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10 Best Tetras for a Community Aquarium

Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.

Neon Tetras are among the most popular tetras for a freshwater aquarium.

Neon Tetras are among the most popular tetras for a freshwater aquarium.

Tetra is an overarching term applied to a wide range of tropical fish. They are typically small, schooling fish that come from South America, Central America, and Africa. Tetras are among the most popular fish in the aquarium trade because of their beautiful, vibrant colors and peaceful nature.

Whether you are a beginner trying to find the best tetras for your 10-gallon tank or an experienced aquarist looking for unique and exotic schooling fish, you’ll want at least one school of tetras in your aquarium. There are many species to choose from, some more common than others. In this article, you will read about ten of my favorite tetras.

Even though the tetras listed here are peaceful community fish, I still recommend doing due diligence and thoroughly researching them before you bring them home. Be sure they are an appropriate fit for your tank, and that they will get along with other fish you already own.

This article will get you started with some basic info on 10 of the best tetras for a community aquarium.

1. Neon Tetra

Neon tetras are widely available and very popular with fishkeepers of all ability levels. Because they are so small, reaching an adult length of only about one and a half inches, they are a great fish for beginners with small 10-gallon tanks.

They thrive in big tanks, too. I always say this, but in my opinion, there are few sights more attractive in the aquarium world than a large, heavily planted tank with a big school of neons.

Adult Size

1-1.5 inches

Temperament

Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size

10 gallons

2. Cardinal Tetra

The cardinal tetra is a popular relative of the neon. Cardinals tend to be slightly larger than neons. Another way to tell the difference is that their bright red stripe extends the full length of their body.

In addition to cardinals, there are also green neons and black neons, two similar fish you might consider for tanks 20 gallons or bigger.

Adult Size

2 inches

Temperament

Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

3. Black-Skirt Tetra

Black-skirts are a great addition to tanks with larger fish who might pose a danger to smaller tetras such as neons. With their sharp silver, black, and, white coloring, they really stand out when they school together.

Though they are generally docile, be aware that these guys can get a little nippy, and their long fins mean they are susceptible to getting nipped.

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Adult Size

2 inches

Temperament

Peaceful, sometimes nippy

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

4. White-Skirt Tetra

White-skirt tetras are another tetra you will commonly find in the aquarium trade. They are a genetic variation of the black skirt, and their care needs are the same.

Both black and white-skirt tetras will often disperse throughout the tank rather than group together like many tetras, only schooling closely when they perceive danger.

Adult Size

2 inches

Temperament

Peaceful, sometimes nippy

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

Bleeding Heart Tetra (Female)

Bleeding Heart Tetra (Female)

5. Bleeding Heart Tetra

Here is another slightly larger tetra you might prefer for tanks with bigger fish in them. Bleeding hearts have a vibrant red spot on their side, which is more prominent on the male than the female.

These fish are a good example of why we keep our schooling fish in groups of five or more, as they can nip fins when kept alone.

Adult Size

2-3 inches

Temperament

Peaceful, can be nippy

Minimum Tank Size

20 Gallon

6. Lemon Tetra

The lemon tetra is a colorful little fish with sharp black-and-yellow fins. Their bodies are yellow in color as well, and with proper care and feeding can be quite brilliant.

In fact, many fish keepers report that attention to diet, stress levels, and tank conditions play a major role in the vibrancy of these little fish.

Adult Size

2 inches

Temperament

Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

7. Rummy-nose Tetra

The rummy-nose tetra has unique coloring patterns that make it a favorite tetra in the aquarium world. It has a silver body with a black-and-white striped tail, and of course that bright red nose.

Rummys are such cool little fish. This is another species I like to see in large schools. They really pop in a planted tank.

Adult Size

2 inches

Temperament

Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

8. Congo Tetra

The Congo tetra is one of the largest tetras in this article, though still fairly small compared to many aquarium fish. And, unlike the other fish mentioned here so far, this one hails from Africa.

While they aren't really appropriate for an Amazon River biotope tank, you can sneak them in if you want to. They are peaceful, and like other tetras in this article will get along in a community setting.

Adult Size

3-4 inches

Temperament

Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

9. Emperor Tetra

Despite its name, the emperor tetra is not especially large, reaching an adult size of about 2 inches. It is a gorgeous fish, with a dark stripe running lengthwise and an iridescent, reflective body.

Males are especially colorful, and this is one way to tell the difference between the sexes.

Adult Size

2-3 inches

Temperament

Peaceful; may get nippy

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons

10. Diamond Tetra

One look at the diamond tetra and it is easy to see how it got its name. With its shiny scales, it will shimmer in your tank.

If you love the look of large fish like the bala shark or silver dollar but have enough sense not to try to stock them, this might be the best tetra for you.

Adult Size

2.5 inches

Temperament

Peaceful, may get nippy

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallon

Tetra Fish FAQ

Here are some questions and answers about keeping tetras in your freshwater aquarium.

How many tetras should be kept together?

Most tetras are schooling fish, which means you will want to keep at least five of them. Of course, this means you will need to choose fish wisely to make sure you have enough room in your tank.

Are tetra fish easy to care for?

Generally, tetras are easy to care for. However, they are susceptible to poor tank conditions, so you want to be sure you keep up with your aquarium maintenance program.

Do tetra fish need a heater?

Most tetras come from South America or Africa, and they are tropical fish. That means they need consistent temperatures around 78 degrees, and you will need a heater. Be sure to research the specific fish you are interested in so you know their exact requirements.

Do tetra fish get lonely?

While it is debatable whether fish get lonely or not, because most tetras are schooling fish they do prefer to live with others of their kind. Stock at least five to keep their stress levels low, but know that you can have a much larger school as well.

How many tetras can be put in a 10-gallon tank?

It depends on their size and what else lives in the tank. I would stock small tetras like neons in a 10-gallon. If there are no other fish, there can be as many as 8-10.

How to Care for Tetras

Keep these general points in mind before you decide to stock tetras in your freshwater aquarium:

  • Tetras are schooling fish. That means you’ll want to keep them in groups of at least five, preferably six or more. In the wild, living in large groups helps these tiny fish feel more secure. Hopefully, you won’t have any predators in your tank for them to worry about, but they don’t know this. Make sure you stock them in appropriate numbers so they can live as stress-free as possible.
  • Tetras can get nippy. Therefore it is so important to research the fish you intend to stock before you bring them home. Some tetras, such as black-skirts, tend to nip fins. You will want to avoid stocking them with long-finned fish they may decide to harass. Even otherwise peaceful fish like neons can get cranky when tank conditions aren’t ideal.
  • Monitor your water parameters. Poor water conditions have a big impact on little fish like tetras. Not only with their health suffer because of pollution in the tank, but they can become anxious and exhibit behaviors such as glass surfing. Bad tank conditions also increase the chances of peaceful fish becoming ornery and lashing out at their tank mates. You will need to keep up with water changes and other tank maintenance.
  • Do not overstock your tank. Because they are tiny schooling fish, you can get away with stocking greater numbers of tetras than most species. However, you still need to be careful not to overstock your tank. Not only with they feel overcrowded in an overstocked tank, but you’ll find the tank is much harder to care for

Schooling fish like tetras are some of the most enjoyable fish you can keep in your freshwater tropical aquarium. They are a peaceful, beautiful addition to your tank that adds wonderful splashes of color. In fact, you may wish to build a tetra-only tank with large schools of vibrant fish.

It’s up to you! Good luck with your tetras!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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