The Lemon Tetra has a dynamic accent–a bright bold splash of yellow on its lower fin!

The Lemon Tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is a curious fish both in looks and in behavior. Although its body is transparent, it will have a lemon coloring overall if it is properly kept and well fed. It is also quite inquisitive and friendly, making it a very good community aquarium inhabitant.

This very adaptable species is ideal for a community aquarium with other peaceful fish. Like all tetras, the Lemon Tetras are happiest in a school of 6 or more of their own kind. In nature, these characins are found in large shoals containing thousands of fish.

Being commercially bred, Lemon Tetras are readily available. Wild specimens are rarely collected due to the low price of the farmed fish. They are also moderately hardy and fairly easy to spawn, making them a great choice for beginning aquarists. The Lemon Tetra will appreciate a planted aquarium that is balanced with plenty of open space in which it can swim around with its buddies. Some floating plants to help dim the light will help make them very comfortable.

This is a very pretty fish in general, but the Lemon Tetra is most attractive when it is well maintained. It will show its best coloring with a proper diet, which can include a color enhancing food, such as Tetra Ruby. A color morph of this fish has been developed that is albino, but the lemon form is still more popular.

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: pulchripinnis
Lemon Tetra – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 2.0 inches (5.00 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Lemon Tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis was described by Ahl in 1937. They are found in South America in the Iquitos region of the Peruvian amazon in the Tapajós River basin. This species is listed on the IUCN Red as Least Concern as they have a wide distribution and no major widespread threats. Most, if not all, Lemon Tetras available are commercially-bred, and an albino color morph has been developed. Wild specimens are rarely collected due to the low price of commercially farmed fish.

In the wild, these tetras tend to stay in the shallow, slower-moving parts of the river and show a preference for small tributaries, creeks, and flooded forest areas. The Tapajós River basin is much clearer and has a higher mineral content than most rivers in the Amazon. The Lemon Tetra will stay in massive shoals, sometimes containing several thousand fish. They confuse the predators with their coloring, so they are not able to focus on a particular fish to attack. These tetras feed on worms, small crustaceans, and plants.

  • Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis
  • Social Grouping: Groups – In the wild, they are found in massive shoals, sometimes containing several thousand fish.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Lemon Tetra is a full-bodied and laterally-compressed species of tetra. This fish will generally reach about 2 inches (5 cm) in length and has a lifespan of about 4 to 8 years. Its body is transparent with a very delicate, golden, yellow-orange color. The front part of the anal fin is bright yellow and edged with black, and the top half of the eyes is a deep red. Juveniles are usually translucent with only a hint of color.

  • Size of fish – inches: 2.0 inches (5.00 cm)
  • Lifespan: 8 years – These fish have a lifespan of anywhere from 4 to 8 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Lemon Tetras are commercially-bred in huge numbers. They are very adaptable and will thrive in most well-maintained tanks. These hardy fish make a good choice for the beginning aquarist.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Lemon Tetra really benefits from “color” foods. Since they are omnivorous, these fish will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance, give them a high quality flake food every day. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat. Feed these tetras several times a day and 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 – This fish should be fed a rich and diverse diet to promote good coloration.

Aquarium Care

This tetra is easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems, and regardless of size, all need some maintenance. Over time, decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and 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.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

Lemon Tetras are adaptable fish and will thrive in most well-maintained tanks. They are fairly hardy, and a school of 6 will do best in a 15 to 20 gallon aquarium. Lemon Tetras will look particularly nice in a heavily-planted setup and can appear a little washed out if the decor is too sparse. These fish will appreciate a few hiding places and dim lighting.

The aquarium should be heavily planted around the sides and back and have plenty of open water for swimming in the front. They seem to do best in an Amazon biotope tank setup. In this setup, the substrate should consist of river sand and a decor with driftwood, twisted roots, and some dried leaves. The leaves will give the tank a natural feel and stain the water to resemble that of their natural habitat. Remove and replace the leaves every few weeks. Aquarium-safe peat can also be added to the filter to give a black water effect.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L) – A 15-gallon tank is the smallest size that could house the school this fish requires to be comfortable and show its best coloration.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – In very strong lighting, especially if the tank gravel and decorations are bright, this fish will appear washed out.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 75.0° F – These fish will spawn between 75 to 78.8° F (24 to 26° C).
  • Range ph: 5.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 3 – 20 dGH – The Lemon Tetra is best kept at the lower range as it will lose color at a higher dGH.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Lemon Tetra is ideal for a community aquarium with other peaceful fish. They can be kept in large schools and will do best in a school of at least 6 individuals. Tetras can be easily spooked into hiding, so situate the tank appropriately. 

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Keep 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
    • Monitor – Monitor – Tetras can out compete them for food.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The male has a more pointed dorsal fin and is more colorful than the female. The black edge of the male’s anal fin is also more pronounced than the females. The female is plumper.

Breeding / Reproduction

Lemon Tetras are egg scatterers that exhibit no parental care. They are moderately easy to breed, but sometimes females have trouble expelling eggs, and it may be necessary to combine a male with several females to induce spawning. A large adult female in prime condition may produce up to 300 eggs. When the fish spawn, the female will release the eggs among fine-leaved plants. Parents must be removed immediately after spawning, or they will eat the eggs.

They can be spawned in pairs, but the most successful way to spawn these fish is in groups of 1 male with 4 to 5 females. Feed this group small, live foods, and nature should then take over and spawning will begin. It is best to set up a separate tank for breeding to get the best number of fry. Provide a breeding tank no larger than 10 ten gallons, though a smaller 3 to 5 gallon tank is adequate. 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 through but small enough to keep parents out. The water should be soft and acidic with a pH 6.5 to 7.2 and a temperature of 75 to 78.8° F (24 to 26° C). A small, air-powered sponge filter is need for filtration and aeration.

Once a successful spawn has been achieved, remove the parents. Eggs will hatch in approximately 24 hours, and fry become free-swimming 5 days later. The fry are not initally robust, but after the first couple of days, the surviving fry prove to be very hardy and will grow rapidly. For the first few days, feed the fry infusoria-type foods until they can feed on microworm or brine shrimp nauplii. 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: Moderate – These fish tend to breed either very readily or extremely reluctantly, depending on the compatibility of breeding pairs and the tank conditions.

Fish Diseases

Lemon Tetra are prone to develop ick and fungus if their tank water is not kept very clean. 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 this tetra is they can be used as markers of poor water conditions, allowing the wary aquarist to 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 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. 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. Lemon Tetra are fairly hardy, but even in a well-maintained tank, they are prone to disease. Aquarists should read up on 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 Lemon Tetra is readily available and reasonably priced.