Every tropical fish keeper is almost sure to have kept at least one tetra species at some point in their hobbyist journey.
With so many kinds of tetras to choose from, it can be hard to know which to choose. In this guide, we look at the Gold tetra. These little fish are not the easiest of the tetra family to keep, but they are beautiful nonetheless and make an unusual variation on a common theme.
Keep reading to learn how to care for and breed the beautiful Gold tetra.
Gold Tetra – Background
The Gold tetra (Hemigrammus rodwayi) is a member of the Characidae family.
These peaceful schooling fish come from the coastal floodplains of South America and have become a very popular aquarium fish species. These fish are beautiful and have their very own natural protection system. They secrete an enzyme called Guanin from their scales to protect the fish from skin parasites while giving the fish its distinctive golden color.
These little fish are renowned for their bright, metallic golden color. The fish are best kept in small schools of at least six. These are very shy fish, and if you don’t keep them in large numbers, their color tends to fade, and they hide. So, to enjoy the Gold tetra at its best, you need to keep them in large groups of conspecifics or with schools of other small, shoaling fish.
Gold Tetra Origins
The Gold tetra is a South American species of tetra that was first discovered and introduced to the fishkeeping hobby by Marion Durbin Ellis way back in 1909.
These charming little fish are found in Suriname, Guyana, Peru, French Guiana, and Brazil, where they live in the tranquil waters of slow-moving floodplain lakes, rivers, coastal creeks, and tributaries. Occasionally, the Gold tetra is known to enter slightly brackish waters.
What Do Gold Tetras Look Like?
Gold tetras are strikingly beautiful. The fish’s body is silvery in color. Mature male Gold tetras have a white leading edge to their anal fin, which generally has a bit more red pigmentation than you see on females. Also, males tend to be shinier than females and are slightly smaller.
Mature female Gold tetras tend to be plumper than males and are slightly duller in color.
What Is Guanin?
As mentioned above, the fish are actually silvery in color. However, some populations are exposed to a particular species of trematode parasite that triggers a skin reaction in the fish. That causes the fish to excrete Guanin as protection against the parasites, which turns the fish a dazzling metallic gold color.
For that reason, captive-bred fish don’t show that beautiful golden coloration since they’re not exposed to the parasite. You can occasionally find wild imported fish, and those specimens are absolutely spectacular in color.
The fish are small, measuring up to 2.5 inches in length, and have the characteristic tetra body shape familiar to most aquarists.
How Much Do Gold Tetras Cost To Buy?
These fish are quite pricey compared to other tetras, fetching around five dollars for a single fish. That’s a fairly sizeable investment considering that you need a school of at least eight to ten individuals for a community aquarium.
You can generally get a better deal if you buy a group of Gold tetras.
How Long Do Gold Tetras Live?
Gold tetras generally live for around five years in the wild because the fish thrive in an ideal, natural environment.
Your Gold tetras should enjoy a similar lifespan or possibly even longer if you can replicate that natural environment in your aquarium. However, as most hobbyists can’t provide these fish with perfect conditions, the Gold tetra generally lives three to four years.
Gold tetras are quite shy fish that need the company of other smaller schooling fish to be happy. The species is peaceful and rarely shows any aggression towards conspecifics or other species.
Gold Tetra – Care Guide
This section of our article explains how to care for these beautiful fish.
Since these tetras are not as easy to look after as other species of tetras, we recommend that only hobbyists with experience in fish care take on these guys. Gold tetras are expensive to buy, so you don’t want to lose them! If you don’t have experience keeping fish, start with an easier species, such as Neon tetras, before graduating to the more challenging Gold tetras.
So, what’s the problem with keeping Gold tetras?
Well, these fish are quite prone to picking up skin diseases and have a relatively low immunity compared with other fish. Even slight fluctuations in aquarium water conditions can cause stress in the fish. Stress lowers the fish’s immune system, potentially leaving the animal vulnerable to parasites and bacterial infections.
Gold tetras should always be added to an established setup with stable water parameters to avoid problems caused by changes in water quality
Although these are tiny fish, they are an active, shoaling species that need plenty of space in which to swim.
Ideally, the minimum tank size for a school of six Gold tetras should be 15 gallons. For each inch of fish you add, you need to allow an additional gallon of water. So, if you want to create a stunning display of small schooling tetras, you need at least a 30-gallon tank.
Although plants are not abundant in the Gold tetra’s natural habitat, like many small fish species, these nervous tetras do best in a well-planted larger tank that offers plenty of hiding places for when the fish feel nervous and need somewhere to take shelter. Floating plants can also be effective, providing dappled shade and shelter for fry.
As well as plants, you can include driftwood branches, twisted roots, caves, rocky outcrops, and overhangs in your setup.
Although Gold tetras don’t need any specific kind of lighting, your plants require plenty of light for photosynthesis. Bright light can stress your fish, so remember to provide plenty of shady hiding places for the tetras. Alternatively, choose a dim lighting unit for your tetra tank.
The ideal substrate for Gold tetras is soft and sandy. Also, we recommend that you include a scattering of dried Indian almond leaves (Terminalia catappa) across the tank bottom.
The leaves leach tannins into the water, turning it the color of weak tea. That helps make the water slightly acidic, which these golden fish prefer, and allows the Gold tetras to feel more secure and bring out their colors.
You can also add aquarium-safe peat to the fish tank filter to serve the same purpose. Remember to replace the almond leaves periodically as they begin to decompose.
What To Feed Gold Tetras
Gold tetras are omnivores, eating a range of plant-based and meaty foods.
Gold tetras tend to eat dead organic matter, small fish, and crustaceans in the wild environment. In captivity, you can feed your fish a varied diet of high-quality flakes and pellets. Frozen foods are also good, including brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia.
Although Gold tetras do enjoy live foods, there’s a risk that you might introduce parasites and bacteria with the food, so we recommend using frozen foods instead.
How Much To Feed Gold Tetras
Overfeeding your fish causes health problems, such as constipation and bloating. So, we recommend that you feed your fish twice a day, offering only as much as the fish will clear within a few minutes.
Also, excess, uneaten food will rot in the tank, polluting the water. Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank promptly before it has a chance to start decomposing. Snails and some shrimp species can be a useful addition to your setup, as they make a great cleanup crew, eating leftover food and munching on dead plant material.
Always feed your tetras a high-quality, healthy diet consisting of a mixture of different foods to keep them healthy.
The most important aspect of keeping Gold tetras is maintaining their tank in pristine condition and keeping the water parameters stable within acceptable levels.
So, every week you need to carry out partial water changes of up to 20% to keep the environment clean and healthy. Also, use an aquarium vacuum around the base of your plants and underneath decorations to get rid of fish waste and accumulations of plant debris to prevent organic waste from decomposing and polluting the water.
Gold tetras generally prefer their water on the warm side, ideally between 78° and 80°F.
Fit your tank with a thermometer, and remember to check the water temperature every day to ensure it’s suitable. If the temperature changes, check your heater to verify that it’s working properly and replace the unit if necessary.
Gold tetras prefer soft water, so you need a water hardness of between 1 and 12 dGH with a pH of around 6.0.
An efficient filtration system is crucial for maintaining good water quality in any fish tank.
As far as Gold tetras are concerned, they don’t enjoy a very strong current in the tank, as that can be very stressful for these small fish. A sponge filter offers excellent biological filtration, possibly a HOB-style filter unit with an adjustable flow level. If you have a very large aquarium, a canister filter system might be the best option, provided that the current in the tank isn’t too strong.
You’ll need to rinse the filter media once a month in some tank water to remove any accumulations of sludge, and the media will periodically require replacement, depending on what system you use. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines to see when the filter media needs changing.
What Are Good Tank Mates For Gold Tetras?
Gold tetras are shy fish that don’t do well when housed with bullies or aggressive fish. Ideally, you want to choose small, peaceful freshwater fish species, including other tetras, rasboras, and Endler’s livebearers.
You might also want to include a few invertebrates in the community, such as freshwater snails and shrimp. These creatures tend to keep to themselves, moving around your tank, foraging on leftover fish food, algae, plant debris, and even fish waste. Inverts can be interesting to watch as they perform useful service as a cleaning crew.
Health And Diseases
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, the Gold tetra isn’t the easiest fish to care for. These fish are incredibly prone to common fish diseases, such as White Spot Disease, Velvet, skin flukes, and the like, and they can quickly get sick if their environment changes even slightly.
Gold tetras are egg-layers and are actually relatively easy to breed in the home tank. In fact, in a well-planted aquarium, don’t be surprised if you see a few fry appearing in your tank from time to time.
However, if you want to raise large numbers of fry, the best way to do that is to set up a separate breeding tank of at least ten gallons. The spawning tank should have soft, acidic water with a temperature toward the higher end of the tetra’s preferred range. Before you attempt to get your fish to spawn, give them plenty of frozen or live meaty foods.
Add several bunches of fine-leaved plants, such as Java Moss, to the spawning tank to provide surfaces where the fish can scatter their eggs. Filtration is essential, but the flow must be extremely slow and gentle to avoid disrupting the eggs and fry. An air-driven sponge filter is the best option, and you can add a small bag of peat to that. The eggs and fry are very sensitive to light, so it’s best not to use any lighting in the spawning tank.
Introduce a large group of fish to ensure that you get a good mix of males and females. When the sun rises in the morning and hits the tank, that should trigger spawning. After spawning has finished, remove the parent fish to prevent them from eating the eggs. You can place a very fine mesh over the substrate so that the eggs fall through to safety, well away from the adult fish.
As soon as the eggs have been laid, keep the tank in darkness. That protects the eggs and prevents the new fry from being damaged by bright light. Light also encourages the growth of fungus that could kill the eggs.
The eggs generally hatch within 24 to 36 hours. The new fry initially feed on their yolk sac. After a few days, the fry are free-swimming. You can then feed them microscopic foods, including infusoria, followed by baby brine shrimp and micro worms as the tiny tetras grow.
The Gold tetra can make a beautiful addition to a peaceful community tank. However, these pretty little fish are not recommended for beginners, as they can be challenging to keep healthy.
However, if you’re an expert fish keeper and have a large tank that will accommodate a shoal of more than ten individual fish, the Gold tetra could be the one for you. Set the tank up with a soft river sand substrate, plenty of plants, and decorations, and you might even find that your tetras breed pretty readily.
Did you have success in breeding Gold tetras in your home tank? Tell us in the comments section below.