Tetras are a very popular addition to any community tank, being peaceful, active, and extremely attractive too. One of the more unusual tetra species is the Lemon tetra.
In this guide, we explain how to care for these pretty little fish, including providing you with some valuable information and tips on how to breed your own specimens in the home aquarium.
Lemon tetra overview
The Lemon tetra, scientific name Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, is a member of the characin family of fishes.
The Lemon tetra is a small, transparent-bodied fish that exhibits a lemony overall color if it is fed the correct diet, including live foods, and is kept in good tank and water conditions. Like most tetras, the Lemon is a sociable species that does well in a community setup with other friendly fish. In nature, Lemon tetras are found in huge shoals of many thousands of individuals, and they should, therefore, be kept in small schools of at least six to be happy in captivity.
As the species can be easily bred in the aquarium, wild specimens are rarely collected. Also, these fish are pretty hardy, so they are usually available at a relatively low price from most good fish stores.
Lemon tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis was first described in 1937 by Ahl.
The Lemon tetra is a freshwater fish that does not tolerate a brackish environment. These fish are found in South America, specifically in the Iquitos region of the Amazon in the hot and humid Tapajós River basin in Peru. Lemon tetras are not listed as endangered by the IUCN, thanks to the species’ wide distribution and lack of environmental threats. Also, wild fish are not collected for the aquarium trade, as they are very easy to spawn commercially, and their value is, therefore, relatively low.
In their natural habitat, the fish prefer the shallow, slower parts of their river environment, gravitating toward little creeks, flooded forest areas, and small tributaries. The waters here are typically clear and contain a high mineral content in comparison with other parts of the Amazon river tributary network.
Wild Lemon tetras live in huge shoals, often several thousand strong. It’s thought that these massive gatherings of glittering fishes confuse predators as they twist and turn rapidly in the water, rather in the same way that flocks of birds use safety in numbers to evade an individual becoming a target.
In their wild environment, the fish feed on tiny crustaceans, worms, and plant matter.
Lemon tetras live for between four and eight years, growing to reach about two inches in length at maturity.
The fish’s body is almost transparent and is a beautifully delicate, yellow-golden shade. Some fish appear almost orange in color, although the orange tetra is a different variety and not to be confused with the Lemon. The anterior portion of the fish’s anal fin is bright yellow, edged with contrasting black. The top half of the fish’s eye is a deep, crimson color. Male and female fish share the same coloration, although the male is often brighter and more vivid.
Juvenile fish are generally translucent with only the slightest hint of color, so the specimens that you buy in your local pet store should become more intense in color as they reach adulthood.
The species’ coloration becomes more intense when they are kept in optimum conditions and fed a correct, high-quality diet.
These pretty fish are easy to care for, making them ideal for beginner hobbyists. Here’s what you need to know to make sure that your Lemon tetras thrive.
If you want to house a school of six Lemon tetras, you will need an aquarium of 15 to 20 gallons capacity.
The Lemon tetra is a hardy fish species that will do well in most tanks that are well-cared-for and properly maintained. The coloration of the fish is best displayed against a heavily planted aquarium setup that includes plenty of decorations. Tetras are small fish and can feel vulnerable if they’re not provided with lots of hiding places and low lighting, so be sure to include caves and dense planting that extends to cover some of the water’s surface.
Schooling fish such as tetras need plenty of open water swimming space, so it’s best to plant the aquarium most heavily around the back and sides, leaving the front clear for swimming. The substrate should replicate an Amazon biotope setup, consisting of river sand decorated with a few dried leaves, twisted roots, and driftwood. The leaves provide a natural feel to the tank, staining the water to replicate the tetras’ wild environment. Remember to remove and replace the leaves with fresh ones every couple of weeks. To further enhance the black water effect, you can add aquarium-safe peat to the filter.
The water temperature for Lemon tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is 720 to 820 Fahrenheit. If you want to encourage spawning, you should keep the water temperature between 750 to 78.8° Fahrenheit.
The ideal pH range for these freshwater fish is between 5.5 and 8.0, and the hardness range is from 3 to 20 dGH. That said, this species is best kept at the lower end of the range, as the fish’s color will fade if kept at a higher dGH.
These aquarium fish will happily swim in all areas of the water column and prefer a moderate flow.
Like most fish, tetras like clean water that contains very low to zero levels of nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia.
Over time, the decomposition of organic matter, phosphates, nitrates, and water hardness increases as water evaporates, and the volume in the tank becomes less. If your tank is densely stocked, you should change 25% to 50% of the water in your aquarium every other week.
Diet and nutrition
Lemon tetras are omnivorous and will generally enjoy a varied diet, including flake, frozen, and live foods. It’s important to offer the fish a balanced, nutritious diet of high-quality foods. A daily ration of flaked food, together with live or frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms as a treat, makes a good daily feeding regimen.
Feed the fish several times each day, offering just enough food to last for a couple of minutes at each feeding.
It’s important to know that the tetras’ colors are more intense and vivid when they are fed the correct amount of high-quality food. So, if your mature specimens appear dull or faded, take a close look at what you’re feeding them, and maybe beef up their diet with better quality foods.
The tetra is a peaceful, non-aggressive fish that’s safe to mix with any other small species. They can be intimidated by larger fish, so be sure to provide plenty of thick planting and hiding places in your aquarium.
Tetras are safe with invertebrates and snails, and they won’t damage your plants.
Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis are relatively easy to breed in the aquarium, provided that you have the right mixture of both sexes. Ideally, you should have one male to four or five females so that a lone female doesn’t get bullied or harassed by males that are keen to spawn.
Differentiating the sexes is quite straightforward. The male’s dorsal fin is more pointed than that of the female, and he is more colorful. The male’s anal fin has a much more defined black border than that of his female counterpart. Females usually have a plumper body shape.
Spawning can be induced by feeding the fish small, live foods, and keeping the water temperature at between 75° to 78.8° Fahrenheit with a pH level of 6.5 to 7.2. Fit a small, air-powered sponge filtration system to keep the breeding tank clean and well oxygenated.
A breeding tank of three to five gallons is ideal. The tank should be dimly lit and furnished with java moss and clumps of spawning mops where the female can deposit her eggs. A good tip is to use a layer of mesh above the plants that is wide enough to allow the eggs to pass through while being small enough to keep the adult fish out.
This tropical fish species are egg scatterers and do not take an active role in raising the fry. A large adult female in good condition is capable of producing anything up to 300 eggs in one spawn—the female releases her eggs among the leaves of plants where they are fertilized by the male.
Once the eggs have been scattered, both parent fish must be removed right away, or they will eat the eggs. The eggs hatch after around 24 hours and the fry are free-swimming in about five days. The fry is fragile at first, but those that survive will grow rapidly into hardy juveniles. Initially, you can feed the fry infusoria until they are large enough to eat brine shrimp nauplii or micro-worms.
Provided that you keep their tank water clean, maintain the filtration system properly, and carry out bi-weekly water changes, Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is a very hardy aquarium fish.
However, if the aquarium water is dirty, the fish may become stressed, making them prone to developing fungus and Ich. Like most freshwater aquarium fish, tetras can also be vulnerable to parasitic infestations, skin flukes, bacterial infections, etc.
Before you introduce any new specimens to your main display aquarium, always quarantine the fish for at least a week to make sure that they are disease-free. All plants and decorations should be rinsed in a basic aquarium antibacterial water treatment before you add them to your tank.
Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis are readily available in most good fish stores and are very reasonably priced, making this the ideal fish species for the beginner aquarist. As previously mentioned, this tetra species is relatively easy to breed in the aquarium, so you may enjoy breeding your own specimens too.
In this section of our guide, we answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about the popular Lemon tetra.
Q: How big do Lemon tetras get?
A: Lemon tetras generally grow to be around two inches in length when mature, although some specimens may be smaller than that.
Q: Are Lemon tetras hardy?
A: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is a very hardy tropical fish species when kept in the correct conditions and fed high-quality foods as described above. However, like all tropical fish, Lemons can be susceptible to common diseases of tropical fish, such as Ich and fungus.
Q: How long do Lemon tetras live?
A: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is quite long-lived for such a small fish, having an average lifespan of between four and eight years. Males and females have a similar lifespan expectation.
Q: What kind of tetra do I have?
A: There are myriad species of tetras. Check out just how many varieties there are by clicking this link! If you’re not sure what kind of tetra you have, take a few photos of the fish, using your phone, and get down to your local fish store. The experts there will quickly solve the mystery for you.
The Lemon Tetra is a very popular, readily available tropical, freshwater fish that makes a peaceful, attractive addition to a community aquarium.
These fish are easy to care for and are extremely hardy, making them the perfect choice for a beginner hobbyist. Maintain the correct water parameters and keep your aquarium clean, and a small school of these charming fish will thrive.