A school of White Tetras makes a striking display in a community aquarium!
The commonly available White Tetra or Gold Skirt Tetra is a good fish for the beginning fish keeper. This strain was developed from the Black Tetra or Blackskirt TetraGymnocorymbus ternetzi, and like its predecessor, it is very hardy, undemanding, and easy to breed.
The White Tetra is a schooling fish and will appreciate the company of its own kind. A standard school is made up of 6 to 7 fish but more is even better. This very active and fast-moving fish has 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 tankmates.
These fish are are very durable and easy to keep. To keep a healthy school, provide them with an aquarium of 15 gallons or more. They like a well-lit tank with dense areas of bunched low vegetation leaving lots of open areas for swimming. They are hardy at 70° F to 90° F but are prone to developing ich 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. These are called Colored Skirt Tetra. White Tetras are often artificially dyed various pastel colors and sold as Colored Tetras, or under various names such as Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra, or Rainbow Tetra. When purchasing a colored tetra, be sure to inquire 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
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Characiformes
- Family: Characidae
- Genus: Gymnocorymbus
- Species: ternetzi
- 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)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
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 where they show a preference for slow-moving streams and tributaries, 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 for the White Tetra include White Skirt Tetra, Gold Skirt Tetra, and Gold Widow 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 to 7 years.
The White Tetra is is very light, almost transparent, and lacks the black stripes of its parentage. The “skirt” tetras are distinguished by what appear to be overly developed dorsal and anal fins. These make it appear as though it has a “skirt,” with most of its mass on the bottom half of the body.
Colored Skirt Tetra © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Naturally Colored Fish
The White Tetra is naturally colored and not dyed. However, there are strains with a natural pink or blue coloration that are called Colored Skirt Tetra. A Longfinned White Tetra or HiFin White Tetra variety has also been developed.
White Tetras are also sometimes artificially dyed 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
Many albino and transparent-type fishes make an ideal ‘canvas’ for applying color to an otherwise rather plain specimen. For some time, artificially-dyed specimens were thought of as an intriguing and eye-catching addition to the home aquarium.
Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra © Animal-World: Courtesy Jackie Murphy
Today, however, as more has been learned of the processes involved, many aquarists have serious concerns about the practice, citing the initial stress and pain inflicted on the fish as well as a possibly higher susceptibility to infection.
Color is added to fish by various methods:
- One method is to feed them dyed food. This method is of little concern, but of course the color is not permanent.
- Another method is to inject dyes into the fish, as seen in the painted glassfish. This method applies color to specific areas of the fish’s body.
- And yet another method is to induce the fish to release its natural slime coat, then place the fish into dyed water, which is then absorbed onto the surface of its body. In the last step, the fish is placed in water with medication that encourages the redevelopment of the slime coat. This method provides a more overall coloration, such as that seen in 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 lifespan of about 6 to 7 years.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
The White Tetra is a hardy fish that is good for the beginner fish keeper. Because this is a captive bred fish they are accustomed to many different water conditions and are very adaptable to reasonable tank conditions. However they are prone to develop ich if kept in colder temperatures.
- 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 every day. 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
The White 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
White Tetra or Gold Skirt Tetra are very beautiful, active swimmers. They need an aquarium that is at least 15 gallons or more, and they like a soft, peat-filtered water. Although dim lighting and a darker gravel substrate will bring out this tetra’s best coloring, these fish prefer a well-lit tank with some plant cover. They 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 very easy to put together. Use a substrate of river sand, and provide few hiding places with some driftwood branches and twisted roots. If driftwood is hard to get, an alternative is common beech that is dried and stripped of all its bark. Add some dried leaves to stain the water a light brown and give the aquarium a natural feel. Leaves should be removed and replaced every few weeks.
- Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L) – A 15-gallon tank is the smallest 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)
- Breeding Temperature: 82.0° F – These fish will spawn at 82 to 86° F (27.8 to 30° 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.
These active fish can be semi-aggressive fin nippers. They should be kept in a community aquarium with fish of the same size or larger. With age, they become more sedentary. To discourage fin nipping, keep this fish in a group of 6 or more. In groups, these fish will focus on each other rather than on 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. Fin nipping is not uncommon among this species.
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – This fish should be kept in groups of at least 6.
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor – Watch for stress in other fish caused by fin nipping.
- Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
- Plants: Safe
Sex: Sexual differences
The male’s dorsal fin is narrower and more pointed than the female’s. 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 plumper.
Breeding / Reproduction
White Tetras have been bred in captivity. In fact, they are captive-bred color morphs developed from the Black Tetra. They are egg layers and easily bred with a good pairing, or in a groups containing about 6 individuals of each sex. They are good candidates for the beginning aquarist interested in breeding.
For the best success, the females should be conditioned separately from the males for 7 to 10 days prior to spawning. Feed them plenty of small, live foods and frozen foods. Provide a planted 10 to 20 gallon breeding tank with a small, air-powered sponge filter for filtration and aeration. The breeding tank should be a few degrees higher in temperature than the main tank, at around 82 to 86° F (27.8 to 30° C), with a pH on the acidic side of neutral and a water hardiness below 15 dGH. Keep the tank dimly lit with clumps of spawning mops or java moss, so the female has a place to deposit the adhesive 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 males will chase the females through the plants, occasionally quivering. The females will lay up to 500 or more eggs in a 2 to 3 hour period. Once a successful spawn has been achieved, remove the parents, or they will eat the eggs. Any eggs that are unfertilized will soon start to look fuzzy as they develop a fungal growth. They should be removed to prevent fungus from spreading to the healthy, fertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs will hatch in approximately 18 to 36 hours, and the fry become free-swimming a few days later.
For the first few days, feed the fry infusoria-type foods until they can feed on microworm or brine shrimp nauplii. 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. 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: Easy
White Tetra are prone to developing ich 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 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 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 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 White 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. 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. 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 White Tetra or Goldskirt Tetra is readily available and inexpensive.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Gymnocorymbus ternetzi (Boulenger, 1895) Black tetra, Fishbase.org
- Greg Jennings (Editor), 500 Freshwater Aquarium Fish, Firefly Books Ltd, 2006.
- David Goodwin, The Practical Aquarium Fish Handbook , Sterling Publishing Company, 2003