Lemon Tetra Care: Tank Size, Food, School & Breeding


It is no secret that one of the most popular fish to add to your aquarium are tetra fish. However, one of the more uncommon type of species is the Lemon Tetra (hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis). This small yet energetic fish adds a beautiful touch of color and shimmer to any community tank. Luckily, the Lemon Tetra is fairly easy to care and they are perfect for someone who is new to the hobby. If you’ve been thinking about adding Lemon Tetra to your aquarium, here’s an in-depth guide on all you need to know about this special fish.

Lemon Tetra Description

The Lemon Tetra is a species of freshwater fish that originates in the Amazon River and comes from the Characidae family. They were first introduced in the pet trade in 1923. They are not too common, at least in comparison to other popular species of tetra fish. Fortunately, they are usually quite affordable if you can find them at the local fish store.

When looked at from the side, the body shape of the Lemon Tetra is that of a diamond, similar to many other tetras. The Lemon Tetra is deeper-bodied, meaning it is deeper from backbone to belly than it is wide. As an adult, the Lemon Tetra grows to be two inches in length. They are small fish, but this also makes it a great candidate for many community tanks.

The Lemon Tetra is very distinctive bright color and shimmer. The body is mostly a transparent yellow, and some fish even have a pearlescent look to their scales that makes them sparkle in the light. The dorsal and anal fin are what make the lemon tetra look so brightly colored. The dorsal fin has a triangular shape. It is semi-transparent with bursts of yellow and black. The anal fin is more prominent with a bold yellow color and a black stripe along the edge. Females tend to have a thin black stripe, whereas the males’ stripe is typically more bold. In addition to the bright colors on their body, they are also known for having bright red eyes that stand out against their yellow iridescence.

Lemon Tetra
Lemon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis)

Lemon Tetra Care

This species is perfect fish for many beginners. Lemon Tetra can live up to eight years, though the average is about six years. This species can thrive in captivity, making them incredible pets. Lemon Tetras are hardy creatures and can survive in many different conditions. Regardless, the lemon tetra have preferences and conditions that are ideal for their health. As mentioned before, the lemon tetra is strictly a freshwater fish. They remain in shallow waters surrounded by aquatic plants. It’s important to know that they cannot survive in saltwater and one must be careful when using aquarium salts.

Tank Size & Tank Setup

One of the most important aspects when caring for a lemon tetra is the condition of the tank and all the small details that make it the best home for the fish. When looking for a tank, it’s best to start off with a 20-gallon tank or larger. Though lemon tetra are small, they need a lot of space to swim freely and play. It’s ideal to put a minimum of six fish together in one tank since they enjoy gathering in large groups.

The aquarium of a lemon tetra should resemble its habitat in the Amazon River, dense with plants and semi-shallow water with moderate flow. This species needs a lot of areas to hide, as well as low lighting, so be sure to include various caves and dense plants that will help block some light that goes into the tank. The best plants to include are tall stem plants, floating plants as well as ground-covering plants. Some excellent plants to add to the home of your lemon tetra are java fern, hornwort, Amazon sword, java moss, frogbit, and twisted vallisneria, to name a few. If the tank is not decorated enough for the lemon tetra’s liking, the fish will look less vibrant in color and may even become anxious and develop diseases! Make sure to take time in decorating the home of your lemon tetra to make them feel comfortable and healthy.

The perfect temperature for the tank of a lemon tetra is 72°F and up to 82°F, though its best to stick to the middle of the range in degrees. If the goal is spawning, the best water temperature is 75°F. Be sure to add a standard filtration system to provide the lemon tetra with moderate water flow. A wave maker would also be a great addition though it isn’t necessary.

The pH level of the water in the tank is key in having a healthy home for the lemon tetra. The pH determines how acidic or basic the water is. The lemon tetra thrives in water with the pH levels of 5.5 to 8. The water of this pH level is neutral and leaning slightly more towards acidic.

Another important aspect in keeping the tank with the best conditions for this species is the hardness level of the water. This is determined by the dissolved mineral content of the water. The higher the dGH level, the more minerals there are, making the water hard. The lower the dGH level, the less minerals there are, therefore meaning the water is soft. The perfect hardness range for the home of a lemon tetra is between 3 dGH and 20 dGH, and best kept at a lower level.

Over time, it’s normal for the pH level and dGH of the water to change. As organic waste accumulates and organic matter decomposes, the levels of pH tend to drop. As water evaporates, the water hardness increases. This can cause a lot of stress on your fish and it is crucial to invest in a trustworthy water testing kit to test the water when needed. In addition, make sure to change 25%-50% of the water weekly, especially if the tank is dense with aquatic plants. This will help with the health and well-being of your lemon tetra.

Food and Diet

Lemon tetras are great eaters and will not give you any issues when it comes to food. These omnivores eat all types of live food, flakes and frozen food as well. When in the wild, lemon tetras enjoy eating small critters such as crustaceans, invertebrates and other plant matter. Feeding your pet lemon tetra is fairly simple because they generally eat anything that they receive. It’s important to provide the fish with high quality food that is packed with vitamins. The majority of their diet should consist of high quality dried flakes, as well as occasional live, frozen or freeze-dried snacks. Lemon tetra especially enjoy bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and mosquito larvae.

Schooling Behavior of Lemon Tetra

Lemon tetra are energetic and playful little fish! They enjoying swimming around and they are also quite playful. Lemon tetra do best when grouped together and when alone, they can become very anxious. In the wild, lemon tetra stick together in large groups called shoals which can reach up to several thousands of fish! Similarly, pet lemon tetra group up during the day and explore the tank together.

Since lemon tetra are an easy-going and peaceful fish, they are great additions to community tanks because they are not aggressive. They tend to keep the peace, although occasionally the males will have slight aggression towards each other when trying to court the females. Due to the slight aggression, there may be a few small battles but the hardly ever result in serious injury. Lemon tetra can be paired up with other species of small fish such as other tetra species, cory catfish, apistogramma, angelfish and plecos. They are somewhat intimidated by bigger fish but do well with critters like shrimp and snails.

Lemon Tetra Breeding

When breeding lemon tetra, it can be a bit interesting. A separate tank is needed specifically for breeding and make sure it is filled with fine leaf plants. Tetras tend to scatter their eggs, and they may try to eat the eggs so the plants provide some sort of protection for the eggs. Another thing to Monterey is that lemon tetra lay hundreds or thousands of eggs at a time!

A week before mating the fish, make sure to separate the male from the female. Once ready, add the female and male lemon tetras to the breeding tank and slowly raise the temperature to 80°F. You’ll see the males putting on shows for the female, and that indicates that the spawning process has started. Once they finish with their rituals, you’ll notice clouds and bunches of egg and sperm. Once the lemon tetra finish and the eggs are settling at the bottom of the tank, remove both the male and the female fish from the tank. This will allow the baby fish the time to develop. In only three or four days, the eggs will hatch and in a couple days after hatching, the fry will be ready to accept powdered fish food! A fast process as well as very rewarding.

It can be a bit confusing when starting an aquarium and deciding what aquatic life to add in the tank. One may need to do a lot of research, but it’s no lie that lemon tetras are fairly simple creatures that are easy to handle and care for. They add the perfect touch of color to any aquarium, they survive in various conditions, and they get along with variety of species of fish. Whether one has a lot of experience with fish, or maybe no experience at all, the lemon tetra is always a good choice!

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the knowledge that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory Aquatics is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish healthy.

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