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Congo Tetras: Complete Care Guide (Diet, Tank & More)

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With their unique appearance, the Congo tetra is bound to make anyone stop and look at your aquarium. They are peaceful fish that tend to do well in community tanks.

Keep reading to learn more about everything from the Congo tetras’ appearance, and feeding habits, to their aquarium needs and more!

Congo Tetra Care Guide

Scientific NamePhenacogrammus interruptus
Common NameCongo Tetra
Size3 to 3.5 inches
Minimum Tank Size20 Gallons

Congo tetras have a unique appearance with beautiful fins that make the a great addition to any freshwater aquarium. They are peaceful fish that do well in a community tank but should not be housed with fin-nippers. They need at least a 20-gallon tank and reach up to 3.5 inches long.

Appearance & Temperament


Congo tetras have such a unique appearance that they stand out in any environment. 

Their bodies are essentially long and flat, with a taller midsection. This gives them a compressed appearance. 

Males are slightly larger than females and have a rounding appearance, especially during breeding times.

Their iridescently beautiful fins are part of the reason they are so popular in the aquarium trade. 

Their fins are semi-transparent with cool hues accenting the fins. The males will have more of a purple hue to their fins. These fins are surprisingly rather large for their size.

Congo tetra yellow

Congo tetras’ bodies also have an iridescent finish that makes them have a rainbow appearance depending on the lighting reflecting on their bodies. 

Depending on the light there may be shades of turquoise, gold, violet, and blue on their bodies. 

There is a prominent stripe that runs through their body from head to tail in the midsection. Surrounding this stripe are the colors mentioned previously.

Lifespan and Size

On average the congo tetra will only live 3 to 5 years. Providing optimal care is the best way to maximize their lifespan. 

Congo tetras are on the smaller side of the spectrum, as they will grow between 3 to 3.5 inches in captivity. However, they are larger than most other tetra species.

In the wild congo, tetras can grow much larger than in captivity. In the wild, they will grow up to 4.5 inches in length.

Temperament and Behavior

Congo tetras are very peaceful freshwater fish, although they can be quite timid. They can be especially skittish, sound intense activities as well as aggressive tank mates. 

When this happens they will spend most of their time in hiding. With the appropriate tank mates, this can be completely avoided.

They are schooling fish that love to be part of larger groups. The larger the group they are a part of the more active they are, as well as less stressed. 

This is because as a larger group, they will spend most of their time together and swimming with each other.

Congo tetras are typically found in the middle to upper levels of the water, it is not common for them to be seen near the bottom of a tank. 

On occasion, they may do this in order to nip at plant leaves. This is a sign of being underfed. Providing more food will more than likely end the behavior.

Diet and Feeding

Congo tetras are omnivorous fish that in the wild will eat anything they can find. In the wild, they will eat agar, insect larvae, and plants. 

Recreating this balanced diet in captivity is important to their health as will any other species. 

Thankfully as they eat almost anything in the wild they can, providing them with this diet in captivity is fairly easy to accomplish.

This diet should be well-balanced and have some variety as well. A high-quality flake or omnivore pellet will serve as an excellent base for their diet. 

A few times a week they should be given vegetables, and live or frozen foods for variation. 

Great examples of live or frozen food to feed your congo tetra are daphnia, bloodworms, tubifex, and brine shrimp.  

Also, small pieces of vegetables should be provided to give the congo tetra a boost of vitamins. 

As the flakes or pellets serve as the constant in their diet, the live foods and vegetables will be a nutrient-rich treat for them to enjoy. 

To avoid overfeeding congo tetras it is best to feed them smaller portions multiple times a day. 

Smaller portions given about three times a day are better for their digestion. Giving larger meals can cause digestion problems. 

Ensure to only feed them what they can fully consume within two minutes to avoid overfeeding. 

After the feeding time is over remove any uneaten food from the bottom of the tank to keep it cleaner. 

Aquarium Setup & Water Conditions

The very minimum tank size for congo tetras is 20 gallons, although a 30-gallon tank would be more suitable for larger schools. 

This is because congo tetras need a lot of open space in their tank. 

As with other freshwater species, it is always best to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible. 

This is to ensure your fish are stress-free and thrive. When replicating any natural habitat the parameters of the water are just as important as the tank environment itself.

It is important to maintain the parameters of a congo tetra tank. Although they are hardy fish they are very sensitive to poor water quality. 

They are also sensitive to unfamiliar bacteria present in the water. Because of this, it is best to maintain stable parameters for their tank.

Ideal water parameters for congo tetras:

  • Water Temperature: 73°F to 82°F
  • pH Levels: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Water Hardness: 3 to 18 dGH

Although they do have a generous range for water parameters it is always best to keep them stable. 

Because of this, it is recommended to consistently test and check your water parameters to ensure stability. 

This will help prevent significant changes in levels that can lead to stress or diseases.

On the bottom of the tank, it is best to opt for a sand substrate to mimic their natural habitat. 

If choosing dark sand this will help recreate the muddy river beds they are from. 

Although they will barely travel to the bottom of the tank it is always best to provide familiar environments.

Because their natural habitat is full of different plants it is best to add plenty to your tank. 

This is because congo tetras feel most comfortable when they are surrounded by plenty of vegetation. 

Floating plants are great for congo tetras such as frogbit. 

These floating plants will provide not only a place for your congo tetras to hide but will also offer a spot where they can retreat from the aquarium lighting. 

When planting a tank for most species it is best to always make sure you leave enough open room. 

This open space is very important for the congo tetra as they require more open space for free movement. 

To ensure this it is recommended to place the plants around the tank in clumps rather than multiple areas of dense vegetation.

Ideal Congo Tetra Tank Mates

As previously mentioned congo tetras are schooling fish that need to be a part of a group. 

This group should contain no less than 6 congo tetras. However, the more the merrier to make these little guys even happier! 

Congo tetras are very peaceful and would be a great addition to a community tank. Tank mates for congo tetras should also be peaceful and similar in size to the congo tetra. 

Examples of ideal tank mates for congo tetras:

  • Ember Tetras
  • Swordtail Fish
  • Rainbowfish
  • Corydoras
  • Neon Tetra
  • Chili Rasboras
  • Elephant Nose Fish
  • Platies
  • Guppies
  • Rummy Nose Tetras
  • Celestial Pearl Danio
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Shrimp
  • Plecos
  • Snails
  • Loaches

Tank mates that are aggressive and territorial should be avoided as tank mates. This is not only to prevent injury to the congo tetra but to also reduce stress. 

When housed with tank mates with aggressive tendencies they will opt to spend their days hiding for safety. 

Also aside from aggressive tank mates, fin nippers should also be avoided, to protect their long-flowing fins.

Examples of tank mates to avoid for congo tetras:

  • Oscars
  • Betta Fish
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Jaguar Cichlids
  • Serpae Tetras
  • Goldfish
  • Angelfish
  • Barbs

Breeding Congo Tetras

Breeding congo tetras in a home aquarium can be more tricky as they require certain conditions in order to initiate the spawning process. 

To start a separate breeding tank needs to be set up to encourage breeding. 

This breeding tank should be at least 20 gallons and should be established and cycled through before adding in the breeding congo tetras. 

Initially, for the breeding tank, you will want to have it at the same parameters as their home tank. 

After fish are in this breeding tank the temperature should be slowly adjusted to about 77 F.

The breeding tank should have plenty of plants around the tank. Plants such as artificial grass and moss. 

These will serve as a place for the female to lay her eggs. This tank should also be spacious and brightly lit. 

It is best to choose the brightest-colored males for breeding as the brighter colors will attract the females’ attention to the male for breeding. 

A pair may already be bonded prior to choosing and if a bonded pair is present they should be used to increase chances at breeding. 

Before spawning it is always best to condition the mating pair with a protein-rich diet for up to two weeks. 

When the mating pair are ready they can be added to the breeding tank for spawning. 

Some recommend dimming or shutting the life after the water parameters have been adjusted for breeding. 

The lower lights may also encourage spawning to occur after the tank and adults are conditioned. 

The male will initiate the breeding process as he will be seen dancing for the female. 

If the male attracts the attention of the female she will then go to the moss at the bottom of the tank with the male following to breed.

The female congo tetra can produce up to 500 eggs at once. As the female lays her eggs they will fall into the moss. 

This moss is going to act as protection for the eggs from the parent fish. This is because the congo tetras are known for eating their eggs after they are laid.

Once the breeding process is done and the female has laid all of her eggs. It is best to remove the parent fish to protect the eggs from them. 

The eggs will take about 6 to 7 days after being laid to hatch. At that point, the fry is free swimming and can be fed infusoria for the first few days. 

After the initial few days, the fry can start being fed baby brine shrimp. After about two weeks they can start being fed powdered dried foods and begin the diet of the adult congo tetras. 

When the congo tetras are about 3 to 4 months they can be gendered and at about 6 months they are their full adult size and maturity and can also start being bred at this time.

Fish Species Origin & Natural Habitat

Congo fish became popular in the fish trade shortly after they were discovered in 1949. 

Because of difficulties with breeding, it was only in the 1970s that this fish became more accessible to hobbyists across the world.

They received their name Congo tetra due to the fact they are endemic to the Congo River basin. 

They can be found in small marshes, ponds, and streams in this basin. These warm waters have a bed of sand at the bottom with a wide variety of water plants.