White Tetra

Gold Skirt Tetra, White Skirt Tetra, Gold Widow Tetra

Family: Characidae White Tetra, Goldskirt Tetra, Gymnocorymbus ternetzi Variety, Gold Widow TetraGymnocorymbus ternetziPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Latest Reader Comment - See More
I'm doing a fish project for school and I bought 3 white tetras. I feed them "tropical fish flakes" and have lots of plants in the tank. They seem to love it!  kimi

A school of the White Tetra fish are really striking in a community aquarium!

A very commonly available fish, the White Tetra or Gold Skirt Tetra is a good fish for the beginner. This is a strain of fish developed from the Black Tetra or Blackskirt Tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi. Like its predecessor it is very hardy, undemanding, and easily bred.

The White Tetra is a schooling fish and they will appreciate the company of their own kind. A standard school is made up of about 6 - 7 fish, but keeping more is even better. This is a very active and fast moving fish but with a tendency towards fin nipping. Because of this it should not be kept with smaller fishes, but will do very well in a community tank with larger fishes.

These fish are are very durable and easy to keep. To keep a healthy school, provide them with a 15 gallon aquarium or larger. They also like a well lit tank with dense areas of bunched low vegetation which will leave lots of open areas to swim in. They are hardy at 70° F to 90° F, but are prone to develop ick if kept in colder temperatures.

Along with a longfin or hifin version of the White Tetra, various strains have been developed that have a natural pink or blue coloration and called the Colored Skirt Tetra. These fish are often artificially dyed in various pastels colors and sold as Colored Tetras, or under various colored names such as the Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra, or Rainbow Tetra. When purchasin a colored tetra, be sure to inquire about which type of specimen you are obtaining. Learn more about Artificial Colored Fish below.

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

Geographic Distribution
Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Characidae
  • Genus: Gymnocorymbus
  • Species: ternetzi
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White Tetra - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish - inches: 2.2 inches (5.51 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 79.0° F (21.1 to 26.1° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Black Tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi was described by Boulenger in 1895. The species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. They are found in South America in Paraguay and Guapore Basins. These fish show a preference for slow moving streams and tributaries, normally dimly lit from dense forest canopies. They inhabit the upper layers of the water feeding on worms, small crustaceans and insects.

Many Black Tetra are captive bred for the aquarium industry and the White Tetra is a captive bred color morph. There are no wild populations of this captive bred variety. Other common names it is known by include White Skirt Tetra, Gold Skirt Tetra and Gold Widow Tetra.

Other varieties of White Tetra have been developed including the Longfinned White Tetra or HiFin White Tetra. There are also strains with a natural pink or blue coloration that are called Colored Skirt Tetra. Then there are artificially dyed varieties in various pastels colors that are sold as Solid Colored Tetra, or they will be sold under their color names such as the Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra, or Rainbow Tetra.

  • Scientific Name: Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed - There are no wild populations of this color morph.


The White Tetra is a deep-bodied species and laterally compressed. This fish will reach about 2 1/4 inches (5.5 cm) in the home aquarium, but will breed at just 1 1/2 inches. It has a lifespan of about 6 - 7 years. It is distinguished by two vertical stripes and by what appears to be overly developed dorsal and anal fins. These make it appear as if though it has a "skirt", with most of its mass on the bottom half of the body. It is very light, almost transparent looking and lacks the black stripes of its parentage. There is also a Longfinned White Tetra or HiFin White Tetra variety that has been developed.

This fish is a naturally colored tetra, and is not dyed. There are artificially dyed varieties of the White Tetra that have various pastels colors. They are sold as Solid Colored Tetra or sold under their color names such as the Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra, or Rainbow Tetra.

About Artificially Colored Fish:

Many albino and transparent type fishes make an ideal 'canvas' for applying color to an otherwise rather plain specimen. For quite sometime, artificially dyed specimens were thought of as an intriguing and eye-catching addition to the home aquarium. Today however, as more has been learned of the processes involved, there are some serious concerns about the practice. Concerns are over the initial stress and possible pain to the fish, followed by a possibly higher susceptibility to infection during the process.

Colored Skirt Tetra
Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy Jackie Murphy

Color is added to fish by various methods:

  • One method is by feeding them dyed food to make them colorful. This method is of very little concern, and of course the color is not permanent.
  • Another method is by injecting dyes into the fish, as seen in the painted glassfish. This method puts the color onto specific areas of the fish's body.
  • And still another method is by inducing the fish to release its natural slime coat, then placing the fish into a dye colored water that is absorbed onto the surface of its body, and then finally putting the fish into water with medication that encourages the redevelopment of the slime coat. This method provides a more over all coloration, an example is the colored Red-tail Botia.

Those fish that survive the injection processes reportedly go on to live fairly normal lives, though the dyes usually fade with time. This may be true for fish subjected to the overall dying process as well. There have been reports with the colored botias, of the fish possibly having shortened lives and possibly developing other abnormalities. As a consumer you will want to be aware of these concerns. The combined buying power of aquarists makes a difference on what is made available.

  • Size of fish - inches: 2.2 inches (5.51 cm) - These fish get up to 2 1/4 inches (5.5 cm) but will breed at 1.5 inches.
  • Lifespan: 7 years - They have a life span of about 6 - 7 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

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

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the White Tetra or Gold Skirt 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. These tetras like several feedings a day, but offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less at each feeding.

  • 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

The White Tetra is easy to care for provided the 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

The White Tetra or Gold Skirt Tetra are very beautiful, active swimmers. They need an aquarium that is at least 15 gallons or more and like a soft, peat-filtered water. Although dim lighting and a darker gravel substrate will bring out the tetras best coloring, these fish prefer a well-lit tank with some plant cover. They do like areas of bunched low vegetation but also need open areas to swim freely. Additionally, the tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity.

A biotype setup is a great choice for this tetra and is very easy to put together. The substrate should be made up of river sand. Provide few hiding places with some driftwood branches and twisted roots. If driftwood is hard to get an alternative is common beech once dried and stripped of all its bark. Some dried leaves can be added which will stain the water a light brown and give them a natural feel. Leaves should be removed and replaced every few weeks.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L) - Fifteen gallons is the least amount of space advisable to host a small school.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 79.0° F (21.1 to 26.1° C)
  • Range ph: 5.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 3 - 30 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

They are active and can be semi-aggressive fin nippers. They should be kept in a community aquarium with fish the same size or larger. With age they become a more sedentary fish. To keep fin nipping to a minimum, keep this fish in groups of 6 or more. When kept in groups the fish focus on each other rather than their tankmates. These tetras do well with rasboras, danios, other tetras, most livebearers, Corydoras and some of the peaceful dwarf cichlids.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive - Relative to other tetras, White Tetras have a tendency to be slightly more aggressive and being a fin nipper is not uncommon among this species.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - This fish should be kept in groups of at least six.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor - Watch for stress in other fish caused by fin nipping.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The male's dorsal fin is more narrowed and more pointed. Also, the male's frontal portion of the "skirt" or anal fin is noticeably broad while the female's "skirt" tends to run parallel to the stomach line. A mature female is also more plump.

Breeding / Reproduction

Picture of a White Tetra or Goldskirt TetraThe White Tetra or Gold Skirt Tetra are egg layers. They are easily breed with a good pairing. The biggest challenge is that the young are prone to starving to death if they are in a dark tank and can't find a food source. The fry should have plenty of light, both day and night, until they are large enough to eat freshly hatched brine shrimp. For a description of breeding characin fish, see Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The White Tetra are prone to develop ick if kept in colder temperatures. But overall they 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 White Tetra or Gold Skirt 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 they 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.


The White Tetra or Goldskirt Tetra is readily available and is inexpensive.


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

kimi - 2011-05-02
I'm doing a fish project for school and I bought 3 white tetras. I feed them "tropical fish flakes" and have lots of plants in the tank. They seem to love it!

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-05-02
    Hey, sounds like your project is going to be fun. What is it? Sounds like you have set up a nice tank and are enjoying it. Good for you.
winky-blinky-jinky - 2013-01-25
I bought three of these fish called 'mixed fruit tetra' from Wal-Mart before I knew they were dyed artificially. (Had I known this I would not have purchased them.) I have them in a 10 gallon tank and they are an absolute joy. Only fish in the tank with a few plants, decorations, heater, gravel, and filter. They are extremely clean fish, and they eat very little food. 10 gallons is PLENTY of room for these guys. Warning! These fish will jump straight out of the tank if they can, just like the article said; keep your tank covered! These fish DO NOT like LED lights or tank bubblers so don't waste your money. They seem to prefer simple cave decorations and plants, nothing too fancy for these guys. VERY easy to take care of and the tank requires very little maintenance once established. The fish are very playful with each other and are fun to watch.

Fish lady - 2011-11-26
I have the skirted tetra that are dyed and there is nothing wrong with having them they are really colorful and everyone who comes to my house loves them. I don't think I would like them as much if they didn't have their very beautiful color. So there is nothing wrong with having dyed ones. I have had a fish aquarium for about 5 years and all my fish have done very well with them.

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-11-28
    Thank you.
Dwayne Williamson - 2010-06-17
I have had a breeding pair for a tear, males are usually smaller with a more rounded anal fin and female usually larger with more rounded body and pointed dorsal fin. They are breeding at the moment which requires a chicken wire isolation pen with 10mm holes so the eggs can be laid, fall through the holes so the parents don't eat the eggs, which they will. It also pays to plant fine leaved plants, fake or real, directly under isolation pen as the eggs are sticky and will attach themselves to plants as they fall through the pen. Keep temp around 26 to 28 degrees. Feed fry on just hatched brine shrimp and finely ground flake food for 4 weeks. Eggs will take a day to hatch.

  • hansgarcia - 2010-07-15
    How can you distinguish which is the male and which is the female?