Lemon Tetra 101: Species and Care Guide (2024)

Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: May 11, 2024
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Are you searching for a way to bring a dash of color to your freshwater aquarium community? Incorporating Lemon Tetras (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis) is an exceptional approach to injecting a vibrant burst of hue into your aquatic habitat.

To help you and your new fishy friend we’ve broken down all the care and breeding aspects in an easy-to-read guide, read on to learn about the easy to care for and great tank mate that is the lemon tetra.

Article Summary

  • Lemon Tetras are not aggressive and can coexist with other tetra species, cory fish, rasboras, apistogrammas, and similarly sized fish.
  • Their diet includes powdered fish food, live, freeze-dried, or frozen foods like daphnia, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and brine shrimp.
  • Lemon Tetras are suitable for both beginner and experienced aquarists and add color and diversity to freshwater community tanks.

Where did lemon tetras come from?

Amazon River
Amazon River

Lemon tetra Hyphessobrycon Pulchripinnis originated from South America in the Iquitos region of the Amazon River and became popular in the aquarium trade as a freshwater aquarium fish in the 1930s. While they are no longer wild caught, since lemon tetra’s are so easy to breed, they remain a favorite of aquarist’s everywhere for their easy going nature and easy care.

Generally, lemon tetra’s are found in the shallow, slow parts of their river environment and are regarded as tropical freshwater fishes. These schooling fishes form groups in the several thousand and exhibit playful tendencies darting in and out of vegetation along the river bank.

FUN FACT

Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, the scientific name for lemon tetras, has interesting origins. “Hyphessobrycon” being Greek for the species name for tetras and “pulchripinnis” being Latin for beautiful fin.

Are lemon tetras easy to care for?

Lemon tetras are a popular aquarium fish because of how easy they are to care for as well as their wonderful coloration. Beginner and expert aquarists alike will find these fish to be a pleasing and personable addition to their aquarium.

What do lemon tetras look like?

Lemon tetras have several unique features like their anal and dorsal fins, adipose fins, and their unique eye coloration.

The first feature that is sure to catch your eye when looking at a tank environment full of lemon tetras is how the light reflects off of their triangular dorsal fin. Splatterings of translucent yellow and black dance across the lemon tetra’s fin, but when the light catches it just right you can see completely through it!

Adipose fin

The lemon tetra is a bit of an anomaly with its possession of an adipose fin. Found in salmon, trout, and catfish the adipose fin is found in front of the fish’s tail and was originally thought to hold fat reserves. Recently it was proposed that the adipose fin’s purpose is to act as a flow sensor in addition to the fish’s caudal fin.

One of the most noticeable features of the lemon tetra is that their eye is a completely different color than their scales. The upper half of the iris is bright red, and the lower half is black. Iris coloration can be used as a sign of your fish’s health, the deeper the red the healthier your lemon tetra.

Male lemon tetra

Male Lemon Tetra
Male Lemon Tetra(1)

When differentiating between male a females, tetras look at the fish’s dorsal and anal fins. In male tetras the anal fin will have a thick black border up to ⅔’s of the fin thick. Male lemon tetras have a pointed dorsal fin and are generally more colorful than the females.

Female Lemon Tetra

On the female fish’s anal fin there will be a fine black line for a border. Female fish also tend to have a rounded, plump body.

How big do lemon tetras grow?

When mature, lemon tetra’s will be roughly 2 inches in length. Both male and female fish are the same size at maturity making them a convenient addition to any fish keepers community tank.

Why are my lemon tetra’s not yellow?

You might notice that your lemon tetras aren’t all yellow, there could be a few different reasons.

  1. You don’t actually have lemon tetra’s. If your tetra appears more orange or red you could have a different variety of tetra.
  2. Your lemon tetra is stressed or unhealthy. Lemon tetra’s are excellent fish for beginner aquarists because you can clearly see when something’s wrong with them. If your tetra is stressed about tank mates, not enough hiding holes, or your water parameters are off you’re likely able to tell based off of their dull yellow shade.
  3. Your tetra is too young. Juvenile lemon tetra’s don’t have the bright and vibrant coloring of mature lemon tetras. When they get older you should see coloration begin to develop.

Commonly mistaken tetra species

As mentioned above, if your tetra isn’t yellow you might have a different subspecies! Commonly mistaken for lemon tetras include the Copper tetra, Bloodtail tetra, and Rummy Nose tetra. If you’re having trouble differentiating between the species check out the table below!

TetraUnique Features
Lemon TetraBlack outline along each fin, red iris
Rummy Nose TetraBlack spotted dorsal fin, red coloring around mouth
Bloodtail TetraRed coloration near tail, semi-transparent fins
Silvertip TetraOrange and blue coloring along tips of fins

The temperament of each tetra is another way to differentiate between them. Lemon tetras are not aggressive fish and won’t nip, unlike bloodfin and silvertip tetras.

Building your Lemon Tetra Tank

Fish Tank Being Filled with Water
Fish Tank Being Filled with Water

As you start to plan for your lemon tetra and lemon tetra tank mates be sure to take the below recommendations into consideration.

Tank Size

If you are creating a tank of just lemon tetra’s your tank size should be 15-20 gallons for six tetra fish. If you plan to have other fish species and tank mates in your lemon tetra tank you should add an additional 15-20 gallons per six lemon tetra fish to whatever tank size you need for other tank mates. An advantage of the small lemon tetra size is that you can have many of these freshwater aquarium fish in one tank!

Lemon tetra tank setup

Lemon tetras thrive in tanks that are setup like their natural habitat in South America. These tropical fish enjoy having an open, free-swimming area with the option of plant species, driftwood, and hiding places to replicate their natural environment in the amazon river.

Water Parameters

Water Temperature74-84℉
pH levels5.5-8
Water Hardness3-20dGH

Filters and Bubblers

Along with maintaining the above parameters to keep your aquarium healthy, you should also incorporate a moderate aquarium water flow by using a sponge filter. You can also add an air bubbler if you think the water flow is too slow.

Tank Decor:

Most fish keepers enjoy these peaceful and hardy fish due to lemon tetra displays of bright yellow and playful nature. To complement their appearance lemon tetras should be placed in tanks that reflect their natural habitat.

RECOMMENDATION

If you’re having trouble maintaining normal nitrate and ammonia levels you can put Catappa Indian Almond Leaves in your tank to help prevent ammonia burn. This hack works for all fish species, not just tetras. I haven’t had much luck finding Indian Almond leaves at my local fish store, however you can always order them online, and as an added bonus the tannins tint your water giving your tank an Amazonian river vibe!

Tank Decor: Substrate

We suggest using some clean river sand to complement your decor and complete your aquarium. Dried leaves, twisted roots, and driftwood can create an enriching playground for your lemon tetras to play.

Tank Decor: Plants

We suggest providing a variety of fine-leaved plants at the back and sides of the tank. Some aquarists like leaving dried tannin leaves to naturally tint the water and create a natural river environment look. Lemon tetra fish are open-water swimmers and need plenty of room to school and play, keeping a diversity of decorations is the best way to entertain these peaceful fish.

TIP

Add levels to your tank by using floating plants and anchoring some fine leaf plants to the bottom.

Are lemon tetras aggressive?

Lemon Tetras
Lemon Tetras(2)

Lemon tetras are not aggressive fish and do well in community tanks or in separate lemon tetra tanks. When planning what tank mates to have in your community tank with lemon tetras you should consider other tetra species, cory fish species, rasboras, apistogrammas (a group of freshwater cichlids native to South America), and other similarly sized fish species. It goes without saying that since tetra fish are tropical and freshwater fish your tank mates should also be suited for these environments.

Though lemon tetras are small species of fish and easily intimidated by larger fish species they do well around other species such as invertebrates and snails. Though it is important to make sure your invertebrate and snail tank mates won’t eat your planted aquarium.

Can Lemon Tetras Live Alone?

Unlike many species, lemon tetra fish cannot live alone, as they are a shoaling fish. In the wild lemon tetras live in schools of several thousand, and without a group tetra fish become extremely anxious and reserved. A group of at least six lemon tetras is required, but a group of 12 or more is preferred.

How many lemon tetra do I need?

A group of at least six lemon tetras is required, but a group of 12 or more is preferred. The larger your school of tetras is the happier they will be, as long as that size is appropriate for the aquarium they are being housed in.

How to properly feed lemon tetra?

Lemon tetras should be fed using the 3 minute rule. In other words, they should be allowed to eat as much as they can during a 3 minute time span 2-3 times a day. If you have a larger school of tetras you will likely need to feed them more times a day to ensure that all the fish are eating.

What to feed my lemon tetra fish?

Lemon tetras are omnivorous, but the foundation of their diet should be powdered fish food with the occasional live, freeze-dried, or frozen food. These freshwater fish are particularly fond of daphnia, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and frozen brine shrimp.

When to feed my lemon tetra fish?

You should feed your lemon tetras several times a day using the 3-minute rule as explained below.

How much to feed the lemon tetra?

Like most aquarium fishes you can use the 3-minute rule to judge how much to feed your tetras. The 3-minute rule is when you feed your lemon tetras several times a day for as much as they can eat in a span of 3 minutes. Start with a few flakes or pellets and gradually add more as your tetras eat. This method will also prevent food waste from fouling up your water quality!

TIP

Tetra species change colors based on their health and happiness. If you notice your lemon tetras colors change from a bright yellow to dull it might be because you’re not feeding them enough.

How long do lemon tetras live?

Lemon Tetra Lifespan
Lemon Tetra Lifespan(3)

These freshwater fish on average live 4-8 years depending on the conditions. Proper lemon tetra care will increase their lifespan and give you many years of colorful entertainment.

Are Lemon Tetras Hardy

Lemon tetras are a very hardy fish and one that is well-loved throughout the aquarium world for their ease of care. As long as water parameters are within the correct range for these tropical fish their care is very straightforward..

Common Diseases

Lemon tetra care includes being well versed in potential illnesses. As fairly resilient fish, most lemon tetras aren’t prone to specific diseases, but when tank conditions are less than ideal they can become susceptible to diseases such as ich, bacterial infections, fungus, and parasites. To prevent disease be sure to quarantine any fish you add to the tank for at least 2 weeks and monitor for any change.

How can you tell if a lemon tetra is pregnant?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell whether female lemon tetras are pregnant or not. They don’t build bubble nests like betas, or carry their young in their mouths like cichlids. The best way to tell if you have a pregnant female is to monitor your tetras closely and see if there is any bulking around the abdomen and tail.

A few aquarists claim that there will be dark spots on the underbelly of the female near the tail right before spawning, but we can’t confirm that this is a consistent way to tell.

What do lemon tetra eggs look like?

Unlike other fish that have darkly colored eggs which help in seeing them through the underbelly of the female lemon tetra eggs are white or opaque and are less than 1 millimeter wide.

Are Lemon Tetras easy to breed?

Lemon tetras are one of the easier home aquarium fish to breed. Before starting to breed lemon tetras you should consider if you have enough room for the process. Lemon tetras will need a separate breeding tank for the eggs to hatch in and enough tank space for the baby fish to spread.

The ideal breeding tank should be 3-5 gallons and you should have a 15-20 gallon tank per 6 adult fish. A large adult female is capable of producing up to 300 eggs, though not all of these eggs will be fertilized and survive, you should still plan for the upbringing of a large amount of tetras.

How do you breed lemon tetra?

breeding lemon tetra 

Lemon tetras are a challenge to breed, but you should begin with a ratio of 1 male to every 4 to 5 females. To induce spawning male and female lemon tetras should be fed a diet of nutritious live foods, and their tank should have a water temperature of 79-83℉ with a pH range of 6.5-7.2.

Separate the male and female lemon tetra a week before you want to induce spawning and begin feeding them live foods. Introduce them into the breeding tank at the same time and slowly raise the water temperature. The breeding tank should be dimly lit and furnished with moss, java ferns and/or spawning mops for egg depositing.

NOTE

Spawning mops are an artificial plant-like device made to catch eggs and offer some protection from predators. Spawning mops are helpful to keep the eggs in one place and protected from the parents until you can remove them from the aquarium. Spawning mops can be bought or made and come in a variety of options such as floating, sinking, or ones that attach to a tank wall.

Prior to fertilization, you will see the males and females begin to dance. The male will pick a singular female and begin chasing her around the tank, sometimes he’ll switch to a different female in the same chase. Eventually, the female will relent and allow spawning. It is fairly easy to identify spawning as there will be a large cloud of eggs and sperm in the water. Once the fertilized eggs have settled you should immediately remove the adult tetras so they do not eat the eggs.

If you aren’t constantly monitoring the tank one suggestion is to place a layer of mesh above the live plants or spawning moss that will allow the eggs to pass through, but keep the adults out.

How to care for baby lemon tetras

Lemon tetras are egg scatters and don’t participate in raising the fry. After spawning you should immediately remove all adult tetras and begin monitoring the babies. Eggs hatch after 24 hours and the fry are free-swimming in 5 days.

Free Swimming

The term “free-swimming” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to tetras. Tetra fry generally lay along the bottom of the tank for the first day or so and then detach and hide in the cover of plants and substrate in the tank.

Breeding Tank

Like your community tetra tank your breeding tank should have lots of taller stem plants and cover for your tetra fry. During they’re younger stages tetras don’t like the light so your tank should be properly shaded to prevent stress.

Tetra fry should initially be fed infusoria and microworms, as the fish mature you can start feeding them baby brine shrimp (1-2 weeks old).

Are Lemon Tetras For You?

Whether you’re a beginner aquarist or you’ve been keeping fishy friends for years, lemon tetras can provide a splash of color into any freshwater aquarium. These peaceful friends are a great addition to community tanks where they can add abundant diversity and a playful attitude.

References

Featured Image – By SOK – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Male Lemon Tetra – By Waugsberg – Own work, CC BY 2.5

Lemon Tetras – By Paul from United Kingdom – London Zoo, CC BY 2.0

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