Flame Tetra

Von Rio Tetra, Fire Tetra, Red Tetra

Family: Characidae Flame Tetra, Hyphessobrycon flammeus, Von Rio Tetra, Fire TetraHyphessobrycon flammeusPhoto © Animal-World Courtesy: David Brough
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I am an aquarist in Rio de Janeiro and very sadly this little beauty is almost extinct here. It's the only endemic species of the State of Rio de Janeiro and due to... (more)  John Toledano

The Flame Tetra, as its name suggests, has a very beautiful fiery red coloring when it's happy!

The Flame Tetra Hyphessobrycon flammeus demonstrate a gorgeous fiery coloring when they are comfortable and happy in their aquarium. This tetra is generally silver in the front but becomes a fiery red on the back. It is especially bright red at the base of the fins.

When these fish are exposed to a lot of disturbances they become very timid and their coloring will pale. They don't always show real well in pet store aquariums because they are exposed to a lot of activity. They otherwise vibrant coloring look pales in that setting. In fact they will closely resemble the Black Tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi when seen in a pet store. Consequently the Flame Tetras are not one of the most sought out tetra species. An aquarist must know what they are looking for to experience this rewarding beauty. Some other common names this little fish is known by are Von Rio Tetra, Fire Tetra, Red Tetra, and a few variations of those.

Besides their coloring, the beauty of these little tetras is their ease of care. They are one of the hardiest little fish and are great for a new fish keeper. An added benefit is they are easily bred if they are comfortable. As a matter of fact, they are recommended for a beginner that wishes to experience fish breeding.

The best way to keep them in the home aquarium is to provide them with a pleasant environment. They are happiest in a school of 6 or more. and will also do best if kept with other smaller fish in a peaceful environment. Once the Flame Tetras are established in a calm aquarium they become very active. When they get acclimated they will no longer be timid and the aquarist is rewarded with a very happy, pretty group of fish.

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

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Geographic Distribution
Hyphessobrycon flammeus
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Characidae
  • Genus: Hyphessobrycon
  • Species: flammeus
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Flame Tetra - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 1.6 inches (3.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Flame Tetra Hyphessobrycon flammeus was described by Myers in 1924. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.They are found in South America in coastal rivers in Eastern Brazil and around Rio de Janeiro.  These tetras show a preference to slow flowing creeks, river tribuaries and backwaters.  Other common names they are known by are Von Rio Tetra, Fire Tetra, Red Tetra, Tetra of Rio, and Rio tetra. They swim in schools and feed on worms, small crustaceans, and plant matter. 

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

Description

The Flame Tetra is a deep bodied fish with the typical tetra shape. This fish will generally reach about about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in length and has a lifespan of about 3 - 5 years.

This tetra is silver in the front of its body but becomes a fiery red on the back, especially at the base of the fins. There are two black stripes that run up and down behind the gills and they have a blue eye ring. The male has a blood red anal fin. The anal fin of the female is lighter and sometimes yellow. A black tip on the pectoral fin is seen only on the female.

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

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Von Rio Tetra is a hardy fish that is great for the beginner fish keeper. While this fish is very hardy, water cleanliness should be meticulously maintained as this fish is somewhat more susceptible to Ich and other infections.  This is a great fish for beginners that want to learn to breed as they are fairly easy to spawn.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy - While this fish is very hardy, water cleanliness should be meticulously maintained as this fish is somewhat more susceptible to Ich and other infections.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Flame 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.  The Flame Tetra should be fed multiple times a day and only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less.

  • 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

Flame 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: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

These fish are fairly hardy and a school of six will do best in an aquarium that is about 10 t0 20 gallons. They are somewhat more demanding than most Tetra and should have soft, peat-filtered water. These fish need open areas to swim freely. The aquarium should be heavily planted around the sides and back and have plenty of open water for swimming in the front. A few hiding places would also be appreciated.

Flame Tetras prefer some plant cover and a darker gravel. 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. Use dim lighting and it will develop the tetras best coloring.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L) - A ten gallon is the smallest size that could house the small school this fish requires to be comfortable.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 80.0° F - These fish will spawn between 80 - 84° F
  • Range ph: 5.5-7.5 - A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is preferred.
  • Hardness Range: 3 - 15 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

Picture of a Flame Tetra, Fire Tetra, or Von Rio Tetra

The Flame Tetra is a good peaceful fish recommended for all community aquariums. They are happiest in a school of 6 or more and do best if kept with other smaller fish in a peaceful environment. Tetras can be easily spooked into hiding so situate the tank appropriately.  Best tankmates for the Flame Tetras are most livebearers, danios, rasboras, other tetras and peaceful bottom dwellers.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - A minimum school of 6, but more are better.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • 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 male has a blood red anal fin while the females is lighter and sometimes yellow. The black tip on the pectoral fin is seen only on the female.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Flame Tetra are egg layers. These tetras mature very quickly and reach sexual maturity in around 6 months. When they spawn they lock fins, then while clasped they perform a type of roll-over process in the vegetation. Thus the female releases about a dozen eggs at time and the male fertilizes them. Because of this spawning behavior, this is one tetra that must not have too dense a spawning vegetation.

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. It is best to set up a seperate tank for breeding 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 if it is wide enough for eggs to pass and small enough to keep parents out. The water should be soft and acidic with a pH 5.5 - 6.5 with a temperature of 80 - 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 on microworm 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 - Although breeding is not particularly difficult, females are often disinterested in spawning. Additionally, the fry require extremely clean water and are not especially robust.

Fish Diseases

The Flame Tetras are 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. 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 Flame 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 Flame 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.

As with most fish the Flame Tetras are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial 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.

Availability

The Flame Tetra is readily available and inexpensive. Besides Flame Tetra, they will also be sold as the Von Rio Tetra and Fire Tetra, as well as combinations of these three names.

References

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


John Toledano - 2006-05-13
I am an aquarist in Rio de Janeiro and very sadly this little beauty is almost extinct here. It's the only endemic species of the State of Rio de Janeiro and due to insertion of other species and predatorial fishing, we no longer see them any more.
There is currently a research program in one of our universities trying to repopulate some streams and rivers.
Thank you.
John Toledano

  • Pat Taylor - 2013-03-15
    I have six little tetras. I find them very smart when i shake their food they come to the glass. But I find them shy if other people look at them.Have had them for six months an have been very healthy and happy. will take some pictures for you. give me a week so I can get good pictures for you. PAT
  • Pat Taylor - 2013-03-15
    I have six little tetras. I find them very smart when i shake their food they come to the glass. But I find them shy if other people look at them.Have had them for six months an have been very healthy and happy. will take some pictures for you. give me a week so I can get good pictures for you. PAT
Reply
Terry Terblanche - 2011-07-21
I have 20 of them and 20 neons in a tank. They are about 3 cm long and the females are almost ready spawn.

  • Guilherme Capel de Jesus - 2013-03-07
    Hi there, i am from Brazil, UNESP university. Any of you could send me photos of live specimens of Hyphessobrycon flammeus (in a good resolution)? It's for a cientific article of redescription. Your name will be creditaded in the photo. Thanks and sorry for my poor english. My email is: capel.capeloo@gmail.com
Reply
harry - 2009-01-06
I have 4 flame tailed tetras, unfortunately two of them are very aggressive towards all my other fish. I haven't got spawn as I only have had them a week or so. Anyone got any ideas to pasify them as they are gorgeous. plz help?

  • Shannon - 2012-03-04
    Sometimes you just get a mean fish, but my best suggestion would be to get at least 2 more. They are happiest and most comfortable in a group of 6 or more. They may be feeling insecure, and therefore being more territorial than necessary.
  • Shannon - 2012-03-04
    And I failed to realize that the question was several years old... Haha
Reply
Jane Stranson - 2011-10-06
I just got one today and he is already gaining more and more color and they really are such pretty fish!

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-10-07
    Awesome
  • Alex Burleson - 2011-10-07
    I agree, they are very beautiful additions to almost any community aquarium!
Reply