Golden Tetra (Hemigrammus Rodwayi) – Species Profile & Care Guide

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If you’re a tetra lover, this species variation will be right up your alley. If you’re not familiar with the gold tetra, allow me to make the introductions. This subspecies is a rather peculiar one since it doesn’t live up to its name. Literally.

In other words, the golden tetra is not golden at all but silver instead. You can also encounter the fish in colors like black, yellow, and various grey nuances.

But rarely will you ever encounter gold, if ever. That’s because the ‘gold’ part in the fish’s name is the result of a confusion

The fish’s gold coloring is the result of its immune system reacting to the presence of the trematode parasite. This organism is responsible for infecting the fish’s skin and requires a host to complete its life cycle.

The fish’s immune system will react to the infection by creating an excess of guanine, designed to counter the parasite.

So, the researchers who first observed the gold tetra wrongfully thought they were witnessing a new species. We now know they were wrong.

So, now that you know why the golden tetra isn’t actually golden let’s discuss its basic requirements.

Golden Tetra Requirements

As a future golden tetra owner, you need at least a 20-gallon tank to satisfy the fish’s space requirements. This may sound a bit excessive, knowing that the golden tetra doesn’t grow larger than 1.5 inches.

It actually makes for one of the smallest tank fish you can find.

However, the minimum requirement of 20 gallons makes sense if you consider the following:

  • Schooling behavior – The golden tetra enjoys living in a larger group, preferably at least 6 specimens. These are highly social creatures that find comfort in the presence of its own species, so you need sufficient space for all of them. Golden tetras don’t do too well in overcrowded environments since it can stress them out. A 20-gallon environment is a good start for a basic golden tetra school since it allows the fish a close-to-home comfort.
  • The need for aquascaping – I believe that most tank fish require an aquascaped tank filled with rocks, plants, driftwood, and other elements designed to keep them safe and comfy. The same goes with the golden tetra. These fish are rather shy, so they need various hiding areas to regain their composure. This is especially true if tetras live in a community setup, where occasional spicy interactions with other fish are bound to happen. Add some driftwood to their setting and some plants, and they will be at home.
  • Think in perspective – A larger tank is always preferable. Maybe you plan on increasing your tetra population or maybe creating a community aquarium later down the line. In that case, you will thank yourself for having invested in a larger tank.

So, while the minimum tank requirement is 20 gallons, you can always go bigger, depending on your goals.

– Water Parameters

Tetras feel most comfortable at water temperatures around 77 to 82 F and a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. They are manageable in terms of water parameters, but there’s a catch.

These fish require clean and fresh waters to remain healthy and happy. A lot of people recommend a 50% water change every other week, but I would advise against that.

Instead, stick to a 20% water change weekly. Smaller and more frequent tank water changes are always preferable to larger, rarer ones.

They keep the environment stable without disturbing the tank’s biofilm in the process.

– Substrate

While the golden tetra isn’t too picky about it, the fish does prefer sand over anything else. Sand best mimics their natural setup, so it will make the tetras feel more comfortable and relaxed in their environment.

Naturally, you can use other types of substrates as well to see how your tetras react. If they feel comfortable and don’t seem bothered by other options, you’re fine.

That being said, I recommend sand whenever possible for several reasons:

  • Easier to clean – There’s no denying that a sand substrate is preferable from this perspective. Sand contains a lot of small particles compressed together which will keep the fish waste, plant matter, and food residues on top. This makes it easier to clean them, improving the tank’s hygiene and keeping the water clean.
  • Greater aquascaping value – It’s undeniable that sand looks better than most other substrates simply due to it being natural for most tank fish. You can get it in different colors and can even mix it with various other elements like rocks, crushed corals, shells, etc. Sand is great at stabilizing the various elements you plan on adding to the tank.
  • Allows for rooted plants – Technically, you can have rooted plants without a sand substrate, but the impact won’t be the same. Sand allows you to spread out the plants more evenly and provide them with a good anchor.

– Vegetation

Tetras won’t bother your plants, so feel free to go wild with it. Some people keep tetras in tanks with no plants, but I disagree.

Plants are necessary to any tetra setting since they provide the fish with natural hiding areas and keep their habitat shaded and comfortable.

Some of the best plant options I would recommend are Ludwigia Repens, java fern, Anubias, Christmas Moss, and Cryptocoryne wendtii.

Feel free to experiment with other plant options as well, but I would say that these ones are the most fitting for your tetras. They also look great, so they will greatly enrich the environment and the tank’s esthetic value.

– Equipment

The filter is the most important part of the whole system. The golden tetra requires clean and fresh waters to remain healthy in the long run.

Otherwise, it may experience stress due to poor water conditions and soon develop health problems along the way. The filter is that much more important in small tanks, which can get dirty fast.

Just make sure that the filtration system isn’t too excessive. While tetras do enjoy some water flow, more powerful currents will cause them discomfort and stress them out.

The more powerful water flow may also damage the plants and blow up sand particles, actually affecting the water quality.

The heater is another crucial addition. The golden tetra prefers higher water temperatures, closer to 80 °F. So, you need a heater to keep water temperature stable and preserve your fish’s comfort.

Frequent fluctuations in water temperature will affect your fish eventually, lowering its immune system and causing prolonged stress.

In the long run, unstable water temperatures are a death sentence for any tank fish.

Golden Tetra Feeding and Diet

The tetra is an omnivorous fish, so it will eat whatever’s available, so long as it fits its diet. Greens and animal protein are necessary to keep the fish healthy and colorful in the long run.

When it comes to feeding your tetra, consider the following:

  • Small and frequent meals – Tetras won’t eat too much in one go. After all, they are rather tiny and will get full fast. Make sure you feed them smaller portions up to 3 times per day, not to stress their digestive system too much.
  • Diversity is a strength – Tetras require a varied diet to remain healthy. Consider providing them with veggies, spirulina, brine shrimp, fish meal, and even food supplements to keep them healthy. A diverse and fulfilling diet will keep them healthy over the years, prolong their lifespan, and boost their colors considerably.
  • Slow eaters – Despite looking like they’re small and energetic, tetras are actually quite slow eaters. They like to take their time, which isn’t quite ideal when living in a community setup. Other fish will out-eat them with ease, causing the tetras to starve. You should always consider this point when housing tetras with other fish species known to eat fast.
  • Frequent maintenance is required – Tetras are small and can’t eat too much at once. So, it’s only natural for them to produce a lot of food residues daily. I recommend cleaning those up as often as necessary. Preferably every day, especially if you have a 20-gallon tank. The accumulated food residues will decay and increase the ammonia and nitrites fast. You should be able to clean these with relative ease, especially if you have a sand substrate.

Your tetras’ diet will define the fish’s wellbeing over the years.

Golden Tetras Tank Mates

Fortunately, golden tetras are peaceful and docile and will get along with any fish, with a few notable exceptions.

Naturally, there are some fish that can’t go in your tetras’ tank.

These include:

  • Natural predators – This pretty much goes without saying. It’s never a good idea to pair large predators with the small tetras for obvious reasons. Unless, of course, you have feeder tetras, but that’s a different story. In essence, tetras’ tank mates should be equally peaceful and calm and, preferably, of similar size.
  • Territorial species – Even if the fish show no interest in eating your tetras, they may still be unfit as tank mates due to their foul temperament. Some fish species are exceedingly aggressive and territorial and could stress your tetras in the process. You can, technically, reduce the likelihood of their violent interactions by providing the fish with more hiding areas and more space. But, in my opinion, it’s not worth the risk.
  • Fast swimmers – Tetras tend to be lazier when it comes to moving around their environment. They don’t put out too much energy when swimming or eating, so you should pair them with similarly-tempered fish. Otherwise, the more energetic fish will stress them out. They will also eat faster, causing the tetras to starve as a result.

Based on these factors, the most compatible tank mates for tetras include rasboras, danios, Corydoras, barbs, dwarf cichlids, and others.

Even if they are compatible, I recommend monitoring your fish dynamics regularly. The situation is never simple in a community setup, and things can quickly go off charts.

Golden Tetra Diseases and Treatments

Tetras are generally vulnerable to skin parasites and ich. The good news is that these conditions can be prevented by keeping the water clean and ensuring a balanced diet.

Fish stress is another contributing factor to fish experiencing weaker immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to diseases and infections.

Skin parasites like flukes might not seem too dangerous, but they are. Not only will these organisms interfere with the fish’s ability to breathe and swim properly, but they will also leave them vulnerable to infections.

The worms latch onto the fish’s skin via hook-like appendices, which will cause surface injuries prone to bacterial infections.

So, even the most innocuous conditions can quickly degenerate into life-threatening problems when ignored.

For the most part, skin parasites are relatively easy to treat. You can add some salt to the aquarium to force them to detach or rely on medication to destroy them completely.

I recommend treating your tetras in a hospital tank so that the medication doesn’t affect the main tank’s biofilm.

However, I would say that prevention is where it’s at.

Consider the following strategies to prevent your tetras from experiencing any health problems in the long run:

  • Keep water parameters stable – Weekly partial water changes, regular tank maintenance, and installing a reliable filtration system. These are all necessary steps to keep the tank water clean and fresh around the clock. Poor water conditions are the core cause of fish disease, no matter the species.
  • Prevent overfeeding – Overfeeding does 2 things: it creates food residues decaying on the substrate and it causes fish to produce more waste. It can also constipate them, which will lead to a handful of other problems long-term. Always feed your tetras small portions, 2-3 times per day, and only what they can eat in 2 minutes max. This will minimize the amount of food residues and keep your fish full and healthy. Also, consider removing excess food residues if any are visible after feeding.
  • Quarantine newcomers – Most parasites or various contagious diseases come in the tank from outside. The most common source is infected newcomer fish purchased from fish shops or, even worse, caught in the wild. To prevent this problem, always quarantine the new fish for 2 weeks before introducing them into the tank. With regards to those caught in the wild, don’t even have them into the equation. They are not safe to be introduced in any tank.
  • Ensure early treatment – If you suspect your tetra to be sick, quarantine the fish and ensure adequate treatment before the condition aggravates. It’s essential to do so, since most fish disorders are deadly in late stages.

The last point is of particular importance, although it can be a bit tricky to apply. The goal here is to identify these conditions in their early phases, which comes down to assessing your fish’s behavior daily.

Some common signs warning that your fish is experiencing issues include:

  • Gasping for air and swimming close to the water’s surface
  • Resting on the substrate
  • Displaying unusually low energy levels
  • Not eating or having low appetite
  • Showing discoloration or changes in color
  • Displaying body lesions, etc.

These signs are often indicators of a more serious underlying health problem that needs addressing fast. Upon observing any of these signs, quarantine your fish, just to be sure.

This will allow you to identify the problem and apply the adequate treatment while containing the disorder’s spread.

How do Gold Tetra Breed?

Fortunately, tetras will mate and breed in captivity with the same ease they do in the wild. They only need each other and nature will do the rest.

When it comes to breeding tetras, however, there are some things to consider.

These include:

  • The male-to-female ratio – Every tetra male should have at least 3 females around. So, for a group of 6 tetras, only 2 should be males. Limiting the number of males is limiting male violence during the mating phase. So long as there are enough females for everyone, tetra males will remain calm and cool during mating.
  • Ensure adequate conditions – Tetras need a planted habitat to breed. The female will lay the eggs on or around plants or the substrate. The plants will also make the female feel more comfortable, since the breeding phase will make it more short-tempered and prone to fish stress.
  • Watch water quality and temperature – You might want to increase the water temperature by a few degrees, preferably around 80-82 F. This will signal tetras that the mating season is upon them and set them in the right mood.

When it comes to handling the fry, you have several key areas to focus on:

  • Consider a breeding tank – If you want to keep the fry and multiply your tetras, a breeding tank is a must. This allows you to remove the adult fry after they have mated and the eggs have been fertilized. Doing so will protect the fry from the larger fish that could eat them if unattended. Your tetra fry should remain in the nursing tank for 3-4 weeks until they are large enough for the adult tetras to no longer view them as food.
  • Keep the lighting low – The fry are very sensitive to light, so you should keep them in a darker tank for them to grow properly.
  • Adequate feeding – The tetra fry are too small to eat normal fish food. You will need to feed the tetra fry infusoria for them to get the proper nutrition during their first weeks of life.

How Big do Golden Tetra Get?

The golden tetra will only grow up to 1.5 inches, although some may get slightly bigger than that. It all depends on the fish’s genetics, diet, water conditions, and tank mates.

You can help your tetra grow larger by tweaking all those aspects, just don’t expect any wonders.

This is a small fish and will remain so no matter what you do.

How Long do Golden Tetra Live?

The golden tetra will live around 3 to 4 years in captivity. This is quite impressive for a fish this size, since smaller fish tend to live shorter lives.

Are Golden Tetras Aggressive?

No, golden tetras are not aggressive. In fact, they are probably the most peaceful tank fish you can find. This comes quite in handy at times since it allows you to form community tanks around tetras with ease.

The key thing here is to provide them with proper water conditions and a fitting layout with plenty of hiding areas.

These will keep your tetra fish safe and comfortable in case you’ve housed them with more inquisitive fish species.

Are Golden Tetras Good for Beginners?

I would advise against getting a shoal of tetras as a beginner. Not because the fish are particularly difficult to keep, but because they are more sensitive to changes in water parameters.

So, you’ll need to allocate more time to supervising your fish and monitor their water quality compared to other fish.

However, you can make it work with a bit of dedication and know-how.


Golden tetras may not be actually golden, but they make up for it via their seductive personalities.

They are relatively easy to keep and will breed with ease in captivity, provided you ensure optimal conditions.

Clean their habitat regularly, feed them a varied diet, and your tetras will thrive over years to come.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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