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Keeping Cardinal Tetras in a Home Aquarium

Updated on July 20, 2012
The brightly colored Cardinal Tetra is one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish found in the hobby today.
The brightly colored Cardinal Tetra is one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish found in the hobby today.

Tetras are a popular breed of fish. Unlike some other aquarium fish, these fish prefer to live in large schools. They find safety in large numbers. Cardinal Tetras are part of the Characidae family that live in streams and other bodies of freshwater in South America and Africa. The Cardinal Tetra is second in popularity only to it's cousin, the Neon Tetra. The Neon Tetra tends to be more popular, because they are more readily available for purchase in local pet stores, but the Cardinal Tetra tends to show brighter colors in a home aquarium. If you are planning to keep these fish in your aquarium it is advisable to keep a minimum of 10 fish. You should also know these basic care facts:


An aquarium owner keeping these fish can expect them to reach a length of up to 2 inches max. That's actually about one-half inch longer than their cousin, the Neon Tetra. Keep this in-mind when choosing tank mates. Larger fish will only see Cardinal Tetras as a snack. Don't keep other larger fish in the aquarium with Cardinal Tetras.


The main difference in coloration between the Cardinal Tetra and it's Neon cousin is that the red stripe on the Cardinal Tetra runs the full length of it's body. They both have the characteristic iridescent blue line traveling the full length of their body and the bright red color below. When living conditions are optimal, a Cardinal Tetra will show it's most vibrant colors.

Breeding Cardinal Tetras

Because of the climate change from South American waters to a tank, even in ideal conditions, breeding can be difficult. Spawning can be encouraged by feeding them live foods and keeping tank lights dimmed with lots of floating vegetation. With the proper conditions, the male will swim along side the female and they will scatter fertilized eggs among the aquarium vegetation.After spawning is completed you should immediately move adults to another tank otherwise they will eat the eggs. It then takes around 24 hours to hatch.

The Cardinal Tetra Aquarium

The first and most important thing is to make sure the tank is an adequate size to hold Cardinal Tetras. The tank needs to be big enough that 10 or more Tetras could live in it and have plenty of swimming space. Do not keep them in anything smaller than 20 gallons as there will not be enough room to keep a large enough school of Cardinal Tetras. Remember that the more fish you have, the larger the aquarium needs to be. It is important to provide plenty of plants for the fish to move through. Keep it lush and dense but also provide an open swimming area. Water needs to be around 73 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit with a mid range pH of 5 to 6. Regular partial water changes will keep water optimal and promote good health with these fish.

Tank Mates

Cardinal Tetras can be kept with other peaceful community fish, as long as they are not big enough to see a little Tetra as a nice snack. Cardinal Tetras are very popular aquarium fish for many reasons and any aquarium owner can enjoy the beauty of their vibrant colors in their home aquarium.

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