Flame Tetra: The Ultimate Guide to Care and Breeding

Flame Tetra Roter von Rio Hyphessobrycon flammeus
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Last Updated: September 13, 2023 by Flora Gibbins

Today, we’re going to take a dip in the watery world of the Flame Tetra (Hyphessobrycon flammeus) — a small, eye-catching fish that many an aquarist have fallen in love with since its discovery. With its vibrant colors and peaceful demeanor, the Flame Tetra fits right into a variety of community tanks.

So, brace yourselves as we jump in and explore what you need to know about this fantastic little fish. We’ll cover its background, what it looks like, the best tank mates, and even some handy tips on breeding. By the end of this journey, you’ll have all the info you need to decide if the Flame Tetra is the perfect new addition to your underwater haven.

Flame Tetra Facts and Overview

  • Common names: Flame Tetra, Red Tetra, Rio Tetra, Fire Tetra
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon flammeus
  • Adult size: 1.5 inches (3.8 cm)
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Colors and Markings: Vivid red-orange body with a black patch behind the gill cover and a white-tipped dorsal fin
  • Origin: South America, specifically the southeastern Brazilian coastal rainforest rivers

Origin and Distribution

Hailing from South America, specifically the southeastern coastal rainforest rivers of Brazil, Flame Tetras have adapted to thrive in slow-moving waters with dense vegetation. In their natural habitat, they can be found swimming around in heavily shaded areas under overhanging plants and trees.

You might be curious about how these exotic fish ended up in our aquariums, right? Well, Flame Tetras quickly captured the attention of fish enthusiasts because of their fiery appearance and peaceful nature. As a result, they’ve been a popular choice for home aquariums since the 1930s. That’s almost a century of fishkeepers falling in love with these fiery little swimmers!

Their native habitats and history in the aquarium trade help us understand the ideal conditions for keeping Flame Tetras happy and healthy in our tanks. In the next sections, I’ll be talking about their appearance, behavior, and everything else you need to know to create a comfortable home that resembles their natural environment. So, let’s keep swimming!


It’s time we talk about their captivating looks. Yeah, these fish are real showstoppers! Their vivid red-orange bodies are what earned them the name “Flame Tetra,” and they certainly live up to it. They’re like tiny, fiery jewels darting around your aquarium, instantly drawing the eye.

But it’s not just their fiery colors that make them stand out. The Flame Tetra also sports a distinctive black patch behind the gill cover, giving them an extra touch of contrast. To top it off, their dorsal fin is adorned with a white tip, which only adds to their charm.

It’s important to note that male Flame Tetras are generally more vibrant than their female counterparts. Males exhibit brighter colors and slimmer bodies, while females tend to be a bit more subdued in color and have rounder bodies. This difference in appearance can be helpful when you’re trying to identify the gender of your fish, especially if you’re interested in breeding them later on.

Behavior and Temperament

As we delve deeper into the Flame Tetra’s world, it’s essential to understand their behavior and temperament. After all, knowing how your fish act and interact with others is a crucial part of setting up a harmonious aquatic community.

Lucky for you, Flame Tetras are known for their peaceful and friendly nature. They’re not just beautiful to look at, but they also get along well with other similarly sized and peaceful fish. Flame Tetras are schooling fish, meaning they prefer to swim together in groups of at least six or more. Keeping them in a proper school not only brings out their best behavior but also makes them feel secure and reduces stress.

In a well-maintained community tank, you’ll often see these fiery little swimmers exploring the tank, playfully darting in and out of plants, and socializing with their tank mates. They’re active and inquisitive, making them a joy to observe as they go about their day.

Flame Tetra Tank Mates

Compatible Fish Species

When it comes to choosing the perfect tank mates for your Flame Tetras, the key is to look for peaceful, non-aggressive species that won’t stress or harm your little swimmers. Given their sociable nature and preference for swimming in schools, they’re an excellent fish for a community tank with other similar-sized, peaceful fish. Some compatible tank mates for Flame Tetras include:

  • Other small Tetra species (e.g., Neon Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras)
  • Rasboras
  • Guppies
  • Platies
  • Small Corydoras catfish
  • Dwarf Gouramis

These species tend to share the same water parameters and general care requirements as the Flame Tetra, making them ideal roomies for your fiery friends.

Non-Fish Tank Mates

In addition to compatible fish species, Flame Tetras can also coexist with some non-fish tank mates. Peaceful invertebrates, such as snails and shrimp, are great options. For example, you can consider adding:

  • Nerite snails
  • Mystery snails
  • Cherry shrimp
  • Amano shrimp

These invertebrates won’t bother your Flame Tetras and can even help with some basic tank maintenance, like algae control.

Tank Mates to Avoid

While Flame Tetras are quite friendly, there are certain fish you’ll want to avoid adding to their tank. Aggressive or larger predatory fish are a big no-no, as they can cause stress or even harm your Flame Tetras. Some species to avoid include:

  • Cichlids (with some exceptions, like the smaller, peaceful species)
  • Oscars
  • Jack Dempseys
  • Larger catfish
  • Any other species known for aggressive or territorial behavior

flame tetra tank

Flame Tetra Care

Proper care for your Flame Tetras involves understanding their specific needs in terms of tank setup, water parameters, diet, and more. In this section, I’ll guide you through everything you need to know to ensure your Flame Tetras thrive in their new home.

Tank Setup

As a fish keeper, I know the importance of creating the perfect environment for my aquatic pets. Let’s explore how to set up the ideal home for your Flame Tetras, taking into account their natural habitat and preferences.

Tank Size

First things first, let’s talk about tank size. While Flame Tetras are small fish, they do enjoy swimming in groups, so you’ll want to give them enough space to roam. A 10-gallon tank can work as a starting point, but I’d recommend going for a 20-gallon tank or larger to ensure they have ample room to school and explore.

What to Put in the Tank

To make your Flame Tetras feel at home, try to mimic their natural environment by adding plants, hiding spots, and subdued lighting. In my experience, incorporating live plants like Java moss, Anubias, and Amazon Swords adds a touch of authenticity and provides them with places to hide and play. Driftwood and rocks can also be used to create sheltered spots and additional hiding places.

Since Flame Tetras come from slow-moving, shaded waters, it’s a good idea to avoid strong water currents in the tank. Additionally, providing a dimly lit environment helps them feel secure and allows their vibrant colors to truly shine.

Equipment and Accessories

Finally, let’s talk about the necessary equipment and accessories for your Flame Tetra tank. As with any aquarium, you’ll need a heater to maintain a stable water temperature, a filter to keep the water clean and clear, and a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

When it comes to the filter, I prefer using a gentle sponge filter or a hang-on-back filter with adjustable flow to avoid creating strong currents. It’s also essential to maintain a tight-fitting lid on your tank, as these little fish can be quite the jumpers.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the right water parameters is essential to ensure the health and well-being of your Flame Tetras. Just like any other fish, they have specific requirements for temperature, pH, and water hardness. As a responsible fish keeper, I make sure to monitor these parameters regularly and make adjustments as needed. Here’s what you should aim for in your Flame Tetra tank:

  • Temperature: Flame Tetras prefer a temperature range of 74°F to 82°F (23°C to 28°C). Keep a heater and thermometer in the tank to maintain a stable temperature within this range.
  • pH: These fish thrive in slightly acidic to neutral water, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. You can use a pH test kit to regularly check the water’s acidity level.
  • Water Hardness: Flame Tetras do well in soft to moderately hard water, with a general hardness (GH) of 5 to 20 dGH. You can test the water hardness using a water test kit and make adjustments if necessary.
  • Water Changes: Regular water changes are crucial to maintain a clean and healthy environment for your fish. I recommend changing 25-30% of the water every 2-4 weeks, depending on the tank size, bioload, and filtration system.

Diet and Feeding

Feeding your Flame Tetras a balanced and varied diet is essential for keeping them healthy, energetic, and displaying their best colors. As an omnivorous species, they require a mix of plant-based and protein-rich foods. Here’s what I’ve found works well for my Flame Tetras and keeps them happy:

  • High-quality flake or pellet food: A high-quality flake or pellet food formulated for small tropical fish should be the staple of their diet. These foods are nutritionally balanced and provide essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Live or frozen foods: To supplement their diet and provide additional protein, offer your Flame Tetras live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, or bloodworms. These treats can help keep your fish’s immune system strong and encourage their natural hunting instincts.
  • Vegetable matter: Including some plant-based food in their diet is essential, as Flame Tetras enjoy munching on algae and other plant materials in the wild. You can provide blanched vegetables like spinach or zucchini, or even offer them small amounts of crushed peas.

As for feeding frequency, I recommend feeding your Flame Tetras small amounts 2-3 times a day, being careful not to overfeed them. Only offer what they can consume within 2-3 minutes to prevent uneaten food from spoiling and causing water quality issues.

Common Health Issues and Diseases

Just like any other fish, Flame Tetras can be susceptible to certain health issues and diseases. As a responsible fish keeper, it’s essential to be aware of these potential problems and take the necessary steps to prevent them or address them promptly. Some common health issues that may affect your Flame Tetras include:

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): Ich is a common parasitic infection that causes small white spots on your fish’s body, fins, and gills. It’s highly contagious and can be fatal if left untreated. To prevent Ich, maintain proper water parameters and avoid sudden temperature fluctuations. If your fish are infected, treat the entire tank with an Ich medication following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Fin Rot: Fin Rot is a bacterial infection that causes the edges of the fins to become ragged and discolored. It’s often a result of poor water quality or injury. To prevent Fin Rot, maintain a clean tank with stable water parameters and avoid overcrowding. If you notice signs of Fin Rot, treat the affected fish with a suitable antibiotic or antibacterial medication.
  • Swim Bladder Disease: This condition affects a fish’s swim bladder, causing difficulty in swimming or maintaining buoyancy. It can be caused by various factors, such as poor water quality, overfeeding, or injury. To prevent Swim Bladder Disease, feed your fish a balanced diet and ensure your water parameters are within the recommended range. If your fish shows symptoms, consult an aquatic veterinarian for advice on treatment.
  • Parasites and Fungal Infections: Flame Tetras can also be susceptible to various parasites and fungal infections. Maintaining good water quality, providing a stress-free environment, and quarantining new fish before introducing them to the main tank can help prevent these issues.

Breeding Flame Tetras

If you’re interested in breeding your Flame Tetras, you’re in luck! These fish can be relatively easy to breed in captivity with the right conditions and care. In this section, we’ll discuss the key factors to consider when breeding Flame Tetras, from identifying their gender differences to understanding the breeding process and providing essential tips for success.

Gender Differences

Before you can begin breeding your Flame Tetras, it’s essential to differentiate between males and females. As we mentioned earlier, males generally exhibit brighter colors and have slimmer bodies, while females tend to be more subdued in color and possess rounder bodies.

The Breeding Process

When I decided to breed my Flame Tetras, I followed these steps to set up a dedicated breeding tank and encourage spawning:

  • Set up a separate 10-gallon breeding tank with a sponge filter, heater, and thermometer. Provide plenty of hiding spots using plants and spawning mops or a substrate of marbles to protect the eggs from being eaten by the parents.
  • Adjust the water parameters in the breeding tank to encourage spawning. Aim for a temperature of around 80°F (27°C) and a slightly acidic pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
  • Introduce a healthy, well-conditioned pair of Flame Tetras (one male and one female) to the breeding tank.
  • Dim the lighting in the breeding tank, as Flame Tetras tend to spawn in low-light conditions.
  • Be patient and observe the fish’s behavior. The male will court the female by swimming around her and displaying his colors. If the female is receptive, she’ll scatter her eggs among the plants or substrate.

Breeding Tips

Here are some tips which I find very effective in increasing my chances of breeding successfully.

  • Condition your Flame Tetras with high-quality, protein-rich foods like live or frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms to improve their overall health and encourage spawning.
  • After spawning, remove the parents from the breeding tank to prevent them from eating the eggs.
  • Keep the breeding tank’s water clean and stable, as the eggs and fry are sensitive to water quality changes.
  • Once the fry hatch (typically within 24-36 hours), feed them infusoria or commercially prepared fry food for the first few days. As they grow, gradually introduce baby brine shrimp and crushed flake food into their diet.

By providing the right conditions and care, you can successfully breed your Flame Tetras and watch a new generation of fiery swimmers grow and flourish.

Related Species

If you’re a fan of bright pops of color in teeny tiny packages, you may also be interested in exploring other closely related tetra species that share similar characteristics and care requirements as Flame Tetras. These fish can be a beautiful addition to your aquarium and may even be compatible with your Flame Tetras in a community tank setting. Some related species to consider include:

  • Serpae Tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques): Also known as the Red Minor Tetra, this species sports a beautiful red coloration with a bold black spot near its dorsal fin. They’re similar in size to Flame Tetras and appreciate a well-planted tank with plenty of hiding spots.
  • Bleeding Heart Tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma): Named for the unique red spot near their heart, Bleeding Heart Tetras showcase an attractive blend of silver and red hues. They prefer a dimly lit tank with plenty of plants and make a great addition to a peaceful community aquarium.
  • Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae): With their fiery orange-red coloration, Ember Tetras are another eye-catching species to consider. These small, peaceful fish thrive in densely planted tanks and can coexist harmoniously with Flame Tetras and other similar-sized fish.
  • Lemon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis): Sporting a bright yellow color with black edges on their dorsal and anal fins, Lemon Tetras add a pop of color to any aquarium. They’re a peaceful species that enjoy swimming in schools and appreciate a well-planted tank.


How man y Flame Tetras should I keep together?

Flame Tetras are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least 6-8 individuals. They feel more secure and display more natural behaviors when kept in a school. Larger groups are even better, as long as your tank can accommodate them.

Can I keep Flame Tetras with other fish?

Yes, Flame Tetras can be kept in a community tank with other small, peaceful fish species. Good tank mates include other tetra species, small rasboras, corydoras catfish, and non-aggressive livebearers. Always research compatibility before introducing new fish to your aquarium.

How long do Flame Tetras live?

With proper care, Flame Tetras can live for around 3-5 years. Providing a stable, clean environment, a balanced diet, and suitable tank mates will help ensure your Flame Tetras enjoy a long and healthy life.

Are Flame Tetras easy to care for?

Yes, Flame Tetras are generally considered easy to care for, making them suitable for both beginner and experienced fish keepers. They’re hardy, adaptable, and can tolerate a range of water conditions, as long as the parameters are stable.

Can Flame Tetras change color?

Flame Tetras can change color based on their mood, health, and environmental factors. Stress, poor water quality, or illness can cause them to lose their vibrant coloration. However, if you maintain a suitable environment and care for them properly, their beautiful colors should return once they feel secure and healthy.

Are Flame Tetras Right for Your Aquarium?

As you embark on your journey with Flame Tetras, remember that they are more than just beautiful fish; they’re living creatures that rely on your care and attention. The joy and satisfaction of watching your Flame Tetras swim gracefully among the plants in your aquarium will be even greater when you know that you’re providing them with the best possible environment and care.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice from fellow fish keepers, local fish stores, and online forums if you have questions or concerns. The aquarium community is filled with people who share your passion for aquatic life and are more than willing to help guide you on your path to success.

Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons

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