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How Long Do Tetra Fish Live?

If you have ever considered keeping a freshwater aquarium, stocking your new addition may be daunting. One of the most enjoyable, fulfilling fish to keep are tetras.

When advising new fish keepers on possible purchases, I often circle back to tetras. These diverse little fish are easily found in most pet stores.

Tetras offer keepers a plethora of color options from which to choose. Many tetra species are known to be resilient and hearty, resulting in the potential for years of companionship. 

Dozens of fish species fall under the classification of tetra. In general, tetras can live anywhere between five and ten years in captivity. 

Smaller tetra species tend to be less robust than larger ones. All tetras will be more likely to flourish for longer when exposed to proper husbandry.

In Captivity, Tetras Can Live For Approximately 5-10 Years

Due to the fact that over forty species of fish fall under the classification of tetra, the estimated lifespan for a new tetra can vary greatly. Tetra species are grouped together because each of these fish species has similar body structures and habits.

However, tetras species hail from multiple locations around the globe and come in a myriad of colors and sizes. These differences can come into play when discussing tetra lifespan.

Tetras In A Nutshell

The stunningly diverse pet fish we commonly refer to as tetras are members of the Characidae family. They are found in tropical and subtropical locals and are present in Central and South America as well as Africa.

Tetra habitat temperatures in the wild range from the low 70s to the high 80s Fahrenheit (or from around 21 to 26° C) during the most comfortable points of the year. They are schooling fish and prefer to live in community groups.

Tetras are still being identified today, with the most recent discovery being in 2018 in the waterways of Brazil.

neon tetra

Size and Aging

Tetras offer fish keepers the opportunity to select from a seemingly ever-expanding range of sizes. Smaller species of tetra, such as Yellow Phantoms and Cardinals can grow to be about 20 to 30 mm long.

The Congo tetra, a larger species, can grow to be about 3 inches long. These bigger species can boast longer life expectancies, possibly due in part to their size, offering fish keepers a heartier companion.

Ember tetras, which have been known to live as long as ten years, only grow to be about 2 cm long. These smaller fish may be more vulnerable to problems within the tank, such as spikes in ammonia levels, and may become ill more quickly, and to a more severe level due to their petite size.

This is a factor that a potential first-time fishkeeper may want to keep in mind when making their purchase.

Read more about signs of sickness in our popular article: Do Neon Tetras Play Dead?

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Tank Temps and Tetra Longevity

Lifespans of tetra fish kept in captivity can significantly rival those of wild tetras. One of the most paramount elements of fishkeeping is providing your aquatic buddies with the appropriate water temperature. 

Wild tetras will fall victim to the debilitating results of cold snaps, but fish keepers can spare their tank inhabitants exposure to harmful temperatures. Tetras prefer temperatures that reflect their tropical and subtropical habitats in the wild, with acceptable water temperatures ranging from about 75° F to 85° F, or 23° C to 29° C.

A tank heater and thermometer will ensure that fish keepers can easily maintain appropriate water temperatures. A reliable heater can be purchased online, or in a brick-and-mortar pet store for under $20.

Floating tank thermometers are also reasonably priced and very available. For fish keepers looking to spend more, there are fewer analog options.

Future keepers looking to pick up all the necessities at once may find a heater and thermometer in fish tank kits available at some pet stores.

Community Connections

In conjunction with water quality, fish keepers need to be mindful of the number of fish placed in a tank. This is especially important when purchasing tetras.

Tetras are schooling fish that will experience less stress when living in a community. Bringing home one tetra and placing your fish in a small tank will not provide the tetra with an environment similar to that available in the wild.

With each additional member of your aquatic family, however, tank size must be questioned. Keepers have long followed a simple to remember, if imperfect, rule of thumb.

The old adage suggests one gallon for one inch of fish length in your tank. If following this rule, the minimum tank size for a school of five Red Eyed tetras at one inch each would require a five-gallon tank.

Keepers who overstock their tanks will be faced with spiking levels of toxins, causing their fish unnecessary stress. When preparing to bring home a community of tetras, keep in mind they must be given enough room to flourish.

Water Quality Is Key

Perhaps the keystone of fishkeeping is the maintenance of water quality. When handling water quality, keepers need to monitor levels of ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and pH in a tank.

All of these elements are tied to the natural processes that occur with fish and exist at safe levels in a healthy tank environment. When introducing new water to your tank, fish keepers must be mindful of pH levels, or water acidity.

Fish produce ammonia as a byproduct of oxygen filtration. Ammonia is additionally created by anything breaking down in your tank such as uneaten fish food and aquatic plants.

Nature has provided a means of handling ammonia levels in the form of harmless bacteria. These bacteria are necessary in any fish tank and convert ammonia into nitrates and nitrites, but even these materials can be harmful to fish. 

In order to battle these potential dangers, keepers can employ water quality test kits.  These packs come with small vials to harvest water from your tank for testing.

Interesting READ  Do Neon Tetras Play Dead?

water quality

Adding the included chemicals to your water samples will allow you to gauge the toxicity levels of dangerous elements based on simple-to-read color charts.  You can then add water conditioner to your tank to improve levels that may be concerning.

With very little effort you can help maintain healthy water quality for your tetras and have them reach their highest potential lifespan.

Do aquatic plants add to the lifespan of a tetra?

Fish keepers should strive to provide their fish with tank environments that pull the best of the natural world in while shielding inhabitants from dangers present in nature.  Including aquatic plants in your tank design can add tremendously to a tetra’s lifespan.

When selecting plants for your tank, take into consideration the temperatures necessary for your tetras to thrive. Most available freshwater aquatic plants found easily in a pet store will fit into a tropical tank.

When bringing new plants home, keepers may want to quarantine their plants for a week. Organisms, most frequently freshwater snails, can hitch a ride on plants and become uninvited residents of your tank.

The addition of more companions will affect water quality. A period of quarantine would give a new keeper a chance to monitor plants kept in a small, spare tank, and avoid introducing hazards into your tetra tank.

How can I avoid exposing my tetras to stress?

Even fish as robust as tetras can succumb to stress. A variety of stimuli can result in pet fish becoming stressed. Avoiding those circumstances will ensure your tetras have the chance to reach their lifespan potential.

In addition to maintaining water quality, fish keepers can also strive to engage in a husbandry schedule that allows for regular water changes, filter changes, and feedings. By providing consistency, fish keepers can contribute to a stress-free tank.

Are there other types of fish I can keep with tetras?

Tetras have been known to nip at one another, and some tetras are more aggressive than others, but on the whole, they are peaceful fish. There are species of fish that keepers can home with a school of tetra.

Many of the most familiar species in the hobby are suitable tank mates for tetras. Pairings of mollies and guppies can share a tank happily with a tetra community.


Cleanup crews like catfish can help maintain a healthy tank and are good companions to a school of tetras. There are nonfish species that offer keepers entertaining options for tetra tank mates.

Tetras can live peacefully with small freshwater shrimp. Snails can also live happily in a tetra tank, and assist in keeping their surroundings clean as they explore the tank surfaces.


Tetras are a diverse family of tropical, freshwater fish that has been a favorite of tank enthusiasts for decades because of their striking variety, entrancing appearance, and their longevity. Their hearty nature can result in a lifespan of between five and ten years.

Quality husbandry can offer these community-oriented fish a healthy, happy, and long life.