Congo Tetra Care and Breeding: A Beginner’s Guide 

A male congo tetra

Congo Tetras are beautiful freshwater fish that are relatively easy to care for. They are native to the Congo River Basin in Central Africa and are known for their vibrant colors and adaptability to aquarium conditions. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about caring for and breeding Congo Tetras.

We will start by discussing the ideal tank size, water parameters, and diet for these fish. We will also provide tips on how to create a healthy environment that mimics their natural habitat. Additionally, we will cover the breeding process and how to set up a breeding tank.

By the end of this guide, you will have all the information you need to keep your Congo Tetras healthy and happy. Let’s get started!

Congo Tetra Quick Facts

Scientific namePhenacogrammus interruptus
Common nameCongo tetra
Native HabitatCongo River basin in Africa
Maximum size3.5 inches (about 9 cm)
Lifespan5-8 years or more in well-maintained tanks
Tank Size RequirementMinimum 30 gallons for a small group
DietOmnivorous, accepts flakes, pellets, and live foods


A colorful male congo tetra
Male Congo Tetras often display more vibrant colors and longer fins compared to females.

Congo Tetras are known for their vibrant colors and unique appearance. They have a slender body with a pointed snout and a forked tail. The males are more colorful than the females and have longer fins. They come in various colors, such as blue, green, yellow, and red.

Their scales are iridescent and reflect light in different ways, making them appear to change colors depending on the angle of light. Their fins are also translucent and have a delicate appearance. These beautiful fish are relatively large for a tetra, growing up to 3–3.5 inches in captivity and up to 4.5 inches in the wild

Congo Tetra Behavior

Congo tetras are shoaling fish that prefer to live in groups of six or more. They are active swimmers and require ample swimming space. They also need plenty of hiding places, such as plants, rocks, and driftwood.

a school of congo tetra
The Congo tetra was discovered in 1949 and was first introduced to the aquarium trade in the 1960s.

These omnivores eat a variety of foods, including insects, crustaceans, and plant matter. In an aquarium setting, they require a balanced diet rich in protein and fatty acids. You can feed them fish flakes, pellets, and live, or frozen foods.

They are generally peaceful and can coexist with other non-aggressive species. However, they can become stressed or aggressive if kept with aggressive or territorial tankmates. Choose their tank mates carefully and provide plenty of hiding places to reduce stress.

Congo Tetras are known for their jumping ability. They can jump out of the water if they feel threatened or stressed. This behavior is a survival mechanism that helps them escape predators in the wild. In an aquarium, they may jump out of the water if they feel threatened or stressed due to poor water quality, overcrowding, or aggressive tankmates. Therefore, you need to keep the aquarium covered to prevent them from jumping out.

Tank Size

If you only have a small tank, please do not try to get them. The ideal tank size for Congo Tetras is 30 gallons, as they prefer to live in large schools. Going below this size may not be sufficient for their well-being. A 30-gallon long tank will allow you to keep a small school of six fish without overcrowding the space. A larger aquarium, at least 50–75 gallons, is preferred if possible. Bigger tanks offer more swimming room for each fish and encourage group behavior.  Keeping them in smaller numbers may result in them being very skittish and stressed as they don’t feel protected enough.

Tank Setup

In the wild, Congo Tetras inhabit water bodies with muddy bottoms. Use dark or neutral-colored fine-grain sand to mimic the soft and dark riverbed in the Congo River Basin. This is safe for the fish and looks good with their vibrant colors.

To replicate the dense, plant-rich habitat of the Congo Tetras, incorporate plant species with hard leaves like Java ferns, anubias, and African water fern. While you can keep plants with this fish, avoid soft-leaved plants like rotala and cabomba. Congo Tetras are omnivores and will nibble on these plants’ leaves, which can destroy them.

When setting up a tank for them, get them a good filter. A filter is essential for maintaining optimal water quality in the aquarium. Buy a filter that can handle high water turnover and accommodate biological filtration. A canister filter is the best option for a large tank, but a sump filter or hang-on-back filter (HOB) can also work.

These fish prefer slow to moderate water flow in their aquariums. You can achieve this by using a canister filter with an adjustable flow rate or a spin-flow lily pipe to reduce the flow. Another good option is a HOB filter.

Water Parameters

ParameterPreferred Range
pH6.0 to 7.5
Water temperature72°F to 82°F (22-28°C)
Below 20 ppm
Water hardness
3 to 18 dGH

Congo Tetras are relatively hardy fish that can tolerate a wide range of water parameters, but they prefer slightly acidic and soft water. The ideal pH range for Congo Tetras is between 6.0 and 7.5, and keeping the pH at the lower end of this range can help mimic the black water conditions in their natural habitat.

To prevent stress, maintain the water temperature between 72 and 82°F, ideally in the middle range. Depending on your location, you can use an aquarium heater or a cooler to maintain the temperature. It’s important to keep the temperature as stable as possible to prevent stress for the fish.

Keep the ammonia and nitrite levels at 0 ppm, as these substances are toxic to fish. Nitrite is a byproduct of ammonia breakdown, while fish waste and decaying food produce ammonia. Nitrate is less toxic than ammonia and nitrite, but it can still build up in the water and cause problems for fish. The nitrate level should be kept below 20 ppm. You can remove ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate from the water by performing regular water changes.

These fish can tolerate a wide range of hardness, but they prefer soft water with a hardness between 3 and 18 dGH.

Congo Tetra Diet and Feeding

Congo Tetras are opportunistic omnivores and easy to feed. In the wild, they eat a variety of foods, including insects, worms, algae, and plants. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of foods, including flake food, pellets, frozen food, and live food. Great examples of live or frozen food to feed your Congo Tetra are daphnia, bloodworms, tubifex, and brine shrimp.

A good diet for Congo Tetras should be high in protein and should also include some vegetables. You should feed your Congo Tetras 2-3 times a day and only give them as much food as they can eat in a few minutes. Wondering if your fish buddies are getting their fill? Well, if you notice them frequently nibbling on the tips of your aquarium plants, that’s a clear sign that they are not getting enough food

Best Tank Mates of Congo Tetras

Congo tetras are peaceful, non-aggressive fish that are best kept in groups of at least six. They are active swimmers and prefer to live in the middle and top levels of the tank. When choosing their tank mates, there are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Temperament: Congo tetras are peaceful fish, so it is important to choose tank mates with a similar temperament. Avoid aggressive fish that may bully or harass them.
  • Size: Congo tetras only grow to about 3 inches in length; choose tank mates that are not significantly larger. Larger fish may see the Congo tetras as prey.
  • Water conditions: They prefer soft, slightly acidic water. Make sure that the water conditions in your tank are compatible with the species of fish you are considering adding.

Here are some compatible tank mates for Congo tetras:

Here are some fish that you should avoid keeping with Congo tetras:

  • Aggressive fish: Do not keep them with aggressive fish, such as cichlids, tiger barbs, and bettas. These fish may bully or even kill the Congo tetras.
  • Territorial fish: Congo tetras are not territorial fish, but they may become stressed if kept with territorial fish, such as gouramis and angelfish. These fish may chase or nip at the Congo tetras.
  • Large fish:  Avoid keeping them with large fish, such as goldfish and koi. These fish may eat or injure the Congo tetras.

With proper care and attention, Congo tetras can make great additions to any aquarium. By choosing the right tank mates and providing them with a suitable environment, you can help ensure that your Congo tetras live long and healthy lives.

How to Tell Male and Female Congo Tetras Apart

A female congo tetra in a tank
Female Congo tetras can lay between 300 and 500 eggs at a time. Photo: Paul MOINE, Flickr

Before trying to breed these fish, you should first know the differences between male and female congo tetras. Although both male and female Congo tetras have rainbow-colored scales, they are easy to tell apart, even for beginners. Here are the main differences:

  • Size and body: Male Congo tetras are larger than females. They can grow up to 3.5 inches (9 cm) long, while females only reach about 2 inches (5 cm). The male’s body is more elongated, while the female’s body is more oval.
  • Color: Male Congo tetras have brighter colors than females. Their bodies are a deep red or orange, and their fins have a purple tint. Females are more of a golden or silver color, with less red or orange coloration.
  • Fins: The fins of male Congo tetras are longer and more flowing than those of females. The male’s dorsal fin is especially long, and it extends all the way to the tail. The female’s dorsal fin is shorter and less pointed. Look at the anal fin. The male’s anal fin is more pointed, while the female’s anal fin is more rounded.


Breeding Congo Tetras can be a rewarding experience and is not as difficult as it may seem. To induce breeding, you need to set up the correct conditions that mimic their natural environment. Here are the steps to breed Congo Tetras:

  1. Set up a breeding tank. The breeding tank should be at least 20 gallons in size and have a sponge filter or other gentle filtration. To lower the pH of the water, cover the bottom of the aquarium with at least 1 inch of peat moss. Fill the aquarium with distilled water and allow the peat moss to settle for several days.
  2. Add some spawning mops or Java moss to the breeding tank. These provide the fish with a place to lay their eggs.
  3. After adding a well-fed and healthy pair of Congo tetras to the breeding tank, set the water temperature to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and turn off the lights. Your fish will likely start spawning when you turn the lights back on the next day.
  4. Once the fish are in the breeding tank, they will start to spawn. The female will lay her eggs on the spawning mops or Java moss. After breeding, remove the adult fish from the tank to prevent them from eating the eggs.
  5. The eggs will hatch within 5-8 days, and the fry will be too small to eat baby brine shrimp initially. For the first few days, feed them infusoria, which is a nutritious food for fry. After a few days, you can switch to baby brine shrimp. By the two-week mark, the fry will be large enough to eat powdered fish food.

Congo tetra fry grows quickly. They can reach an inch (2.5 cm) long within two weeks. By three months, they will have doubled in size and will start to show their vibrant rainbow colors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the frequently asked questions by beginners who want to know more about this fascinating fish:

Do Congo tetras eat plants?

Yes, they may eat plants with soft leaves if they are not fed well. If you are planning to keep Congo tetras in a planted tank, sturdy plants that are not easily eaten. Some good choices include Java fern, Anubias, and Amazon sword plants.

Are Congo tetras fin nippers?

Generally speaking, Congo tetras are not fin nippers. However, there are some cases where Congo tetras may nip at the fins of other fish, especially if they are stressed or overcrowded.

Do Congo Tetras eat algae?

Yes, Congo tetras will eat algae in their natural habitat. They are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods, including algae, worms, insects, and plant matter. However, they are not voracious algae eaters and will not completely clear an aquarium of algae.

Do Congo Tetras eat cherry shrimp?

Congo tetras are omnivores and will eat cherry shrimp if they can catch them. To protect your cherry shrimp, provide plenty of hiding places in the tank.

What is the best Congo Tetra male-to-female ratio?

The best Congo tetra male-to-female ratio is 2-3 females to 1 male. This will help to reduce aggression among the males and create a more peaceful school. If you only have a small tank, you can get away with a 1-to-1 ratio, but it is still best to have more females than males.

How much does a Congo Tetra cost?

A Congo Tetra typically costs between $2 and $4. The exact price may vary depending on the size, color, and location of the fish. The time of year can also have an impact on the price of Congo tetras. They are typically more expensive during the winter months when they are less available.

What is an Albino Congo Tetra?

An Albino Congo Tetra is a freshwater fish that is an albino variant of the regular Congo Tetra. It has a white body with red eyes and fins.

Are Congo Tetras the Right Fish for You?

Congo tetras are beautiful and hardy fish that can make a great addition to any aquarium. They are relatively easy to care for and can be kept in a variety of tank setups. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before adding Congo tetras to your tank.

First, Congo tetras are schooling fish, so it is important to keep them in groups of at least six. They are also active swimmers, so they need a tank that is at least 20 gallons in size.

Second, Congo tetras are not tolerant of poor water quality. The water in their tank should be kept clean and free of ammonia and nitrites.

Third, Congo tetras are not aggressive fish, but they can be territorial. It is important to choose tank mates that are compatible with their size and temperament.

Overall, Congo tetras are a great choice for beginner and experienced aquarium keepers alike. If you are looking for a beautiful and hardy fish that is easy to care for, then a Congo tetra may be the right fish for you.

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