Common Names: Bleeding Heart Tetra
Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma
Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Care Level: Easy
Max Size: 2 Inches
Temperature: 72-80 F
Tank Level: Bottom to Middle
Bleeding Heart Tetra: Species Overview
As a freshwater fish that’s quite hardy, the bleeding heart tetra (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigm)populates many aquaria because, for one thing, they’re easy to care for, and they’re easy-going. These attributes make them a fantastic choice for fish keepers just getting started, though intermediate and more advanced keepers also love them.
For another, their distinctive red spot makes them handsome additions to any tank.
They hail from the Amazon Basin. Because of that ancestral home, when they live in tanks, they thrive best with lush surroundings and other bleeding heart tetras with which they can school. Lone tetras can be aggressive and go after other fish.
The most distinguishing feature of the bleeding heart tetra is its bleeding heart. The spot on either side of the body isn’t its heart, nor is it blood, but it’s a bright red spot at the halfway point of the height of its body and a little behind the eye. It’s where you’d expect the fish’s heart to be.
The red spot evokes blood, hence the name. The rest of the bleeding heart’s body is silvery and can have a reddish hue, though the male tetra’s coloring is brighter and more varied than the female’s.
Like other tetras, the bleeding heart has a diamond-shaped body and relatively long, transparent fins. The anal and dorsal fins are comparatively long.
The lush environs of the waters of the upper Amazon Basin include rooted and floating plants, so the bleeding heart tetra spends its life in the wild with lots of greenery around it. The substrate there is often muddy and sandy.
Due to the large amounts of sediment in the Amazon River, the waters are usually cloudy and brown. As far inland as the fish lives, brackish water isn’t an issue, and the fish lives in freshwater.
Scientists believe the central area this fish hails from is near the borders of Peru, Brazil, and Columbia. They can be found in waters north and south of this area, but the wild population seems rooted in this spot.
Discovered in 1943, the bleeding heart tetra grows to about 2 ½” long (65mm). Males are generally larger than females, as the species expresses sexual dimorphism. However, the size difference between males and females is not very big.
The average bleeding heart tetra can live about five years, though some don’t live more than three. Living in captivity tends to carry them closer to the five-year mark, due in part to fewer (if any) predators swimming alongside them, but this assumes proper care.
If the tank is kept clean and the fish are cared for, five years would not constitute an unusually long life.
While males can be noticeably larger, female fish generally have a more rounded belly. The most pronounced difference between the genders is that males display more vibrant colors. The coloring patterns differ between the genders, as well.
The males also have larger dorsal fins than female bleeding heart tetras.
For the most part, bleeding heart tetra is a peaceful, easygoing fish. However, this is usually the case when they live and school with other fish of the same species. Tetras can be more aggressive to other fish if they are the only one of their kind in the tank.
With several others of their kind, these fish should be well-behaved and tranquil. Alone, they can go one of two ways:
- Bleeding heart tetras can become aggressive toward other fish, often nipping at their fins.
- They may become reclusive, hiding away as well as they can in their surroundings.
They school well together with other tetra species, and some fish keepers populate a tank with tetras exclusively. A tetras-only tank provides varied colors and fewer tank management issues since everyone enjoys the same water temperature, food, and pH levels.
With the earlier mention of a well-maintained tank, the knowledgeable fish keeper will have the right size tank and watch over its water conditions.
Minimum Tank Size
For a small group of bleeding hearts (four to six), a 30-gallon tank is a bare minimum. With more space, the fish can enjoy larger swimming areas, but they can also benefit from having more plants and other decorative accessories.
For multiple species of fish or larger schools of tetras, a larger tank is always better than a smaller one.
Once your tank is ready, it’s time to fill it and keep an eye on the water. The three factors that must receive attention are water temperature, pH, and salinity. If any of these gets neglected, the health of your fish will be at risk.
While this fish can tolerate temperatures in the range between 72° and 80°F (22-26°C), its ideal water temperature sits at 75°F (24°C). Fluctuating temperatures, even within acceptable ranges, can cause stress.
Use a tank heater to help regulate water temperature, and if you live in a part of the world that experiences extreme cold, keep a watchful eye on your tank thermometer during those winter days.
Bleeding heart tetras prefer slightly acidic water. A pH between 6.0 and 6.5 will make them feel most at home in your tank. That is barely more acidic than average drinking water, so you’ll want to add pH monitoring to your tank management routine.
As a freshwater fish, the bleeding heart tetra needs fresh water. However, as salt is essential to most organisms, your aquarium needs to have at least a little in it.
An ideal measure for a freshwater tank’s salinity is 0.5 parts per thousand. This level matches most of the world’s freshwater bodies.
Salinimeters are available at aquarium supply stores, but as long as you maintain your tank properly, you may not need one. A well-kept aquarium shouldn’t have salinity issues.
Creating a home for your tetras that resembles their native home involves managing every aspect of the water and the things in it. Aside from creating cloudy, sedimented waters like those of the Amazon, you should make it look and feel as much like that river as you can. A great setup will ensure your fish remain healthy and happy.
Coming from a river with muddy and sandy bottoms, the bleeding heart tetra needs a layer of sand to swim over. This fish enjoys scavenging from time to time, so a layer of sand over your substrate will help ensure they don’t injure themselves on large gravel pieces as they root for food.
There is so much vegetation around the Amazon waters that trees and branches often fall in, sinking to the bottom. Many aquarists include small pieces of driftwood to mimic this aspect of the tetra’s habitat.
Since this particular fish needs some protection from overhead light, a small cave or two would benefit it, too.
Floating plants are a big part of the Amazon waters, so your tetras will enjoy a few in their tank. Again, they need a little shielding from overhead light, and a few floating plants will bring this to their environment.
- Floating plants include aquarium lilies, red root floater, duckweed, and water sprite.
- Live plants for the tank bottom can include Amazon sword, a water bulb like Aponogeon, or the African water fern.
Due to the Amazon being a cloudy, often muddy river, bleeding heart tetras do best with lower lighting. Harsh overhead light is foreign to them, so even if you have plants that block light, try to aim for lower light levels.
By all means, light your tank. After all, you want to see the fish. But a bright light is overkill and may cause undue stress in your fish. Most retail tank lights should provide good illumination without being too much for the tetras.
Whatever method you choose for your tank’s filtration system, a system must be in place and in working order. Body waste from fish contains ammonia, and any bits of food not eaten can build up in the water, as well.
Within a closed environment like your tank, the water requires constant cleaning.
- Biological filtration uses bacteria housed in the filter to keep the water clean. Whereas other filtration systems work by removing pollutants, the bacteria in this system interact with them to transform them into other substances. Bacterial filters need changing to ensure the continued presence of the bacteria.
- Chemical filtration relies on chemical reactions. The filter medium— often activated charcoal— draws pollutants from the water and acts upon it to change them into harmless compounds, much the same as biological filtration does with its living organisms. Over time, the medium gets exhausted and will need replacement.
- Mechanical filtration acts as a net to trap unwanted particles. A pump draws water to the filter and pushes it through. The filter catches uneaten food, plant detritus, and fish feces and shoots the clean water out and back into the tank. Mechanical filters require regular cleaning.
Don’t risk your fish’s health by depending on the ambient temperature of your home to keep the water correctly heated. Electric tank heaters for tanks of many sizes make heating your aquarium water and maintaining it at a consistent level relatively simple.
Remember that large temperature drops can cause stress in your fish, and significant drops (even to just a few degrees below room temperature) can cause your bleeding heart tetras to die of exposure.
As omnivores, bleeding heart tetras can feed on just about any organic matter, but no matter what diet you choose to feed yours, overfeeding them can cause problems. Too much food in the tank means the fish don’t eat it all, and leftovers will build up in the tank.
This buildup will tax your filters, cloud your tank’s water, and threaten the ongoing health of your tetras. Overfeeding causes clogged filters, and an echo chamber of bad conditions can rapidly materialize.
A good rule of thumb is to feed your fish only what they can eat in about three minutes. That may take some trial and error on your part, but it’s worth the effort to ensure they have enough food and not too much.
Start with a pinch of flakes, then monitor the fish. Increase or decrease the amount of food appropriately.
As for particular foods for these tetras, you can choose fish flakes or food pellets from a pet store, and your fish will be happy and healthy. Beyond those options, live food and plant-based foods work well, too.
- Lettuce bits resemble the plants these tetras might nibble on in the wild and can provide some variety to their diet.
- Bloodworms are widely available.
- Brine shrimp will get snapped up quickly.
- Daphnia, or the water flea, can provide a food source, and they can assist in clearing algae from your tank.
Breeding bleeding heart tetras isn’t difficult, though you will have more success if you can provide a separate breeding tank.
Since the female lays eggs, the ideal breeding environment will have a soft, sandy substrate and a lot of plants. She’ll lay her eggs (between 60 and 120) on the plants, but some will sink to the bottom.
The ideal water temperature and acidity are a little warmer and more acidic than the community tank, but it won’t make the new fish any healthier; it just helps speed up the process.
The purpose of a breeding tank is to prevent the fish from eating the fertilized eggs before they hatch and to protect the baby fish once they begin swimming.
The steps taken in breeding tetras are as follows.
- With male and female in the breeding tank, they will spawn, and the female will begin to swell in size.
- She’ll deposit her eggs in the plants.
- Remove all adult fish in the breeding tank as soon as the eggs come to rest.
- After about three days, the eggs will hatch, and you’ll have lots of tiny fish called fry.
- Fry will feed on their egg sacs until they gain the strength and size to swim freely.
- Once they begin free-swimming, the fry will need fry food— commercially packaged fry food is available, but they can also eat boiled egg yolk (combine it with water and agitate until it liquefies).
- As the fry grow, they will eventually benefit from some brine shrimp before moving to their new home in the community tank.
As with almost any aquarium dweller, tetras are susceptible to the ich parasitic infection, and fin rot is another possible ailment your tetras may face. Any tropical fish disease can waylay them.
If your tetra shows signs of disease, including lethargy or discolored spots, it must be quarantined from the other fish to keep whatever infection is in play from spreading.
You can purchase and administer medications for most tropical fish diseases, but the easiest, safest, and best way to treat any disease is to prevent it before it starts.
You can minimize the risk of detrimental microbial actions by having a clean tank. Keeping your tank’s water at a consistent temperature and pH level will assist in keeping your fish stress-free. A stressed fish is more susceptible to disease than one that lives a happy and safe existence.
While ich is a parasitic infection, fin rot stems from bacteria, and over-the-counter antibiotics will be in order.
Potential Tank Mates
A solo bleeding heart tetra is a lonely and possibly aggressive one. Ideally, you will have four or five other bleeding heart tetras. Beyond those, these fish will live in harmony with other tetra species.
Beyond the tetra family, though, other fish interact harmoniously.
- Danios are about the same size, omnivorous, and enjoy schooling with other breeds.
- Chili rasboras are less than an inch long, live easily with tetras, and provide bright spots of color for your tank.
- Odessa barbs are peaceful and a bit larger than tetra.
- Loaches, like the clown, zebra, and kuhli loach, live in harmony with other fish, including tetras, and bring the added benefit of helping keep the tank clean, as they enjoy swimming along the bottom scavenging.
Non-fish residents of a peaceful and happy tetra tank can include freshwater snails, shrimp, and even crabs.
As long as the fish you put in with your bleeding hearts aren’t so big as to prey on them or so small as to be perceived as prey, most freshwater tropical fish will interact well.
A notable exception, as tetras sometimes enjoy nipping at fins, would be a large-finned fish like an angelfish. If your tetras have enough playmates to keep them on good behavior, fin-nipping may remain uncommon, but an angel’s large, flowing fins might be more temptation than your tetras can resist.