Serpae Tetra: Species Overview

Category: Tetra

Common Names: Serpae Tetra, Jewel Tetra

Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon callistus

Family: Characidae

Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Max Size: 2 Inches

Temperature: 72-80 F

pH: 6.0-8.0

Tank Level: Bottom to Middle

Colors: Tan, Black, Orange

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Moderate

Serpae Tetra with Plants in Background

Serpae Tetra: Species Overview

Serpae tetras are one of the most popular tetras to own for people looking to infuse their tropical fish tank with a bright-colored species.

In addition to their flashy red to olive colors, serpae tetras are beloved for being easy to care for. So, they’re a good option for beginners new to fish keeping.

Nevertheless, you must meet specific tank parameters to keep your serpae tetras in good shape. You’ll also need to ensure you have a group of at least six with them and avoid pairing these semi-aggressive fish with slower-moving tank mates.

Read on to learn the basics of caring for serpae tetras.

Distinguishing Features

The serpae tetra’s bright colors make them a favorite choice among fish keepers. But what adds to this fish’s attractiveness is that they come in several shades of base colors.

Some of the most common colors you’ll find in serpae tetra fish include:

  • Red
  • Reddish-brown
  • Olive-brown
  • Scarlet

That said, the reddish-brown color is one of the most prevalent you’ll encounter.

Regardless of the color, all serpae tetras have a sheen to their scales in the light that make them shimmer as they move throughout an aquarium.

They also have a black spot resembling a comma behind their gills. Interestingly, the spot often fades with age.

The serpae tetra’s square-shaped dorsal fin boasts a black color, although it often has hints of red and white edges upon close inspection.

In contrast, the anal fin is primarily red with black tips.

It’s common to see a change in the serpae tetra’s color. The younger the fish, the higher quality the diet, and the better the environmental conditions, the brighter you can expect their colors to be.

Serpae Tetra over Gravel


Serpae tetras are from the freshwater Amazon basin. That includes the Guaporé and Paraguay River basins and portions of the Amazon in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Since these fish breed well in captivity, most serpae tetras you purchase aren’t straight from the wild.

You can find serpae tetras in slow-moving, murky water. They live in areas with lots of aquatic vegetation to hide from predators that often live beneath them.

As a result, serpae tetras enjoy vegetation that grows from the bottom of the river towards the top and floating plants with roots that hang down into the upper channel of the water.

Serpae tetras rarely visit the substrate where they live. But if they were to do so, they’d find a mixture of mud, rotting vegetation, rocks, and sand.


Serpae tetras are relatively small tropical fish, averaging 1.75 inches long as adults.

These fish sometimes grow up to two inches in rare cases and with the right conditions.

There isn’t a huge difference between male and female size. However, females have a slightly girthier appearance than males, especially when they’re growing eggs.


You can expect to enjoy five to seven years of having your serpae tetra fish in your aquarium. That’s a longer lifespan than many other types of tropical fish.

The best way to increase the chances of your serpae tetras living a long life is by providing them with a spacious, clean tank and a high-quality diet.

If you get lucky, you might even find that your fish live beyond the seven-year mark.


Unlike some tropical fish, telling the difference between males and females can be challenging. The two best ways to determine a female are the following characteristics:

  • Less vibrant color
  • Rounder stomach

The rounder stomach is especially noticeable during spawning season when the female fills with eggs.

As for the color, although males typically have more vibrant colors than females, the fact that the strength of either gender’s color depends on their age and environmental conditions can make it difficult to distinguish them.


Serpae tetras have split personalities because they’re peaceful with other friendly, fast-moving fish and semi-aggressive with slower-moving fish.

These tetras enjoy biting the fins of slow-moving fish with long tails. Betta and angelfish are classic examples of fish you should keep out of their aquarium.

Since serpae tetras gravitate towards the middle of the tank, they do well with fish that enjoy living at the top or bottom of a tank, given that they’ll have little interaction with them.

These fish also do better when you pair them in a group of at least six within their own species. Doing so gives these fish confidence to explore their tank more boldly and have less fear and negative interactions with other fish species.

There’s little difference between male and female serpae tetra temperaments under normal conditions. However, the males may get slightly territorial during the spawning season.

Group of Serpae Tetras over Gravel

Tank Parameters

If you’re still on board with wanting to bring home serpae tetras, you’re in for a treat. But first, you must set up your tank so that you’re ready to receive these active fish.

Minimum Tank Size

The minimum tank size recommendation for serpae tetras is 20 gallons for six fish.

Serpae tetras love to be on the go, so ensuring they have the space to do so is vital for their well-being.

Water Parameters

Below are the water parameters you must maintain for your serpae tetras to remain in good health.


Serpae tetras are from a tropical climate. Therefore, they need a water temperature that ranges from 72°F to 79°F.

Using a tank heater is the best way to ensure the temperature doesn’t drop below this recommendation.


You’ll need to keep your tank water pH between 5.0 to 7.8 for your serpae tetras.

That said, these fish prefer water that errs on the slightly acidic side (below 7.0), as that’s what they typically have in the wild.

You should also offer your fish soft water versus hard water.


Serpae tetras live deep in the Amazon River, away from brackish and salt water. Therefore, you don’t need to add salt to their tank.

The only situation when it’s wise to consider adding small amounts of aquarium salt to a separate tetra’s water is if they’re ill.

Salt has immune system healing properties, so it can be an effective way to help serpae tetras overcome diseases.

Tank Setup

The best part is finally here—making your serpae tetra’s tank look good. Follow the steps below to make the tank attractive for both you and your fish.


Although your serpae tetra won’t frequent the bottom of their tank, it’s wise to lay down a substrate that’s similar to the natural environment.

Dark-colored sand or fine gravel is ideal.

Not only will these dark colors make serpae tetras feel at home, but they also make their colors stand out more than lighter-colored substrates.


Some of the best decorations for serpae tetras include objects that they’d encounter in the wild. So, consider adding one or more of the following items as decor:

  • Caves
  • Rocks
  • Floating driftwood
  • Sunken wood

Just take care not to overdo it. Serpae tetras will enjoy having hiding and playing areas with decorations, but they still need plenty of open space to swim.


Live plants serve two functions in a serpae tetra’s tank: Shelter and food.

Serpae tetras live in densely planted areas in the wild. So, they’ll appreciate having clusters of plants such as:

  • Java moss
  • Myriophyllum
  • Red root floater

We recommend placing these plants around the edges and back of your tank. That way, your tetras will have a safe place to flee to when they wish while still having open space for swimming in the middle of their tank.

Group of Serpae Tetras in Front of Plants


Serpae tetras live in muddy water with plant vegetation that blocks out much of the sunlight. So, they don’t require a bright tank lamp.

Nevertheless, a lamp with a dim setting is helpful for these fish to maintain a circadian rhythm to identify day and nighttime.


All aquariums need a filter since your serpae tetras will live in a closed ecosystem without toxins having a natural exit. Therefore, a high-quality filter will remove visible wastes and the invisible toxins they become.

In addition, filters vary in speed, impacting the water’s movement. Since serpae tetras don’t like a lot of water movement, it’s best to choose a filter with a low water flow setting.


If the temperature in your house always remains between 72°F to 79°F without fail, a heater isn’t necessary for your serpae tetra tank.

But since that isn’t the case for most households, purchasing a header is vital for your fish’s well-being.

We recommend setting your heater to around 76°F to hit the middle of the serpae tetra’s preferred temperature range.


Serpae tetras aren’t picky about what they eat but require nutrition from both plants and animals to stay healthy.

Some of the best foods to feed serpae tetras include:

  • Fish flakes
  • Fish pellets
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp

Ensuring your tetras don’t overeat is vital to improving their lifespan. Therefore, aim to feed them two or three times per day, allowing them to eat as much as they want in three minutes.

After that time, remove all excess food.


The tetra family is notoriously easy to breed, and serpae tetras are no exception.

To breed them, arrange a separate breeding tank with dim lighting, a temperature around 80 degrees, spawning mops or other plants, and soft water with a pH of around 6.0.

Then, start conditioning your fish with high-protein food. When your fish are ready to spawn, the females will become plump with eggs, and the males will develop more vivid colors.

Consider yourself lucky if you get to watch the spawning process. Otherwise, immediately remove the adult fish once you see eggs in the tank.

The parents have no mercy, eating their eggs and baby fry if you give them the opportunity.

The fry hatch quickly, becoming free swimming fish in just a day or two. You should start feeding them fine flakes made for newborn fish at that time.

Common Diseases

No matter how well you care for your serpae tetras, diseases can strike your fish. Below are some of the most common types of illnesses they can acquire and the signs to look for.

Skin Flukes

Skin flukes result from the monogenean trematode flatworm. It’s a fancy term for a parasite that latches onto a serpae tetra’s gills.

They often cause excess mucus production in fish, and you can see the flukes on the skin. Treating your tetra with a medicated bath is often the best remedy for skin flukes.

You may also need to add antibiotics or antifungal medication to the water.


Ich is a prevalent parasite in tropical fish species. It transmits rapidly upon introducing a new, infected fish into your aquarium.

Serpae tetras with ich develop small white spots on their body.

You’ll need to apply anti-ich medicine and turn up the water’s temperature to combat this persistent parasite.

Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease comes in many forms, resulting in a distended stomach. The causes of swim bladder in serpae tetras vary from constipation to overeating.

One of the best treatments for swim bladder disease is putting your tetra on a fast for a few days.

If the problem doesn’t resolve, you’ll need to investigate secondary conditions that might be causing your fish’s bloated abdomen.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a bacteria or fungi that attack your serpae tetra’s fins. Poor water conditions are the most common cause, with fin nipping a close second.

White tips and tears on your tetra’s fins are some of the most common symptoms of fin rot.

Luckily, fin rot is easy to treat. Simply make frequent partial water changes and add an antibiotic or antifungal medication to the water.

By Dubrovsky Alexander [Public Domain]

Potential Tank Mates

After you place a minimum of six tetras together in a single tank, you’re welcome to consider other tank mates.

Some fish of similar size to serpae tetras and who also have peaceful and fast-moving behaviors include:

  • Pictus catfish
  • Celestial pearl
  • Bloodfin tetra
  • Swordtail fish

Keep in mind that since tetras are curious creatures that like to pick on slow-moving creatures, they often don’t do well with aquarium snails.