Freshwater Fish

Tetra Serpae – Hyphessobrycon eques: Care Guide

Serpae Tetras are a wonderful freshwater fish that have a strong presence in the aquarium scene. We had our first experience keeping one about five years ago, and have been fans of them ever since.

This is why:

This species is not only beautiful, but it is easy to maintain. This makes them very suitable for beginners or perfect for an aquarist looking for something low maintenance.

This guide will teach you the basics of Tetra Serpae care. We’ll cover things like tankmates, lifespan, diet, size, reproduction, and more!


Colorful and incredibly active, the Serpae Tetra is a fish that will add some vibrancy to your tank. These fish have become quite popular with the aquarist community due to their playful attitudes and impressive appearance.

Scientifically known as Hyphessobrycon eques, these fish go by many names. They are often referred to as the Jewel Tetra or the Callistus Tetra in the aquarium trade. Whatever you choose to call them, there’s no denying their beauty.

Serpae tetras are endemic to the Amazon River basin in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia.

They can usually be found in slow-moving backwaters. In the murky waters of their natural habitat, they spend most of their time sheltering from predators below. However, in a captive aquarium, they are the stars of the show.


The average life expectancy of Tetra Serpae in captivity is between 5 and 7 years.For this family of fish, that life expectancy is pretty standard.

This can be affected by the usual factors. Poor water conditions, a mediocre environment, and a less than stellar diet can shorten the life of Tetra Serpae dramatically.

Author’s Note: It is also possible that they exceed this expected shelf life. Some owners who have given them fantastic care have seen them surpass the 7 year mark!


Serpae tetras are part of the Characin family. Therefore, they have that family profile like some other types of tetraspecies. They are relatively flat but have a tall frame and a trapezoidal shape.

The most visually striking aspect of Tetra Serpae is its color. Most of the specimens acquire a reddish brown color. Base coloration can vary quite a bit with this species.

Some are more olive brown in color, while others take on a fiery scarlet hue. Either way, there is one thing all of these fish have in common. Its scales have a shiny finish that shimmers in the light. Create a jewel-like shine that you can’t miss.

Beyond their base color, Tetra Serpae have several different patterns on their bodies. Most noticeable is the comma-shaped black spot on the sides. Located just behind your gills, this spot can fluctuate in vibrancy. Some specimens even lose it completely as they age.

On the top of the fish, you will notice a large, square-shaped dorsal fin covered in dark black. There may be a slight redness at the base of the fin. If you look very closely, many fish also have white edges on their dorsal fin.

This unique color pattern continues on the anal. However, instead of being covered in black, it is predominantly red with black tips. A slight hint of white on the tips is also quite common, giving these fish an almost hand-drawn appearance in your tank.

The interesting thing about Tetras Serpae is that their colors can change several times throughout their lives. For the most part, the base colors remain unchanged. However, vitality will improve or degrade based on your diet and environment.

There are not many clear differences between men and women. Females are generally less vibrant than their male counterparts. They can also be a bit fatter (especially in the breeding season).


The typical size of Tetra Serpae when fully grown is around 1.75 inches long.These are not very big fish!

Larger specimens may reach a full 2 ​​inches, but this is quite rare (especially in captivity). If you buy your fish from a seller with a bad reputation, it is much less likely to reach its maximum size.


Tetra Serpae care is generally considered one of the easiest tasks in the freshwater fish breeding space. The water conditions they need are quite manageable and require a simple diet. And although they are very active, they will rarely show signs of aggression.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can ignore care guidelines. Like any fish, Tetras Serpae has some set conditions that it must provide. Doing so will help your fish reach their full potential while reducing the risk of health problems.


Thanks to their small size, Tetras Serpae do not need the massive tanks that most tropical fish require. Some aquarists have had great success raising small groups in tanks as small as 10 gallons.

However, we recommend starting with a 20-gallon tank for best results.

While they may be small, Serpae Tetras are great swimmers. They need a lot of space to explore. A larger 20-gallon tank provides that much-appreciated extra space.

Also, it allows you to keep a larger group together, which is always preferred (more on this later).


As we mentioned earlier, Tetra Serpae can be found in slow-moving backwaters. Typically, those habitats are quiet, dark, and murky. They are filled with black water, which gives the fish many opportunities to hide from predators.

Replicating that type of environment is crucial if you want to keep your fish healthy.You don’t have to go as far as creating true black water with a cloudy tint, but you can do your part to mimic the rest of the water conditions.

The natural environment of a Tetra Serpae is warm, mild and slightly acidic. We recommend setting up your tank ahead of time and giving yourself plenty of time to go through it. These fish are quite sensitive to large fluctuations in water conditions.

Giving your tank enough time to settle will ensure that your fish can be introduced to the new habitat without any problems. Here are some basic parameter guidelines to follow for Tetras Serpae:

  • Water temperature: 72°F to 79°F
  • pH levels: 5 to 7.8
  • Water hardness: 5 to 25 dGH


Providing the proper underwater scenery is just as important as closely monitoring water conditions. The key to keeping any species of fish happy is to create a welcoming habitat that closely resembles its environment in the wild.

The Amazon River basin is full of life. While you can’t always see what’s happening on the surface due to the cloudier waters, those bodies of water are very dense with vegetation.

We recommend starting with a dark sandy substrate.

A black or dark gray sand reproduces muddy riverbeds and ponds. Typically, bodies of water in the Amazon Basin have a thin layer of decaying plant life at the bottom. The dark sand will mimic that.

Next, incorporate plenty of live plants throughout the tank.

Plants are very important to Tetras Serpae. They not only eat the plants often, but also provide shelter. In the wild, these fish are often seen congregating around tree roots.

They will do the same in your tank. Plants like Java Moss and Myriophyllum are good options. Those plants offer great shelter while allowing fish to move through the leaves.

Arrange these plants in dense groups around the edges of the tank. You don’t want to fill the center of the tank with too many plants.

This is because Serpae Tetras need some space to swim. Filling the tank with too many plants can make it difficult.

Mix and match the plants with other forms of natural decoration. Things like driftwood and rock formations are good shelter items.

Moving on to equipment, Tetras Serpae doesn’t have a ton of strict requirements when it comes to filtration. Any standard canister filtration system or rear hanging unit will suffice. As long as you can effectively cycle the tank, it should work fine.

The only thing to consider is the strength of the return tube. Serpae Tetras prefer slow-moving waters, so make sure it’s not too powerful. If you’re on the stronger side, you can place a plant or decorative item in front of the tube to break up the stream.

Author’s Note: Another important aspect to consider is lighting. The murky waters of the Amazon Basin don’t let in too much light, so Tetras Serpae prefer things to be dimmer.

Fortunately, fish aren’t too fussy in that regard, as long as you have plenty of plants to block out light throughout the day.


We are pleased to inform you that Tetras Serpae do not have any species-specific ailments that you need to be on the lookout for. That said, these fish are susceptible to all the common freshwater ailments.

These include things like Ich, fungal infections, and skin flukes. You can easily avoid many common health conditions simply by staying aware of water conditions. Most diseases are the direct result of stress and poor living conditions.

With constant monitoring and regular water changes, you should have no problem keeping your Serpae Tetras healthy.


Serpae tetras are omnivores by nature. In the wild, they typically eat plant matter and insect larvae that float on the surface of the water. In captivity, they are happy with just about anything you give them.

You can choose to feed your fish a regular diet of high quality flakes or pellets. This can serve as the basis of your diet.

It’s also a good idea to supplement with some high-protein foods (this will balance things out). The occasional snack of bloodworms, brine shrimp, and other live or frozen proteins is also good.


For the most part, Serpae Tetras are peaceful. They are fast moving fish that get along well with various other species of fish.

As we mentioned earlier, these are community fish that thrive in larger groups.When combined, they will spend a lot of time exploring the tank.

Larger groups help fish feel more secure. They behave differently and will spend less time hiding when other Serpae Tetras are around.

They usually stick to the middle and bottom of the aquarium. They will occasionally swim to the surface (usually during feeding time).

These fish exhibit some unique swimming patterns. Instead of swimming gracefully throughout the habitat, they will swim at a jerky pace. They will swim in short bursts before resting and starting over.

This can be problematic in some scenarios. Serpae Tetras are known to show slight aggression towards slow movements with long fins. They can clip the fins of angelfish or Bettas, so be careful.

Tetra Serpae TANK MATES

The best tankmates for Serpae Tetras are other Serpae Tetras.We recommend keeping a group of 5-7. These fish can fight each other, but it is usually not a major cause for concern.

They tend to develop a pecking order within the group and will show mild aggression towards the weaker. Keep an eye on the group and eliminate the aggressors that cause damage or make it difficult for other fish to feed.

Aside from other Serpae Tetras, these fish are compatible with other fast-moving, peaceful fish. It is best to avoid slow fish that could be targeted for fin nipping. You should also avoid larger aggressive species that may try to eat your Serpae Tetras.

Here are some good tankmates to consider:

  • Danios (our favorite is the Celestial Pearl)
  • pictus catfish
  • Bolivian ram cichlid
  • bristlenose pleco
  • cardinal tetra
  • cory catfish
  • Tetra black skirt
  • catfish twig
  • Bloodfin Tetra
  • swordtail fish

Author’s Note: While some aquarists have had success keeping freshwater aquarium snails as tankmates with Tetras Serpae, we do not recommend it. It doesn’t work the vast majority of the time.


Breeding Tetras Serpae is an easy process. However, it must be done in a separate tank. This species does not display any parental instincts and will be a danger to your baby fish almost immediately.

Create a separate breeding tank that has similar decor to the main tank. Incorporate lots of plants and consider using a breeding mop. Serpae tetras are egg layers that will spread their eggs throughout the environment.

Thick vegetation and brood mops will catch the eggs and keep them protected. As far as water conditions go, you can keep things on the softer side. The pH balance should be around 6.0. Warmer waters up to 80 degrees can be used to trigger the breeding process.

Before moving your group of adult Serpae Tetras to the breeding tank, condition them with some high-protein snacks.

Live and frozen foods will help advance the spawning process. Once your females get fatter, you’ll know it’s time to start breeding.

The males will chase the females, causing her to scatter the eggs throughout the tank. The males will then fertilize those eggs. Hundreds of eggs can be laid at a time.

You should monitor the process and remove the adults immediately after they are finished. They tend to try to eat eggs very quickly.

After about 2 days, the eggs will hatch. The fry will eat their egg sacs and grow quite a bit before swimming free. At that time, you can provide brine shrimp and infusoria as food.

Keep your baby fish in the separate tank until it is big enough to eat dry flake food and fend for itself.


Serpae Tetras are a fantastic species to keep in a freshwater tank. Plain and simple.

Honestly. they might be one of our favorite Tetras right now (and that’s saying something). With their beauty and low-maintenance nature, they are a good choice for almost everyone.

Give them a try! You’ll be happy you did.

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