Red Velvet: Care Instructions

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

This breed is not only beautiful but also easy to keep. This makes them very beginner-friendly or perfect for an aquarist looking for something low-maintenance.

This guide will teach you the basics of Serpae Tetra care. We'll cover things like tank mates, longevity, diet, size, reproduction, and more!

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Species Summary

Colorful and extremely active, the Serpae Tetra is the fish that will add a splash of life to your tank. These fish have become quite popular among aquarists due to their playful attitude and good looks.

Scientific name is Hyphessobrycon eques This fish has many names. They are often called Jewel Tetra or Callistus Tetra in the aquarium trade. Whatever you choose to call them, there's no denying their beauty.

A Serpae Tetra swimming near the surface of the water nearing feeding time

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

Usually, they can be found in slow-moving bodies of water. In the murky waters of their natural habitat, they spend most of their time sheltering from predators below. However, in a captive tank, they are the stars of the show.


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

This can be influenced by common factors. Poor water conditions, low-light environments, and a poor diet can shorten the lifespan of the Serpae Tetra significantly.

Note: They can also exceed this expected lifespan. Some of the owners who have given them great care have seen them pass the 7 year mark!


Serpae Tetras are part of the Characin family. So they have familiar characteristics like some other types of tetra. They are relatively flat but have a tall and trapezoidal frame.

The most striking visual feature of the Serpae Tetra is their coloration. Most specimens are reddish brown. The base color can vary quite a bit with this species.

Some are more olive brown while others are bright red. Either way, there is one thing in common that all these fish have in common. Their scales have a shiny finish that sparkles in the light. It creates a glow like a jewel that you cannot miss.

In addition to the base color, the Serpae Tetra also have a number of distinct patterns on their body. The most noticeable are the comma-shaped black spots on their sides. Located just behind their gills, this spot can fluctuate in vibrancy. Some specimens even disappear completely as they age.

Close-up of Serpae Tetra

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

This unique color pattern continues on the anus. However, instead of being covered in black, it is mostly red with black tips. A pale white spot on the head is also quite common, making these fish look almost hand-painted in your tank.

The interesting thing about Serpae Tetras is that their color can change many times throughout their life. For the most part, the primary colors remain unchanged. However, liveliness will improve or decline based on their diet and environment.

There is not much difference between men and women. Usually, the females are less active than their males. They can also be a bit more rounded (especially true around spawning time).


The typical Serpae Tetra size when fully grown is about 1.75 inches in length. These are not very large fish!

Larger specimens can reach the full size of 2 inches, but this is quite rare (especially in captivity). If you buy fish from a reputable seller it is less likely that they will reach their maximum size.

Serpae Tetra Care

Taking care of Serpae Tetra is often considered one of the easier jobs in a freshwater aquarium. The water conditions they need are quite manageable and they 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 instructions. Like any fish, Serpae Tetras have certain conditions that you need to provide. Doing so will help fish reach their full potential while reducing the risk of health-related illnesses.

Tank size

Thanks to their small size, Serpae Tetras do not need the large tanks that most tropical fish require. Some aquarists have seen great success keeping small groups in small 10-gallon tanks.

However, we recommend starting with a tank size of 20 gallons for best results.

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Although they may be small, Serpae Tetras are big swimmers. They need plenty of space to explore. A larger 20-gallon tank that provides extra space is appreciated.

Plus, it allows you to keep a larger group together, which is always a priority (more on that later).

Water parameters

As we mentioned earlier, Serpae Tetra can be found in slow moving bodies of water. Usually, those habitats are quiet, dark and murky. They are filled with black water, which gives the fish more opportunity to hide from predators.

Reproducing that type of environment is very important if you want to keep your fish healthy. You don't have to go as far as creating real black water with a murky tint, but you can do your part to mimic the rest of the water conditions.

Serpae Tetra's natural environment is warm, soft and slightly acidic. We recommend setting up your tank ahead of time and giving it plenty of time to process. These fish are quite sensitive to large fluctuations in water conditions.

Giving your tank plenty of time to settle will ensure that your fish can get used to their new habitat without any problems. Here are some basic parameter guidelines to follow for Serpae Tetras:

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

Set up the tank

Providing the right underwater landscape is just as important as closely monitoring water conditions. The key to keeping any fish happy is to create a cozy habitat that closely resembles their environment in the wild.

The Amazon basin is teeming with life. While you can't always see what's going on at the surface due to the fast flowing water, those bodies of water have very dense vegetation.

We recommend starting with a dark sand background.

Black or dark gray sand recreates muddy ponds and rivers. Typically, the waters of the Amazon Basin have a layer of finely decomposed vegetation on the bottom. Dark sand will imitate that.

Hyphessobrycon swims along the surface

Next, combine multiple live plants in the tank.

Plants are important to Serpae Tetras. Not only do they often snack on trees, but they also provide shelter. In the wild, these fish are often seen congregating around tree stumps.

They will do the same in your tank. Plants like Java Moss and Myriophyllum are good choices. These plants provide excellent shelter while still allowing fish to move through the leaves.

Arrange these plants in dense clusters around the edges of the tank. You don't want to fill the middle of the aquarium with too many plants.

This is because Serpae Tetras need some room to swim. Adding too many plants to the tank can be difficult for you.

Mix and match plants with other natural forms of decoration. Things like driftwood and boulders are all good items to provide shelter.

Moving on to equipment, Serpae Tetras aren't too demanding when it comes to filtration. Any standard box filter system or back-mounted device will suffice. As long as it can effectively cycle the lake, it should work fine.

The only thing to be wary of is the force of the return tube. Serpae Tetras like slow moving waters, so make sure it's not too strong. If it is on the stronger side, you can place a tree or ornament in front of the pipe to stop the flow.

Note: Another important thing to consider is lighting. The murky waters of the Amazon basin don't let in too much light, so Serpae Tetras like things to be subdued.

Luckily, this fish isn't too picky, as long as you have plenty of plants to block out light throughout the day.

Possibility of disease

We are pleased to announce that Serpae Tetras do not have any species-specific diseases that you must watch out for. That said, these fish are susceptible to all the common freshwater diseases.

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

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

Food & Diet

Serpae Tetras are omnivores in the wild. In the wild, they often feed on plants and insect larvae that float on the water's surface. In captivity, they are content with whatever you have to offer.

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You can choose to feed your fish a regular diet of high quality flakes or pellets. This can be the foundation of their diet.

You should also include some protein-rich foods (this will help balance things out). An occasional snack of bloodworms, brine shrimp, and other live or frozen proteins is also fine.

Behavior & Temperament

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

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

Two Serpae Tetras swimming fast around the aquarium

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

Usually, they stick to the middle and bottom of the aquarium. Occasionally they will swim to the surface (usually during feeding).

These fish exhibit some unique swimming patterns. Instead of swimming gracefully in their habitat, they will swim in a jerky rhythm. They will swim in short bursts before resting and starting again.

This can prove to be problematic in some cases. Serpae Tetras have been known to exhibit some mild aggression towards slow movement with long fins. They can squeeze the fins of angelfish or bettas, so be careful.

Serpae Tetra Tank Mates

Serpae Tetras' best mates are other Serpae Tetras. We recommend raising a group of 5 to 7. These fish can fight with each other, but it's usually no good cause for concern.

They tend to develop a dissecting order in groups and will be somewhat aggressive towards weaker ones. Follow the group and eliminate any enemies that are harmful or difficult to eat other fish.

In addition to other Serpae Tetras, these fish are compatible with other agile peaceful fish. It is best to avoid slow-growing fish that may be targets for pecking. You should also avoid larger aggressive species that may try to eat your Serpae Tetras.

Here are some good mates to consider:

  • Danios (our favorite is the Celestial Pearl)
  • Catfish Pictus
  • Bolivian Ram Cichlid
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Cardinal Tetra
  • Cory Catfish
  • Tetra black dress
  • Catfish
  • Blood Tetrafin
  • Swordtails

Note: Although some aquarists have had success keeping freshwater snails as tank mates with Serpae Tetras, we do not recommend it. It doesn't work most of the time.


Breeding Serpae Tetras is an easy process. However, it must be done in a separate tank. This species has no parenting instincts at all and will be a danger to your fry almost immediately.

Create a separate spawn tank decorated similarly to the main tank. Combine multiple plants and consider using a mop. Serpae Tetras are the egg layer that will disperse their eggs throughout the environment.

The vegetation is thick and the spawning moths will catch the eggs and protect them. For water conditions, you can keep things on the softer side. The pH balance should be around 6.0. Warmer water up to 80 degrees can be used to trigger the hybridization process.

Before you transfer your adult Serpae Tetras to the spawning tank, feed them some protein-rich snacks.

Live and frozen foods will help promote reproduction. As your pups get plumper, you'll know it's time to start breeding.

The males will chase the females around, causing her to scatter her eggs all over the tank. The males will then fertilize those eggs. Hundreds of eggs can be laid at once.

You should monitor the process and remove the adults as soon as you are done. They tend to sample and eat eggs very quickly.

After about 2 days, the eggs will hatch. The fry will eat their egg sacs and grow up a bit before swimming freely. At that point, you can offer brine shrimp and baby food.

Keep your fry in a separate tank until they are old enough to eat dry flakes and forage on their own.


Serpae Tetras are a great species to keep in freshwater tanks. Ordinary and simple.

Honest. they're probably one of our favorite Tetras at the moment (and that's saying something). With their beauty and low maintenance nature, they are suitable for everyone.

See more: Snowball Pleco Care: Care Guide

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