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Black Phantom Tetra – Hyphessobrycon megalopterus

Black Phantom Tetra

Tetras are amongst the most popular aquarium fishes. There are probably more than 150 distinct species of tetra from which the aquarist may choose and this includes a large number of visually stunning fishes that are bound to enhance any home aquarium.

Is the Black Phantom Tetra a good community fish? The Black Phantom Tetra should be considered to be an excellent community fish because it can live quite happily amongst a wide variety of other species. It is best to avoid keeping Black Phantom Tetras with large, aggressive species which may bully or even eat the Black Phantom Tetra.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Black Phantom Tetra
Scientific nameHyphessobrycon megalopterus
Originate fromUpper Paraguay basin and upper Madeira basin in Brazil and Bolivia in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and hugely popular
TemperamentPlacid, shoaling fish
Colour & FormDark silver to black. Male has dark finnage with elongated dorsal and anal fins. Female has reddish tinge to adipose, anal and pelvic fins. Tetragonal in shape.
LifespanUp to 6 years
Adult sizeUp to 2 inches
DietOmnivorous – eat aquatic insect larvae in nature
Aquarium size24 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp72 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH5.0 to 7.5 (5.0 to 5.5 if breeding)
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 18 dGH (up to 4 if breeding)

Origins of the Black Phantom Tetra

Tetras, as a “family” of fishes belonging to the biological family Characidae are found in nature in Africa, Central America and South America.

The Black Phantom Tetra originates from the upper Paraguay basin and upper Madeira basin in Brazil and Bolivia in South America. The majority of Black Phantom Tetras available to aquarists are captive-bred.

Characteristics of the Black Phantom Tetra

As you can see, the Black Phantom Tetra is a beautiful, little fish which will grow to around 1.4 inches in nature but up to 2 inches in the aquarium and live for up to six years. 

Male Black Phantom Tetra

The Black Phantom Tetra is a deep-bodied fish and takes the form of a tetragonal shape. The female Black Phantom Tetra has a reddish adipose, anal and pelvic fins so is quite easy to distinguish from the male of the species. The female also, once gravid (carrying eggs) will become even more rounded.

The Black Phantom Tetra is distinguished by being a dark slate grey in colour. The male has elongated dorsal and anal fins compared with the female and her body colour is also a more silvery colour. Bearing in mind the slightly elongated finnage of the male it may be appropriate to avoid keeping Black Phantom Tetras with species prone to fin-nipping.

The Black Phantom Tetra is omnivorous in the aquarium though, in the wild, it generally eats small, live aquatic insect larvae but also eats plants. In the aquarium, as well as consuming small flake food the Black Phantom Tetra will enjoy brine shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms, daphnia and tubifex worms. In addition, the Black Phantom Tetra will benefit from pellet food, as most of these commercial foods include nutrients designed to enhance the vibrant colours of the fish. That said, the Black Phantom Tetra rarely ventures to the bottom of the aquarium.

The Black Phantom Tetra tends to inhabit the upper half of the aquarium so it is worthwhile including some Corydoras in the tank as they will eat any food that falls down.

The Black Phantom Tetra is, by nature, a shoaling fish and it is generally recommended to purchase six or more fish, as their nature is to swim together as a shoal and they will tend to thrive much better as a shoal.

Black Phantom Tetras are ideal to be kept in a mixed aquarium (or in a single-species aquarium) as a shoal and are both graceful and beautiful to observe. These smaller Tetras are quite timid fish so should not be kept with large, aggressive species which may bully or even eat them.

Black Phantom Tetras mix well with most other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches.

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Black Phantom Tetras should be one of 24 inches in length or more, which will enable a small shoal to move around freely. The tank should be well-planted, preferably including dense foliage, in order to enable them to find cover and open space to enable them freely to swim.

Black Phantom Tetras prefer slightly acidic water in nature because, in the wild, this is their natural habitat which is under the canopy of the Amazon rainforest. In nature, the water will get relatively little light and will also tend to be tannin-stained due to the decomposition of leaf matter and this causes the water to be quite acidic.

It is best to ensure that the aquarium is well planted, possibly with floating plants included to provide shade from the tank illumination and thus mimic the blackwater environment found in the natural habitat of the Black Phantom Tetra, despite the fact that you are unlikely to be able to obtain anything other than tank-bred specimens.

Female Black Phantom Tetra

It is somewhat difficult to determine with certainty the sex of most Tetras. It is, however, easy to determine the sex of Black Phantom Tetras because the female has smaller dorsal and anal fins and her adipose, anal and pelvic fins a quite reddish in colour.

The general rule for Tetras is that by keeping six or more of the same species in an aquarium they will be fully aware of which is male and which is female and they will act accordingly.

Most (but not all) Tetras have an additional fin which identifies them as being Tetras and the Black Phantom Tetra is no exception. If you look between the dorsal fin and the caudal (tail) fin of the Black Phantom Tetra you will observe a tiny, additional fin, known as the adipose fin. The purpose of this fin is not fully understood but, if it is present on a fish then you can be pretty certain that the fish is a Tetra.

Tetra comes from the Greek word “Tetragonopterus” which means square-finned and appears to relate to the four fins on vertical plane of the fish (dorsal, adipose, caudal and anal fins) which span the central line of the fish (when viewed from above or below, front or rear) and are not present as a pair (e.g. the pectoral fins).

Black Phantom Tetra – Video

How do Black Phantom Tetras breed?

Tetras, in general, will scatter eggs by laying them over fine plants such as Cabomba, Fontanalis or Java Moss.

As the female Black Phantom Tetra becomes ripe with eggs, the difference between the sexes is even more evident. If you plan to attempt to breed Black Phantom Tetras then it is recommended that you have a breeding tank prepared which will be unlit and well planted.

Whilst you can keep Black Phantom Tetras in community tanks with fairly neutral water, in order to optimize for breeding conditions it is far better to create an environment much closer to that of its natural habitat (i.e. fairly dark with soft, somewhat acidic water).

The female will swim amongst the plants in which she will lay her eggs which will stick to the plants and the male will follow her or swim alongside her and fertilize (at least some of) the eggs as they are laid. Once spawning is complete, remove the adults, as they are likely to consume the eggs and take no further parental responsibility.

Breeding tank for Black Phantom Tetras

You should prepare an unlit tank of around 20 gallons in size with mature water. You may wish to consider covering most, if not all of the aquarium glass with card to maintain the dark conditions requires (perhaps including a viewing port which can be closed when not in use).

Ensure that there is plenty of fine vegetation (e.g. Cabomba, Fontanalis or Java Moss) in the tank. Black Phantom Tetras tend to breed in the early morning. The water should be at a pH of around 5.0 to 5.5, a dGH of 1 to 4 and, ideally around 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may wish to introduce mosquito larvae or bloodworm as an inducement to reproduction.

The female will swim amongst the plants, laying her eggs whilst the male will swim alongside or behind her and fertilize the eggs as they are laid. Typically, the female can lay several hundred eggs, which will stick onto the plants or fall to the bottom of the tank.

Once the female has scattered her eggs and the male has fertilized at least some of them then both should be removed carefully from the breeding tank because neither will have anything more to do with the eggs but they may simply eat them.

Keep the lights off and the tank dark because the eggs and fry are particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in around 24 hours depending on tank temperature and conditions. Keep the tank unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting.

The newly hatched fry can be fed infusoria (particularly rotifers) and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. After around four days or so add baby brine shrimp. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack (usually after six to eight weeks) then they can be introduced into the community tank where they will join the existing shoal. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Should your Black Phantom Tetras have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Black Phantom Tetras don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. 

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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