Penguin Tetra (Thayeria boehlkei): Ultimate Care Guide

The Penguin Tetra is a unique Tetra species from Brazil with a thick black band running along their silvery body. Also known as Penguin Fish or Hockey Stick Tetra due to their unusual method of swimming with their bodies angled upwards toward the head. They are good beginner fish but can display aggression against tank mates. Some of this aggression can be reduced by keeping in large schools and ensuring they have well-planted tank environments with areas for exploring and hiding.

Penguin Tetra is a hardy species but is susceptible to a parasitic infection known as Neon Tetra disease. This serious and fast-spreading infection can quickly cripple and kill an entire school. The best defence is quarantining all new tank additions before adding to your main aquarium. There are a few other things you’ll need to know to have success with this unusual Tetra species. We’ve put together this guide to show you the best ways to care for and breed this great beginner fish!

Penguin Tetra
Penguin Tetra (Thayeria boehlkei)

Penguin Tetra Care

Penguin Tetras should be kept in groups of 6 or more in well planted aquariums with stable water chemistry. They aren’t picky eaters and will consume most common fish foods. For best health and coloration they should be occasionally provided live foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. The biggest challenge to keeping this fish successfully is maintaining high water quality. If you are supplementing their diet with live food it’s important to ensure your filtration system is strong enough to keep tank water from fouling due to uneaten food.

Are Penguin Tetra easy to care for?

Penguin Tetra is a hardy fish which can be a great choice for beginners. They can be aggressive, and are difficult to pair with tank mates of other species successfully. It’s best only to add this fish to mature aquariums which have been fully cycled. New aquariums can have rapid water quality fluctuations which can harm Penguin Tetras.

Penguin Tetra Temperature

Penguin Tetras prefer water temperatures between 73° and 82° F.

Penguin Tetra Water pH

Penguin Tetra can tolerate a large pH range between 5.5 to 8.0 although it’s best to keep water near neutral or slightly acidic.

Penguin Tetra Size

Penguin Tetras can reach a maximum size of 2 ½ inches.

Penguin Tetra Food & Diet

In their natural environment Penguin Tetras are micropredators that consume a diet of small worms, crustaceans, and invertebrates. In an aquarium they aren’t picky and will eat almost anything offered. For best health and coloration they should be provided regular feedings of live and frozen meaty foods. Bloodworms and brine shrimp are popular choices and will keep your Penguin Tetras looking their best.

Penguin Tetra Lifespan

Penguin Tetras can live up to 5 years in captivity.

Penguin Tetra Tank Size

Penguin Tetras are best kept in schools of 6 to 8 individuals. You’ll want at least a 30 gallon tank with enough horizontal space to allow the school to swim back and forth easily. It’s possible to keep bigger groups together, but this will require a larger tank.

Penguin Tetra Tank Setup

Penguin Tetras do best in heavily planted aquariums with driftwood and areas for hiding or exploring. This species doesn’t like rapid water chemistry or temperature changes. It’s best to introduce Penguin Tetra groups to mature tanks which have been fully cycled. New tanks are prone to water quality swings which can harm or kill this fish.

Planted tanks often need added CO2 injection. Aside from helping plants grow, CO2 injection can also increase water acidity. Luckily, the Penguin Tetra has tolerance for low pH water, and can live well in tanks with added CO2. Remember that CO2 injection can displace oxygen and will need careful adjustment to encourage plant growth while not suffocating your fish. Penguin Tetras staying in upper tank levels and taking in gulps of air is a sure sign that CO2 levels are too high and must be turned down.

Penguin Tetra
Penguin Tetra (Thayeria boehlkei)

Penguin Tetra Breeding

Penguin Tetra are easy to breed and often begin spawning without any extra encouragement. You can help prepare this species for breeding by feeding an assortment of live food such as brine shrimp and bloodworms.

How do Penguin Tetra breed?

When Penguin Tetra are ready to breed the males will begin to chase the females around the tank. Females will develop rounder bellies as they fill with eggs. The females will lay eggs in tank vegetation which males will fertilize. Once this process is complete it’s important to change tank water as Tetra sperm will cause fouling and concentrations must be reduced as much as possible.

Penguin Tetra eggs will hatch in 24 hours or less. The fry are ready to feed immediately after hatching. First foods can be microworms, vinegar eels, newly hatched brine shrimp, or commercially prepared fry foods. Fry will develop quickly and can reach one inch long after a month!

Penguin Tetra Eggs

Penguin Tetra eggs are tiny and hard to spot. Usually small white or yellow spheres, they will adhere to plants or lay across substrate. Penguin Tetra adults will eat their own eggs. If you’re serious about breeding this species you’ll need to take extra steps to ensure eggs are protected from predatory adults. This is easiest to do with a separate breeding aquarium stocked with artificial breeding mops. When adults have finished spawning they can be removed which allows eggs to develop safely. You can add a small amount of Methylene Blue to tank water which can discourage fungus growth. Because Penguin Tetra eggs hatch rapidly antifungal may be unnecessary, but can be a good precaution.

Penguin Tetra Male or Female

Penguin Tetra females are larger and have thicker bodies than males. This becomes more obvious as the female fills with eggs in preparation for spawning.

Penguin Tetra Disease

Penguin Tetra are susceptible to neon tetra disease. Neon tetra disease is a parasitic infection which cripples and kills fish. It can spread rapidly so it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure your fish’s safety. Any new tank additions should be quarantined for 2 to 4 weeks to check for signs of infection. It’s best to setup a separate quarantine tank (QT) where fish or plants can be checked before adding to your main display aquarium. Proper quarantine procedures can help you avoid many types of freshwater fish diseases such as ich, dropsy, or flukes.

Penguin Tetra Tank Mates

Penguin Tetras can be difficult to pair with tank mates as they can be aggressive. Avoid smaller fish or those with long fins which can be the targets of nipping. Bad tank mates would include fish with long trailing fins like Angelfish, Discus, Dwarf Gourami, or Paradise Fish. Good matches are other aggressive species which can hold their own against frisky Penguin Tetras such as: Rasboras, Flag Tetras, Cherry Barb, and Red Eye Tetra.

Penguin Tetra and Betta

Penguin Tetra and Betta can sometimes get along as tank mates as long as the Tetras are in a large enough school. However Penguin Tetras are known fin nippers and may harass the slower moving Betta. This pairing should be attempted with caution and can only work because the two species prefer different regions of the tank. Be ready to separate these fish if the Betta is attacked or bullied.

Penguin Tetra and Guppies

Penguin Tetra are known to nip at the long tails of Guppies. This pairing should be avoided as Guppies are likely to be the victims of bullying and attacks.

Penguin Tetra and Angelfish

Penguin Tetra and Angelfish are a bad match because of the latter’s long flowing fins. Even in a large school Penguin Tetra will be too tempted by the Angelfish’s fins and will often nip or attack.

Penguin Tetra and Shrimp

Penguin Tetra may leave adult Shrimp alone, but smaller immature Shrimp are at risk of being eaten. Penguin Tetra are natural predators and usually eat anything that fits in their mouths. Even if your Tetras are kept in a large school they may still nip at adult Shrimp and this combination should be watched closely if you decide to risk it.

How many Penguin Tetra should be kept together?

Penguin Tetras should be kept in groups of 6 to 8 individuals, or more. This can be an aggressive species and having other fish to school with can help to decrease the chance of attacks against tank mates.

Are Penguin Tetra schooling fish?

Penguin Tetra are a schooling species and should be kept in groups of 6 or more for best health and lowest aggression.

Where can I find Penguin Tetra for sale?

Penguin Tetra can be bought at local fish stores or online sources. Expect to pay around $3 USD per fish. Often sold as groups, it’s best to buy 6 or more as this species prefers living and swimming in schools.

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