Congo Tetra Care Sheet & Tank Set Up Guide For Beginners

Congo Tetras are beautiful and fun to watch, thanks mainly to their distinctive rainbow hue and long tail fin.

They’d make an excellent addition to your community tank due to their peaceful nature and ease of care.

So in this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully take care of Congo Tetras.

Congo Tetra Appearance & Origin

congo tetra close up

The Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus) species originate from Africa, specifically around the Congo River Basin in Zaire. They like to swim in streams, marshes, pools, and tributaries, as long as the water is acidic and shaded.

Congo Tetras can be as large as 4.5 inches in their natural habitat. However, farm-grown ones will usually have a length of 3-3.5 inches. 

The bodies of Congo Tetras are long and flat. They also have large scales, but what really makes this species unique is the rainbow luminescence that shows up on their bodies in certain lighting conditions, with blue dominating their heads and bellies. There’s also a distinctive red and gold hue in the middle of their bodies. 

Congo Tetra Care Stats Overview

  • Common Name: Congo Tetra
  • Tank size: 30 gallons min.
  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.5
  • kH: 3 to 18 dGH
  • Living zone: Congo River Basin
  • Temperament: Peaceful and schooling
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Scientific Classifications

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Alestidae
  • Genus: Phenacogrammus
  • Species: P. interruptus


Congo Tetras may live anywhere from 3 years all the way up to 5 years. This is considered the average lifespan of most fish species kept in aquariums. Several factors come into play, like how well you feed your Congo Tetras, the way you care for them, and whether the environment is suitable for them. 

Sexual Dimorphism: Size, Color, & Markings

The primary difference between male and female Congo Tetras is that males tend to have longer fins with a white-edged violet color. Males are also noticeably bigger than females and have brighter colors.

Females, on the other hand, are predominantly golden, with a silverish green shade.

Congo Tetra Care & Tank Set-Up

congo tetra planted aquarium set up

Here’s how you can set up a water tank to accommodate your Congo Tetras:

Tank Size For Congo Tetra

As a general rule of thumb, you need a minimum tank size of 30 gallons for your Congo Tetras. Some people go as low as 20 gallons, but we don’t recommend that. Congo Tetras like to live in large communities, which is why anything lower than 30 gallons may not be sufficient.

How Many Congo Tetra Can Be Kept Together?

You can keep as many Congo Tetras together as you want, but you’ll need larger tanks for larger communities. The Congo Tetra is a schooling species, meaning that they like to swim around in clusters. It’s recommended that you don’t keep any less than 6 Congo Tetras together. 

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen cycle is a common pitfall that most beginners have no idea about despite its importance. It ensures that the aquarium’s ecosystem is safe for fish to live in. Skipping the nitrogen cycle is one of the most common destroyers of fish communities.

The nitrogen cycle happens in nature to make the waters safe for fish to live in, and you need to replicate it in your fish tank if you want your Congo Tetras to live a long, healthy life.

Basically, the nitrogen cycle gets rid of the harmful byproducts of waste that your fish produces. Whenever your fish releases waste, ammonia spreads throughout the tank, which is toxic to fish. 

To cycle your tank, you need to introduce ammonia to the waters by adding fish waste or uneaten fish food. The ammonia will build up until it reaches peak levels, then slowly decline when the bacteria that eat it start to form. 

As the ammonia levels decrease, nitrate will be produced, turning ammonia into nitrites. Just like in the first step of cycling your tank, nitrites will accumulate, and bacteria will start to form, turning the nitrites back to nitrates. 

At this point, you need to monitor the tank until the ammonia and nitrate levels reach 0ppm. To maintain that, you need to make partial water changes 2-4 times per month. 

For more information about the nitrogen cycle and its importance, check out this guide.

Water Parameters

Contrary to popular belief, fish communities don’t need very specific water parameters to thrive. What really matters here is to maintain stable water conditions. Severe fluctuations in water parameters can be lethal to your fish, which is why you need to constantly measure them to ensure that they’re stable. 

Here’s a quick overview of the acceptable water parameter ranges for Congo Tetras:

  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 3 to 18 dGH

There are many ways to lower the water’s pH values. For instance, you can add a catappa leaf to your aquarium. Driftwood would get the job done, too. Also, consider opting for reverse osmosis, which is essentially a way to purify the water from impurities, which will ultimately reduce the water’s acidity. 

Tank Set-Up

Setting up your tank for your Congo Tetras doesn’t require any special equipment. You’ll need the basic aquascaping tools that include straight and curved tweezers and scissors, in addition to a spatula. You’ll also need some tools to keep track of the water parameters, like a pH meter.

In their natural habitat, Congo Tetras are drawn to dark substrates. You can use sand, mud, and silt as substrates, as long as they’re dark in color.

Moreover, Congo Tetras like to nip on carpeting plants, so make sure that you include hard plants that can withstand some damage. Not only will they make your Congo Tetras happier, but they’ll also add a touch of beauty to your aquarium. Not to mention, they’ll make the perfect hiding spots for your Congo Tetras when they feel scared. 

As for the water, Congo Tetras prefer still, soft waters, so make sure that the water flow is as low as possible. They love to mingle in the water a lot, so adding a few decorations would make things more fun for them. You can use driftwood, rocks, and twisted roots for this purpose.

Finally, Congo Tetras are found in murky waters in their natural habitats, which is why they prefer dim lighting in captivity. You can use a small, low-intensity light bulb. It’s also preferable that you keep the tank in a room that’s dark most of the time.

Diet & Feeding Congo Tetra

Congo Tetras are omnivores. In their natural habitat, they feed on algae, worms, insects, plants, and crustaceans. 

In captivity, you can feed them dried pellets or flakes. Also, try to include a mix of bloodworms, brine shrimp, tubifex, and daphnia in their diet. They’re rich in protein, which is essential for growth. They also contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which are essential to maintain the glowy colors of the Congo Tetra. 

Oh, and don’t forget the vitamins; a small number of vegetables would be ideal for that.

Just make sure to take a look at the ingredients of any commercially prepared fish food you get because not all of them are healthy for your Congo Tetras. Many fish food products contain filler ingredients that prevent your fish from getting the nutrients they need and produce more waste, requiring you to make more frequent water changes. 

Avoid fish food that contains rice and soy. Also, don’t feed your Congo Tetras fish meal because it has no nutritional value. Not to mention, it’ll significantly increase your fish’s waste production, resulting in a toxic environment for them.  

Behavior & Tank Mate Compatibility

Schooling congo tetra in planted fish tank

Congo Tetras are peaceful and lovely. They almost never show any signs of aggression, be it towards fish of the same or different species. 

They may not bond well with aggressive fish species, though. Whenever they feel threatened, they’ll start looking for hiding spots in the tank. It’d be best if you kept them away from hostile fish species, like Flowerhorn Cichlid, Tiger Barb, Bucktooth Tetra, Afer Knife, Wolf Cichlid, and Jaguar Cichlid.

On the other hand, here are some good tank mates for your Congo Tetras:

Breeding Congo Tetra

Breeding Congo Tetras is pretty straightforward. To initiate the breeding process, you need a 20-gallon tank with some peat moss at the bottom of the tank for protection since Congo Tetras have a tendency to eat their eggs. 

Typically, you’d need to add a 1-inch layer of peat moss at the bottom of the tank. Just make sure that you boil the moss before introducing it. You can also add breeding plants and mops to facilitate the process.

Before introducing a bonded couple of Congo Tetras, wait for a few days for the moss to spread throughout the water. Then, once you move the male and female Tetras to the new tank, set the temperature at around 76-80°F and dim the lights. 

On the following day, you should notice that the female has approached the moss. Then, the male will follow the female and start spawning. The female will lay around 500 eggs into the moss.

Once the adults are down spawning, return them to the main take and wait for the eggs to hatch. It should take anywhere from 6 to 8 days for the fry to appear. You can feed the fry infusoria for a week or so until they become large enough to consume baby brine shrimp. Later on, you can introduce powdered fish food. 

Are Congo Tetras Right For Your Tank?

As you can tell, the Congo Tetra is a low-maintenance species. You don’t need to dedicate a big chunk of your day to take care of your Congo Tetras. You just have to feed them as required, make partial water changes every couple of weeks, and take regular measurements of the water parameters to ensure that they’re stable.

Congo Tetras are also peaceful, meaning that you won’t have to worry about them causing trouble for other fish communities in your tank. The only part that might require some effort is breeding because you need to set up a whole new tank for that. Nevertheless, the process itself is actually super smooth. 

Congo Tetras are very beautiful and fun to watch, thanks to their distinctive rainbow hue and long tail fin. They’ll definitely make a great addition to your aquarium.

Christopher Adams
Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher, and I've successfully ran freshwater aquariums for the past few decades. The mission of this site is to make it simple for anyone to run their own freshwater aquarium.

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