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Flame Tetra – Hyphessobrycon flammeus

Flame 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 Flame Tetra a good community fish? The Flame Tetra should be considered to be an excellent community fish and gets on with most species if kept as a small shoal. It prefers soft, slightly acidic water chemistry but is highly resilient. The female is distinguishable by being slightly larger and fuller in the body than the male whilst the male is richer in colour. 

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Flame Tetra – also known as:
Fire Tetra
Red Tetra
Red Flame Tetra
Von Rio Tetra
Scientific nameHyphessobrycon flammeus
Originate fromSoutheast Brazil, where it occurs in coastal parts of Rio de Janeiro (Guanabara bay region, and Paraíba do Sul and Guandu River basins) and São Paulo (upper Tietê River basin) in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and hugely popular
TemperamentPlacid, shoaling fish
Colour & FormGolden yellow head, orange upper body and flame-red body beneath the spine. The dorsal fin has a red base and is distinguished with a white leading edge. Pelvic and anal fins are a deeper red at the root, gradually fading towards the edges. The caudal fin ranges from red to almost clear
LifespanUp to 5 years
Adult sizeUp to 1.6 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 pH5.5 to 7.5
Water hardness (dGH or dH)Up to 15 dGH

Origins of the Flame 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 Flame Tetra is native to Southeast Brazil, where it occurs in coastal parts of Rio de Janeiro (Guanabara bay region and Paraíba do Sul and Guandu River basins) and São Paulo (upper Tietê River basin) in South America. The native population is now threatened and so the vast majority of Flame Tetras available to aquarists are captive-bred.

Characteristics of the Flame Tetra

As you can see, the Flame Tetra is characterized by its high body, golden yellow head, orange upper body (behind the head, above the spine to the caudal fin) and flame-red body beneath the spine leading back from above the pelvic fins. The dorsal fin of the Flame Tetra has a red base and is distinguished with a white leading edge.

The pelvic and anal fins are a deeper red at the root, gradually fading towards the edges. The caudal fin ranges from red to almost clear (hyaline).

The Flame Tetra will grow to up to 1.6 inches and will live for up to 5 years of age. The female is slightly larger than the male but the male’s colouration becomes greatly enhanced at times of spawning.

The Flame Tetra is also known as:

The Flame Tetra is a very adaptable little fish because it can tolerate both clear, almost neutral water and “blackwater” which is quite acidic.

The Flame Tetra is a shoaling fish and should be kept as a group of at least six fish, though a shoal of, say, ten or more fish is highly recommended. It is known to be a very peaceable fish.

Having plenty of vegetation to break up lines of sight will also help to protect your Flame Tetras from predation but it is obviously advised that Flame Tetras are not kept with predatory species.

The Flame Tetra has a deeper body than, for example, a Neon Tetra and the female has a slightly rounder body than the male, especially when gravid (carrying eggs). The colouring of the male tends to be fuller and richer than that of the female, especially as spawning approaches.

The Flame Tetra tends to inhabit the middle area of the aquarium (top to bottom). That said, it is a vigorous fish when breeding and will readily traverse the entire aquarium.

The Flame 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. Flame Tetras are excellent community fish and are ideal for novice aquarists, as they don’t tend to have aggressive tendencies towards other species. It is advised not to include Flame Tetras in an aquarium containing predatory species, as their wellbeing may rapidly deteriorate.

Flame Tetras, unlike most rainforest species, enjoy clear water but seem happy in a shaded tank, as they can hide from predation, so consider including floating leaves and/or allowing vegetation to grow so that it floats on the surface of the water to provide shade. They are used to habitats that include decomposing wood and vegetation, which tends to make the water brown (the effects of tannins) and acidic but seem equally happy in clear water.

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Flame Tetras should be one of 24 inches in length or more due to the shoaling nature of the species, which will enable a small shoal to move around freely. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have gentle movement.

Flame Tetras are able to thrive in water with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5 with a temperature range between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 15 dGH.

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 Flame Tetra is no exception. If you look between the dorsal fin and the caudal (tail) fin of the Flame 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 freshwater tropical 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 or pelvic fins).

Flame Tetra – Video

How do Flame Tetras breed?

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

Flame Tetras, like most species, are noted to leap above the water surface during breeding and in general, so it is advised that the tank should be covered to mitigate the risk of losing fish.

As the female Flame Tetra becomes ripe with eggs, the difference between the sexes becomes even more evident. If you plan to attempt to breed Flame Tetras then it is recommended that you have a breeding tank prepared. Such a tank can be empty but you may wish to include a mesh or grid under which the fertilized eggs will fall and/or a sterilized breeding mop.

That said, Flame Tetras will breed in a community tank and, if the tank is well planted, it is likely that at least a few fry may survive to reach adulthood. Having a good covering of Willow Moss on the floor of the aquarium seems to provide a safe haven for fry, which can help them to survive predation in a community or single-species tank.

Some say that a novice may find it difficult to breed Flame Tetras but, in my experience, by understanding the conditions that are ideal for breeding, most species will breed quite readily, as it is natural for them so to do and, in general, nature finds a way.

I have observed Flame Tetras breeding readily and vigorously in quite neutral water but soft, slightly acidic water is the general recommendation. Bearing in mind that you are likely only to purchase captive-bred specimens then it may well be that the commercial breeder has, over numerous generations, acclimatized the stock to thrive in a wider range of water conditions.

The female will swim more vigorously around the tank and, if you include two males then they will encourage her to lay her eggs by bumping into her. She will lay her slightly adhesive eggs which will immediately be fertilized by the male(s) and will either stick to plants or spawning mop or will fall to the bottom of the tank (preferably through the mesh or trap). Once spawning is complete, remove the adults, as they are likely to consume the eggs, given the chance, and take no further parental responsibility.

Spawning usually takes place in the early morning. In nature, Flame Tetras spawn at the start of the rainy season.

Breeding tank for Flame Tetras

You should prepare a tank of around 20 gallons in size with mature water with a low level of light.

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, who will now be flame red entirely, will swim alongside or behind her and fertilize the eggs as they are laid. Typically, when the female lays her eggs during a spawning, they may adhere to plants or will sink to the bottom of the tank and the female may lay up to 500 eggs during a spawning.

Once the female has scattered her eggs and the male has fertilized at least some of them then the adults should be removed carefully from the breeding tank because they will have nothing more to do with the eggs but they may simply eat them.

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

The eggs will hatch typically in a day or so depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around three to four days after hatching. Keep the tank unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting.

The newly hatched fry will firstly feed from their yolk sac but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria (particularly rotifers) and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. It is worth mentioning that immediately after hatching, fry seem quite vigorous but will soon go into a resting state before they become free-swimming so please don’t mistake this initial stage as being free-swimming.

After around four days or so add baby brine shrimp. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack 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 Flame Tetras have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Flame 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. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

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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