Serpae Tetra: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Serpae Tetra is a beautifully colored freshwater fish that’s quite popular with beginner-level aquarists around the world. They are colorful schooling fish known to create a vibrant, bright red wave when swimming.

And if you choose them as a favorite pet, you will love them even more for their straightforward care requirements. Not to mention the peaceful temperament that allows them to coexist with other small-sized species in the same tank.

If you want a low-maintenance freshwater fish to make your aquarium more attractive, this guide will cover the fundamentals of Serpae Tetra care.

We will discuss such aspects as the Red Tetra’s average size in captivity, their appearance, tank size, behavior, diet, compatible tank mates, breeding, and much more.

Species Overview

Serpae Tetras are natives of the Amazon River basin and have been discovered in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. They are endemic to the quiet backwaters in this region, where they spend much of their time either scavenging for food or hiding from the conventional predators.

These species are scientifically called Hyphessobrycon eques and belong to the Characidae family under the order Characiformes.

However, the captive-bred species are sometimes called the Jewel Tetras, Callistus Tetras, Red Phantom Tetras, Red Minor Tetras, Callistus, Red Serpas, and Blood Tetras.

In captivity, Serpae Tetras will always stand out from the crowd, and they can transform a community tank if kept in small groups.

LifespanUp to 5 Years
Care LevelEasy
Behavior & TemperamentPeaceful
CompatibilityPeaceful, schooling species
Food and DietOmnivores
Size1.75 Inches
Tank SetupFreshwater, rocks, plants, caves
Tank Size (Minimum)20 Gallons


A typical Serpae Tetra has an average lifespan of 5-7 years, a basic standard for most species within the broader Tetra family.

As usual, Red Serpa’s lifespan will be influenced by factors like water quality, diet, and tank mates. If you keep them in a lackluster environment, your Serpae Tetra will never grow to full potential in captivity, leave alone reaching the average lifespan in the first place.


Serpae Tetras may have a few similarities to the regular Tetra fish, but their beautiful coloration readily sets them apart from most other Tetra species.

Typically, Tetra Serpae boasts a beautiful red-brown coloration, even though this can vary from one species to another. Other species will have unique scarlet hue shades while the rest can assume a beautiful olive-brown base coloration.

What’s more, Serpae Tetras have iconic tetra-shaped bodies, large and flat with a trapezoidal configuration. They are named Jewel Tetras for their sparkly fins that are easily noticeable from every view, with a shiny finish that gives them a characteristic jewel-like appearance. 

Also, Serpae Tetras are easily distinguishable from other varieties by a dark, comma-shaped dot on each side of their bodies. This spot will have a variable vibrancy depending on the fish’s age, general health, and diet.

What’s more, Serpae Tetras have a large, dark-colored dorsal fin to complete their beautiful configuration. Such a fin may have a subtle red coloration or beautiful white shades depending on the specific Red Tetra species.

The same pattern continues on the anal fin, usually covered in red shades with beautiful dark edges.

Unlike many species, Serpae Tetras never settle for one color pattern throughout their lives. That’s why the vibrancy of the base color will fade or increase as the fish matures, depending on the actual environmental conditions.

When it comes to sex, you won’t notice any clear-cut differences between the two genders except for the less vibrancy in the female species. Also, female Serpae Tetras are plumper than the males, which will be evident during the breeding season.


Red Tetras are not among the largest freshwater species, with a full-grown adult fish measuring about 1.75 inches in length. Even in the wild, you will rarely see a Tetra Serpae grow up to 2 inches long in full maturity.

Like any other freshwater fish, multiple factors influence Serpae Tetra’s growth rate and average size in captivity, including the diet, tank water conditions, and tank mates.

Serpae Tetra Fish Care

Serpae Tetras are easy to care for in captivity if you create a suitable habitat for them. They might be hardy for the better part of the days, but you should maintain stable water conditions inside the fish’s habitat to create a thriving community.

In a confined setting, the likelihood of tank water contamination from decaying matter is just as high as the waste production rate.

The leftover fish food alone is enough to reduce the tank water quality dramatically, increasing the ammonia and nitrate buildup in the process to cut short your fish’s life. Thankfully, you can prevent that by cycling 20-50% of the tank water every week.

Now, let’s see what caring for these fish at home entails;

Tank Size

Red Tetras could be satisfied with just a small tank in captivity, given their small size. Like many aquarists, you will be tempted to go with a 10-gallon capacity, but we will never recommend that under any circumstances.

See, if you ignore Serpae Tetra’s tiny body for a second, you will still have a highly active species and a passionate swimmer that won’t fail to capture your attention. These fish need enough space to swim and move freely in captivity, which is almost impractical with a small tank.

In our opinion, it’s more sensible to set up the right tank size from the beginning to help maintain your Serpae Tetras in perfect shape.

You should target an average tank size of 20 gallons for the best experience at home. Don’t forget that Serpae Tetras thrive in small groups too, which again makes it necessary to have the right tank size from the start.

Water Parameters                                                                              

Throughout South America, Serpae Tetras prefer quiet backwaters in murky environments, safe from predators and potential intruders

You can recreate such conditions in captivity by first addressing the water parameters. And Serpae Tetras love slightly acidic water with just the right amount of hardness. If in doubt, be sure to stick to the following levels; 

  • Water Temperature: 72°F-79°F
  • pH Levels: 5-7.8
  • Water Hardness: 5-25 dGH

What to Put in Their Tank?

Having the right tank decorations is the key to keeping a lively Serpae Tetra community. And setting up the fish’s new home requires a constant effort to mimic its original habitat in South America.

Usually, this begins with choosing the most suitable substrate, which should be as dark as possible to recreate the exact conditions in the Amazon River basin.

Perfectly sized dark gray or black sand fits this category to help mimic the river beds and muddy ponds in the fish’s natural environment.

What’s more, Red Tetras appreciate more live plants in their habitat. But at the same time, they tend to nibble on the soft plant leaves and small vegetation if they can.

So, not every live plant will suit their new territory. The two best options here include the Java Moss and Myriophyllum.

Remember, even with your live plants, Serpae Tetras will want enough swimming space inside the tank. As such, be sure to create compact clusters for ultimate security while leaving just the right amount of space in the middle of the aquarium.

For the right mix of comfort and aesthetic appeal, you may want to combine the durability of natural plants with the magnificence of standard decorations such as small rocks and driftwood.

Next, consider the right tank equipment. Here, we are talking about an effective filtration system to regulate the ammonia and nitrate levels inside the tank. For Serpae Tetras, a hang-on back filter or a standard canister will be excellent to achieve that.

The general rule is that the chosen filter should be effective enough to effortlessly cycle the tank water without endangering the fish’s lives.

For the same reason, a powerful filtration system should never be an option if you keep small Serpae Tetras at home.

Common Diseases

And now some good news for you. The Serpae Tetras have no species-specific diseases targeting their family. Also, they are a hardy species that can withstand different conditions when kept in captivity.

However, they are most vulnerable to common freshwater ailments such as Ich, skin flukes, and fungal infections.

Ich disease, in particular, can be bothersome to a Serpae Tetra community because it creates multiple spots on the fish’s body and gills. If not properly managed, it can spread to the whole community and even cut short the fish’s life because of increased stress levels.

Fortunately, you can relieve its symptoms easily with simple over-the-counter medications. But when in doubt, feel free to consult an expert for further medical advice.

Of course, we can’t fail to mention the significance of isolating the infected fish to ensure the disease doesn’t spread to the healthy population within the community.

But in all honesty, the onus of keeping a healthy Serpae Tetra community is always on the aquarist. Many diseases affecting these species will be directly linked to the tank water status and environmental conditions.

This means every preventive measure will start with a careful evaluation of the fish’s habitat to understand the tank water status, living conditions, tank mates, diet, and water parameters among the rest.

If everything’s perfect for your lovely Tetras, you shouldn’t have any challenge keeping a thriving community at home.

What Do Serpae Tetras Eat?

Like many Tetra varieties, Serpae Tetras are natural omnivores and eat insect larvae and plant matter in the wild. A similar trend continues in captivity, where these fish will gladly feed on top-quality pellets and flakes as the standard meal.

But as you will learn in just a few days, Serpae Tetras do well with regular supplements and protein-rich foods to get essential nutrients for survival. It’s Important to feed them on bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimps, and other protein-rich foods to maintain a balanced diet.

Behavior & Temperament

Just like in the wild, Serpae Tetras are peaceful in captivity. They cohabitate with most species in the same aquarium even when they prefer their own company.

Furthermore, Serpae Tetras are a schooling fish and more secure in groups of 6 or more species. Keeping the same species in the same aquarium can be a real delight as they maneuver through the tank elements, casually exploring their new home.

It’s worth reminding that Serpae Tetras are partial bottom dwellers and will spend much of their time either at the middle of the tank or towards the bottom end of your aquarium.

Their striking swimming pattern endears them to many aquarists, and you will never get enough of their jerky movements in the water.

With their characteristic fast swimming pattern, Serpae Tetras may sometimes appear chaotic inside the aquarium, threatening the peace of other small species kept in the same space.

For the same reason, you should be cautious when introducing a slow-moving, shy species in the same tank.

Serpae Tetra Tank Mates

The most suitable tank mates for your Serpae Tetras will be similar species. When kept in groups of six or more species, Serpae Tetras will make quite an impression on the aquarist, especially with their speedy transition from one position inside the tank to another.

If you intend to pair Serpae Tetras at home, be careful when selecting companions because the stronger fish may be aggressive to the perceived weaker species.

In some cases, the more aggressive fish are best kept in a separate tank to help save your community and keep everyone happy.

If you have to introduce new species, be sure to stick with other fast-moving fish that would pair well with your agile Tetras.

It’s crucial to avoid slow-moving species since they are easy targets for fin nipping. On the other hand, large and more aggressive species will never fit the same aquarium because of the possibility of preying on your Serpae Tetras.

In summary, here are some of the best tank mates for the Serpae Tetras;

Can you keep Serpae Tetras with your snails? Well, introducing snails to a Serpae Tetra’s habitat is a matter of trial and error.

And even though some aquarists have had great success with such a combination, we strongly discourage it because it carries significant risks to your little invertebrates. The harmless snails may quickly become Serpae Tetra’s afternoon snack if they occupy the same territory.


Breeding Serpae Tetras is pretty straightforward if you have the right conditions. Usually, it begins with creating a separate breeding tank to accommodate the mature species.

Next, you will need to decorate the spawning tank using the correct elements, including plants and spawning mops.

At the start, your Serpae Tetras will need warm waters of about 80°F with a standard pH of 6.0 for successful spawning. Plus, it would help to feed your fish protein-rich foods to sustain their health and well-being throughout this period.

Then, the eggs will take as little as two days to hatch if all goes well.

Unfortunately, Serpae Tetras won’t show much affection towards the new fry and may want to eat them if they get a chance. So, you must remove them from the breeding tank as fast as possible.

In the early stages, baby Tetras will happily feed on powdered food and infusoria until they are mature enough to eat regular fish food.

Final Thoughts

Hardy, playful, and easy to care for. That’s all you get if you keep Serpae Tetras at home. These are magnificent species to have as your favorite pet, especially if you are more inclined towards the Tetra varieties.

Everybody can surely keep healthy Serpae Tetras considering their simple care requirements at home.

And we hope this guide has eliminated all the doubts you might have had about keeping a thriving Serpae Tetra population at home. Perhaps it’s time to give it a shot, then!