Types of Tetras - Planted Tank Mates
Rummynose tetra fishes schoaling

Types of Tetras


There are so many types of tetras in the planted tank community, it can be hard to choose one for your setup.  In general, they’re a smaller size fish that belong to the Characidae family.  They can be found in rivers, streams and ponds of Africa, South and Central America.  Known for their vibrant colors, they’re peaceful, hardy, and are easy to care for.  Of course, there are always the exceptions to a few tetras being aggressive or requiring strict water parameters.  Here’s a list highlighting some of the various types of tetras known for their distinct features.

Small Tetras

Ember Tetras are some of the smallest and most active tetras out there.  They’re less than 1” in size, have a vibrant orange color and are great for beginners.  Due to their small size, they always stay in groups and schoal for safety and comfort.  You can add a big group of Ember Tetras to a tank with large, peaceful fish.  Unlike some shy tetras, Ember tetras don’t hide and their social nature make them great dither fish, providing comfort for other timid tank mates.

ember tetras in planted tank
Ember Tetras – available on Amazon

Green Neon Tetra are easily confused with Neon and Cardinal Tetras.  They only get to about 1” in size and their greenish-blue stripe is more dominant across the body.  The red coloration is limited to the back side of their body, often faded and sometimes barely visible.  They don’t always stay in groups.  When comfortable, they’ll break away on their own and roam the tank, dispersing their vivid colors.  

green neon tetra fish side profile
Green Neon Tetra – available on Amazon

Large Tetras

Black Skirt Tetras can get up to 3” in size.  They’re not the most colorful fish, but their vertical black stripes and unique anal fin gave it the “skirt” name.  They’re peaceful and hardy fish, but do require a larger tank of at last 20 gallons.  You can pair them with smaller Ember tetras that are colorful and give a good contrast in size.

black skirt tetra planted tank
Black Skirt Tetra – available on Amazon

Congo Tetras became popular in the aquarium world for their striking iridescent colors and long, flowy fins.  They can get slightly larger than 4” and require at least a 30 gallon tank.  You can keep them with other non aggressive fish that are smaller or equal in size.  They do require softer and warmer waters, so keep the PH below 7 and provide a nutrient rich diet.  

congo tetras planted tank
Congo Tetras – available on Amazon

Bucktooth Tetra – Unlike most tetras, this one is really aggressive.  They’re predatory fish that go after insects in the wild and will even attack other fish, picking at their scales with their sharp teeth.  Although they may not have a prominent “rabbit” tooth, It’s easy to recognize them with the 2 black spots on their silver body, generally one in the middle and one towards the tail.  Growing up to 5” in size, aim for a species only tank that’s at least 50 gallons in size.

bucktooth tetra fish side profile

Popular Tetras

Cardinal Tetras are extremely popular for their vibrant colors and peaceful nature.  They’re often confused with Neon Tetras, but an easy way to distinguish them is by their continuous red stripe across the body.  Unlike neons, Cardinal Tetras are not hardy fish and require water parameters to be stable and acidic.  Try to keep water conditions stable and the PH under 7.  It would also help have a heavily planted tank as Cardinal Tetras can be shy and like to have places to hide.  

green neon cardinal tetra planted tank
Green Neon, Neon and Cardinal Tetra – available on Amazon

Rummynose Tetras are great shoaling fish.  They have silver bodies with striped tails and a red nose.  Unlike other shy fish, Rummynose Tetras like to stay in their groups and will swim back and forth in a wide tank.  This makes them a great addition for planted tanks with larger, peaceful fish.  They have been known to jump, so approach the tank slowly and try not to startle them.  Along with Cardinal Tetras, you can find Runnynose Tetras in many local fish stores.

rummynose tetra planted tank
Rummynose Tetras – available on Amazon

Bloodfin Tetras are similar in size and temperament to Rummynose Tetras.  They also have silver bodies but all their fins are highlighted red-orange, sometimes looking like a cool little shark.  They’re social fish and like to schoal in groups, so keep them in large numbers for an active tank. You can compliment their silver and red colors with smaller blue-green fish, like green neon tetras.

Bloodfin Tetras Planted Tank
Bloodfin Tetra

Unique Tetras

If you’re looking for an interesting add to your tank, definitely check out Silvertip Tetras.  They have a yellow-orange body with a white highlight on all of their fins.  This may not seem like something dramatic, but keep a large group and you’ll see a flutter of white dots move around.  What’s more interesting is their social and active nature.  Run your hands along the tank and watch them follow along.

silvertip tetras
Silvertip Tetras – available on Amazon

Glass Bloodfin Tetras are just like their Bloodfin Tetra cousin, except with a more transparent body.  They have a slight splash of yellow on their body and the right lighting conditions, you can even see their spine.  They may not be a showcase fish, but they’re definitely fun and interesting to observe up close.

glass bloodfin tetras planted tank
Glass Bloodfin Tetras

Pristella (X-Ray) Tetras are great community fish to keep in large groups.  They have a soft yellow-transparent body and their fins are striped with yellow, black and white.  Their tails can vary in color from a very subtle to vibrant red-orange.  What’s even more fun is their transparent body, hence the X-Ray name.  Their body is more tall compared to the other torpedo-shaped tetras and you can sometimes see their organs.  Peaceful, hardy and easy to keep, Pristella Tetras are definitely great fish for experience and beginner fishkeepers.

pristella x-ray tetra planted tank
Pristella (X-Ray) Tetras

All Things Considered

Tetras are a common staple in the planted tank community.  Their nano size and colorful patterns make them great for swimming around and through aquascapes.  Most are relatively easy to keep, but take notice of those that can be aggressive or have strict water requirements.  They’re small fish with a strong sense of community; so always keep them in groups.  Explore the different types of tetras for your planted tank and find out what’s your favorite.


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