Ember Tetra Care Guide: Tank Mates, Feeding & Breeding

Ember Tetra may not be the most common nanotank fish, but these little guys pack a serious visual impact. They take a little bit more care than some, but they’re still well within the reach of a beginner.

Read on and learn how to make your Ember Tetra stay bright, happy, and thriving within your tank!

ember tetra

Ember Tetra Quick Care Sheet

  • Common Name: Ember Tetra
  • Alternate Common Name(s): 
  • Latin Name: Hyphessobrycon amandae
  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 10+ Gallons
  • Size: ¾” to 1”
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Behavior: Shoaling Fish
  • Lifespan: 3 to 4 years
  • Reproduction Type: Egg Scatterers
  • Water Temperature: 73–84°F  (23–29°C)
  • pH: 5.5-7.0
  • Water Hardness: 5-17 dGH

Origins of the Ember Tetra

The Ember Tetra is often overlooked by those who keep nano planted aquariums. The fact is that it’s just not as common as some of the other fish that come in at under an inch, like Celestial Danios or Endler’s Livebearers.

There’s a couple of reasons for that. 

The first is simply that the fish is unavailable in most fish stores, I’ve seen them for sale in person a grand total of once. Of course, internet ordering renders that point a bit moot for those who are savvy to buying livestock from dealers online.

Limited availability leads to limited amounts of people even knowing that they exist.

The other reason is that they require a larger shoal, and thus a larger tank than most other nano-tank-sized fish. I recommend keeping a group of at least 12 for the best results, which requires a tank of at least 10 gallons.

You can avoid this by allowing them to school with similarly sized tetra, Neons are a common choice, but you’ll still need the larger tank. It’s also a hit-or-miss project at times, not all fish will school across species.

Ember Tetras are native to the Araguaia River in Brazil, one of the major rivers in the eastern Amazon. They were only discovered in the mid-1980s, so they’re relatively new to the aquarium scene.

Their native waters give you a good idea of how to take care of them in captivity.

Ember Tetras need plants. That’s the first requirement to keeping them. They prefer dense planting, but a dense section of the tank that protects from the light will do the trick if you don’t want to go down the jungle tank route.

Their native waters are also soft and acidic, like most of the rivers in that part of the world. pH balance is important to their health, so you may wish to use reverse osmosis water initially.

The rainforests of South America aren’t a unique origin. Many aquarium fish come from the area, and the river basins of the Amazon seem to be filled with amazon fauna. The Ember Tetra is just a newer discovery.

They haven’t been bred in captivity as long, so they may require a little bit more care for water qualities we usually place as low priority such as pH and water hardness. If you can do that, these fish are sure to thrive.

One of the cool things about the Ember Tetra is that they’ll let you know when they’re not at their best. 

These fish change color dramatically when properly cared for. Fish in less healthy conditions will be a pale yellow, but an  Ember Tetra in conditions where it thrives is a deep scarlet.

If you can find them, I recommend them for heavily planted tanks in the 10-20 gallon range.

Ideal Tank Setup

Ember Tetras aren’t hard to care for, but they require a bit of thought. The following setup ideas should get you on the path to some beautiful, crimson fish in your tank.

Recommended Setup

Ember Tetras are sensitive to water quality, and you’ll need to make sure that you have the right equipment to keep them happy.

You’ll need the usual suspects of course:

  • HOB or Canister Filter
  • Aquarium Heater
  • Nutritious Substrate
  • Lots of Plants
  • Hardscape Elements

For fish that can handle current, such as Ember Tetras, I usually aim for twice the rating listed on the box of the filter. In other words, use a filter rated for 20 gallons for a 10-gallon tank.

Hardscape elements aren’t required, the fish prefer to hang in plants rather than caves. That said, they can provide structure for some plants to cling to and no aquascape is complete without some rocks and/or driftwood.

Plant Recommendations

I recommend sticking with a less formal arrangement for your Ember Tetra. Jungle tanks are perfect, especially if they’re a bit overgrown. The extra plants also help with water quality.

Ember Tetras prefer to have a heavily shaded portion of the tank. You can achieve this effect with floating plants easily. 

Duckweed is a great choice if you don’t mind the long-term maintenance, at least if the tank’s lighting won’t cause it to propagate too quickly. That said, it can quickly take over a tank and you should skip it if you’re not going to keep up on maintenance in the long term.

Other good options for a newbie include:

  • Elodea densaAlso known as anacharis. A floating “stem” plant that does well in most tank conditions and requires little more than thinning out floating bunches on occasion.
  • Vesicularia dubyanaJava Moss is one of the easiest aquarium plants to grow, and a floating mass can provide a lot of shade for these shy fish.
  • Ceratophyllum demersumHornwort is another great, low-maintenance floating plant. The only catch is finding a way to remove the needles shed by the plant as time goes on.

Other floating plants like Amazon Frogbit or Dwarf Water Lettuce are harder to grow but often hold their place better once established.

When selecting plants for the rest of the tank you should err on the side of dense flora. You can achieve a jungle effect with many plants, but strong contenders are Vallisneria sp. and Cryptocoryne sp. Both have South American species and help create an easily managed, but densely packed, area of vegetation.

The key here is to have a shaded area and overall dense flora. This provides the fish with the security they need to remain healthy, especially when combined with the right tank mates.

Reverse Osmosis Water

RO water isn’t a requirement to keep these fish alive. Like most Characins, they’ll adapt and survive in any reasonable conditions when it comes to pH and hardness.

But they won’t thrive in the same way.

RO water is a great way to start, and Ember Tetras are usually kept in smaller tanks which makes it cheaper.

Remember that these fish’s appearance gets better with a cleaner, softer, more acidic environment. Reverse osmosis filters help water stay softer and lower in pH, so it’s a good basis for keeping the fish healthy.

While high pH and hardness won’t kill your Ember Tetras, water quality issues are another matter entirely. Keeping your tank clean with regular water changes will do more for their health than using special water to fill the tank. In a pinch, do the water change with regular, dechlorinated tap water rather than waiting until your next trip to the store.

Cycled Tank

Ember Tetras are prone to problems that can arise from not having a clean tank. You also need to make sure that the tank is cycled before you place the fish inside. Ember Tetra will not survive a fish-in cycle. 

While fish-in cycles are always a bad idea, it’s worse than normal in this case. You need some basic understanding of the nitrogen cycle, or at least the ability to follow directions.

Cycling a tank is easy enough, but you need an aquarium test kit to make sure. Just do the following:

  1. Put together the aquarium as normal, keeping out any delicate fauna.
  2. Place a small amount of flake in the empty tank daily. A small pinch will do.
  3. Test the water daily for ammonia until it drops to undetectable levels. This usually takes 6-10 days.
  4. Once ammonia concentration is 0ppm, check for nitrite daily.
  5. When nitrite concentration is undetectable after a few days, begin testing for nitrates.
  6. When nitrates are <15ppm, you can consider the tank cycled and ready for your Ember Tetra.

Cycling your tank is essential to the short-term health of these fish. That said, these fish are rather hardy as long as they’re not exposed to ammonia or nitrite.

Just handle it! An extra two weeks of setup will lead to a much healthier system overall.

School Size

Ember Tetras should be kept in large groups, 10 should be considered the minimum.

Most Tetras require a small school. The usual rule of thumb is to keep at least six of most schooling fish. The usual suspects, like Cardinals and Neons, seem to do better in groups of eight or more but the guideline has held for decades.

Ember Tetras, for whatever reason, require more of their own kind to feel secure. Having a dozen or more is best, but ten is a solid number to shoot for.

The school size requirements keep them from being good fish for very small aquaria. Despite being under an inch in length, you should always keep these fish in at least a 10-gallon tank to accommodate their social requirements.

Feeding Time

Ember Tetra can be fed most fish food without issues, but a varied diet will help bring out their colors.

Look for color-enhancing flakes for the bulk of their diet. The ingredients that enhance colors work best on red fish, so you’ll see a big difference there.

You may also want to feed frozen foods on occasion. Bloodworms are another color-enhancing food, and beef heart is great if you take the time to chop it into tiny bits. They’ll accept most frozen foods like brine worms as well.

Live foods like daphnia will be appreciated and can help trigger breeding if your Ember Tetras are being stubborn.

The key is just to feed them a varied diet but flake foods make a good base.

Changing Colors

All fish change colors a bit depending on their health and mood. Most fish also use their colors as a form of communication as well.

But Ember Tetras can be a bit more dramatic in their changes. A healthy, happy Ember Tetra will be a deep scarlet in color and that’s what you should be aiming for. An unhealthy, unhappy Ember Tetra will be a pale yellow-orange.

Most will end up with some degree of red. These aren’t hard fish to keep. The only common error made in their care is attempting to drop them into a tank that hasn’t been cycled properly. You need those bacteria working overtime to reduce the chances of nitrite poisoning.

With that said, you can use their color as a general guideline for their care. In order of importance, the following are all factors:

  1. Clean Water
  2. Diet
  3. pH
  4. Water Hardness

These fish also need a large group to show their best colors. Shoal sizes of 10 or more will keep these fish much happier.

Keeping these fish is a great way to test the skill of a newbie. Their appearance is very reactive to the conditions they’re kept in, allowing you to see how you’re doing at a single glance.

Sourcing Ember Tetra

While a bit rare in local fish stores, these fish aren’t too hard to find.

If your local stores are lacking, you should turn online. Ember Tetras are quite cheap for the most part, averaging a bit under $2 per fish, despite their relative rarity. They’re a common offering online.

The key is just to do your research on the company. Not all online fish stores are created equal, and you want your fish to arrive alive and in good health.

Pay for expedited shipping if it’s offered. While it adds to the cost, it also helps make sure the fish arrive in better shape than when they’ve spent several days in packaging during shipping.

Suitable Tankmates

There are two main types of fish to look for when it comes to combining the Ember Tetra with other fish.

  1. Other 1-2” Tetra Species- Ember Tetra will often school with other Characins of similar size. Neons and Cardinals are a common choice for this purpose, and they add a bit of blue in addition to the strong red of the Ember Tetra.
  2. Bottom Feeders- Ember Tetra don’t sift the bottom for food. You’ll need some fish or invertebrates to clean up after them unless you’re very careful about feeding time.

Other schooling fish are a very individual choice, and it can be a hit-or-miss affair. Not all Ember Tetra will school with other species, and larger specimens of Tetra can make them nervous.

You’re better off not adding these fish to a community tank. There are far too many common aquarium fish that will simply make a snack of these tiny fish, ruining your plans for a bright red school.

Bottom feeders, on the other hand, are easy to pick out for Ember Tetra: go with Oto Catfish or Corydoras Catfish. Both are small, peaceful creatures that won’t interact with the Embers in any significant way. Instead, they can function as an impromptu cleaning crew.

Oto Catfish have their own challenges, so please read up on them before you go down that route.

Corydoras, on the other hand, are remarkably easy to keep. If your Embers are doing well, so are they. A school of Pygmy or Dwarf Corydoras Catfish are excellent companions. Just be sure to factor in an extra five gallons for the minimum six Corydoras you’ll want to add.

There are other suitable bottom feeders, but they need to be calm in addition to being small and non-aggressive. 

Ember Tetras spook easily. Larger fish, active fish, and any invaders in their portion of the water column will leave them stressed and hiding.

Be very selective about your tankmates. Indeed, you may not even wish to keep them with other fish at all and instead opt for invertebrates.

If you go down that route, there’s another highly regarded critter that works in the same water conditions. Bee Shrimp thrive in the same conditions as the Ember Tetra.

You can also use Neocardina davidii, commonly known as Cherry Shrimp, as a cleanup crew. They’re easier to care for than Bee Shrimp and they’re available in a wide variety of different colors despite the common name. Blue Cherry Shrimp make a particularly good contrast.

The key is to select tankmates that won’t mess with or startle your Embers. They’re nervous little guys, but you’ll be rewarded with richer colors if you don’t add any stress through tankmates.

Breeding Ember Tetra

Ember Tetras breed easily in captivity. If you’ve bred Neons, Cardinals, or any other egg scatterer you already know most of the story.

Preparation is simple: feed meaty foods like bloodworms and raise the temperature to roughly 80°F (27°C). Prep may be unnecessary, if the fish feel secure in their tank they’re likely to breed.

Telling males and females apart is a bit rough, but they do display a bit of sexual dimorphism. The females are a bit larger, rounder, and less colorful than the males but you’ll need to take a close look to notice.

The males will begin to chase and nip at females when they’re ready to breed. When you notice this behavior you’ll want to make preparations if you intend to keep the fry, including setting up a cycled grow-out tank. Fortunately, these fish are tiny even when grown. 

A 5-10 gallon tank is enough to let them grow up a bit.

After breeding, the female will scatter the eggs randomly around the enclosure. This can make it difficult to round up the fry and you may want to just have them breed in the grow-out tank and remove them afterwards.

Ember Tetra are cannibalistic. They’ll eat their fry, and even their eggs if given the opportunity. Keep the fry separate from the full-grown fish until they’re not at risk of getting munched on. Embers are like most fish: they eat anything that fits in their mouth.

Breeding Ember Tetra is very easy. You may end up with a few fry making it to adulthood even in a tank where you didn’t intend for them to breed. If the tank is heavily planted the chances of the fry making it go way up.

These fish are suitable for a first-time breeder. Unlike many, you may even be able to turn a little bit of profit with them since they’re not always available in brick-and-mortar stores.

Ember Tetra, A Tiny Jewel

Ember Tetras are easy fish to keep, especially if you make sure you’ve got good water quality. The cool thing for the newbie is how expressive their coloration is, showing you how healthy they are at a glance. They’re beautiful, easily cared for, and a bit rare.

All of that adds up to make them a bit of a hidden jewel in the aquarium world. It’s just a matter of finding them!