Golden Tetra

Gold Tetra, Brass Tetra

Family: Characidae Golden Tetra, Hemigrammus rodwayi, Gold Tetra, Brass TetraHemigrammus rodwayi
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The Golden Tetra looks like it has been sprayed with gold paint all over it's body!

The Golden Tetra Hemigrammus rodwayi is a real pretty little characin. It looks gold because of a specialized protection to its skin to defend against a trematode parasite. This fish is more prone to disease than many of the tetras, especially skin parasites. The gold color comes from 'guanin' which is secreted by the skin of this tetra to protect it against these parasites. This makes it look like it has been covered with a gold dust, thus its name. It is also known as the Gold Tetra and Brass Tetra.

These tetras are fairly hardy. Some authors feel they are a more difficult fish to keep, but we have not had any unusual problems. They are not as commonly available as the other more popular and colorful tetras, such as the Neon tetras. But if you can find them, they do make a nice addition to the community tank.

This is a peaceful schooling fish. A group of six or more can be kept in a 15 to 20 gallon aquarium. Woodwork and floating plants to dim the light will help make them feel comfortable. They don't actually need plants as an interior decor, but the aquarium can be planted around the sides and back and to keep plenty of open water for swimming in the front. Twisted roots or driftwood decor that provide a few hiding places will be appreciated.

The Gold Tetras are considered a bit more difficult to breed than other characins. For some reason that is not known, the offspring tend to loose their gold coloring. They also may not be gold colored in the pet stores. This is said to possibly be because the gold color may not be natural, but rather a pathological condition.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Geographic Distribution
Hemigrammus rodwayi
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Characidae
  • Genus: Hemigrammus
  • Species: rodwayi
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Golden Tetra - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish - inches: 1.6 inches (3.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Golden Tetra Hemigrammus rodwayi was described by Durbin in 1909. They are found in South America in Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and the Amazon River basin. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

They inhabit flood plains as well as coastal creeks where there can be some salinity. These fish have been successfully bred in captivity, but for some unknown reason the aquarium bred young tend to loose their gold coloring. Other common names they are known by include Gold Tetra and Brass Tetra.

  • Scientific Name: Hemigrammus rodwayi
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Golden Tetra is a full-bodied tetra species. This fish will generally reach about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in the home aquarium and has a lifespan of about 3 - 5 years. True to its name is looks like it has gold dust sprinkled on its body. The color comes from 'guanin' which is secreted by the skin of this fish to protect it against skin parasites. The top and bottom of the tail fin is red with a black arrowhead shaped spot in the middle. The dorsal and anal fin are golden and are tipped with white, It has a very small soft ray dorsal fin that is also red.

The coloration of this fish is very dependant on if it is captive bred or wild caught. The wild caught will have the gold coloring as a result of the secretion of 'guanin' to protect the skin from parasites. In captivity this protective cover may not be secreted if the parasites are not present, so then the fish will be silver only.

  • Size of fish - inches: 1.6 inches (3.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5 years - They have a lifespan of about 3 - 5 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Golden Tetra is a bit difficult to keep and is best suited for an aquarist with some fish keeping experience. These fish can be more prone to disease and stress caused by changes in water conditions, especially if wild caught.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult - Specimens are often wild caught, and as such will generally be less tolerant of fluctuating or less than optimal conditions.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Golden Tetra will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food everyday. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat. When feeding only offer what the fish can eat with in a couple minutes and remove excess. These fish will overeat so keep a close eye on this fish.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less with multiple feedings per day.

Aquarium Care

Golden Tetras are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless on size all need some maintenance. Over time decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever changing conditions water should be replaced on a regular basis, especially if the tank is densely stocked. At least 25 - 50% of the tank water should be replaced every other week.

  • Water Changes: Weekly - Most tanks that are established can have a bi-weekly or even monthly water change if they are not over stocked.

Aquarium Setup

The Golden Tetra will do best in schools of 5 or more, so they need a 15 to 20 gallon aquarium or larger. They will do best with soft lighting and peat filtered water. To simulate the black waters that they come simply add a mesh bag of aquarium safe peat to the filter. Dim lighting can accomplished with floating plants.

Woodwork and floating plants will make them feel comfortable. A biotype setup is the best choice for this tetra and is very easy to put together. The substrate should be made up of river sand. A few hiding places would be appreciated with some driftwood branches and twisted roots. If driftwood is hard to get an alternative is common beech once dried and stripped of all it's bark. Some dried leaves can be added to stain the water and give them a natural feel. Leaves should be removed and replaced every few weeks.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting - Lower light levels will bring out the best reflective qualities of their pigmentation.
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79.0° F - For breeding it is recommended to have soft water, a pH of 6.3, 12° dGH, and a temperature between 79 - 84° F.
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 2 - 15 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Golden Tetra are ideal for a community aquarium with other peaceful fish. Be sure to keep them in a group of tetras, five or more should be housed together. This fish will happily school with its relatives like the Rosy Tetra, Black Widow Tetra, White Skirt Tetra, Bleeding Heart Tetra, etc. Tetras are startled by loud sounds or excessive movement outside the tank, so keep them in an appropriately placed tank.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - Keep in a school of at least 5, but more are better.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The female has a fuller stomach area. The male's anal fin is white and he has more red than the female. The male is almost always more colorful.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Golden Tetra are egglayers. These fish have been successfully bred in captivity, but for some unknown reason the aquarium bred young tend to loose their gold coloring. Most successful way to spawn these fish is in groups of 12 with 6 males and 6 females. Feed this group small live foods and nature should take over and spawning will begin. The female will lay eggs on plants or green floss.

A separate breeding tank will help to get the best number of fry. Keep the tank dimly lit with clumps of spawning mops or java moss so the female has a place to deposit the eggs. A layer of mesh also works as long as the spaces are wide enough for the eggs to pass through and small enough to keep the parents out. The water should be soft and acidic with a pH 5.5 - 6.5 with a temperature of 79 - 84° F. A small air powered sponge filter is all that is really need for filtration. Filtering the water through aquarium safe peat is a good choice.

Once a successful spawn has been achieved remove the parents. Eggs will hatch with in 24 - 36 hours with fry becoming free swimming 3 - 4 days later. For the first few days feed the fry infusoria type foods until they can feed with microworms or brine shrimp nauplii. Fry are light sensitive during the early stages and require it as dark as possible. Also see Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins for a general description and see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate - A separate breeding tank is required. The breeding pair will spawn on vegetation and should be removed thereafter.

Fish Diseases

The Golden Tetra are prone to develop ick and fungus if kept the tank water is not kept very clean. That being said there is no guarantee that you won't have to deal with health problems or disease. Remember anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.

A good thing about this tetra is they can be used as markers to the start of poor water conditions and can catch issues at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs can be noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to provide the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. Stressed fish are more likely to acquire disease.

As with most fish they are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. Golden Tetra are fairly hardy but even in a well maintained tank they are prone to disease. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Golden Tetra is available from time to time in pet stores and on line, and is moderately priced.


Author: David Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
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