The Lemon Tetra, also known as Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, has been a staple for tropical fish collectors since the early 1930s.

Like its cousins the Cardinal, Penguin, and Neon Tetra, the Lemon Tetra is kept for its attractive pattern, gentle nature, and wide availability.

They are a shoaling species and when found, are usually in schools numbering several thousand.

Tetras are one of the first species new aquarium keepers explore. They are available through most fish supply outlets and inexpensive to acquire or replace. Lemon Tetras are different visually than other tetra and every keeper should own a small school as part of their tetra journey.

From there, the move up to larger, more colorful, and complex species and tanks is very manageable. This article will teach you about the background of the Lemon Tetra and how to care for and maintain them.

Stats

Listed tank sizes are the minimum
Size: Up to 2 inches (5cm)
Tank: 12 Gallons
Strata: Middle – top
pH: 6.0 to 7.5
Hardness: Soft to medium. dH range: 3-25
Temperature: 73 F to 82 F (22-28 C)
Order: Cypriniformes
Suborder: Characoidei
Family: Characidae
Genera: Hyphessorbrycon

Origin and Appearance

Lemon Tetras are one of many thousands of species of collectible fish that come from South America. They are a social, shoaling species found in the Amazon Basin and nearly all its tributaries. The species prefers slow-moving waters and often forms vast schools.

Its shoaling behavior is a marvel. At one moment, they will move in unison, then split and break apart when attacked by larger predator fish. In aquariums, smaller schools will generally stay together and move in the same direction one fish at a time, almost like chess pieces moving on a chessboard. But if something startles them, they scatter and reconnect.

Like many of the tetra species, the Lemon Tetra moves back and forth from rivers to the flood lands during the rainy season for breeding and shelter. This yearly moving gives them great tolerance for different water conditions and good resistance to changes in water temperature. It makes a good tank mate in dark water tanks but prefers clear water.

The Lemon Tetra does not have the same color pop as Bloodfin or any of the neon tetras, but it is still high in eye appeal. Their primary color ranges from a glassy silver to a rich, lemony yellow. The scales have an iridescent finish. As they swim, you will notice flashes of yellow and green as their bodies reflect light.

Their fins stand out as being longer than the average tetra with distinct black and yellow contrasting markings. Their dorsal and the front lobe of their anal fin are very pointed. The anal fin runs from mid-length to the beginning of its forked tail.

What stands out about Lemon Tetras compared to other tetra species is its body shape. Most tetras are slim and shaped like a torpedo. The Lemon Tetra is much broader in the mid-back. Their eyes are also very distinctive. The upper half range in bright colors from orange to red.

Like some tetras, there is very little difference in appearance between male and female fish. Egg-bearing females will look rounder when viewed from above but until then, unless you are an expert and examining tetra sex organs, making the distinction is difficult. Mature males may develop small hooks on the anal fins. But sometimes they will not.

In well-kept aquariums, the Lemon Tetra size can reach 2.5 inches. They can live up to nearly five years. It is one of the larger tetra species but still small in the realm of Amazonian fishes.

All tetras are very social. The Lemon Tetra is happiest in groupings of at least eight fish.

Care

The Lemon Tetra is one of the easiest tetra species to care for. Large aquariums and elaborate water conditioning systems are not required for it to thrive. The same setup used for most tetra species will work for Lemon Tetra. The best way to care for them is to provide water temperature and quality that mimic their native environment.

– Water Conditions

The ideal Lemon Tetra water temperature is 73 to 82 F (22-28 C). Keepers should maintain a water hardness of 6.0 to 7.0 and a pH of 3.0 to 25.0. These conditions overlap every Amazonian tetra species.

A good adjustable light and heating system are recommended for Lemon Tetra tanks. Adjustable lights help imitate day and night. This cycle is important for any living plants you may have in the aquarium. A standard heater will help maintain the water in the preferred temperature range. Lemon Tetras have a wide water temperature tolerance range but can get sluggish or ill if the water gets too hot or cold.

– Common Diseases

When water conditions are not ideal, Lemon Tetra can weaken and become susceptible to a variety of naturally occurring or introduced illnesses. One of the most common illnesses is neon tetra disease. Neon tetra disease is a prevalent ailment in tetra species. Named after the first species it was identified in, neon tetra disease is a parasitic infection that first cripples then kills the fish. It can spread rapidly.

The only way to prevent the introduction of neon tetra disease to an aquarium is to quarantine any new additions for up to two weeks before introducing them to the tank. Try to purchase fish in person and visually select healthy specimens from a reseller who will guarantee their quality. If you purchase aquarium fish online, be sure the reseller will guarantee their fish for at least 30 days.

– Diet

Tetras are wonderfully easy to feed and the Lemon Tetra is no exception. They are not fussy and will accept most anything offered.

Usually, they do just fine on commercially made tetra flake food or pellets. But they also like meaty protein foods, some of which may need to be chopped to a size small enough to fit in their mouths. Good meal choices include:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Tubifex

Feeding once a day in the morning or evening is fine but try to limit how much food is put into the tank so that the actual feeding takes no more than three or four minutes.

This prevents overeating, which can lead to other illnesses. You can tell your LemonTetra are getting too much feed if their stomachs start to appear bulged.

Limiting feeding time also prevents excess food from falling to the bottom of the tank and rotting. This can introduce bacteria and other potential illnesses that can wipe out an entire tank in a few days.

Tank Setup

– Tank Size

A 10-gallon tank is a good size for an Amazon species display and will comfortably support eight Lemon Tetra and a nice selection of decor. A minimum of 20 gallons is recommended if you want more Lemon Tetras and some tank mates.

A larger aquarium with a 100-gallon capacity or more makes an amazing display of many species of tetras and their tank mates.

A standard filtration sized to match your aquarium is sufficient to maintain a light water flow and acceptable oxygen levels. Underground filtration systems work well for this purpose. Lemon Tetras are sensitive to ammonia and nitrogen in the water, so a system that keeps the water well filtered is important.

Another benefit of keeping smaller tanks is the ease of cleaning and water changing. Changing out a third of the water once a week is a good idea for this species. When Lemon Tetras spawn, the male releases milt over the eggs and plants they are on. It can haze up the water and make it smell. A water change at this time is mandatory to keep all fish species in the aquarium healthy.

– Tank Decorations

In the wild, Lemon Tetras spend most of their time in or near plants. A good planning strategy is to place vegetation heavily on the sides and back, leaving the central portion of the aquarium free for the Lemon Tetras to swim about.

Rooted plants give Lemon Tetra something to explore and hide in when they are not darting about. Species such as Guppy Grass are a good habitat for Lemon Tetra eggs when they spawn.

This is a species that likes clear waters but a dark substrate encourages them to shine more vividly. You can add sticks, rocks, and similar structures for bottom variety and tank mate habitat.

– Tank Mates

Lemon Tetras can be great neighbors with many kinds of similarly gentle Amazonian river species. Like the Bloodfin Tetra, it can sometimes be a little bossy and a fin nipper to slow-moving species.

Here are some great tank mate choices:

Dwarf Gourami: The Dwarf Gourami is a small, colorful member of the species. These fish are peaceful schoolers and tend toward orange and red hues. Keep them in schools of 10 or more.

Pearl Gourami: The Pearl Gourami is covered with white, pearl-like markings. They are of similar temperaments and like the same types of vegetative habitats. They are an ideal choice especially when you are kitting out an aquarium of over 30 gallons. Pearl Gourami does best in groups of 6 or so balanced heavily toward female fish.

Silver Dollars: The Silver Dollar is a species native to South America that can do well with Uaru. They are mostly peaceful, preferring the company of their species. They tend to leave other fish alone if they cannot fit them in their mouths.

Cyprinids: This family of fish contains most carp species. Its smaller members tend to live in the bottom layer of tanks and are omnivores. They mix well with other species as long as you do not overcrowd the tank.

Rosy Tetra: The Rosy Tetra, as well as many other species of Tetra, thrive in the same water conditions. They are peaceful, although may engage in fin nipping when stressed or in overcrowded tanks.

Guppy: There are many varieties of guppy that make great tank mates. What they all have in common is that they are peaceful fish that are not too small and get along well with any fish that will not eat them. Some of the more ornamental varieties add splashes of color to your community tank.

Bristlenose Pleco Variants: A few different color variants will keep well together and may result in interesting-looking varieties through breeding.

Corydoras: Like Plecos, Corydoras are a variety of bottom-feeding catfish commonly placed in tropical freshwater aquariums. They grow up to 4 inches in size and are peaceful omnivores.

Cardinal Tetra: Cardinal Tetra makes great neighbors with many kinds of similarly gentle species. A small school of Cardinal Tetra adds beauty to any aquarium and does not create any type of significant bioload to the tank. Always a great choice. Add them in groups of 10.

Neon Tetra: Another great tank mate choice. Adding them in groups of 10, same as Cardinal Tetra, per 20 gallons of tank will give you an ever-moving, shimmering display.

Green Neon Tetra: If you want to keep a brightly colored aquarium, the Green Neon Tetra is another tank mate to consider. Similar in size and appearance to the Neon Tetra, the Green Neon Tetra, as its name implies, has a beautiful streak of neon green along its sides.

Here are some species best avoided as tank mates:

Kissing Gourami: This species of Gourami is a popular aquarium fish because of the kissing motions it uses to both feed and fight. It grows quite a bit larger than the Honey Gourami, up to 12 inches in length, and while quite beautiful, it can be aggressive to smaller fish in all levels of the aquarium.

Paradise Gourami: The Paradise Gourami is a beautifully striped and colored member of the Gourami family that is known both for its appearance and aggressive behavior. They will often fight other fish to the death and should not be placed in aquariums with peaceful fish such as Bristlenose Pleco.

Cichlids: There are many members of the cichlid species but most of them are too aggressive to do well with tetras. Trying to cohabitate them will lead to bullying and fighting at the least.

Oscars: Members of the Oscar family tend to grow too large, too quickly, and have belligerent attitudes. Small Oscars will badger them, and large Oscars will eat them.

Breeding

Lemon Tetras have a reputation for being difficult to breed for a couple of reasons. One is that it is very difficult to know if you have male and female fish. The other is that some commercially available fish have been so interbred that they have difficulty releasing or producing fertile eggs.

The best chance for breeding success comes from working with a school of 8 or more fish in the hopes that you will have a few females or a male in the school.

Breeding is best conducted in a separate breeding tank that has been set up to match the overall conditions of their home tank, including vegetation. Make sure you have plenty of anchored plants and open space.

To get your fish into the breeding mode, keep light levels low and provide plenty of small-sized high-protein foods. When they are ready, the fish will naturally pair off, and the female will lay eggs.

Most often the female will scatter her eggs over or onto plants. The Lemon Tetra male will hover over them and release his milt. Once spawning has occurred, the adult fish are done with their responsibilities.

Lemon Tetra eggs are tiny. If you leave them in the tank, they may forget and try to eat their eggs, so it is a good idea to return them to their home tank when their work is done.

If you get a successful breeding pair, they can lay as many as 300 eggs. If they hatch, you will have a great quantity of Lemon Tetra to keep, trade, or sell.

It only takes a few days for the fry to emerge. Once swimming, they will consume their egg sacs first. Then you should provide infusoria or powdered fry food until they are big enough to consume baby brine shrimp.

Summary

  • Lemon Tetras are understated but are actually beautifully colored.
  • Proper controlling water conditions is key to the successful long-term care of the species.
  • The best way to display Lemon Tetra is in a dimly lit aquarium with a dark substrate and plenty of perimeter plants.
  • Lemon Tetras are shoaling fish. They make a vivid, colorful display.
  • Small, peaceful fish from the same river systems make ideal tank mates for Lemon Tetra.
  • Quarantine new tank mates for at least two weeks before introduction to ensure they do not carry neon tetra disease into your aquarium.
  • Ill or dead fish should be removed from the aquarium quickly to avoid risking other fish in the tank.
  • Lemon Tetras can be difficult to breed. It is best to do so in a separate breeding tank with a school of fish.
  • Lemon Tetras are easy to feed. They prefer meaty, finely chopped foods or commercial tetra flakes and pellets.

Aquarists of all experience levels keep Lemon Tetra displays as a counterpoint to their more vivid tetras or as a key component of a good Amazonian tank.

Whether you are new to the hobby or are experienced in creating a biome, building out an Amazon Rainforest tank with Lemon Tetras and its ideal tank mates will provide a visually pleasing and rewarding keeper experience.

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