Bleeding Heart Tetra Basics: Origin, Tank Mates, and Care Guide

bleeding heart tetra
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Last Updated: May 9, 2023 by Flora Gibbins

Every now and then, I come across a freshwater fish species that truly takes my breath away. The Bleeding Heart Tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma) is one such fish. It’s like the romantic poet of the aquatic world, carrying what looks like a little red heart on its side. Intriguing, isn’t it?

It’s more than just about good looks, though. A school of these little charmers come packed with a delightful array of traits that make them a joy to keep in your aquarium. I’m talking about their vibrant energy, their unique colorations, and most importantly, their peaceful nature.

But before we dive into the details about Bleeding Heart Tetras, I want to share a fascinating tidbit with you: They dance. Yes, you read that right! In their natural habitats, Bleeding Heart Tetras perform a beautiful mating ritual that resembles a dance. It’s as if they’re painting a vivid picture of life under the sea, reminding us how beautifully complex and wonderfully simple nature can be.

So, if you’re intrigued, I’ve got more fascinating facts for you as well as tips on Bleeding Heart Tetra care. Let’s swim with this fish!

Bleeding Heart Tetra Facts and Overview

  • Common names: Bleeding Heart Tetra, Spotfin Tetra, Red Heart Tetra
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma
  • Adult size: Up to 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in length
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years, although some individuals can live up to 8 years with proper care
  • Colors and Markings: Silver body with a distinct red or orange “heart” marking on their side, black spot on the dorsal fin, and delicate, shimmering accents of green and gold along the body
  • Origin: Found in the Amazon River Basin, specifically in Peru and Colombia

Origin and Distribution

Let’s take a journey to the natural habitat of the Bleeding Heart Tetra. They are a wonderful freshwater fish species from the Amazon River Basin, specifically in the rivers and tributaries of Peru and Colombia. There, they thrive in slow-moving waters, surrounded by dense vegetation and plenty of hiding spots.

It’s been recorded that the water in their natural environment is typically soft and acidic, teeming with life and an abundance of food sources: small aquatic insects, crustaceans, and other small aquatic invertebrates. They are omnivores and also consume plant matter, such as algae and aquatic vegetation.

While the Amazon may seem worlds away from your home, the good news is that Bleeding Heart Tetras have been successfully kept in aquariums for decades. They first gained popularity among aquarists in the mid-20th century, and their charm has only grown since then. Today, they’re a beloved choice for community tanks, thanks to their peaceful nature and stunning appearance.

Now, you might wonder how to recreate the lush, vibrant environment of the Amazon in your own aquarium. Fear not! We’ll delve into the specifics of tank setup and ideal water parameters further down the line, ensuring you can provide a comfortable and suitable home for your Bleeding Heart Tetras. Just remember that mimicking their natural habitat is key to keeping these fish happy and healthy.


The Bleeding Heart Tetra has a silver, somewhat elongated body that reflects light beautifully, giving off an almost iridescent effect. But what truly sets these fish apart, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the striking red or orange marking on their side, which resembles a little heart. It’s from this unique pattern that they get their romantic name.

And there’s more! These fish also showcase delicate accents of green and gold along their body, which seem to shimmer as they swim gracefully through the water. Add to that the black spot on their dorsal fin, and you’ve got a fish that’s an absolute showstopper.

Another aspect that I find fascinating is their fin structure. Bleeding Heart Tetras have large, fan-shaped dorsal fins that taper down to their smaller anal fin. Their caudal fins are slightly forked, which helps them maneuver with ease.


One of the things that make this fish such a popular choice among aquarium hobbyists is their relatively long lifespan. With proper care and a well-maintained environment, Bleeding Heart Tetras live for around 5 to 8 years. It’s amazing to think that these small, lively creatures can be a part of your life for such a significant time.

Behavior and Temperament

Bleeding Heart Tetras are known for being peaceful, social freshwater fish that coexist harmoniously in a community aquarium. They’re active swimmers and tend to spend most of their time in the middle to upper levels of the tank. One thing I find particularly entertaining is watching them dart around playfully, exploring their environment with curiosity.

These fish are also schooling fish, which means they prefer to be kept in groups of at least six individuals. Trust me when I say, seeing a school of Bleeding Heart Tetras swimming together is truly a sight to behold. Keeping them in a group not only makes for a stunning display, but it also helps them feel more secure and keeps them from getting stressed out.

However, it’s important to note that during breeding season, Bleeding Heart Tetra behavior may change slightly. Males may become territorial and display some aggressive tendencies towards other males. But don’t worry, this behavior is generally short-lived and shouldn’t cause any significant issues in a well-maintained community tank.

Bleeding Heart Tetra Tank Mates

When it comes to picking tank mates for your Bleeding Heart Tetras, there are plenty of options to choose from. Given their peaceful temperament, these fish can coexist with a variety of other aquatic species. Personally, I’ve had great success with a diverse mix of tank mates in my own aquarium. However, it’s important to keep a few guidelines in mind to ensure a harmonious multi-species community tank.

Compatible Fish Species

Bleeding Heart Tetras get along well with other fish of similar size that have peaceful temperaments. Here are some excellent freshwater fish that can live happily with the Bleeding Heart Tetra:

  • Other tetras (e.g., Diamond Tetras, Pristella Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras)
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Small rasboras
  • Hatchetfish
  • Gouramis
  • Dwarf cichlids (e.g., Apistogramma, Bolivian Rams)
  • Small loaches (e.g., Kuhli Loaches)

Non-Fish Tank Mates

In addition to fish, you can also consider introducing some non-fish tank mates. I’ve noticed that my Bleeding Heart Tetras seem to enjoy the company of these critters:

  • Shrimp (e.g., Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp)
  • Snails (e.g., Nerite Snails, Mystery Snails)

Tank Mates to Avoid

While Bleeding Heart Tetras are generally peaceful, there are some species that you should avoid housing with them. Aggressive or predatory fish can cause stress and harm to your tetras. From my experience, these are some tank mates to steer clear of:

  • Large, aggressive cichlids (e.g., Oscars, Jack Dempseys)
  • Large, predatory fish (e.g., Arowanas, Bichirs)
  • Fin-nippers (e.g., Tiger Barbs, Serpae Tetras)

By choosing compatible tank mates and avoiding potential troublemakers, you can create a thriving, harmonious aquatic community that both you and your Bleeding Heart Tetras will enjoy.

school of bleeding heart tetra

Bleeding Heart Tetra Care

It’s time to dive into the finer aspects of Bleeding Heart Tetra care. To make sure that these captivating fish thrive in your aquarium, we’ll explore everything from tank setup and water parameters to feeding Bleeding Heart Tetras, so you can be confident in your ability to care for your new finned friends.

Tank Setup

The home that Bleeding Heart Tetras live in plays a crucial role in their well-being. By mimicking their natural environment, you’ll provide an environment in which they can thrive. I’ve found that paying attention to tank size, interior decorations, and equipment can make all the difference. Let’s take a look at each aspect in more detail.

Tank Size

Bleeding Heart Tetras are active swimmers, so they require a decent amount of space to move around. A tank size of at least 20 gallons is recommended for a small school of six tetras. However, if you plan on adding more fish or tank mates, you should consider a larger community tank.

What to Put in the Tank

To recreate the their home in the wild, consider including the following elements in your Bleeding Heart Tetra tank:

  • Live plants: These fish love swimming among plants, which also provide hiding spots and help maintain water quality. Choose aquatic plants like Amazon Swords, Java Ferns, and Anubias for a lush, green environment.
  • Hiding spots: Adding driftwood, rocks, or ceramic decorations can create nooks and crannies for your tetras to explore and hide in when they feel the need.
  • Substrate: Opt for a soft, sandy substrate or fine gravel, as this will be gentle on your Bleeding Heart Tetra fish and provide a natural look.

Equipment and Accessories

To maintain a healthy tank environment, you’ll need the following equipment:

  • Filtration system: A quality filter is essential for keeping the water clean and free of harmful toxins. Choose a filter with adjustable flow settings, as Bleeding Heart Tetras prefer slow-moving water.
  • Heater: These fish require a stable temperature, so invest in a reliable heater to maintain consistent water conditions.
  • Lighting: Moderate lighting is sufficient for Bleeding Heart Tetras. Ensure that your chosen plants also receive the appropriate light levels for growth.
  • Thermometer and test kits: Regularly monitor the temperature and water parameters to keep your fish healthy and happy.

Water Parameters

Maintaining proper water parameters is another essential aspect of Bleeding Heart Tetra care. In my experience, keeping a close eye on water conditions and making necessary adjustments can make all the difference in your fish’s overall health. Here are the ideal water parameters for these charming fish:

  • Temperature: Bleeding Heart Tetras thrive in water temperatures between 72°F and 82°F (22°C to 28°C). Even if you have a window of quite a few degrees, what’s more important is to avoid too much fluctuation.
  • pH: These fish prefer slightly acidic water conditions. Aim for a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5.
  • Water hardness: Bleeding Heart Tetras are accustomed to soft water. Keep the water hardness between 2 and 12 dGH.
  • Water changes: Regular water changes are essential for maintaining a healthy environment for your fish. Replace 25% of the tank water every two weeks, or 10-15% weekly. This will help to remove excess waste and toxins, keeping the water clean and safe for your tetras.
  • Water quality: Use a test kit to monitor ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Ammonia and nitrite should always be at 0 ppm, while nitrate levels should be kept below 20 ppm. If levels rise, take appropriate action to restore balance.

Diet and Feeding

Feeding Bleeding Heart Tetras a well-balanced and varied diet does not only keep them healthy but also makes their bleeding heart colors vibrant. I’ve found that these fish aren’t particularly fussy eaters, which makes feeding them quite enjoyable. Bleeding Heart Tetras are omnivores, so their diet should include a mix of both plant-based and protein-rich foods. Here’s what I recommend for a balanced diet:

  • High-quality flake or pellet food: Choose a high-quality, nutrient-rich flake or pellet food specifically formulated for tropical fish. This will provide a solid foundation for their daily diet.
  • Live or frozen foods: Supplement their diet with live or frozen foods, such as baby brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms. These protein-rich foods help promote growth and coloration, and my tetras always seem to enjoy the treat.
  • Vegetable matter: Include some vegetable matter, like blanched spinach, zucchini, or spirulina flakes, to provide additional nutrients and fiber.
  • Feeding frequency: Feed Bleeding Heart Tetras 2-3 times a day, offering only what they can consume within a few minutes. It’s better to provide smaller, more frequent meals to prevent overfeeding and maintain water quality.

Common Health Issues and Diseases

Just like any freshwater fish species, Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma can be susceptible to health issues and diseases if not cared for properly. In my experience, maintaining a clean and stable environment, along with feeding your Bleeding Heart Tetra fish with balanced diet, goes a long way in preventing these problems. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential health concerns so you can identify and address them promptly. Here are some to watch out for:

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): This is a common parasitic infection that causes small white spots to appear on the body and fins of the affected fish. Ich can be treated with over-the-counter medications and by raising the water temperature gradually to 86°F (30°C) for a few days.
  • Fin rot: This bacterial infection affects the fins, causing them to fray and appear ragged. Fin rot can be caused by poor water quality or injury. Treatment includes improving water quality, removing any sharp objects from the tank, and using antibacterial medications.
  • Fungal infections: Fungal infections appear as cotton-like growths on the affected fish. To treat this issue, improve water quality and use antifungal medications.
  • Internal parasites: If your Bleeding Heart Tetras appear thin or have a loss of appetite, they may be suffering from internal parasites. Treat with an appropriate medication, and double-check that their diet is varied and nutritious.
  • Swim bladder issues: If you notice your fish swimming abnormally or having difficulty maintaining buoyancy, they may have a swim bladder issue. This can be caused by overfeeding or constipation. Offer a pea with the skin removed to help alleviate the issue and adjust their feeding schedule accordingly.

Breeding Bleeding Heart Tetras

Breeding Bleeding Heart Tetras can be so very interesting and entertaining, as their courtship behavior, which includes a unique “dancing” display, is truly fascinating to observe. With a bit of preparation and attention to detail, breeding these fish can be successfully done even by newbie hobbyists. Read on for the lowdown.

Gender Differences

Distinguishing between an adult Bleeding Heart Tetra male and a female one is relatively straightforward. Males tend to be slightly slimmer and more colorful, with more prominent red markings on their bodies. Their dorsal fins are also longer and more pointed compared to females. On the other hand, female Bleeding Heart Tetras are generally rounder, especially when they are full of eggs.

The Breeding Process

  1. Set up a separate breeding tank: A tank size of at least 10 gallons with soft, acidic water and a temperature around 80°F (27°C). Add some fine-leaved plants or a spawning mop for the female to lay her eggs on.
  2. Condition the breeding pair: Choose a healthy breeding pair and condition them with a high-quality, protein-rich diet for a week or two. This will help trigger spawning behavior.
  3. Introduce the pair to the breeding tank: Once the breeding pair is well-conditioned, transfer them to the breeding tank in the evening.
  4. Observe the courtship display: When the breeding pair is ready to spawn, the Bleeding Heart Tetra male will perform a unique “dancing” display. He will swim around the female, showing off his colors and occasionally nipping at her. This dance is a fascinating aspect of their breeding behavior and indicates that spawning is imminent.
  5. Spawning: If the female is receptive to the male’s advances, she will lay her eggs on the fine-leaved plants or spawning mop, and the male will fertilize them. A female can lay up to 300 eggs during one spawning session.
  6. Remove the parents: Once spawning is complete, remove the breeding pair from the tank, as they may consume the eggs or fry.

Breeding Tips

  • Maintain a stable environment: Ensure the breeding tank has stable water parameters, as this will increase the chances of successful hatching and healthy fry development.
  • Monitor the eggs: The eggs will typically hatch within 24-36 hours. Keep an eye on the eggs for any signs of fungus or issues, removing any that appear unhealthy.
  • Fry care: Once the fry are free-swimming, provide them with an appropriate first food, such as infusoria, powdered fry food, or newly hatched brine shrimp. Gradually introduce crushed flakes or pellets as they grow.
  • Water changes: Perform regular water changes in the fry tank to maintain optimal water quality.

Related Species

Here are a few related aquarium fish species from the tetra family as the Bleeding Heart Tetra and could make wonderful additions to your community tank:

  • Diamond Tetra (Moenkhausia pittieri): A shimmering, iridescent freshwater fish native to Venezuela, known for their diamond-like scales and peaceful demeanor.
  • Black Phantom Tetra (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus): A striking fish with black patches on their bodies, originating from South America, and recognized for their peaceful nature.
  • Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae): A small, bright orange-red fish that brings a pop of color to your tank, native to Brazil, and suitable for peaceful community aquariums.
  • Serpae Tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques): Known for their vibrant red color and black markings on their dorsal and anal fins, these South American natives are active and peaceful schooling species.
  • Lemon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis): Featuring a lovely lemon-yellow color, these peaceful fish from Brazil make an excellent addition to community tanks with their eye-catching hues.

bleeding heart tetra school

FAQs About the Bleeding Heart Tetra

Can Bleeding Heart Tetras jump out of the tank?

Yes, like many other fish, Bleeding Heart Tetras can jump. To prevent this, ensure that your aquarium has a secure lid or a mesh covering with small gaps to allow for proper air exchange.

How can I tell if my Bleeding Heart Tetra is stressed?

Signs of stress in a Bleeding Heart Tetra may include loss of color, erratic swimming behavior, hiding, or loss of appetite. If you notice any of these signs, check your water parameters, tank setup, and compatibility with tank mates to identify and address the cause of stress.

Do Bleeding Heart Tetras need a lot of light in the tank?

Bleeding Heart Tetras naturally inhabit dimly lit environments, so they do not require intense lighting. Moderate lighting with some shaded areas in your Bleeding Heart Tetra tank, provided by plants or decorations, will help them feel more comfortable.

Is it possible to keep a single Bleeding Heart Tetra in a tank?

Bleeding Heart Tetras are schooling fish and thrive in groups of at least six or more. Keeping a single Bleeding Heart Tetra can lead to stress, poor health, and a shorter lifespan.

Are Bleeding Heart Tetras fin nippers?

Bleeding Heart Tetras are generally considered to be peaceful fish that get along well with most other fish. However, they can occasionally display fin nipping behavior, especially when kept in smaller groups or when under stress.

To minimize the likelihood of fin nipping, it’s important to keep Bleeding Heart Tetras in a group of at least six or more individuals. This helps spread out any potential aggression and maintains a harmonious environment within the tank.

Additionally, providing a spacious tank with plenty of hiding spots and decorations can help reduce stress and discourage fin-nipping behavior.

Do I need a separate quarantine tank when introducing a new Bleeding Heart Tetra to my aquarium?

Because you never know what the conditions are in fish farms nowadays, it’s always a good idea to have a separate quarantine tank for any new fish, including Bleeding Heart Tetras. This allows you to monitor their health, ensure they are free of disease or parasites, and acclimate them to your tank’s conditions before introducing them to the main aquarium.

Are there a lot of variations in Bleeding Heart Tetra size?

Bleeding Heart Tetras are generally consistent in size, but there can be some minor variations among individuals. On average, adult Bleeding Heart Tetras reach a size of 2 to 2.5 inches (5 to 6.4 cm) in length. Factors such as genetics, diet, and tank conditions can contribute to small differences in size among individual fish.

Are Bleeding Heart Tetras Right for Your Aquarium?

Whether you’re a seasoned aquarist or just dipping your toes into the world of fish keeping, Bleeding Heart Tetras could be the perfect addition to your aquatic family. Their vibrant colors, peaceful nature, and fascinating social behaviors make them a source of endless entertainment and joy.

When you bring Bleeding Heart Tetras into your home, you’re signing up for a journey full of learning, discovery, and the rewarding experience of creating a nurturing environment for these delightful creatures. Every day offers a chance to observe their unique interactions, their dynamic “schooling” dances, and their adaptability to their surroundings.

Happy fishkeeping!

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