slow-flowing streams and tributaries that are usually stained very dark by tannins from wood and leaf litter.

You can keep a group of these beautiful tetras in an aquarium of 20 gallons (long) or up. The ideal would be a blackwater biotope with plenty of leaf litter and other décor; in a bare set-up, the species’ colors become washed out.

Rosy tetras aren’t known for being nippy. In fact, they’re somewhat timid, so you should avoid combining them with overly boisterous tankmates. Instead, if you want to keep rosies in a community aquarium, be sure to choose small, peaceful companions for them.

Rosy tetra fish swimming in a planted aquarium

Need help?

Looking to set up your own aquarium but lack the time or knowledge to get things right? Our job is to get our hands wet so you don’t have to. FantaSEA Aquariums can set up and maintain your tank so all you have to do is enjoy it.

Ready to get started? Contact us and we can begin planning your brand new fish tank for you!

Sources & further reading

Terán, G. E., Benitez, M. F., & Mirande, J. M. (2020). Opening the Trojan horse: phylogeny of Astyanax, two new genera and resurrection of Psalidodon (Teleostei: Characidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 190(4), 1217-1234.

Photo of author

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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