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Tiete Tetra – Brycon insignis


Tiete Tetra - Brycon insignis

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 Tiete Tetra a good community fish? The short answer is, absolutely not and for a range of reasons:

  • The species is currently endangered
  • It has been fished for food almost to extinction in its native habitat.
  • It is a large species, growing to around 32 inches and around 22 lbs

The Tiete Tetra is only suitable for aquarists keen to ensure the survival of the species.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Tiete Tetra
Scientific nameBrycon insignis
FamilyCharacidae
Originate fromParaíba do Sul River basin in southeast Brazil in South America.
Care requiredThreatened species – professional aquarists only
TemperamentLarge, shoaling fish
Colour & FormLarge Tetra
LifespanUp to 15 years
Adult size32 inches and 22 lbs
DietOmnivorous – eat aquatic insect larvae in nature
Aquarium sizeCommercial, breeding aquarium
Compatible withNow a threatened species in nature
Avoid keeping withSmall fish
BreedingProfessional aquarists only
Water temp73 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.0 to 7.5
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 18 dGH

Origins of the Tiete 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 Tiete Tetra is endemic to the Paraíba do Sul River basin in southeast Brazil in South America.

Characteristics of the Tiete Tetra

As you can see, the Tiete Tetra is an impressive and large fish. It has a substantial body – often described as being “torpedo-shaped”. It will grow to up to around 32 inches in the wild and, at that size, will weigh around 22lbs or more and has been fished almost to extinction for food.

The featured image, taken from the video below, shows the fish being returned to the river having survived being caught in a net – hence the damage to its scales on its left flank.

The Tiete Tetra is able to tolerate water at both sides of pH neutral so, if you intend to seek to breed the species it should easily adjust to the soft, acidic water conditions that it apparently prefers.

In order to maintain the softness and acidity of the water, it is recommended that the aquarium is filtered using aquatic peat, as this seems to reflect its natural habitat where it is still to be found. In addition, floating and naturally decomposing Indian Almond leaves are highly recommended. The floating leaves provide the shaded area that the Tiete 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 Tiete Tetra.

The Tiete Tetra is a shoaling fish and should be kept as a group of at least twelve 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.

Due to the size of the species, it is only envisaged that an industrial-sized aquarium will really be suitable and it would be more appropriate to have a captive-breeding program with the intended purpose of restoring stocks of this species into its natural habitat from the point at which it is currently understood still to exist in the wild.

The Tiete Tetra, being such a large fish, is known to consume smaller fish so it is recommended that it is kept in a single species “blackwater” environment

The body of the Tiete Tetra in good condition is typically a vibrant silver/bronze in color. The fins are unremarkable, ranging from grey to clear (hyaline)

It is less easy to distinguish the sex of adult Tiete Tetras but the male tends to be a richer, deeper silver/bronze, especially at spawning times, whilst the female is fuller-bodied, again, especially at spawning times.

The Tiete 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 throughout the area of its environment and, being such a large fish will devour most food available to it.

In the image below, you will see the Tiete Tetra apparently shoaling amongst local people in Brazil.

Tiete Tetra

Tiete Tetras prefer a shaded environment, protected from the intense sunlight of the tropics, 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 Tiete Tetras should be one of at least 180 inches in length or more due to the sheer size of the species, which will enable a small shoal to move around freely. The tank needn’t be well-planted assuming that it is shaded so that the fish may swim freely. The water should have gentle movement.

Tiete 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 and the male is likely to take on richer coloring with more bronze pigmentation. 

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 and the Tiete Tetra is no exception. If you look between the dorsal fin and the caudal (tail) fin of the Tiete 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).

Tiete Tetra – Video

How do Tiete Tetras breed?

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

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

As the female Tiete 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 Tiete 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.

As this is a threatened species it should only be kept by professional aquarists who have the experience and resources to facilitate the restocking of the species in its natural habitat. As a professional aquarist, I’m certain that you don’t need advice from me regarding how to breed the species in captivity so I won’t presume to offer it.

It may be that since the species has been fished for food almost to extinction, there could be an opportunity not only for restocking its natural habitat but also to provide the species for food by farming it in much the same way as salmon or other species are farmed elsewhere. What seems clear is that there is a market for the fish as food.

The reason that I have included the species in this blog is really to draw attention to the fact that whilst many native species (usually the smaller, more colorful species) are benefitting from worldwide distribution from captive-breeding programs for the pet trade, there is a real problem with species in their natural habitat – in this case simply because the species is being net-caught for food to the extent that its continued existence appears threatened.

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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