Black Phantom Tetra

Phantom Tetra

Family: Characidae Black Phantom Tetra, Hyphessobrycon megalopterus, Phantom TetraHyphessobrycon megalopterusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Latest Reader Comment - See More
I have Aquired 4 Phantom Tetras,and after about 3 Days one of the Females has started Swimming Head down,can anyone please tell me if this is normal or has this... (more)  James Henry

The Black Phantom Tetra is very attractive and is also one of the most interesting fish to keep!

The Black Phantom Tetra Hyphessobrycon megalopterus is a very hardy and popular fish. It has been in the aquarium hobby for decades and is perhaps the most curious tetra to keep. These intriguing tetras are considered peaceful fish, yet if two males are kept together they will have 'mock' battles. Fortunately they do not injury each other with these. This Phantom Tetra does get a bit aggressive during spawning however.

Another curiosity is that the males, though nicely patterned, are not quite as strikingly colored as the females. They both have the typical "tetra" shape, being oval from the side view and compressed laterally. Their silvery body is adorned with a large black patch just behind the gills. The dorsal and tail fin also create a contrast, starting out gray near the body but quickly becoming large black areas. Its a very handsome patterning, yet it is more pronounced in the female.

This attractive tetra is one of the easiest fish to keep. The Black Phantom Tetra is very active and can be kept in pairs or in schools of at least 5 individuals. It is also very peaceful with its tank mates and a prolific breeder. The Black Phantom Tetra doesn't require exacting water conditions in order to thrive. It is much less demanding of its environment than its cousin, the Red Phantom Tetra Hyphessobrycon sweglesi, which is similar in appearance but has a reddish tinge to its body.

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

Geographic Distribution
Hyphessobrycon megalopterus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Characidae
  • Genus: Hyphessobrycon
  • Species: megalopterus
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Black Phantom Tetra - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish - inches: 1.8 inches (4.50 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Black Phantom Tetra Hyphessobrycon megalopterus described by Eigenmann in 1915. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as it has a large distribution and no major widespread threats. They are found in South America in upper Paraguay and Guaporé River basins, Rio San Francisco and central Brazil.

Their habitat in Guapore and Paraguay are clear waters that feed the Pantanal wetlands.  Other regions in lives in are murky with dense aquatic vegetation. They are usually in groups and feed on worms, small insects and crustaceans.

  • Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon megalopterus
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern - Assessed as Least Concern due to its very large distribution and the lack of any known major widespread threats.


The Black Phantom Tetra has the typical "tetra" shape. It is oval from the side view and compressed laterally.This fish will generally reach about 1 3/4 inches (4.5 cm) in length and has a lifespan of about 5 - 6 years. These fish have a large black patch behind the gills. The front of the dorsal fin and the anal fin is edged in black. The tailfin and the dorsal fins start out gray near the body, but quickly fade into large black areas.

The males are not quite as strikingly colored as the females. Female's are more beautifully colored with red adipose, pectoral, and anal fins. The male has a larger dorsal fin and is more of a smoky gray color.

  • Size of fish - inches: 1.8 inches (4.50 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6 years - These fish have a life span of 5 - 6 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Phantom Tetra is a durable fish that is great for the beginner fish keeper.  They adapt very well to water condition changes.  They make great tank mates for most community tanks.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Black Phantom 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.

  • 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

Aquarium Care

Black Phantom Tetras are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. At least 25 - 50% of the tank water should be replaced every other week, especially if the tank is densely stocked.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

These fish are fairly hardy and are best kept in a a school of six or more. But because they are very active swimmers, it is advisable to keep Black Phantom Tetras in a tank at least 20 inches long and ideally 20 or more gallons. Ideally these tetras should have soft, peat-filtered water. These fish need open areas to swim freely, but prefer some plant cover and a darker gravel. Use dim lighting to develop the tetras best coloring.

The aquarium should be heavily planted around the sides and back and have plenty of open water for swimming in the front. To get the best out of this fish, set up a biotype tank. For the substrate use a river sand with some drift wood and twisted roots. Add some dried leaves to the sand, which will stain the water a light brown and replace leaves every few weeks. Additionally, the tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L) - A tank at least 20 inches long and 20 or more gallons is ideal for these active schooling fish.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.5 - A pH of 6.5 is preferred.
  • Hardness Range: 1 - 18 dGH - A hardness of 10° dGH is preferred.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Black Phantom Tetra are generally a very peaceful and good community fish. They are ideal for a community aquarium with other peaceful fish. They can be kept in schools of at least 6 individuals, or in pairs. If two males are kept together they will act as if they are fighting but will not actually hurt each other. Tetras can be easily spooked into hiding so situate the tank appropriately.  These tetras are best kept with live bearers, danionins, rasboras, other tetras, peaceful bottom dwellers, most gouramis and small cichlids.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - This school fish requires a group of at least five of its own kind, or in pairs. Two males will engage in "mock" fighting, but will not actually hurt each other.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The female is more beautifully colored with red adipose, pectoral, and anal fins. The male is more of a smoky gray color and his dorsal fin is larger than the female.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Black Phantom Tetras are egg layers and very easy to breed. They will spawn in clusters of plants and will scattered up to 400 eggs in one spawning. The eggs hatch in just over a day, but are very susceptible to fungus. The eggs should be exposed to very little light to reduce any fungus. Recommended conditions: temp: 77.0° F (25° C), pH 5.5 - 6.0, below 4° dGH, low light levels. See a general description of how to breed egg layers in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

As with most fish the Black Phantom Tetra are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease.  Black Phantom Tetra are extremely hardy and disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. 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 Black Phantom Tetra is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it 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 give your Black Phantom Tetra 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.

For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments. This is a great source for information on disease and treatments. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. Black Phantom Tetra are very resilient


The Black Phantom Tetra is readily available and is inexpensive.


Author: David Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
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Lastest Animal Stories on Black Phantom Tetra

James Henry - 2014-10-03
I have Aquired 4 Phantom Tetras,and after about 3 Days one of the Females has started Swimming Head down,can anyone please tell me if this is normal or has this fish got a health problem?

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-10-08
    The odd swimming angle is likely the result of a swim bladder malady. It could simply be bloat from over-feeding or feeding dry flake food absorbing water in the fishes stomach and expanding, or possibly constipation. But it could also be the result of another problem, see swim bladder disease here, on the  Fish Diseases and Treatments page (scroll down just a bit) and it gives you some things to consider.
nm123 - 2012-01-10
thanks for your answer

nm123 - 2012-01-09
do these fish comonly have swim bladder disease?

  • Charlie Roche - 2012-01-09
nm123 - 2012-01-05
I have been watching my black phantom tetras over the last week and only 1 (one) of them died from swim bladder disease now only 2 (two) of them are left my qustion is. Is the black phantom tetra prone to swim bladder disease? ps he got this disease out of nowhere or did he get it from one of the other fish

oh almost forgot none of the other fish in my tank have swim bladder disease and out of all the fish I kept in my tank I never had a fish have swim bladder disease