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Black neon tetra, Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi
Black neon tetra, Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Characiformes
Family: Characidae
Pristella tetra—Pristella maxillaris.

Tetra is the common name for various small, often colorful, tropical, freshwater fish within the two characiform (order Characiformes) families Characidae—and in particularly its subfamily Tetragonopterinae, the "South American tetras"—and Alestiidae, the "African tetras." The African tetras formerly were classified in Alestiinae as a subfamily of Characidae, and remain within Characidae in some classifications.

The term tetra is not a formal taxonomic rank, but rather is the common name used for numerous small fish scattered over numerous genera and different families and subfamilies. Because of the popularity of tetras in the fish-keeping hobby, many unrelated fish are commonly known as tetras. Even fish that are vastly different may be called tetras, such as Hydrolycus scomberoides, occasionally known as the sabretooth tetra or vampire tetra, which is placed in the Characinae subfamily within Characidae.

Being small and brightly colored, and often easy to keep in captivity, many tetras, such as the neon tetra, Paracheirodon innesi, are extremely popular for home aquariums. Whether seen in aquariums or in the wild in a clear stream, tetras, add to the wonder of nature for humans. Tetras also are valuable ecologically due to their role in food chains, preying upon smaller invertebrates, such as insects, and being prey for larger fish, mammals, birds, and so forth.


Golden Pristella tetra, a morph of Pristella maxillaris.
Silver tipped tetra—Hasemania nana.

Tetras traditionally were classified within the family Characidae (characins), and in particularly the subfamilies Tetragonopterinae (South American tetras) and Alestiinae (African tetras). However, this family has undergone much taxonomic revision and many authorities have moved the African tetras to the family level, called Alestiidae (Nelson 2006).

Both Characidae and Alestiidae belong to the order Characiformes. Characiformes are characterized by well developed teeth (most are carnivores) and the presence of a pelvic fin (with five to twelve rays) and normally an adipose fin, and a body that is almost always scaled (Nelson 1994).

Characidae is a large and diverse family of freshwater subtropical and tropical fish, with members found in Central and South America, southern North America, and Africa, and include such varied forms as the piranhas, the tetras, a blind cavefish in Mexico (populations of Astyanax mexicanus found in caves) and Brazil (Stygichthys typhlops), and a species found as far northward as southwestern United States (Astyanax mexicanus) (Nelson 1994). The characins are distinguished from other fish by the presence of a small adipose fin between the dorsal fin and caudal fin. Both the Characidae family and the Alestiidae families are comprised only of freshwater fish.

The South American tetras, placed in the subfamily Tetragonopterinae within Characidae, comprise numerous genera, including Hemigrammus, Hyphessobrycon, Paracheirodon (the neon, green, and cardinal tetras), and Tetragonopterus.

The African tetras, now placed in the family Alestiidae, include 18 genera, including Alestes (=Brycinus) and Hydrocynus, with about 110 recognized species in total (Nelson 1994).

Tetra species

The following are some species with the common name of tetra. Though the list below is sorted by common name, in a number of cases, the common name is applied to different species, depending on country and context. Since the aquarium trade may use a different name for the same species, advanced aquarists tend to use scientific names for the less-common tetras. The list below is incomplete.

  • Adonis tetra Lepidarchus adonis
  • African long-finned tetra Brycinus longipinnis
  • African moon tetra Bathyaethiops caudomaculatus
  • Arnold's tetra Arnoldichthys spilopterus
  • Buenos Aires tetra Hyphessobrycon anisitsi
  • Banded tetra Astyanax fasciatus
  • Bandtail tetra Moenkhausia dichroura
  • Barred glass tetra Phenagoniates macrolepis
  • Bass tetra Hemigrammus rodwayi
  • Beacon tetra Hemigrammus ocellifer
  • Belgian flag tetra Hyphessobrycon heterorhabdus
  • Black darter tetra Poecilocharax weitzmani
  • Black morpho tetra Poecilocharax weitzmani
  • Black neon tetra Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi
  • Black phantom tetra Hyphessobrycon megalopterus
  • Black tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
  • Black tetra Gymnocorymbus thayer
  • Black wedge tetra Hemigrammus pulcher
  • Blackband tetra Hyphessobrycon scholzei
  • Blackedge tetra Tyttocharax madeirae
  • Black-flag tetra Hyphessobrycon rosaceus
  • Black-jacket tetra Moenkhausia takasei
  • Blackline tetra Hyphessobrycon scholzei
  • Bleeding heart tetra Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma
  • Bleeding heart tetra Hyphessobrycon socolofi
  • Blind tetra Stygichthys typhlops
  • Bloodfin tetra Aphyocharax anisitsi
  • Bloodfin tetra Aphyocharax alburnus
  • Blue tetra Mimagoniates microlepis
  • Blue tetra Tyttocharax madeirae
  • Blue tetra Boehlkea fredcochui
  • Brilliant rummynose tetra Hemigrammus bleheri
  • Bucktooth tetra Exodon paradoxus
  • Buenos Aires tetra Hyphessobrycon anisitsi
  • Butterfly tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
  • Callistus tetra Hyphessobrycon eques
  • Calypso tetra Hyphessobrycon axelrodi
  • Cardinal tetra Paracheirodon axelrodi
  • Carlana tetra Carlana eigenmanni
  • Cochu's blue tetra Boehlkea fredcochui
  • Central tetra Astyanax aeneus
  • Coffee-bean tetra Hyphessobrycon takasei
  • Colcibolca tetra Astyanax nasutus
  • Congo tetra Phenacogrammus interruptus
  • Copper tetra Hasemania melanura
  • Costello tetra Hemigrammus hyanuary
  • Creek tetra Bryconamericus scleroparius
  • Creek tetra Bryconamericus terrabensis
  • Croaking tetra Mimagoniates inequalis
  • Croaking tetra Mimagoniates lateralis
  • Dawn tetra Hyphessobrycon eos
  • Dawn tetra Aphyocharax paraguayensis
  • Diamond tetra Moenkhausia pittieri
  • Discus tetra Brachychalcinus orbicularis
  • Disk tetra Brachychalcinus orbicularis
  • Disk tetra Myleus schomburgkii
  • Dragonfin tetra Pseudocorynopoma doriae
  • Ember tetra Hyphessobrycon amandae
  • Emperor tetra Nematobrycon palmeri
  • False black tetra Gymnocorymbus thayeri
  • False neon tetra Paracheirodon simulans
  • False red nose tetra Petitella georgiae
  • False rummynose tetra Petitella georgiae
  • Featherfin tetra Hemigrammus unilineatus
  • Firehead tetra Hemigrammus bleheri
  • Flag tetra Hyphessobrycon heterorhabdus
  • Flame tail tetra Aphyocharax erythrurus
  • Flame tetra Hyphessobrycon flammeus
  • Garnet tetra Hemigrammus pulcher
  • Glass tetra Moenkhausia oligolepis
  • Glossy tetra Moenkhausia oligolepis
  • Glowlight tetra Hemigrammus erythrozonus
  • Gold tetra Hemigrammus rodwayi
  • Golden tetra Hemigrammus rodwayi
  • Goldencrown tetra Aphyocharax alburnus
  • Goldspotted tetra Hyphessobrycon griemi
  • Gold-tailed tetra Carlastyanax aurocaudatus
  • Green dwarf tetra Odontocharacidium aphanes
  • Green neon tetra Paracheirodon simulans
  • Green tetra Paracheirodon simulans
  • Griem's tetra Hyphessobrycon griemi
  • Head-and-taillight tetra Hemigrammus ocellifer
  • January tetra Hemigrammus hyanuary
  • Jellybean tetra Lepidarchus adonis
  • Jewel tetra Hyphessobrycon eques
  • Jumping tetra Hemibrycon tridens
  • Largespot tetra Astyanax orthodus
  • Lemon tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis
  • Longfin tetra Brycinus longipinnis
  • Long-finned glass tetra Xenagoniates bondi
  • Longjaw tetra Bramocharax bransfordii
  • Loreto tetra Hyphessobrycon loretoensis
  • Mayan tetra Hyphessobrycon compressus
  • Mexican tetra Astyanax mexicanus
  • Mimic scale-eating tetra Probolodus heterostomus
  • Mourning tetra Brycon pesu
  • Naked Tetra Gymnocharacinus bergii
  • Neon tetra Paracheirodon innesi
  • Niger tetra Arnoldichthys spilopterus
  • Nurse tetra Brycinus nurse
  • Oneline tetra Nannaethiops unitaeniatus
  • One-line tetra Hemigrammus unilineatus
  • Orangefin tetra Bryconops affinis
  • Ornate tetra Hyphessobrycon bentosi
  • Panama tetra Hyphessobrycon panamensis
  • Penguin tetra Thayeria boehlkei
  • Peruvian tetra Hyphessobrycon peruvianus
  • Petticoat tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
  • Phantom tetra Hyphessobrycon megalopterus
  • Pittier's tetra Moenkhausia pittieri
  • Pretty tetra Hemigrammus pulcher
  • Pristella tetra Pristella maxillaris
  • Pygmy tetra Odontostilbe dialeptura
  • Rainbow tetra Nematobrycon palmeri
  • Rainbow tetra Nematobrycon lacortei
  • Red eye tetra Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae
  • Red phantom tetra Hyphessobrycon sweglesi
  • Red tetra Hyphessobrycon flammeus
  • Redeye tetra Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae
  • Redeye tetra Moenkhausia oligolepis
  • Rednose tetra Hemigrammus rhodostomus
  • Red-nose tetra Hemigrammus bleheri
  • Redspotted tetra Copeina guttata
  • Rosy tetra Hyphessobrycon bentosi
  • Rosy tetra Hyphessobrycon rosaceus
  • Royal tetra Inpaichthys kerri
  • Ruby tetra Axelrodia riesei
  • Rummy-nose tetra Hemigrammus rhodostomus
  • Rummy-nose tetra Hemigrammus bleheri
  • Sailfin tetra Crenuchus spilurus
  • Savage tetra Hyphessobrycon savagei
  • Savanna tetra Hyphessobrycon stegemanni
  • Semaphore tetra Pterobrycon myrnae
  • Serpae tetra Hyphessobrycon eques
  • Sharptooth tetra Micralestes acutidens
  • Silver tetra Gymnocorymbus thayeri
  • Silver tetra Ctenobrycon spilurus
  • Silver tetra Micralestes acutidens
  • Silvertip tetra Hasemania melanura
  • Silvertip tetra Hasemania nana
  • Silver-tipped tetra Hasemania nana
  • Splash tetra Copella arnoldi
  • Splashing tetra Copella arnoldi
  • Spotfin tetra Hyphessobrycon socolofi
  • Spottail tetra Moenkhausia dichroura
  • Spotted tetra Copella nattereri
  • Swegles's tetra Hyphessobrycon sweglesi
  • Tailspot tetra Bryconops caudomaculatus
  • Tetra von Rio Hyphessobrycon flammeus
  • Three-lined African tetra Neolebias trilineatus
  • Tiete tetra Brycon insignis
  • Tortuguero tetra Hyphessobrycon tortuguerae
  • Transparent tetra Charax gibbosus
  • True big-scale tetra Brycinus macrolepidotus
  • Uruguay tetra Cheirodon interruptus
  • White spot tetra Aphyocharax paraguayensis
  • X-ray tetra Pristella maxillaris
  • Yellow tetra Hyphessobrycon bifasciatus
  • Yellow-tailed African tetra Alestopetersius caudalis

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bali, N., and W. Fink. 2004. Paracheirodon simulans Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  • Nelson, J. S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3rd edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471547131
  • Nelson, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World, 4th edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471250317


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