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Red Spotted Tetra – Copella meinkeni


Red-Spotted 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 Red-Spotted Tetra a good community fish? The Red-Spotted Tetra should be considered to be an excellent community fish and gets on with most small species. The Red-Spotted Tetra is suitable for novice aquarists but is almost unique in the way that it breeds. The Red-Spotted Tetra is a truly captivating little fish, especially if you set up the conditions in which this little beauty can breed.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Red-Spotted Tetra
Scientific nameCopella meinkeni
FamilyCharacidae
Originate fromUpper Amazon basin, as well as the Rio Negro and Orinoco basins in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and increasingly popular
TemperamentPlacid, shoaling fish
Colour & FormVery slender Tetra (without adipose fin) which spawns under a leaf on the surface of the water
LifespanUp to 3 years
Adult size2.2 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 temp75 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH5.0 to 7.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 8 dGH

Origins of the Red-Spotted 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 Red-Spotted Tetra is found in the upper Amazon basin, as well as the Rio Negro and Orinoco basins in South America.

Characteristics of the Red-Spotted Tetra

As you can see, the Red-Spotted Tetra is an impressive little fish. It has a very slender body – not dissimilar to the much, much larger freshwater pike or saltwater barracuda. It will grow to up to around 2.2 inches in the aquarium and lives for around three years.

Red-Spotted Tetras prefer fairly soft, acidic water with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0 with a temperature range between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 8 dGH. 

The Red-Spotted Tetra enjoys soft, acidic water conditions so it will be comfortable with other tetras and most small community fishes.

In order to maintain the softness and acidity of the water, it is recommended that the aquarium is filtered using aquatic peat. In addition, floating and naturally decomposing Indian Almond leaves are highly recommended. The floating leaves provide the shaded area that the Red-Spotted Tetra will dwell beneath and the decomposing vegetation provides the tannins that will effectively synthesize the “blackwater” conditions found in the natural habitat of the Red-Spotted Tetra.

The Red-Spotted Tetra is a shoaling fish and should be kept as a group of at least six fish, though a shoal of, say, twenty or more fish is highly recommended. Since this is a small species, there is every reason to have a decent-sized shoal and to include shoals of other small Tetras in the same aquarium.

Having plenty of vegetation to break up lines of sight will also help to protect your Red-Spotted Tetras from predation but it is obviously advised that Red-Spotted Tetras are not kept with predatory species, as they are very small fish and may be seen as a snack.

The body of the Red-Spotted Tetra in good condition is typically a copper colour with regular, red spots all along its body comprising around five horizontal stripes of evenly-spaced spots. Each red spot has a corresponding black “shadow” just behind it, giving a three-dimensional appearance. The fins also have a pink-coloured tinge to the edges. This fins of the male, particularly but not specifically the dorsal fin are more extended than those of the female.

It is fairly easy to distinguish the sex of adult Red-Spotted Tetras because the male tends to have longer finnage and be a richer, deeper copper colouring, especially at spawning times, whilst the female is fuller-bodied, again, especially at spawning times. Be careful about keeping this little gem with fin-nippers.

The Red-Spotted Tetra tends to inhabit the upper area and middle areas of the aquarium (top to bottom). That said, it is a vigorous fish when breeding and will readily traverse the entire aquarium. It tends to feed in the middle area of its environment and, being such a tiny fish will prefer very small food and it loves baby brine shrimp a couple of times each week.

The Red-Spotted Tetra is, by nature, a shoaling fish and it is generally recommended to purchase at least twelve fish – preferably twenty, as their nature is to swim together as a shoal and they will tend to thrive much better as a shoal. Red-Spotted Tetras are excellent community fish and are not ideal for novice aquarists assuming that the more specialized water and breeding conditions required are provided and maintained.

Red-Spotted Tetras prefer 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 in nature that include decomposing wood and vegetation, which tends to make the water brown (the effects of tannins) and somewhat acidic.

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Red-Spotted Tetras should be one of at least 24 inches in length or more due to the shoaling nature of the species, which will enable a small shoal to move around freely. There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have gentle movement.

Red-Spotted Tetras are difficult to sex until they are mature, where the female has a slightly fuller body when she is carrying eggs (gravid) than the male is likely to take on richer colouring with a more copper-coloured pigmentation and develop longer finnage. 

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 when the time comes for breeding.

Most (but not all) Tetras have an additional fin which identifies them as being Tetras but the Red-Spotted Tetra is an exception. If you look between the dorsal fin and the caudal (tail) fin of the Red-Spotted Tetra you will observe that it does not have an 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).

Red-Spotted Tetra – Video

How do Red-Spotted Tetras breed?

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

Red-Spotted Tetras are unlike most other Tetras in that they do not scatter their eggs. Indeed, they do lay their eggs in the water but, rather than scattering their eggs as other Tetras do, the Red-Spotted Tetra lays its eggs on the underside of leaves on or near the surface of the water. The male will then chase away the female and will guard the eggs until the fry are hatched.

As the female Red-Spotted Tetra becomes ripe with eggs, the difference between the sexes may become more evident, as the body expands because it is carrying eggs. If you plan to attempt to breed Red-Spotted Tetras then it is recommended that you have a breeding tank prepared. Such a tank can be empty and should be tall and not more than half-filled with water, the upper half being draped with overhanging leaves onto which the female will leap to deposit her eggs and onto which the male will leap to fertilize them.

The breeding pair will repeat this process on the chosen leaf, the female depositing about ten eggs, the male fertilizing them until up to 200 eggs have been laid and fertilized.

Thereafter, the female takes no further part in parenting but the male will regularly splash water onto the leaf using his caudal fin until the eggs are hatched and the fry fall down into the aquarium.

In the event that the eggs have been laid on more than one leaf then the male will remember this and will splash each leaf in turn in strict rotation.

It takes around thirty-six-hours for the eggs to hatch (and fall down into the water) and around a further forty-eight-hours for the yolk sacs to be depleted and the fry to become free-swimming

There is no evidence that the parents will prey on the fry, especially if the parents are well fed, so there is no pressing reason to remove them from the breeding tank but, of course, you may choose so to do.

Breeding tank for Red-Spotted Tetras

You should prepare a tank of around 5 gallons in size with mature, soft, acidic water. The water should have a low level of light.

You may wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or bloodworm as an inducement to reproduction.

The male and female will swim amongst the plants and the female will lay laying around 150 to 200 eggs during a spawning. The male(s) will swim alongside or behind her and fertilize the eggs as they are laid either under floating loaves or on leaves close to the surface. Once the female has laid all her eggs the adults should be removed from the breeding tank.

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 two depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around two to three days after hatching. Keep the tank unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Red-Spotted Tetra will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone to see anything at all.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on 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 Red-Spotted Tetras have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Red-Spotted Tetras don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding baby brine shrimp, 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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