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Lemon Tetra: Everything You Need To Know

Lemon Tetra: Everything You Need To Know

Are you thinking about adding lemon tetras to your home aquarium? These vibrant, yellow fish are popular for beginner aquarists due to their peaceful nature and bright colors.

The lemon tetra is a popular freshwater fish for home aquariums. To breed them, it’s recommended to have a soft, slightly acidic tank with a temperature of 72–82 °F (22–28 °C). Feeding should include daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae.

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of lemon tetras, including their diet and behavior. By the end of this article, you will have all the knowledge needed to properly care for these delightful fish. 

Lemon Tetra Overview & Origin

There are many fish in the aquarium trade. However, few can match the popularity of the lemon tetra, a small, colorful species native to South America. 

  • Common name: Lemon Tetra
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis
  • Care level: Easy
  • Size: 2 inches (5.1 cm) long
  • Life Span: Average life span 5 – 10 years
  • Temperament: Peaceful nature
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group size: At least 6
  • Minimum tank size: 20-gallon tank (school of 6)
  • Water temperature: 22-28 °C (72-82 °F)
  • Water pH: 5.5-8.0
  • Water hardness: 3–20 °GH

The scientific name for the lemon tetra is Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis. It’s a species of freshwater fish in the family Characidae, which is a part of the order Characiformes. 

The Characidae family is a diverse group of fish that includes many tetra species and other popular fish such as piranhas and hatchet fish. 

The Characiformes order includes a variety of other families of fish, including the following: 

  • Anostomidae (headstanders)
  • Erythrinidae (trahiras)
  • Gasteropelecidae (hatchetfishes).

Native Habitat

Lemon tetras are native to South America, specifically the Amazon Basin in Brazil and Peru. They can be found in various freshwater habitats, including streams, rivers, and swamps.

Lemon tetras prefer to live in areas with plenty of vegetation and a moderate current. They are typically found in tropical climates, with water temperatures between 22-28 °C (72-82 °F)

In their natural habitat, lemon tetras live in groups. They can be found in schools of up to several hundred fish. They are typically found near the water surface, feeding on the following:  

  • Small insects
  • Worms
  • Other small aquatic animals

Lemon tetras are adapted to living in areas with fluctuating water levels and can survive in low oxygen conditions. 

Overall, lemon tetras are a hardy and adaptable species that can thrive in various freshwater habitats in tropical climates.

Lemon Tetra Appearance & Size

Lemon tetras are small, slender fish that typically grow about 2 inches (5.1 cm) long. They have a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body, a pointed snout, and a small mouth. 

The most distinguishing feature of lemon tetras is their bright yellow coloration, which gives them their common name. The yellow coloration covers most of the body, with a silver-colored belly and a black stripe running from the eye to the tail. 

However, their eyes are a striking contrast to their yellow body, as the upper half of the iris is bright red. This red coloration can vary in intensity, deepening, and dulling based on the fish’s health. 

The bright yellow body and red eyes make lemon tetras stand out and add to their unique appearance.

Similar Species

A few species of fish may be confused with lemon tetras, such as the neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) and the cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi). 

These species are similar in size and shape to lemon tetras but have different color patterns. 

Neon tetras have a bright blue stripe along their sides and a red stripe on their belly, while cardinal tetras have a bright red stripe along their sides and a blue stripe on their belly. 

To differentiate lemon tetras from these species, look for their distinctive yellow coloration and elongated body shape.

Lemon Tetra Personality & Behavior

Lemon tetras are schooling fish, meaning they prefer to live in a group with other fish of their own kind. They are generally peaceful fish and can be kept with other calm species. They often form a tight-knit school in a tank and swim together in unison.

Lemon Tetra Average Lifespan

Lemon tetras have a lifespan of about 5-8 years in the wild. In captivity, they live longer, with an average lifespan of about 8-10 years when provided with proper care.

To ensure a long and healthy life for your lemon tetras, it’s important to provide them with a suitable habitat that meets their needs. 

This includes:

  • A tank of appropriate size and temperature
  • A varied and nutritious diet
  • Regular water changes to keep the water clean and healthy

It’s also important to monitor your lemon tetras for any signs of illness and to take steps to address any health issues that may arise. 

By providing proper care, you can help your lemon tetras reach their full lifespan and enjoy a long and healthy life in your aquarium. 

Lemon Tetra Tank Care & Set Up

To provide the best care for your lemon tetras, creating a suitable habitat for them in your tank is important. 

Tank Size

Lemon tetras are small fish, so they do not require a large tank. A 20-gallon tank (76 liters) is sufficient for a small group (a school of 6) of these fish. However, providing more space for your fish is always better, so consider getting a larger tank if possible

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: Lemon tetras prefer a water temperature between 22-28 °C (72-82 °F). Maintaining a consistent water temperature is important to avoid stressing the fish and making them more susceptible to diseases. Fluctuating temperatures can have negative effects.
  • pH range: The pH range of the tank water should be around 5.5 to 8.0. Lemon tetras can tolerate a wide range of pH values. Still, keeping the pH within this range is important to ensure the fish are comfortable.
  • Water hardness: The water hardness of the tank water should be 3–20 °GH. Lemon tetras can survive in a wide range of water hardness. Still, they lose their bright yellow coloration in waters with higher °GH.

What To Put In Their Tank

You’ll want to mimic the densely planted waters in the Amazon for these vibrant freshwater fish. A poorly decorated aquarium will often see lemon tetras lose their color, so it’s important you spend the time setting up their habitat correctly so they are happy and stress-free.

  • Substrate: Fine sand is an ideal substrate for lemon tetra fish tanks because it mimics the substrate at the bottom of the South American rivers. Another good option that works well is fine gravel. Lemon tetras are midwater swimmers, so you won’t find them hanging out at the bottom unless they spot some uneaten food.
  • Decorations: Once you have your substrate in, think South American river and add driftwood and roots to mimic this feel.
  • Ideal Plants: Add a mixture of plants, to create a natural feel for the lemon tetras including ground-cover plants, taller stem plants, and floating plants. Avoid plastic plants and accessories as these can damage the fish.
  • Lighting: Adjustable lighting will help imitate day and night for your lemon tetra. This cycle is also important any for living plants you have in your aquarium.
  • Heater: A standard heater will help maintain the ideal water temperature range, helping keep your lemon tetra in good health.
  • Tank Maintenance: Regular tank maintenance is important for the health and well-being of your lemon tetras. This includes performing partial water changes, cleaning the tank and equipment, and monitoring water quality parameters such as pH and ammonia levels.

Ideal Tank Mates For Lemon Tetras

Lemon tetras are generally compatible with various other fish as long as they are peaceful and not aggressive towards the tetras. 

Good tankmates for lemon tetras include the following: 

It’s best to keep a small number of tetras (at least 6) in an aquarium with smaller and less aggressive fish.

It’s also important to provide lemon tetras with a spacious tank that allows them to school and swim freely. Also, provide plenty of hiding places and plants for them to explore and feel secure.

It’s essential to consider each species’ specific behavior and social needs when choosing tankmates for lemon tetras.

Tank Mates To Avoid

Lemon tetras are peaceful, calm, and weak fish so they need to be kept with other calm species or they will be bullied and possibly become a snack for other more aggressive fish.  Avoid the following fishes:

  • Angelfish
  • Barbs
  • Flowerhorn fish
  • Oscars
  • Goldfish

Lemon Tetra Food & Diet

In captivity, lemon tetras can be fed a diet of high-quality, commercially-prepared flakes or pellets for small omnivorous fish

These products should contain a balanced blend of the following: 

  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Other nutrients 

A balanced blend should support the health and growth of lemon tetras.

In addition to a staple diet of flakes or pellets, it’s vital to occasionally offer lemon tetras a variety of live or frozen foods such as:

  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Bloodworms
  • Mosquito larvae

These foods can help provide essential sources of nutrition and stimulation for the fish.

When feeding lemon tetras, it’s best to offer small meals throughout the day rather than one large feeding. 

It’s also important to only provide an amount of food the fish can consume within a few minutes to ensure proper nutrition and prevent excess food from contaminating the water. 

It’s better to underfeed the fish slightly and ensure that all food is consumed within a few minutes rather than providing too much food at once. 

Breeding Lemon Tetras

Breeding lemon tetras in captivity can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Still, it does require some patience and attention to detail.

When breeding lemon tetras, it’s recommended to use a separate tank of at least 20 gallons (76 liters) in size and properly equipped with a filter and heater. 

To increase your chances of success, it’s generally best to spawn lemon tetras in groups rather than pairs. The most successful method is to use a group of one male and four to five females.

To get started, follow these tips: 

  1. Condition the group of fish with a varied diet of small, live foods for several weeks. 
  2. When you are ready to begin breeding, introduce the group to the breeding tank and cover the bottom with marbles to protect the eggs. 

Lemon tetras are classified as egg scatterers, meaning they do not provide parental care for their eggs or fry. The eggs are often laid in dense vegetation, where they are relatively well-protected from predators. 

The eggs will hatch into fry after approximately 24 hours of fertilization, and the fry will be very sensitive during the initial days of their lives. 

It’s important to provide adequate protection for the fry in a separate breeding tank or to use a breeding net to separate the adults from the fry, as the adult lemon tetras do not provide any care for the eggs or fry and may even eat them.

Common Health Issues, Treatment & Prevention

Like all fish, lemon tetras are susceptible to various health issues. 

One way to tell if a lemon tetra is sick is to look at the color of the upper half of the iris. If the red coloration fades or turns grey, this could be a sign of serious disease. This is because the color of the iris is often an indicator of the fish’s overall health.

Here are some common problems that lemon tetras may experience, along with possible solutions:

Poor Water Quality

Lemon tetras are sensitive to poor water quality. They can become sick or die if the water in their tank is dirty or poorly balanced. 

To prevent this, remember the following tips: 

  • Perform regular water changes
  • Use a good quality water conditioner
  • Invest in a reliable water test kit to monitor pH, ammonia, and other important parameters


Lemon tetras can contract various infections, including the following: 

  • Bacterial
  • Fungal
  • Parasitic infections

To prevent infections: 

  • Keep the tank clean and well-maintained
  • Avoid overfeeding or overcrowding

If you suspect your lemon tetra is sick, quarantine it and consult a veterinarian or other fish care expert for advice.


Lemon tetras are sensitive to stress, which can be caused by the following: 

  • Poor water quality
  • Overcrowding
  • Aggression from other fish 

To prevent stress, provide your lemon tetra with a spacious, well-maintained tank, and avoid mixing it with aggressive or territorial fish.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Lemon tetras require a varied diet to stay healthy. If they are not receiving the nutrients they need, they may develop nutritional deficiencies or other health problems. 

To prevent this: 

  • Feed your lemon tetra a high-quality fish food formulated for their specific needs. 
  • Consider supplementing their diet with live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp or bloodworms.

Lemon Tetra FAQs

What Is the Natural Habitat of Lemon Tetras?

Lemon tetras are native to the tropical rainforests of South America, specifically in the upper Amazon River basin in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.

What Size Tank Do Lemon Tetras Need?

Lemon tetras are small fish and do not require a large tank. A tank size of at least 20 gallons (76 liters) is recommended for a group of lemon tetras. 

What Water Temperature and pH Do Lemon Tetras Prefer?

Lemon tetras prefer a water temperature of 22-28 °C (72-82 °F) and a pH of 6.0-7.0.

What Do Lemon Tetras Eat?

Lemon tetras are omnivorous and will benefit from a varied diet that includes plant and animal matter. They particularly enjoy daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae.

It’s important to feed lemon tetras several small meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal, and only to provide an amount of food they can consume within two or three minutes.

This will ensure that they are receiving the nutrients they need and prevent excess food from fouling the water. 

Are Lemon Tetras Easy To Breed?

Lemon tetras have a reputation for being challenging to breed for a few reasons. One reason is that it can be difficult to determine the gender of lemon tetras.

Another reason is that some commercially available lemon tetras have been interbred to the point that they may have difficulty releasing or producing fertile eggs.

These factors can make breeding lemon tetras a challenging endeavor.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, lemon tetras make a great freshwater choice for an aquarium. They are small, colorful, peaceful fish that are easy to care for and can add color and interest to even the smallest aquarium. 

Hopefully, this article has provided you with all the information about lemon tetras. I have covered everything from their habitat to feeding requirements and how to breed them. 

All that’s left for you is to pick up these lively fish for your aquarium. 

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...