How to Care for Tetra Fish

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Tetra fish are popular among both beginner and advanced fish hobbyists, partly because of their bright colors and active behaviors. Sizes and colors vary among tetra species. Tetra fish care is fairly easy if you maintain water quality and don't overfeed them. Nearly all tetra species do well in schools, so keep five to six of the species you choose. With the proper aquarium setup and diet, tetras tend to be hardy fish; many species can live up to 10 years in a healthy aquarium.

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Neon tetras are among the most popular tetra fish.
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Neon tetra tank mates

Tetras are among the most common types of freshwater fish for aquariums. They are relatively small aquarium fish. The most popular tetras include neon tetras, glow light tetras, and the cardinal tetras — a red tetra fish species. Others in the trade are painted glass tetras, black skirt tetras, rosy tetras, and red-eye tetras.

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Most tetras are fairly docile fish, but some, like serpae tetra, are prone to nipping fish with long, flowing tails. When you're setting up an aquarium, make sure all the tetra species you keep cohabit well with other fish in your tank. Appropriate neon tetra tank mates include white cloud minnows and zebra danios.

Serpae tetras can be nippy with long-finned fish.
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Setting up the tetra aquarium

The larger the tank the better. Even though tetras typically are only a few inches long, a larger aquarium is easier to maintain. If you want to start with a smaller, 20-gallon tank, you can keep about 10 small tetras.

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Place your aquarium on a sturdy stand away from windows. Set up an aquarium light on a timer for about 10 to 12 hours of light a day. Use an aquarium heater to ensure the water temperature remains around 78 degrees Fahrenheit, ideal for tropical fish like tetras. Also, set up an air pump to boost oxygen levels in the water.

The larger the tank the better.
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Decorating the tetra aquarium

Place an inch or two of aquarium gravel at the bottom of the tank. Gravel will help break down fish waste, uneaten food, and dead plant parts. If you choose not to use gravel, clean the aquarium more often.

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Decorate the tank with castles, plants, and pirate ships, or whatever decorations appeal to you, of course! Seat the decorations as close to the bottom of the tank as possible so the gravel will secure the decorations in place. If you have too many decorations, you'll reduce the area the fish can swim in and that can increase their stress levels. If you want to add multiple pieces, select pieces of varying heights. Consider real plants instead of artificial plants because live plants will help balance biochemicals and maintain nutrients in the water.

Water quality maintenance

Black skirt tetras are peaceful schooling fish.
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When you set up a tetra aquarium, and when you're performing routine partial water changes, you must condition the water. Perform 10 percent to 25 percent partial water changes one to two times a month. Note that tap water often contains chlorine and heavy metals, so use a water conditioner to remove these agents. Test the water regularly to make sure that hardness, chlorine, alkalinity, and pH levels are all within healthy ranges:

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  • Nitrates: below 40 ppm
  • Nitrites: below 0.5 ppm — 0 is ideal
  • Hardness: soft
  • Chlorine: 0 ppm
  • Alkalinity: about 80 ppm
  • pH: 6.8 to 7.8

Do not overcrowd your aquarium. Overcrowding with too many fish can decrease the quality of the water. Stick with the tried-and-true formula: 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish length. Ten 2-inch fish require at least 20 gallons of water.

Regular maintenance will keep your fish and aquatic life healthy.
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Feeding tetra fish

Tetras are omnivorous fish; they will eat almost about anything including fish flakes, brine shrimp, bloodworms, beef heart, Daphnia, krill, and plankton. Do not overfeed your fish. This will lead to uneaten food rotting at the bottom of the tank, fouling the water. Feed only as much as your fish will eat readily in about two minutes.

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Neon tetra fish care

While tetras are fairly hardy fish, they can get sick. Even when you're doing everything according to the book, keep your eye out for signs of illness such as anchor worms, fungus, ich (more on this fish disease below), and tail rot. Other signs of illness to watch for include elevates scales and loss of appetite.

Anchor worms are introduced to the water by infected fish. You might see affected fish scratching against the glass or decorations, or you may notice whitish-green threads coming off their scales. To treat anchor worms, you'll need to treat the entire aquarium and all the fish. Add a commercially formulated treatment for anchor worms.

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Fungus issues usually develop when fish are stressed, have parasites, or are living in poor water conditions. You'll see gray or whitish growth in or on the scales. Quarantine infected fish and perform a partial water change in your main aquarium. Treat the infected fish with a commercial fungal treatment.

Common fish illnesses

Ich is among the more common fish illnesses; it usually attacks stressed fish. You will start to notice white spots on your fish, and your fish may start scratching. You can treat ich many different ways: 1) Raise the temperature for about 10 days to speed up the parasites' life cycle. 2) Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of aquarium salt per 5 gallons of water for about 10 days. 3) Use a commercially formulated ich treatment and follow the directions on the bottle.

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Fin, tail, and mouth rot is a common bacterial infection that can cause the fin, tail, and mouth to rot. It's more common when a bully fish picks on other fish and when the water quality is poor. You'll notice frayed fins, faded color, and overall deterioration of the tail or fins.

If you notice that there is a bully in the aquarium, remove him so you can treat the fish with the rot. To treat the sick fish, perform a partial water change, add aquarium salt to the tank and consider treating the water with a bactericide such as Myxazin or Melafix.

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