The Ember Tetra – Ember Tetra Care - "AKT 1430bq" by Gordon Axmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The Ember Tetra – Ember Tetra Care - "AKT 1430bq" by Gordon Axmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


Ember tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae) are a delightful and popular choice for freshwater aquarium enthusiasts. Originating from the tranquil waters of Brazil’s Araguaia River basin, these small, vibrant fish captivate with their striking orange-red coloration and peaceful demeanor. Ideal for both novice and experienced aquarists, ember tetras offer a unique combination of beauty, ease of care, and engaging social behavior. This guide aims to provide comprehensive insights into their care, covering aspects from tank setup to feeding habits, ensuring that these charming creatures thrive in home aquariums.


Ember tetras are known for their vibrant and striking appearance, making them a popular choice among freshwater aquarium enthusiasts. Here’s a detailed description of their physical appearance and characteristics:

  • Size: Ember tetras are quite small and delicate, typically reaching an adult size of only about 0.6 to 0.8 inches (1.5 to 2 cm) in length. This petite size makes them suitable for smaller aquariums.
  • Color: The most striking feature of the ember tetra is their vibrant orange-red coloration. This intense hue covers their entire body, giving them a glowing, ember-like appearance, which is where their name originates. The color can vary in intensity depending on factors like diet, health, and aquarium conditions.
  • Body Shape: They have a typical tetra body shape – somewhat elongated and slightly compressed laterally. This streamlined body allows for agile swimming.
  • Fins: Their fins are generally transparent or may have a slight tint that matches their body color. The dorsal fin is relatively small and positioned towards the back half of the body, while the caudal (tail) fin is forked, aiding in swift movement.
  • Eyes: Their eyes are proportionately large compared to their small body size and can have a subtle reddish hue that complements their overall coloration.
  • Sexual Dimorphism: It can be somewhat challenging to distinguish males from females. Generally, females may be slightly larger and less intensely colored compared to males. During breeding, these differences might be more pronounced.
  • Scales and Skin: The scales of ember tetras have a translucent quality that contributes to their overall shimmering appearance. The skin underneath is what gives them their distinctive color.
  • Unique Physical Features: While ember tetras do not have outlandish physical traits, their uniform, intense coloration is unique among small freshwater fish. Unlike some tetra species, they lack prominent stripes or spots.

Ember tetras’ small size and vibrant color make them a striking addition to community aquariums, especially when kept in schools where their collective color creates a stunning visual impact. Their peaceful nature and simple care requirements further enhance their appeal to fish keepers.

In the Wild

Ember tetras are native to South America. Their habitat and distribution in the wild are characterized by the following aspects:

  • Geographical Origin: Ember tetras are indigenous to Brazil, particularly in the Araguaia River basin. This river is one of the major rivers of Brazil, flowing through the central Brazilian plateau.
  • Natural Habitat: In their natural environment, ember tetras are typically found in small, slow-moving tributaries, backwaters, and flooded forest areas of the river basin. These habitats are known for their soft, acidic water and dense vegetation.
  • Water Conditions: The waters where ember tetras thrive are generally clear or slightly tannin-stained, which is typical for rainforest streams and pools.
  • Vegetation and Substrate: Their native habitats are often densely planted with a variety of aquatic plants. The riverbeds are usually covered in a mixture of sand, fine gravel, and a significant amount of leaf litter. This dense vegetation and leafy substrate provide excellent hiding spots and breeding grounds for these fish.
  • Temperature Range: The typical water temperature in their natural habitat ranges from 23°C to 29°C (73°F to 84°F). This warm, tropical environment is crucial for their survival and health.
  • Current and Light Conditions: Ember tetras are accustomed to areas with gentle water flow and subdued lighting, often provided by the forest canopy overhead.
  • Community Structure: In the wild, they are often found in large schools. This schooling behavior is not only a social structure but also a defense mechanism against predators.
  • Conservation Status: While ember tetras are not currently listed as endangered, the ongoing deforestation and environmental changes in the Amazon Basin could potentially impact their natural habitats.
  • Presence in the Aquarium Trade: Despite their specific natural habitat, ember tetras have gained popularity in the aquarium trade. They are bred in large numbers for this purpose, which fortunately reduces the need to capture them from the wild.

Understanding the natural habitat and distribution of ember tetras is crucial for recreating similar conditions in home aquariums, ensuring their health and well-being in captivity. It also highlights the importance of environmental conservation in their native regions to preserve their natural ecosystems.

Behavior and Social Structure of Ember Tetras

The ember tetra exhibits a range of interesting behaviors and social structures that are characteristic of many small schooling fish. Understanding these behaviors is key to providing them with an environment where they can thrive, both in the wild and in aquarium settings.

  • Schooling Behavior: One of the most prominent behaviors of the ember tetra is their tendency to school. In the wild, they form large groups as a defense mechanism against predators. This schooling is not just a safety strategy but also a way for them to socialize and interact. In aquariums, it’s recommended to keep them in groups of at least 6-10 individuals to observe natural schooling behavior.
  • Social Interactions: Within their schools, ember tetras exhibit a peaceful and harmonious social structure. They interact with each other constantly but rarely show signs of aggression or territoriality. This makes them excellent candidates for community aquariums.
  • Swimming Patterns: Ember tetras are known for their active swimming behavior. In a school, they often swim in coordinated patterns that are both a joy to watch and a part of their social interaction. They tend to occupy the middle to upper levels of the water column in an aquarium.
  • Feeding Behavior: During feeding, the ember tetra can become more animated. They typically feed on the water’s surface or in the mid-water column. In a group, they will often compete gently for food, which is an interesting behavior to observe.
  • Breeding Behavior: During breeding, male ember tetras may become more vibrant in color and show more assertive behavior as they attempt to court females. However, they do not become significantly aggressive like some other fish species.
  • Environmental Interaction: Ember tetras interact with their environment in a delicate manner. They enjoy spaces in the aquarium that mimic their natural habitat, such as areas with dense vegetation or driftwood, where they can hide and play.
  • Stress Responses: When kept in conditions that are not ideal or if they feel threatened, ember tetras may exhibit stress behaviors, such as loss of color, hiding, or reduced activity. Maintaining a peaceful environment and proper school size is essential to prevent such stress.
  • Curiosity and Adaptability: In aquariums, ember tetras often exhibit a degree of curiosity about their environment and can become quite adapted to aquarium life, often showing interest in outside movements and happenings.
  • Resting Behavior: Like many fish, ember tetras have periods of reduced activity where they rest in place, often in a sheltered area or among plants.

In summary, ember tetras are peaceful, social, and active fish that thrive in a school. Their behavior is a testament to their need for social interaction and a suitable environment, both in the wild and in captivity. These characteristics make them not only fascinating to observe but also a delightful addition to a community aquarium.

Diet of the Ember Tetra

Ember tetras have specific dietary preferences and feeding habits that reflect their natural environment, and these can be effectively adapted to an aquarium setting.

Diet in the Wild

In their natural habitat, the diet of the ember tetra consists primarily of small invertebrates, insect larvae, and plant matter. As omnivores, they are adept at foraging for a variety of food sources:

  • Micro-Invertebrates: These include tiny crustaceans and other small aquatic organisms found in their native habitat.
  • Insect Larvae: They often consume larvae that fall into the water or that are part of the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Algae and Plant Matter: While not their primary food source, ember tetras will nibble on algae and small plant materials available in their environment.
  • Detritus: They may also consume organic detritus as part of their scavenging habits.

Diet in an Aquarium

In an aquarium, the diet of the ember tetra can be varied to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients:

  • Quality Flake Foods: High-quality flake or pellet foods formulated for small tropical fish can form the base of their diet. These foods are balanced to provide the necessary nutrients.
  • Frozen or Live Foods: Supplementing with frozen or live foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, or bloodworms is ideal for mimicking their natural diet and keeping the fish healthy and vibrant.
  • Vegetable Matter: Including some vegetable-based foods or algae wafers can help replicate the plant matter they would consume naturally.
  • Feeding Frequency: Small, frequent feedings are preferable. Feeding them two to three times a day with only as much food as they can consume in a few minutes helps maintain water quality and mimics natural foraging behavior.
  • Observation: Regular observation during feeding times is important. It helps ensure all fish are eating and allows for monitoring their health and condition.

Special Considerations

  • Size of Food: Given their small size, ember tetras require food that is small enough for them to ingest easily.
  • Variety: A varied diet is crucial for their overall health, coloration, and vitality.
  • Overfeeding: Care should be taken to avoid overfeeding, as it can lead to poor water quality and health issues.

By providing a diet that closely resembles what ember tetras would eat in the wild, aquarists can ensure these fish remain healthy, active, and vibrant in a home aquarium. This approach to feeding also enhances their natural behavior and contributes to a well-balanced aquarium ecosystem.

Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for your ember tetra, several important factors need to be considered to ensure a harmonious and stress-free aquarium environment. These considerations include the temperament, size, water condition preferences, and general compatibility of the potential tank mates.

  • Temperament: Ember tetras are peaceful and non-aggressive fish. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose tank mates that share this temperament. Aggressive or overly active fish can stress or harm ember tetras.
  • Size and Compatibility: Tank mates should be similar in size to ember tetras (which are quite small) to prevent predation or intimidation. Large or very active fish might inadvertently harm these small tetras.
  • Water Conditions: Ideal tank mates should thrive in the same water conditions as ember tetras. This includes a preference for soft, slightly acidic water with a temperature range of about 23°C to 29°C (73°F to 84°F).
  • Feeding Habits: Choose species with similar dietary needs. This ensures that all fish get the appropriate nutrition and reduces competition for food.
  • Activity Level: Fish with a similar activity level are preferable. Ember tetras are moderately active and enjoy swimming in a school. Tank mates that are either too sedentary or excessively active can disrupt the balance.
  • Swimming Region: Ember tetras typically occupy the middle to upper levels of the tank. Therefore, it might be beneficial to select tank mates that prefer different levels (bottom dwellers, for example) to distribute activity throughout the tank.
  • Schooling Fish: Other small, peaceful schooling fish can be good companions, as they have similar social behaviors.
  • Avoid Fin Nippers: Avoid species known for nipping fins, as ember tetras’ delicate fins can be damaged.

Suggested Tank Mates

  • Other Small Tetras: Such as neon tetras, cardinal tetras, or rummy nose tetras.
  • Rasboras: Harlequin rasboras or other small rasbora species.
  • Dwarf Corydoras: These are peaceful bottom dwellers that complement the middle-dwelling ember tetras.
  • Small Danios: Like zebra danios, provided they are not too active for the relatively calm ember tetras.
  • Peaceful Dwarf Gouramis: Only if the tank is spacious enough to accommodate territorial needs.
  • Shrimp and Snails: Such as cherry shrimp or nerite snails, which can help with tank cleanliness without disturbing the fish.

Points to Avoid

  • Large, Aggressive, or Predatory Fish: Such as cichlids, larger catfish, or bettas, which can harm ember tetras.
  • Very Large or Active Schools: Which might overwhelm the ember tetras or outcompete them for food.

Always introduce new species cautiously and monitor the tank closely for the first few weeks to ensure compatibility and a stress-free environment for all inhabitants.

The Ember Tetra – Ember Tetra Care - "AKT 1430bq" by Gordon Axmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The Ember Tetra – Ember Tetra Care – “AKT 1430bq” by Gordon Axmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aquarium Setup for Ember Tetras

Caring for the ember tetra in a home aquarium requires attention to several key aspects to ensure a healthy and thriving environment for these small, vibrant fish. Here’s a comprehensive guide:

Tank Requirements

  • Tank Size: A minimum of 10 gallons (40 liters) is recommended for a small school of ember tetras. Larger tanks provide more stable water conditions and space for schooling behavior.
  • Schooling: Ember tetras are schooling fish, so they should be kept in groups of at least 6-10 to promote natural behavior and reduce stress.

Water Conditions

  • Temperature: Maintain a water temperature between 23°C to 29°C (73°F to 84°F).
  • pH Level: Aim for a slightly acidic pH between 5.5 and 7.0.
  • Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water is ideal.
  • Filtration: Use a gentle filter to keep the water clean without creating strong currents, as ember tetras prefer calm waters.
  • Regular Water Changes: Perform weekly water changes of about 20-25% to maintain water quality.

Plants and Decorations

  • Plants: Dense planting is recommended. Live plants like Java Fern, Anubias, and small-leaved species create a natural environment and hiding places.
  • Substrate: A dark substrate can help to showcase the ember tetras’ vibrant color.
  • Decorations: Driftwood, rocks, and caves provide additional hiding spots and mimic their natural habitat.
  • Lighting: Moderate lighting is preferred to simulate their natural, slightly shaded environment and to encourage plant growth.

General Maintenance

  • Feeding: Feed small amounts 2-3 times daily, offering a varied diet of high-quality flake food, frozen or live foods like brine shrimp or daphnia.
  • Monitoring: Regularly check the water parameters (temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels) using an aquarium test kit.
  • Cleaning: Regularly clean the tank, including vacuuming the substrate and cleaning the glass. Avoid overcleaning, as this can disrupt beneficial bacteria.
  • Algae Control: Control algae growth through regular maintenance and by keeping live plants, which compete with algae for nutrients.

Health and Disease Prevention

  • Quarantine New Fish: To prevent the introduction of diseases, quarantine new fish before adding them to your main tank.
  • Observe Behavior: Watch for signs of stress or disease, such as changes in swimming behavior, loss of color, or lack of appetite.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Overcrowding can lead to stress and increased risk of disease.

By providing appropriate tank conditions, maintaining good water quality, and ensuring a balanced diet and environment, ember tetras can be a joyful and colorful addition to your aquarium. Their care requirements make them a suitable choice for both beginner and experienced aquarists.


Caring for ember tetras is a rewarding experience that brings a slice of tropical aquatic life into your home. These small, vividly colored fish are not only a visual delight but also serve as a testament to the wonders of aquatic ecosystems. By recreating their natural habitat in your aquarium, paying attention to their specific needs, and ensuring a peaceful environment with suitable tank mates, you can enjoy the lively presence of the ember tetra. Their relatively simple care requirements make them an excellent choice for both beginning and seasoned fish keepers, adding a splash of color and activity to any freshwater tank. With the right care and attention, ember tetras will thrive, providing endless fascination and a serene underwater spectacle.