Freshwater Fish

Pristella maxillaris – Tetra X-ray: Care guide

The pristella tetra (also known as the X-ray tetra) is an underappreciated freshwater species that has a lot to offer. This fish is known for being low maintenance, beautiful, and fun to watch.

They are also great fish for community tanks, meaning you can usually find a place for them in your aquarium if you have enough space.

This guide goes over everything you need to know about pristella tetra care. She will learn about her ideal tank setup, diet, lifespan, tank mates, and more!

Species Summary

Native to the coastal rivers of South America, the pristella tetra (Pristella maxillaris) is a beautiful tropical fish with a surprisingly hardy lifestyle. This freshwater fish migrates throughout the year, moving with the changing environment and seasonal flooding. For this reason, it is very adaptable to life in captivity.

>The pristella tetra is part of the characidae family. Interestingly, it is the only member of the pristella genus.

In the wild, you can find these fish in Brazil, Guyana, Orinoco, and Venezuela. However, most of the specimens you see for sale are commercially bred. Peaceful, low-maintenance, and hardy, pristella tetras are an excellent choice for new and experienced aquarists alike.


There is no way to confuse pristella tetras with another species. These fish are distinct and have several characteristics that make them stand out.

The main body of the fish is silvery and almost transparent. They still have an identifiable color and shine, but are light enough to see their organs as they swim. You may see the fish marketed as the X-ray tetra or the X-ray pristella tetra thanks to this unique trait.

Beyond the transparent body, the most prominent feature is the coloration of the fins. The dorsal and anal fins feature three stripes of vibrant yellow, firm black, and crisp white. The yellow stripe is closest to the body, while the black stripe is in the middle.

In addition to the conspicuous stripes, pristella tetras have red or pink tail fins. The intensity of red varies from fish to fish. You can also see a yellow tint on the caudal fork.

Author’s Note: Pristella tetras are deep bodied tetras. They have some girth around the midsection. Females are generally more robust than males. You can also see how their eggs develop when they spawn, making it easy to distinguish between the sexes.

Life expectancy

With the proper diet and the best living conditions, you can expect the typical lifespan of a pristella tetra to be four to five years.

There are no ways to accurately determine the life expectancy of a fish. Too many factors come into play.

Author’s Note: However, as always, good care can make a big difference. This will result in a stress-free life, making the fish less susceptible to serious health problems. Additionally, buying your pristella tetra from a reputable seller can also improve your chances.

Average size

Like many other species of the tetra family, pristella tetras are small. Average size adults can reach lengths of about two inches at most. Many fish don’t even make it to the top end of the size spectrum, staying closer to 1.75 inches when fully grown.

Thanks to their small size, these fish do well in moderate sized tanks (some even use them as nano fish). They prefer to stay in groups, which allows you to maintain a good bank for a beautiful display.

Pristella Tetra Care

Pristella tetra care is a snap (as long as you understand its basic needs). They are built to withstand changing conditions, making them a tough and resilient tank dweller.

As always, there are some set guidelines that you need to follow if you want these freshwater fish to thrive. Here are some essential tips you don’t want to miss!

tank size

A small group of pristella tetras needs a tank size of at least 10 gallons to stay healthy. However, we recommend increasing that minimum to 15 to 20 gallons if possible.

Pristella tetras are active schools. They tend to stick together and explore their surroundings as a larger unit. While they may be small individually, you should accommodate a group of at least six (more on that later).

Author’s Note: Because of this, additional space is always preferred. These freshwater fish are playful and active. Providing more room to roam can help keep them happy and stress-free. Also, a larger tank can make bioburden management much easier.

water parameters

In the wild, these fish live exciting lives. Unlike most tetras, X-ray tetras can handle somewhat brackish water. They come from coastal rivers that are not entirely freshwater.

>That said, you don’t have to worry about salinity in a closed freshwater tank. During the rainy season, these fish move inland into waters with virtually no salinity. They migrate to flooded savannahs, which are full of dissolved minerals, decaying plants, and more.

For this reason, water hardness is not as critical a factor as it would be with most fish. Pristella tetras thrives in a wide range of conditions. The key is to stick to accepted parameters and avoid sudden fluctuations.

  • Water temperature: 64°F to 82°F (aim for around 75 degrees)
  • pH levels: 5.8 to 8.5 (ideally between 6.0 and 7.5)
  • Water hardness: 4 to 8 KH

Author’s Note: Be sure to invest in a reliable and accurate water testing kit for your aquarium. That will make it easier to check the water conditions and make any necessary adjustments before your X-Ray Tetra’s health is negatively affected.

Decorating the inside of your tank

Pristella tetras might be used in an ever-changing environment in nature, but a standard tropical biotope is suitable for captivity.

This means that one of the most important aspects of pristella tetra care is to recreate their native river habitat. That means adding tons of plants, driftwood, rock caves, and more.

Start with a layer of sand substrate. Spread it evenly and use it to anchor some live or silk plants. Live plants are always best as they can improve water conditions. Use a variety of species like Java Fern, Amazon Swords and more.

You can also add some Indian almond leaves to the bottom of the tank to improve the pH and infuse some natural tannins into the water.

Author’s Note: Use natural-looking décor to create plenty of hiding spaces for these fish. You want to keep much of the center empty so they have room to explore and swim, but small shelter spaces are good for giving fish comfort when they feel stressed or overwhelmed.

Possible common diseases

You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, but pristella tetras are surprisingly resistant to disease. They are not particularly sensitive like other common types of tetras.

That said, no freshwater fish is completely immune to disease! X-ray tetras can suffer from all the usual ailments.

Skin flukes, parasitic infections, and bacterial diseases are possible. These health problems can affect fish of all ages. Some conditions, like Ich, are highly contagious and potentially deadly.

If you spot any problems, be sure to quarantine any sick fish as soon as possible. The good news is that many common health problems are easy to treat with over-the-counter medications.

Most diseases are also preventable. Check tank conditions regularly and do your part to create a healthy environment. This includes cleaning up dirt and doing 25 percent water changes every two weeks!

Food and Diet

Pristella tetras are also not picky about their food. They are tried and true omnivores that will eat just about anything you feed them!

It’s best to make commercial flakes or granules your mainstay of the diet. Choose premium foods with balanced nutrition.

From time to time, you can also provide high-protein snacks. X-ray tetras often search for insect larvae and small insects that they find on the surface in the wild. High-protein snacks are like finding that elusive delicacy in its natural habitat!

You can provide some freshly hatched brine shrimp. Freeze-dried or frozen products work too. Try offering bloodworms and other similar foods.

Author’s Note: Pristella tetras like to eat several times a day. Most aquarists will feed them two or three times. For each feeding, provide only enough food that the group can eat in three minutes to avoid ruining tank conditions.

behavior and temperament

These striking fish are calm and calm, making this one of the easiest parts of pristella tetra care. Aggressive behavior is not something you need to worry about. A little bit of infighting here and there is normal, but it rarely turns into anything serious.

>Pristella tetras are peaceful with each other and with other like-minded creatures in the tank!

That said, this species is easy to scare. It doesn’t take much to scare the fish, so make sure there are plenty of places to hide to give them some peace at such times.

As mentioned above, X-ray tetras are schools of fish. They must stay in a group of at least six. If possible, keep them in a larger group!

When kept in small groups or alone, these fish can become even more nervous than they already are. Solitary fish will spend most of their time in hiding and will usually succumb to stress-related health problems.

tank mates

Beyond fish of the same species, pristella tetras can get along with many other freshwater tank dwellers. As a peaceful species, you want to make sure that any tankmates you add to the community have a similar temperament.

These fish will not survive in the presence of aggressive or even semi-aggressive species. Their calm nature makes them a prime target for attackers known as cichlids.

It’s also best to stay away from larger fish. Even peaceful giants can mistake them for food. Keep community fish roughly the same size.

Some good tankmates for pristella tetras include:

  • Small tetras (like embers)
  • Apistogramma
  • pencil fish
  • Small types of rasboras
  • guppy fish
  • Most of the loaches
  • molly fish
  • Platy Fish


Pristella tetras breeds voluntarily in captivity. In their natural habitat, these fish migrate to flooded savannahs to breed among plants. Fortunately, recreating those migratory conditions is not too complicated with a separate breeding tank.

The breeding tank should hold at least ten gallons. Keep the temperature around 78 degrees Fahrenheit and the pH balance near neutral. Add fine-leaved plants to give the eggs and fry a place to hide. Be sure to also cover the filter inlets with sponges.

Now comes the hard part. X-Ray Tetras can be a bit picky about spawning partners. You can breed fish in larger pairs. But for the sake of egg survival, it is better to do it in pairs.

Place a pair in the breeding tank and condition with high protein food. If the female doesn’t swell with eggs in a couple of days, remove the kit and try a different combination.

Eventually, it will find a suitable mate, and the female will lay 300 to 400 eggs. Remove the adults immediately after she lays her eggs. The adults will quickly consume the eggs that the plants do not hide.

The eggs will hatch in 24 to 36 hours. In another three to four days, the fry are free swimming on their own. At this point, provide finely powdered foods or infusoria. Once they are large enough, you can move on to brine shrimp or infusoria.

final thoughts

Pristella tetra care is not something you need to worry about. These fish are very beginner friendly and are a fantastic choice for any owner who wants no trouble.

With its beautiful appearance and low maintenance nature, this is a freshwater species that we highly recommend. In fact, we think they should be much more popular than they are.

We hope you have found this guide helpful and that you feel ready to move on to tetra x-ray ownership. If you still have questions that weren’t covered in this guide, feel free to ask us!

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