Bleeding Heart Tetra, Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma, Spotfin Tetra
Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma

The blotch of bright red color on its side, often in the shape of a heart, gives the Bleeding Heart Tetra its memorable name!

The Bleeding Heart Tetra Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma is a stocky, vivacious little fish from the swiftly moving streams of the Amazon. Although it can get up to about 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) in the wild, it will only reach about 2 3/4 inches (7 cm) in the aquarium.

It does best with when kept with a school of its own kind. Once established in a shoal, it will show off deep body colors ranging from a beige-orange to a silvery lavender. It is also known as the Spotfin Tetra and Tetra Perez.

The Bleeding Heart Tetra will show its best colors if it feels secure. Provide dark gravel, a balance of hiding places, and subtle lighting. These things, along with floating plants and some open swimming space, will keep it happy. Given time to acclimate to its environment in peace and security, the Bleeding Heart Tetra’s colors will become more developed. This fish makes a great addition to most tanks, but it is prone to disease if stressed from changes to its water conditions.

This fish requires at least a 15 gallon tank with optimal water conditions. Although it is not as hardy as some of the other tetras, it can be a good fish for a conscientious beginning fish keeper. The Bleeding Heart Tetra is generally a peaceful community fish, but it is known to be a nipper. Nipping behavior can be reduced by keeping these fish in a large school of at least 6 or more individuals. They can also be kept in pairs along with other peaceful fish.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Characidae
  • Genus: Hyphessobrycon
  • Species: erythrostigma
Bleeding Heart Tetra – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Bleeding Heart Tetra Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma was described by Fowler in1943. They are found through Columbia and Peru where they inhabit the densely vegetated little creeks and river bends of the Upper Amazon. Though they are primarily still collected from the wild, this species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

These tetras are found in the slow moving tributaries of streams and in forest lakes that are well shaded from the forest canopy. They prefer the boundary area between deeper and shallower waters, where there is often overhanging vegetation along with aquatic vegetation and submerged wood in the form of fallen branches and roots. The substrate is sandy but the waters they live in are typically highly acidic and stained a dark brown from tannins in decaying vegetation. This is a schooling fish and its natural diet consists of aquatic insects and larvae, aquatic plants, fallen fruits, and plants.

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


The Bleeding Heart Tetra is a stockily built tetra species. This fish rarely exceeds 2.75 inches (7 cm) in the home aquarium, but can grow up to 3.5 inches (9 cm) in length in the wild. It has a lifespan of about 8 to 10 years.

Its deep body colors range from beige-orange to a silvery lavender. But its most distinguishing characteristic, from which this tetra gets its name, is a blotch of bright red color on its side, often in the shape of a heart. Like a number of small Characins, it is susceptible to an affliction that causes the scales to become a metallic gold color. Though the cause is unknown, it is thought to be from a parasitic infestation. However, other than the color change, there doesn’t appear to be any heath problems or discomfort for the fish, and it doesn’t seem to affect its lifespan.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.99 cm) – This fish can grow up to 3.5 inches (9 cm) in length, but rarely exceeds 2.75 inches (7 cm) in captivity, even in the best-kept aquariums.
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They have a lifespan of about 8 to 10 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This characin is not as hardy as some tetras but can be a good beginner fish. They do not adapt well to changes in aquarium conditions and are prone to ich and velvet when stressed. Frequent water changes are very important with this fish. These fish get along with most peaceful community fish but are known to harrass other tankmates at times.

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

Foods and Feeding

These tetras are omnivorous. In the wild they are opportunistic feeders and eat everything from aquatic insects and larvae, to aquatic plants, fallen fruits, and other plants. The Bleeding Heart Tetra or Spotfin Tetra requires a varied diet. It will happily eat most appropriately-sized commercial aquarium food in addition to live aquarium foods and chopped blanched lettuce leaves. Live or freeze dried blood worms will also be greatly appreciated. They do best if fed multiple times a day, and then only offer what they can consume in about 3 minutes.

  • 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

Bleeding Heart Tetras are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean  and conditions do not vary greatly. These tetras are very adaptable and can do well without a heated aquarium in well-insulated homes. Aquariums are closed systems, and regardless of 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 to 50% of the tank water should be replaced every other week. Make sure to remove all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

These fish are fairly hardy but somewhat more demanding than other tetras, requiring clean, stable water. Because they are very active swimmers, it is also advisable to keep Bleeding Heart Tetras in a tank at least 20 inches long and ideally 15 or more gallons. They do best with soft, peat-filtered water. An undergravel filter is a good addition to help maintain water quality. Wild-caught specimens need a lower pH range than captive-raised Bleeding Heart Tetra, so keep the pH between 5.6 and 7.2.

These fish need open areas to swim freely and 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 driftwood and twisted roots. Add some dried leaves to the sand, which will stain the water a light brown, and replace the leaves every few weeks. Use dim lighting to help the tetras develop their best coloring. Additionally, the tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity. In addition, this fish can be easily spooked into hiding, so situate the tank appropriately.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • 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&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 80.0° F – These fish need a spawning temperature of 80 to 86° F (27 to 30° C).
  • Range ph: 6.6-7.8 – Wild-caught specimens should be kept within the range of 5.6 to 7.2.
  • Hardness Range: 3 – 12 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All – The Bleeding Heart Tetra inhabits all areas of the tank but tends to favor the middle region.

Social Behaviors

The spunky Bleeding Heart Tetra is generally a peaceful community fish. However, some boisterous individuals can be fin nippers. To help reduce nipping, keep them in large schools. They will do best if kept in a school of at least 6 individuals, preferably more.

This fish will generally get along amongst its own kind, and will often school with its relatives, the Black Tetra or Black Widow and Albino Tetra. They can also be kept in pairs along with other peaceful fish. Keep fin nippers out of their tanks as the males have fairly large delicate fins. In addition, this fish can be easily spooked into hiding so situate the tank appropriately.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – A minimum school of 6, but more are better.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – This fish should never be housed with boisterous tank mates. It must be housed in a school of its own kind or closely related fish.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor – Tetras can out compete them for food.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The male is distinguished by longer, extended dorsal and anal fins.The dorsal fin is elongated into a sickle shape that arches to the length of the tail base. The female has a shorter, rounded fin.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Bleeding Heart Tetra is difficult, but not impossible, to breed in the home aquarium. Females will often ignore males and not be receptive to spawning, and the fry are difficult to rear. A separate breeding tank is required. The most successful way to breed these fish is in pairs. They seem to spawn most readily if they can choose their own mates. Ideally, have a group and let them pair off; otherwise, pick the best pair.

Set up a breeding tank that is 20 gallons or more for a successful mating. The tank needs to have many fine-leaved plants, 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 through but small enough to keep the parents out. Because the eggs and fry are sensitive to light, keep the tank very dim. Covering the tank and including some floating plants will help with this. The water should be soft and acidic with a pH of 5 to 6.5 and a temperature of 80 to 86° F (27 to 30° C). Use a small, air-powered sponge filter for filtration and aeration and consider filtering the water through aquarium-safe peat.

A mature female’s belly will become nicely rounded when she is full of eggs. To optimize breeding success, isolate and condition the male in the breeding tank. Feed both males and females plenty of small, live foods, and after a few days, introduce the female to the tank. If you don’t have a pre-determined pair, condition a small group of males and females separately. Remove all but the most colorful male, and introduce the thickest female in the evening. The pair should spawn the next day.

They typically spawn in the morning with vigorous swimming among dense vegetation, followed by the pair pressing their sides together. After a brief quivering, the female releases the eggs among the fine-leaved plants. The eggs will attach to the vegetation or fall to the bottom. Remove the parents immediately after spawning, or they will eat the eggs.

Eggs will hatch in approximately 2 to 3 days, and fry become free-swimming 3 to 4 days later. After this, 1/3 of the water must be changed daily. For the first few days, feed the fry infusoria-type foods until they can feed on microworm or brine shrimp nauplii. The fry must be fed with small live and crushed dry foods. Unfortunately, few fry often survive to adulthood. See Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins for a general description of breeding processes, and see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – The females will often ignore males, or are not receptive to spawning, and the fry are difficult to rear.

Fish Diseases

As with most fish the Bleeding Heart Tetra are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. Bleeding Heart 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 that anything you add to your tank can introduce disease. 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 as not to upset the balance.

A good thing about Bleeding Heart Tetra is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if dealt with 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 Bleeding Heart Tetra the proper environment and a well-balanced diet.

The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs of common tank diseases and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Bleeding Heart Tetra or Spotfin Tetra is readily available and reasonably priced. It can be obtained from most fish and pet stores, as well as online.


Featured Image Credit: Dan Olsen, Shutterstock