Freshwater Fish

Lemon Tetra – Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis: Care Guide

Lemon Tetras are a charming freshwater fish that can add a special dash of color to any aquarium. They are also quite active and easy to care for.

But for whatever reason, this species is often underestimated in the fishing community. We can’t figure it out, because not only do we love them, but we know other owners who do too.

If you’re thinking of giving this species a try, read on to learn everything you need to know about lemon tetra care. You’ll learn about their diet, size, tank mates, behavior, and more!

Species Summary

The Lemon Tetra (scientific name: Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis) is a small freshwater fish that can create quite a visual impact in your tank. First introduced to the pet trade in the 1930s, these fish are a staple among enthusiasts.

Easily available and affordably priced, they are a good choice for experienced aquarists and beginners alike.

Lemon tetras are native to South America and inhabit parts of the Amazon River. Most of the time, they can be found living in narrow streams around the Tapajós River basin in Brazil.

A peaceful and hardy fish, the Lemon Tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis is one of the easiest freshwater species to care for. These fish make great additions to community tanks and can thrive in large groups.

Lemon Tetra Appearance

The appearance of the lemon tetra is familiar and distinct! They have a diamond-shaped body similar to that of many other types of tetra fish. However, lemon tetras tend to be deeper bodied and more laterally compressed.

Most of the body is semitransparent. In most specimens, the scales have a pearly finish that shines in the light.

The caudal fin is transparent and crystalline. Upon closer inspection, you may see a fine black line around the perimeter of the fin that offers more definition. A similar appearance is found on the pectoral fins.

The dorsal and anal fins are where the vitality of the fish is most noticeable! Lemon tetras sport a triangular dorsal fin that is semi-transparent. Splashes of yellow and black cover the fin and give it a pop of color!

Meanwhile, the pointed anal fin is bolder. The front of the fin is bright yellow, but a black line borders the rest. In women, this line is as thin as a pencil. But for males, the black border is thick and prominent.

The appearance of the anal fin is one of the most reliable sexing methods for this fish. Females typically have a deeper body, a compressed dorsal fin, and duller coloration.

Other notable physical characteristics include the presence of an adipose fin and the color of the eyes. The adipose fin is very small. It is located just before the base of the caudal fin. For most lemon tetras, it is black and yellow.

Author’s Note: The lemon tetra’s eyes do not match the body at all, which makes them stand out! The upper half of the iris is bright red, which becomes deeper and opaque depending on the health of the fish.

Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis life expectancy

The average size of the lemon tetra is between four and eight years old when healthy. While there are many cases where these fish have outlived their lifespan, it is usually a combination of good care and luck.

Like any other species of fish, the lemon tetra’s lifespan can suffer drastically without proper care. In a poorly maintained habitat, these fish can experience stress, disease, and early death.

Average size

The typical size of a lemon tetra is around two inches long when fully grown. These fish are quite small, which makes them convenient no matter how much space you have for them.

Author’s note: We like it when the goldfish aren’t too big. Its smaller size can create a striped color effect within the aquarium!

Lemon Tetra Care

The lemon tetra is something we can wholeheartedly recommend to beginners. If you’re looking for a species of fish that thrives in captivity, look no further. These beautiful creatures are hardy and can adapt to a relatively wide range of conditions.

Of course, lemon tetras have their preferences and certain conditions that are optimal for their health. To help your new fish reach its full potential in your tank, follow the care guidelines below.

tank size

The first thing to consider is the size of your tank. As a small species, you don’t need a huge tank to keep lemon tetras. However, these fish are very active and require ample space to swim and play.

We recommend starting with a 20 gallon or larger tank. A 20-gallon tank is enough for a small group of six lemon tetras.

Author’s Note: Going with a bigger tank is never a bad thing though. Lemon tetras do best in large groups, which you can only keep with a tank that has more volume.

water parameters

As always, the best way to keep your Lemon Tetra Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis healthy is to mimic its natural environment. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem with this species.

These fish come from shallow streams with soft, clean water. While many Amazon species require tannin-infused habitats, that’s not the case for lemon tetras. They can work well in clear water without chlorine.

In general, lemon tetras are hardy enough to tolerate a wide variety of conditions. It is always good to aim for the middle of these ranges to make sure there is a comfortable wiggle room for your fish!

  • Water temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 5.5 to 8.0 (neutral is best, leaning slightly towards acid)
  • Water hardness: 3 to 20 dGH

To ensure that these water parameters remain consistent, you need to invest in a water testing kit that you can trust. The ability to get fast, accurate readings is a must for any hobbyist, and will allow you to make adjustments in the water when needed (before your fish suffer).

What to put inside your tank

These vibrant freshwater fish come from densely planted waters in the Amazon. That means a boring, sterile tank won’t do.

Author’s note: In a poorly decorated aquarium, lemon tetras often lose their color. In some cases, they may even become anxious and begin to suffer from illness. It goes without saying that spending some time setting up the right environment is paramount.

It aims to create an Amazon biotope. Start with a layer of fine sand substrate. Then add driftwood and roots to mimic South American riverbeds.

Once the substrate settles, add a wide variety of live plants. Mix plant species for a natural forest feel. Use ground cover plants, taller stem plants and floating plants.

Plants should offer a lot of protection from light. However, the aquarium should still have a wide open space in the middle for swimming. In a densely planted aquarium, these fish can develop intense colors that stand out among the vegetation.

Standard lighting and filtration systems will do. Use the outlet of your filter to create a moderate flow of water in the tank. You can also implement bubble stones for better aeration. However, they are not necessary if you have a traditional filter.

potential diseases

Lemon tetras can suffer from all the usual freshwater diseases. The most common ailments to watch out for include ich, bacterial infections, and parasitic infections. All of these conditions are contagious and can quickly spread throughout the tank if you are not careful.

Fortunately, most conditions can be treated with over-the-counter medications and quarantine. Better yet, most illnesses can be prevented with proper care!

Stay on top of water conditions and test parameters regularly. You also need to make sure your filter is working efficiently.

To keep ammonia and nitrate levels low, do 25 to 50 percent water changes every two weeks.

Author’s Note: The great thing about lemon tetras is that you can use their appearance to gauge their health. If they suffer from any disease, their intense coloration will begin to fade. The color changes are even more apparent if you pay attention to the vibrancy of her red eyes.

Food and Diet of Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis

You’ll have little trouble eating lemon tetras! These fish are omnivorous and very opportunistic when it comes to food. They will pretty much eat anything you feed them.

The basis of their diet should be high-quality dry food. Stick to balanced formulas that offer color-enhancing vitamins and minerals!

You can also improve coloration by keeping the fish’s diet diverse. In addition to dry foods, occasionally provide live, frozen, or freeze-dried snacks. Lemon tetras are especially fond of daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae.

Feed several small meals throughout the day. Just provide enough food that they can gobble up in two to three minutes. Keep the diet diverse and your fish will get all the nutrients they need to stay in tip-top shape.

behavior and temperament

In general, the lemon tetra is an easy going fish that likes to keep the peace. They are active and playful too!

Like many other tetra species, lemon tetras prefer to stay in groups. Without a group, fish can become secretive and anxious. This will eventually lead to health problems in the future.

At the very least, keep six fish together. But if you have a big enough tank, aim for at least 12!

Throughout the day, the fish will group together and explore. You may notice slight aggression between the males. They can get flashy when trying to court females, resulting in little battles here and there.

Infighting is not a major problem and rarely results in major injury.

Lemon Tetra Tank Mates

A great candidate for community tanks, Lemon Tetras can get along with a wide variety of tank mates. However, you have to keep things peaceful!

Lemon tetras are small and weak enough to quickly become fish food! Avoid large and aggressive fish. If you want to keep a multispecies tank, choose fish of similar size with the same peaceful temperament.

You can try tankmates like:

  • Other tetraspecies
  • cory catfish
  • Apistogramma
  • Smaller types of rasboras
  • otocinclus
  • little danios

Author’s Note: We know of owners who have successfully raised shrimp with lemon tetras, but they did so in fairly large tanks (80+ gallons). If you do not plan to keep these fish in a large aquarium, we recommend that you avoid shrimp.


Breeding lemon tetras is an interesting process. They are eager to spawn in the right conditions and can lay many eggs at once! Lemon tetras are community breeders, so you can end up with hundreds or thousands of eggs.

Create a separate breeding tank filled with fine-leaved plants. These tetras spread eggs. But they show no parental instinct and will try to eat the eggs. The plants provide some protection against hungry adults.

Make sure your filter also has a sponge to keep the resulting fry safe!

Separate your males and females about a week before you want them to breed. Condition with live foods to prepare them as well.

When you’re ready, add your males and females to the breeding tank. Slowly bring the temperature up to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You will know it triggered the spawning when you see the males putting on shows for the females. Once they have performed their rituals, the males and females have an explosive spawning session resulting in a cloud of eggs and sperm.

The eggs will fall to the bottom of the tank. Once the adults are done, remove them from the breeding tank so your baby fish has a chance to develop.

The eggs will hatch in about three to four days. After a couple more days, the fry are ready to accept newly hatched brine shrimp, infusoria, or powdered fish food.

Author’s note: Juveniles often have a very dull coloration. Don’t worry! The intense yellow colors will develop as the fish matures.


No matter how experienced you are, lemon tetra care shouldn’t be too difficult for you. As long as you follow our recommendations and stay consistent, both you and your fish will be very happy.

Feel free to message us on social media if you want to give us feedback or have any questions!

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