Red Phantom Tetra Essentials: Appearance, Care, & Breeding

Red phantom tetra - Hyphessobrycon sweglesi
Japanese Fighting Fish is reader-supported. When you purchase through one of our links we may earn an affiliate commission (at no extra cost to you).

Last Updated: May 3, 2023 by Flora Gibbins

Red Phantom Tetras have an almost mystical appeal with their vivid red coloration, making them a real standout in any aquarium setup. Did you know that they’re also known for their peaceful nature, which makes them fantastic tank mates for a variety of other fish? They’re perfect for both beginners and experienced hobbyists alike.

If you want to explore the possibility of adding a splash of fiery beauty to your tank, keep reading as I delve into everything you need to know about the dazzling Red Phantom Tetra. Trust me, once you get to know them, you’ll be just as smitten as I am.

Red Phantom Tetra Facts and Overview

  • Common names: Red Phantom Tetra, Phantom Tetra, Red Phantom
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon sweglesi
  • Adult size: 1.2-1.4 inches (3-3.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years (with proper care)
  • Colors and Markings: Bright red body, black dorsal fin with white tip, and transparent fins
  • Origin: Found in the Orinoco River Basin in South America, primarily in Colombia and Venezuela

Origin and Distribution

The Red Phantom Tetra hails from the warm, slow-moving waters of the Orinoco River Basin in South America. This river system stretches across Colombia and Venezuela and provides the perfect natural habitat for these vibrant little fish. They’re often found in densely planted areas with plenty of hiding spots, which helps them evade predators and find food.

The Red Phantom Tetra’s history as an aquarium fish dates back to the early 20th century, when they first gained popularity among fish keepers for their striking appearance and peaceful temperament. Over time, they’ve become a staple in the aquarium hobby, and today, they’re widely available in fish stores around the world.


One of the things that initially drew me to the Red Phantom Tetra is their stunning appearance. Trust me when I say that their vibrant colors and unique markings will undoubtedly catch your eye in any aquarium.

These small, schooling fish have a somewhat compressed, oval-shaped body that typically reaches an adult size of 1.2 to 1.4 inches (3 to 3.5 cm). Their most striking feature is, without a doubt, the bright red coloration that covers their entire body. It’s a fiery hue that seems to intensify when they’re in a well-planted aquarium or under the right lighting conditions. I’ve personally noticed that when I added more plants to my tank, the red on my Red Phantom Tetras became even more vivid.

In addition to their radiant red bodies, they also have a distinct black dorsal fin with a white tip. This contrast creates a beautiful visual effect that adds to their overall allure. Their other fins, including the anal, pelvic, and caudal fins, are mostly transparent, which gives them a delicate and ethereal look as they swim gracefully through the water.

One thing I’ve observed about Red Phantom Tetras in my own aquarium is that their colors can vary slightly between individuals. Some may have a more intense red hue, while others may appear slightly more subdued. This variation is completely normal and only adds to their charm.

Behavior and Temperament

As a Red Phantom Tetra keeper, I can attest to the fact that these little fish have a delightful behavior and temperament that endears them to fish enthusiasts like myself. They’re peaceful, social creatures that love to be part of a group, making them perfect candidates for community tanks with similarly sized, non-aggressive fish.

Red Phantom Tetras are schooling fish, which means they feel most secure and content when in the company of their own kind. In my own experience, I’ve found that having a group of at least six to eight Red Phantom Tetras not only keeps them happier, but it also enhances their natural beauty as they swim together in a mesmerizing, coordinated display.

One of the things I enjoy watching in my aquarium is the playful, active nature of Red Phantom Tetras. They’re constantly on the move, exploring their environment and interacting with other fish. However, they’re not overly boisterous and won’t disrupt the peace in your tank.

During feeding time, these little guys can be quite competitive, darting around to snatch up food as it drifts through the water. I always make sure to distribute the food evenly across the tank, so every fish gets its fair share.

Despite their small size, Red Phantom Tetras can also be quite curious and occasionally exhibit a bit of shyness. In my experience, they appreciate having plenty of hiding spots like dense plants, rocks, and driftwood to retreat to when they feel the need.

Red Phantom Tetra Tank Mates

One of the many reasons I love Red Phantom Tetras is their adaptability to community tanks, as they get along well with a variety of other fish and aquatic creatures. However, it’s important to carefully choose their tank mates to ensure a healthy, peaceful environment for all inhabitants. Let’s break it down into compatible fish species, non-fish tank mates, and tank mates to avoid.

Compatible Fish Species

Red Phantom Tetras are peaceful and can coexist with many other gentle, similarly sized fish. Some ideal tank mates for your Red Phantom Tetras include:

  • Other tetra species (e.g., Neon Tetras, Silvertip Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras)
  • Livebearers (e.g., Guppies, Mollies, Platies)
  • Rasboras
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Small to medium-sized peaceful barbs
  • Dwarf cichlids (e.g., Apistogramma, Bolivian Rams)
  • Peaceful loaches (e.g., Kuhli Loaches)

Non-Fish Tank Mates

In addition to the fish species mentioned above, Red Phantom Tetras can also share their aquarium with some non-fish tank mates. Here are a few options:

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

Tank Mates to Avoid

To maintain a harmonious environment for your Red Phantom Tetras, it’s crucial to avoid housing them with aggressive or overly boisterous fish that might cause stress or harm. Some examples of tank mates to avoid include:

  • Large cichlids (e.g., Oscars, Jack Dempseys)
  • Aggressive barbs (e.g., Tiger Barbs)
  • Territorial species (e.g., Red Tail Sharks)
  • Large, predatory fish (e.g., Archerfish, Arowanas)

Red phantom tetra - Hyphessobrycon sweglesi

Red Phantom Tetra Care

Caring for your Red Phantom Tetras is the key to unlocking their full potential as beautiful, engaging aquarium inhabitants. In this section, I’ll take you through everything you need to know to provide the best possible care for these stunning fish, ensuring they thrive and flourish in your tank.

Tank Setup

Setting up the perfect tank environment for your Red Phantom Tetras is crucial for their health and happiness. As someone who’s kept these amazing fish, I can attest that creating a tank that mimics their natural habitat will help them thrive and display their most captivating colors and behaviors. In this section, we’ll discuss the ideal tank size, what to put in the tank, and the equipment and accessories you’ll need.

Tank Size

Red Phantom Tetras are relatively small fish, but they are active swimmers and require some space to move around comfortably. I’ve found that a tank size of at least 20 gallons (75 liters) works well, especially if you’re planning to keep a school of six to eight individuals. A larger tank can be even better, as it provides more room for them to explore and interact with their tank mates.

What to Put in the Tank

To make your Red Phantom Tetras feel at home, it’s essential to include elements in the tank that resemble their natural environment. In my experience, these fish love densely planted tanks with plenty of hiding spots. You can use live plants like Java Fern, Anubias, and Amazon Sword, which not only provide cover but also help maintain water quality by absorbing excess nutrients.

Adding some driftwood and rocks can create additional hiding spaces and contribute to the overall aesthetic of the tank. Since Red Phantom Tetras are native to slow-moving waters, it’s important to ensure the water flow in your tank is gentle and not too strong.

Equipment and Accessories

To keep your Red Phantom Tetras healthy, you’ll need to provide them with the right equipment and accessories. Here’s a list of essentials for your tank setup:

  • Filtration: A quality filter is a must to maintain clean water and remove toxins. I’ve had success with both hang-on-back and canister filters, but make sure to choose one rated for your tank size.
  • Heater: Red Phantom Tetras prefer warmer water, so a reliable heater is crucial. I recommend maintaining a temperature between 72-78°F (22-26°C).
  • Lighting: These fish don’t have any specific lighting requirements, but they do appreciate a natural day and night cycle. I use LED lights on a timer to simulate this.
  • Substrate: A soft, sandy substrate works well for Red Phantom Tetras, as it is gentle on their delicate fins and closely resembles their natural habitat.
  • Thermometer and water test kit: Regularly monitoring water temperature and parameters is vital to keeping your fish healthy. A thermometer and a reliable test kit will help you stay on top of these factors.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the right water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of your Red Phantom Tetras. These fish are somewhat adaptable, but they do have specific preferences that, when met, will help them truly thrive in your aquarium. Here’s a breakdown of the ideal water parameters for Red Phantom Tetras:

  • Temperature: between 72-78°F (22-26°C). A reliable heater and thermometer will help you monitor and adjust the temperature as needed.
  • pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Hardness: between 2-12 dGH (degrees of general hardness)
  • Ammonia and Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: below 20 ppm

To keep the water in your tank clean and healthy, perform regular water changes of about 20-30% every 1-2 weeks. This will help remove waste and toxins, as well as maintain stable water parameters.

Red Phantom Tetra (Hyphessobrycon sweglesi)

Diet and Feeding

Feeding your Red Phantom Tetras a well-balanced and varied diet is key to keeping them healthy, energetic, and displaying their brilliant colors. As an omnivorous species, they require both plant-based and animal-based foods to meet their nutritional needs. Providing a diverse diet keeps them happy and eager during feeding time.

High-quality flake or pellet food should make up the staple of their diet, as these are specifically formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of tropical fish. Personally, I’ve found that my Red Phantom Tetras love micro pellets, as they’re just the right size for their small mouths.

In addition to the staple diet, it’s essential to offer your Red Phantom Tetras a variety of live or frozen foods, such as brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms. These protein-rich treats not only help enhance their colors but also encourage their natural hunting instincts. I’ve observed my tetras getting particularly excited when I introduce live brine shrimp to the tank—it’s a joy to watch them dart around, chasing their prey!

It’s also a good idea to supplement their diet with some vegetable matter, like blanched spinach, cucumber, or even spirulina flakes. This ensures they’re getting all the necessary nutrients for optimal health.

When it comes to feeding frequency, I’ve found that offering small amounts of food two to three times a day works well. It’s important not to overfeed your fish, as this can lead to poor water quality and health issues. I usually feed them just enough so that they can finish it within 2-3 minutes.

Common Health Issues and Diseases

I can’t tell you how important it is to be aware of the common health issues and diseases that can affect your fish. While these tetras are generally hardy and resilient, they’re not immune to various ailments. I’m going to share my experiences now with some of the most common health issues and offer tips on prevention and treatment.

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): Ich is a common parasitic infection that can affect any fish which manifests as tiny white spots on the fish’s body, fins, and gills. When I first encountered Ich in my aquarium, I increased the water temperature to 86°F (30°C) for a few days and used an Ich treatment medication, which successfully eliminated the parasites.
  • Fin Rot: Fin rot is a bacterial or fungal infection that causes the edges of a fish’s fins to become discolored and ragged. Maintaining excellent water quality is the best way to prevent fin rot. If your Red Phantom Tetras do develop this condition, you can treat it with a water-soluble antibiotic or antifungal medication.
  • Swim Bladder Disease: This disorder affects a fish’s ability to maintain buoyancy, causing them to swim awkwardly or have difficulty staying upright. In my experience, feeding high-quality, easily digestible food and ensuring the water temperature is within the ideal range can help prevent swim bladder issues. If you notice any symptoms, try fasting your fish for a day or two, followed by feeding them a small amount of cooked, shelled peas to help alleviate the problem.
  • Internal Parasites: These can cause weight loss, lethargy, and a loss of appetite in your Red Phantom Tetras. Examples of these parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, flukes, and protozoans. I’ve found that using a medicated food or adding an antiparasitic medication to the water can effectively treat internal parasites.

The key to dealing with health issues in your Red Phantom Tetras is prevention. By maintaining optimal water quality, providing a balanced diet, and monitoring your fish for any signs of illness, you can prevent most diseases and ensure your tetras remain healthy and vibrant.

Breeding Red Phantom Tetras

Breeding Red Phantom Tetras can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to observe their fascinating reproductive behaviors and potentially raise a new generation of these colorful fish. Let’s go through how you can go about it.

Gender Differences

Identifying male and female Red Phantom Tetras is fairly straightforward. Males typically display more vibrant colors, with their red markings being more pronounced than those of females. They also have a more streamlined body shape. Females, on the other hand, tend to be slightly larger and have a rounder, fuller body, particularly when they are carrying eggs.

The Breeding Process

  1. Prepare a separate breeding tank: To encourage breeding, set up a separate tank with soft, slightly acidic water and a temperature around 77-81°F (25-27°C). The tank should be dimly lit and have plenty of hiding spots, such as fine-leafed plants or spawning mops, where the female can lay her eggs.
  2. Condition the breeding pair: Select a healthy, compatible male and female and feed them a high-quality, protein-rich diet to condition them for breeding. Foods like live or frozen brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms work well.
  3. Introduce the pair to the breeding tank: Once the pair is conditioned, place them in the breeding tank during the evening. Breeding often occurs during the early morning hours, and you may notice the male courting the female by displaying his colors and swimming in a zigzag pattern.
  4. Spawning and egg-laying: If the courtship is successful, the female will release her eggs, and the male will fertilize them. Red Phantom Tetras are egg-scatterers, and the female will deposit her eggs among the plants or spawning mops.
  5. Remove the adults: After spawning, remove the adult fish from the breeding tank to prevent them from eating the eggs. The eggs will hatch in about 24-48 hours, and the fry will become free-swimming within 3-5 days.

Breeding Tips

  • Provide appropriate food for the fry: Once the fry is free-swimming, feed them small, easily digestible foods like infusoria or commercially available fry food. As they grow, you can gradually introduce larger foods such as baby brine shrimp.
  • Maintain water quality: It’s crucial to maintain excellent water quality in the breeding tank, as fry are particularly sensitive to changes in water parameters. Perform regular, small water changes to keep the environment stable and clean.
  • Monitor growth and separate fry if needed: As the fry grow, some may develop faster than others. Keep an eye on their development and consider separating the larger fry from the smaller ones to prevent competition for food and space.

Related Species

If you’re interested in Red Phantom Tetras, you might also be curious about other closely related tetra species that share similar features and care requirements. Exploring these related species can broaden your knowledge and appreciation for the diverse world of tetras. Here are some species that you may want to consider for your aquarium:

  • Serpae Tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques): Serpae Tetras are another vibrant species featuring striking red coloration and a black comma-shaped marking near their gills. They are slightly more aggressive than Red Phantom Tetras, so care should be taken when selecting tank mates. However, their care requirements are generally similar.
  • Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae): These small, brightly colored tetras display a fiery orange hue, which gives them their name. Ember Tetras are peaceful, schooling fish that appreciate densely planted tanks, making them an excellent choice for a community aquarium.
  • Bleeding Heart Tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma): Recognizable by the red spot on their sides that resembles a bleeding heart, these tetras have a distinct appearance. They are larger than Red Phantom Tetras but share the same peaceful temperament and care requirements.
  • Diamond Tetra (Moenkhausia pittieri): Diamond Tetras are a beautiful and elegant species, boasting shimmering, iridescent scales. They are peaceful, schooling fish that thrive in well-planted tanks with gentle water flow.
  • X-Ray Tetra (Pristella maxillaris): Called X-ray Tetras due to their translucent bodies, they are also known as Pristella Tetras, and are an attractive species with black and yellow fin accents. They are peaceful, schooling fish that adapt well to a variety of water conditions, making them a hardy and versatile choice for community aquariums.

FAQs about Hyphessobrycon sweglesi

Can Red Phantom Tetras live alone?

Red Phantom Tetras are schooling fish, which means they prefer to live in groups of at least six or more individuals. Keeping them in a school helps them feel secure and encourages their natural behaviors, such as swimming in unison and interacting with each other.

How fast do Red Phantom Tetras grow?

Red Phantom Tetras typically reach their adult size of around 1.5 inches (4 cm) within 6-12 months. Providing a well-balanced diet, maintaining optimal water conditions, and giving them enough space to swim will support healthy growth.

Do Red Phantom Tetras jump out of the tank?

While Red Phantom Tetras are not known for being frequent jumpers, it’s still possible for them to leap out of the water if they’re startled or stressed. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to have a secure lid or cover on your aquarium.

How can I enhance the coloration of my Red Phantom Tetras?

Providing a well-balanced and varied diet, including high-quality flakes or pellets and a mix of live or frozen foods, can help bring out the vibrant colors of your Red Phantom Tetras. In addition, maintaining optimal water conditions and keeping stress levels low by providing a suitable environment will also contribute to their vivid coloration.

Are Red Phantom Tetras sensitive to changes in water parameters?

Red Phantom Tetras are relatively hardy and can adapt to a range of water conditions. However, sudden changes in water parameters, such as temperature or pH, can stress your fish and potentially lead to health issues. It’s essential to regularly monitor and maintain stable water conditions to keep your Red Phantom Tetras healthy and stress-free.

Are Red Phantom Tetras Right for Your Aquarium?

As you delve into the world of Red Phantom Tetras, it’s clear that these vibrant, peaceful fish can be a good fit in a community aquarium, although the final decision to bring them in comes down to your personal preferences and your ability to meet their specific care requirements. If you’re ready to embrace the challenge and provide a suitable environment, go for it and embrace this particular adventure in fishkeeping. Red Phantom Tetras can definitely add their own unique touch to your underwater world.

Cover image by harum.koh from Kobe city, Japan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *