ember tetra care

Caring For Ember Tetras: The Perfect Community Fish?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ember tetras are often overlooked and totally underrated. Not only are they peaceful, outgoing, gregarious, active, and easy to care for – but they’re also not obnoxious like most tetras. They don’t nip, chase, or otherwise harass tankmates. They’re super hardy, adapt to a wide variety of temperatures, and aren’t picky with food or even heat.

But if you’re thinking they’re just for beginners, you’d be wrong. They make a fantastic addition to a community or aquascaped tank, or even a slightly challenging – but not impossibly hard – breeding project. Plus they’re tiny, so they make a perfect addition to nearly any tank size.

Seriously. It doesn’t get better!

clapping gif

They may look unimpressive and less than colorful in store tanks, but you don’t want to pass these guys up. Given a few days to settle in and some minor habitat tweaks, they’ll look and act like totally different fish.

Disclosure: If you choose to buy a product I recommend – at best – I’ll make some coffee money at no additional cost to you. I work hard to make sure I’m recommending products you’ll love and that I’m not in your face about my suggestions. If you don’t love it, let me know!

Table of contents

Ember tetra care snapshot

FAQ

Hyphessobrycon amandae Classification

IUCN Status: Not listed

Class: Actinopterygii are ray-finned fishes, which is a subcategory of boney fishes. These fish are characterized by the bony structures that support their webbed fins. This group makes up nearly half of all living vertebrates.

Order: Characiformes are a subgroup of ray-finned fishes including characins and 17 other recognized families.

Family: Characidae is a family belonging to characiformes that hail from tropical and subtropical waters. Although there is some scientific debate surrounding the preferred name for this family, “characids” is preferred by scientists.

Genus: Hyphessobrycon is a genus of fish that are part of the “tetra” family. This particular genus consists of 154+ recognized species that come from a few regions – predominantly South and Central America.

Species: Hyphessobrycon amandae

What Does Hyphessobrycon amandae Mean?

Hyphesso comes from the Ancient Greek υπελάσσων (hyphesson), meaning ‘of lesser stature.’ The generic name Brycon is just that – a generic name added to the species name.

Amandae is pseudo-Latin for Amanda, in honor of Heiko Bleher’s (the discoverer’s) mother, Amanda Bleher.

awe gif

If that doesn’t make you love the name more, I don’t know what will.

Distribution & Natural Habitat

The das Mortes tributary of the Araguaia (in the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil) is where we usually find these guys. However, the full extent of their range within the Araguaia and the lower Amazon Basin as a whole is unknown to us.

araguaia river

Most of their natural habitat is an assumption. We assume they live predominantly in minor tributaries, backwaters, and oxbow lakes. Based on the Araguaia drainage, we assume they inhabit mostly soft, slow-moving waters that are tannin-stained. We’d expect to find them in areas of dense vegetation with leaf litter, branches, and plenty of cover.

Aquarium Care

Difficulty: Easy
Size: 3/4″ (2 cm)
Lifespan: 2 – 3 years
Tank Size: 5 gallons (20 liters)
Diet: Omnivore (micropredator)
Temperature: 68 – 82 F (20 – 27 C)

pH5.5 – 7
Hardness:  1 – 10  dKH
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Breeding: Easy
Swimming: Top to mid-water
Availability: Common online, can be hard in stores

Unlike most fish, you probably won’t need a lid with embers unless you want one. This makes them a great choice for an open-top tank, so long as you make sure to leave a little room in case they do decide to jump. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure they feel secure and- obviously – you’ll want to keep an open-top tank away from other pets and small children.

Tank Specs

If you want to keep just ember tetras, I suggest a minimum of 5 gallons – though 10 would be better. With tankmates, 10 gallons is certainly a better choice. They do better at warmer temperatures (somewhere in the high-70s to low-80s), but they do alright at room temp as well.

ember tetra tank

Unless you usually heat your house to the mid-70s, you’ll likely want a heater with these guys. This is especially true if you want to take a crack at breeding them. If you want a detailed review of the best heaters, we have an article for that – but if you want a quick suggestion, you can check below.

Stocking

Ember tetras are shoaling – not schooling! – fish, so they need company of their own kind to feel secure. I recommend eight or more embers to see the most natural and rewarding behavior. If they are the only fish in the tank, you might be able to get away with only six, but definitely go for higher numbers if you plan to keep them with other fish.

Ember tetra

Interestingly enough, they seem to mimic other shoaling fish if they’re kept in the same tank. When kept with corydoras, they will pick from the substrate, when kept with neons tetras, they will shoal together.

Decor

They’re unfussy about decor, but do seem to appreciate overhead cover, as well as leaf litter and some branches. I’m a fan of Tannin Aquatics – in case you haven’t heard… – and they have some super cool botanicals you can grab to make it look and feel more natural. Among my favorites for embers – mostly because they look cool – are palm flowers and pygmy palm fronds.

Palm frond

Like most fish, they tend to match their colors as closely as they can with their surroundings. So if their background is light, they’ll be light. If you want to get the most out of their colors, I suggest a dark substrate, a dark background, as well as blackwater.

For a black background, I usually paint the tank or – if you want a less permanent background – you can cut and tape a back trash bag and no one would know the difference. As far as a cheap substrate goes, I usually use HTH pool filter sand (buy in-store, it’s cheaper!) But if you want a cheap black substrate, you can go with Imaginarium’s sand – which is, surprisingly, cheaper online.

But you don’t need to do any of that for them to thrive and breed for you. If you’re planning on planting your tank and you know you’re going to need a good substrate for plants, I’ve got some of the best of those below as well.

Best Plants For Ember Tetras

Since embers aren’t sand-sifters and don’t mind overhead plants, you can get away with pretty much any kind of plants in their tank. There’s only two considerations to keep in mind when selecting your plants, the first being that they’re compatible with soft water and the second being ensuring your tetras have adequate open space to swim as well as space to hide.

But, again, since these guys are tiny and pretty open to just about anything, they’re unfussy about plants and make an ideal fish for aquascapes.

Java Moss

Java moss

Java moss is an almost bulletproof plant that requires almost no care. It doesn’t grow nearly as slowly as it’s java fern cousin, and can create lush moss beds that blow and billow in the current. They’re a great option for grazers, fry, or those of you with the blackest of thumbs.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 59 – 86F (15 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness: 3 – 12 dKH
Placement: Floating or attached

Java Fern

Java Fern

Java fern is a nearly indestructible low light plant that can put up with tons of abuse. It doesn’t need Co2, fertilizers, or fancy soils. There are tons of lush, beautiful, jungle-like aquascapes you can create with it too!

Difficulty: Bulletproof
Growth: Slow
Temperature:  64 – 86F (18 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness:  2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Anywhere, basically

Water Wisteria

Water wisteria is a fast-growing plant good for keeping ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites under control. It’s great for providing shelter for scared fish and fry, keeping cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) at bay, and has anti-microbial properties.

Difficulty: Bulletproof
Growth: Slow
Temperature:  64 – 86F (18 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness:  2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Anywhere, basically

Salvinia

Salvinia

Water wisteria is a fast-growing plant good for keeping ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites under control. It’s great for providing shelter for scared fish and fry, keeping cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) at bay, and has anti-microbial properties.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Fast
Temperature:  64 – 86F (18 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness:  2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Floating

Dwarf Hairgrass

dwarf hairgrass care carpeting

Dwarf hairgrass is one of the easiest carpeting plants to grow, but this doesn’t make it an easy plant by most standards. It’s worth the time, money, and effort to create a lush green lawn-like carpet, but if that already sounds like too much for you, you might want to look at other options.

Difficulty: Moderate
Growth: Depends
Temperature: 50 – 83F (10 – 20C)

pH: 6.5 – 7.5
Hardness: 2 – 10 dKH
Placement: Planted

Duckweed

duckweed

Duckweed can be a blessing or a curse. It’s a small floating plant that’s impossible to kill and can quickly and cheaply cover the top of your tank. The tough part is that it’s nearly impossible to fully get rid of once it’s in your tank.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 59 – 86F (15 – 30C)

pH: 3.0 – 8.0
Hardness: 0 – 25 dKH
Placement: Floating

Lighting & Filtration

Ember tetras don’t need special lighting, though they prefer subdued lighting. You can achieve this either with overhead plants or with an adjustable light or dimmer switch. Though I don’t recommend a dimmer unless you’re okay voiding your light’s warranty.

As far as filters go, they don’t do well with a ton of water movement, so you’re going to want to avoid things like hang on backs, canisters (yikes!), or anything that has a high turnover rate. Your best bet is going to be a lightly bubbling sponge filter, just enough to filter the water and prevent any formation of surface scum (biofilm.)
Fortunately, these guys are small and don’t have a huge bioload, so you can get away with a lightly cycled filter. Some of my favorite sponge filters and favorite air pump are below:

Water Care

Ember tetras have such a light bioload that you could, realistically, get away with monthly cleanings if your tank was well filtered, well planted, and lightly stocked. If you want to go the low-maintenance route, I suggest buying a water testing kit so you can see how long your particular setup can go between water changes.

ember tetra water care

Aside from the basic water care items and some basic meds, ember tetras don’t need anything special to thrive for you. For a well-stocked medicine cabinet, check the below recommendations, which should give you everything you would reasonably need for these guys.

Feeding Ember Tetras

Feeding ember tetras is, arguably, the most difficult part of keeping them. It’s not that they’re picky, just that they have such tiny mouths! Since they’re micropredators, they’ll need more meat in their diet than plants. Additionally, you’ll want to look for things that wiggle or don’t sink straight to the bottom. If you’re open to feeding them live food, they’ll gladly accept small prey like microworms, vinegar eels, baby daphnia, grindal worms, and baby brine shrimp.

Baby brine shrimp

If you’re more into a commercial diet, golden pearls, decap brine shrimp eggs, crushed freeze-dried daphnia, and other small foods in the 100- to 150-micron range will be gladly accepted by small fry, anything under 500 should be easily accepted by small adults, and anything under 800 should be accepted by full-grown adults. Though even larger fish will eat smaller-sized foods. I would avoid flakes because they don’t retain a ton of nutrients and they’d be hard to break down to those sizes.

If you’re having a hard time finding food that small, I have some of my favorites below:

Common Ember Tetra Diseases

Ember tetras seem to have an unusual blight that’s been spreading over the last few years. The fish develop a black spot or lines somewhere inside their abdomen and they die shortly afterward. This thing – whatever it is – is contagious to other embers, but doesn’t seem to affect other fish in the tank.

It is thus far undiagnosed, unnamed, and uncured.

If you have any information on this, please comment! I’ll update when we have more information on the disease. Some other diseases and illnesses that are common with embers include:

Bloat

fish bloat

Bloat certainly doesn’t have to be as severe as the picture, but you get the idea. Bloating is an accumulation of gas, fluids, or unpassed food present in the fish. Although I have no proof, I suspect this is why most people search “how to tell if [insert fish species] is pregnant” even if they can’t get pregnant. There is a difference between a bloated fish and a fish that’s eaten too much – the fish that ate too much will act normal whereas the other usually won’t.

Symptoms:

  • Your fish’s stomach is distended without raised scales
  • Fish may appear to be in some sort of discomfort and avoid swimming or other usual activities
  • May not be pooping

Causes:

  • Intestinal blockage
  • Constipation
  • Internal bacterial infection
  • Internal growths/tumors

Constipation

Constipation fish

Constipation usually clears up on its own, but some remedies include feeding blanched or canned peas to herbivores. For omnivores or carnivores, brine shrimp and daphnia (live, if you can) are usually a quick and painless fix for both of you. Salt baths may also be suggested in severe cases.

Symptoms:

  • Stringy, white, and/or clear feces
  • Bloating
  • Lethargy

Causes:

  • Hexamita (HITH)
  • Lack of fiber

Ich (White Spot Disease)

ich fish disease

Ich is caused by a parasite that, to many, looks like tiny white pimples across the fish. It can attach to the mouth, fins, body, and gills. You can usually see fish scraping themselves against objects (likely because parasites are itchy!) before white spots even appear.

Symptoms:

  • White spots
  • Scratching
  • Redness or bloody streaks

Causes:

  • Ichthyophthirius multifilis (parasite)

Columnaris (Cotton Mouth Disease)

columnaris disease

Occasionally called false neon tetra disease or cottonmouth, this is caused by a gram-negative bacterium. it can also, quite understandable, be confused with fungal infections. 

Symptoms:

  • Discolored scales
  • Scales appear to be popping off (not “pineconing”)
  • Grey spots
  • Lesions on the back
  • Legions around the mouth
  • May result in fuzzy patches due to secondary infections

Causes:

  •  Flavbacterium columnare (bacteria)

Ember Tetra Tank Mates

Ember tetras make a phenomenal community tank fish. And if you’ve read any other articles on the site, you probably know that I so rarely say this about any fish. So long as the fish you’re putting wit your embers are peaceful and too small to eat or seriously harm them, they’ll probably do just fine.

The fish you chose to add to your ember tank will likely be more problematic to your embers than your embers would be to them. It’s best to find similarly-sized peaceful shoaling species that inhabit the same areas of the tank, or slightly larger species (such as dwarf cichlids) that live towards the bottom of the tank. It’d be best if they liked soft, slow-moving water as well, but if they like a little flow or neutral water, embers can handle that as well.

This is certainly not a complete list by any means, but I hope it gives you some ideas for suitable tank mates!

Chili Rasboras (Boraras brigittae)

chilli rasbora

Chilis are tiny. Absolutely minuscule compared to your average aquarium fish. They’re also shoaling fish that need to be kept in groups of at least 10 – but, again – they’re tiny! Even still, they pack a colorful punch once settled in and make a beautiful, active display for the right tank.

pH: 4.0 – 7.0
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 68 – 83F (20 – 28C)

Size: .5″ (1 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful shoaling fish
Swimming: Mid to top

Toucan Tetras (Tucanoichthys tucano)

These guys are hard to find (but I know a few good spots if you want them!) And they’re completely worth hunting down these rare gems. They’re a peaceful shoaling fish that need to be kept in groups of six or more and the only known wild population exists within a 200-meter range in Brazil.

pH: 4.0 – 6.5
dKH: 1 – 8
Temp: 68 – 83F (20 – 28C)

Size: 1″ (2 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful shoaling fish
Swimming: Mid to top

Lambchop Rasbora (Trigonostigma espei)

You can think of the lambchop as a smaller cousin to the harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) they look and act similarly and their care requirements are about the same. These guys are just a bit smaller with slightly different coloring.

pH: 5.5 – 7.5
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 74 – 83F (24 – 28C)

Size: 1.2″ (1 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful shoaling fish
Swimming: Mid to top

Harlequin Rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)

harlequin rasbora

Harlequins are a shoaling species that prefer friend groups of six or more. They’re not known to be nippy fish and are quite peaceful as long as they’re provided plants, space to swim, and the company of their own kind.

pH: 5 – 7.5
dKH: 1 – 12
Temp: 70 to 83 F (21 to 28 C)

Size: 2″ (5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Mid to top-water shoaling

Corydoras (Corydora sp.)

Panda Cory Catfish

Corydoras are a shoaling species rarely kept appropriately. Some species can be seen in shoals numbering in the thousands in the wild! While this isn’t easily replicated in the home aquaria, most species are happy in groups of six or more like-minded cats to partrol the sand beds with.

Corydoras hasbrosus would be a particularly adorable addition  – although almost any corydora would do well, similarly agreeable in size would be pygmaeus, hastatus, or panda.

pH: 5.5 – 7.0 – species dependent
dKH: 3 – 10
Temp: 72 – 80 F (22 – 26 C) – species dependent

Size: 1 – 3.5″ (2.5 – 9 cm) – species dependent
Temperament: Peaceful, can be boisterous for less active species
Swimming: Bottom (except hastatus) in a shoal of 6 or more

Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

neocaridina shrimp

Neos enjoy munching on decomposing plant matter, grazing on algae, and picking sunken pieces of wood and plants clean. This makes them a perfect addition to a naturalistic tank. They come in a variety of colors including the oh-so-common cherry shrimp!

pH: 6.5 – 8.0
dKH: 8 – 20
Temp: 70 – 79 F (21 – 26 C)

Size: 1.6″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Anywhere there’s food to pick, but usually bottom

Crystal Red Shrimp (Caridina cantonensis)

crystal red shrimp

Crystal red shrimp, not unlike cherry shrimp, come in more colors than just red. They’re a similar size to cherry shrimp and make a great alternative if you’re looking for a little bit more of a challenge. They’re incredibly popular – although more expensive.

pH: 5.8 – 7.4
dKH: 0 – 4
Temp: 62 – 76F (16 – 24C)

Size: 1.25″ (3 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Surfaces

Leopard Danio (Brachydanio froskei)

leopard spotted danio

Leopard danios have amazing color and, if you look hard enough, you may even be able to find some dazzling color morphs of this fish as well! They do best in groups of six or more and zip around the tank quite a bit, so ensure you have swimming space for a shoal of this size. 

pH: 6.0 – 8.0
dKH: 2 – 20
Temp: 64 -75F (17 – 23C)

Size: 2.4″ (6 cm)
Temperament: Active
Swimming: Mid to top

Zebra “Danio” (Brachydanio rerio)

zebra danio

Zebra danios belong to the minnow family. They’re fast, outgoing, peaceful, and need room to swim with their shoal (6 or more being ideal.) They can handle a range of temperatures and water conditions – from stagnant to faster-flow, making them a versatile community fish.

pH: 6.0 – 8.0
dKH: 5 – 20
Temp: 65 – 77 F (18 – 25 C)

Size: 1.5 – 2″ (4 – 5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Top to midwater shoaling

Sparkling gourami (Trichopsis pumila)

Sparkling gourami

Little known fact about sparkling gouramis; they’re quite social and gregarious creatures! Although they don’t school or shoal, they do enjoy social interactions with their own kind – in fact, most gourami do! – and we suggest a four minimum to make sure they’re comfortable.

pH: 6 – 8
dKH: 5 – 18
Temp: 72 – 81 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 1.5″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be aggressive when spawning
Swimming: All water

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus)

Bolivian Ram

The underrated cousin to the German Blue Ram are often nearly colorless and shy in the store tanks. But provided with the right tank and dither fish, they’ll color up and exhibit fascinating behavior in your home aquarium!

Keep in mind these rams will also become territorial while spawning. However, there are some sparse reports of other tankmates going unnoticed during spawning.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 68 – 83 F (20 – 28 C)

Size: 3″ (8 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Bottom to mid-water

Breeding Ember Tetras

Most of the time, ember tetras will breed without any help or coaxing on your part. Getting embers to breed is much easier than getting the fry to survive, however.

If you get the correct-sized shoal, chances are good you will have both males and females present. Males are usually smaller, thinner, and more colorful than females. Females tend to be larger, less colorful, and rounded. There aren’t any other easy ways to sex these fish and juveniles or unhealthy/newly acquired adults will be difficult to sex.

male ember tetra
Male
Female ember tetra
Female

Spawning

You can choose to spawn these guys in-situ and hope for the best, or you can set up a dedicated breeding tank to maximize your yield. By adding a smaller group of well-conditioned adults to a dedicated breeding tank, you can better control the hatch.

You can add mesh, glass marbles, or plastic “grass” to the bottom of the tank to prevent the adults from reaching the eggs, or you can add a spawning mop or plants for them to spawn in. If you chose to go with a spawning mop or plants, you’ll likely have to remove the adults sooner to maximize your yield.

Not my video, but I love LBR!

The parents will gladly munch on their eggs or fry if given the chance, so it’s best to remove them from the setup before the first set of eggs hatches (48 – 72 hours depending on temp.) If you want to leave them in-situ, your best bet is to have a heavily planted tank with plenty of substrate coverage.

Egg & Fry Care

The eggs will usually hatch in 48 – 72 hours, depending on the temperature. Within 24 – 72 hours (again, depending on the temperature) they’ll start free-swimming and be ready to eat. Because they’re so small, you’ll want to have something like an infusoria or paramecium culture on hand and ready to feed. If you had a suprise spawn and don’t have time to get a culture going, you can try prepared foods within the 5-50 micron sizes to star, but they may be tough to find in-store that small.

Sometimes stores carry Hikari First Bites, which is a bit larger than the above food at 30 – 100 microns depending on the package, but can be useful in a pinch.

Within a few weeks, they’ll be large enough to eat microworms, vinegar eels, and baby brine shrimp. By the time they’re around that size, you can safely introduce them to your main tank with their parents. By a few months old, they should be fully grown and ready to go to new homes of their own or breed a new generation!

Further Reading & Sources

Journals – DNA Barcodes of Rosy Tetras and Allied Species (Characiformes: Characidae: Hyphessobrycon) from the Brazilian Amazon Basin

Embrapa – Parasitic Fauna

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