Congo Tetra Ultimate Guide: Keeping, Breeding & Feeding

The Congo Tetra is a peaceful, larger-bodied African Tetra whose colors have to be seen to be believed. This stunning fish is underappreciated in the hobby. When a mature male Congo Tetra, with his flowing fins, catches the light, his full coloration never fails to impress.

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

Congo Tetras make a great addition to any tank, but they come into their own when kept as a centerpiece fish in a heavily planted aquarium.

I first started keeping Congo Tetras 5 years ago when I added a school to my 155-gallon aquarium. In this guide, I draw on my experience of keeping Congo Tetras to walk you through every aspect of caring for them, covering their origins, feeding requirements, ideal tank setup, and breeding behavior as well as looking at some of the questions I am often asked about this beautiful fish.

Characteristics

Common Name:Congo Tetra
Scientific Name:Phenacogrammus interruptus
Family:Alestidae
Origin:Congo River Basin, Africa
Tank Distribution:All areas
Adult Size:4 inches (10cm)
Life Expectancy:3-5 years
Care Level:Beginner
Minimum Tank Size:50 Gallons
Breeding Method:Egg Scatterer
Temperature:73°F – 82°F
pH:6.0 – 7.5
Hardness:3-18dH

Congo Terta Origins

Congo Tetras come from the mighty Congo River in Central Africa. The Congo River, often simply referred to as The Congo, is located in an area known as Equatorial Africa. The Congo is one of the world’s longest rivers. Congo Tetras make the slower-moving tributaries their home.

Map of Congo River, Africa

Congo Tetra Habitat

The natural habitat of the Congo Tetra is the upper regions of the Congo River in Zaire. They make the streams, pools, and swampy areas of the river their home, preferring the slightly acid water where there is an abundance of vegetation to hide in and around. Murky or tannin-stained water is favored over crystal clear water.

In the wild, Congo Tetras are opportunistic feeders. As omnivores, they will eat insects, worms, small crustaceans, baby fish, and plant matter.



Collecting Congo Tetras From The Wild

Congo Tetras are collected from the wild in large numbers. Fortunately, this collection appears to have had little impact on the wild population. According to iucnredlist.org, Congo Tetras conservation status is currently listed as Least Concern.

Congo Tetras are now being bred in large numbers commercially in fish farms. This commercial breeding helps prevent too many from being removed from the wild population.



Other Members Of The Congo Tetra Family

There are a couple of other members of the Congo Tetra family, both of which are kept less often in the aquarium hobby. The Yellow Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus caudalis) and The Cherry Red Congo Tetra (Hemigrammopetersius brichardi).

The Yellow Congo Tetra can be found in the lower regions of the Congo River whereas the Cherry Red Congo Tetra appears to come exclusively from the middle Congo.

The Congo Tetra is also widely kept in an albino form. The albino Congo Tetra boasts many of the same colors as normal Congo Tetras, just on a mainly pale white body.

Congo Tetra Coloration

The male Congo Tetra is more colorful and glamorous than the female. Male Congo Tetras are prized in the aquarium hobby for their large, iridescent scales which reflect the light in a rainbow of colors.

Along the lateral line of the Congo Tetra, the males have a golden streak running from just behind their head to their tail fin. This golden streak is flanked above by a metallic blue top half of their body.

As the males swim around the tank, the light reflects all the colors of the rainbow, from red to violet. As the males mature they develop long, flowing fins which are mainly silvery grey and edged in white.

The females, in comparison to the males, are nowhere near as flamboyant. Their bodies are mainly golden in color and their fins do not flow as the males do. However, there is still beauty to be appreciated in females. When the light catches them just right, there are hints of the iridescent colors the males offer.

A word of caution. On first reading this article you might think a tank full of males is the way to go. No need for duller females. Be aware that without the females to show off to, the males do not develop the intense coloration most people are looking for.



Congo Tetra Behavior In The Aquarium

Congo Tetras make the perfect addition to the mixed community aquarium. They are a peaceful species that, once settled into the aquarium, will swim boldly out in the open water. Males do chase and spar with one another, but this rarely if ever ends in injury to either fish.

To see the male Congo Tetras displaying their colors fully, they should be kept in a group of 6 or more with a ratio of 1 male to every 2 females. Males spend a lot of their time showing off to both the females and the other males. You need both sexes for the males to develop the colors they are prized for.

Congo Tetras are aggressive feeders. They will usually be first to whatever food is placed in the aquarium. They happily grab food from the surface, or they will eat the food as it floats in the water column. Congo Tetras are less inclined to eat food off the bottom, but they will if hungry enough.

Congo Tetras are considered community tank safe, but they do have relatively large mouths and they will eat very small tank mates including Red Cherry Shrimp.

What Do Congo Tetras Eat?

Congo Tetras are omnivores. They need variety in their diet. Congo Tetras will eat flake food and floating pellets. Congo Tetras also appreciate regular feedings of live or frozen bloodworms, daphnia, and mosquito larvae.

For best results, Congo Tetras should be fed 3 or 4 small meals during the day rather than 1 large meal once a day. They should be fed as much as they will consume within 1 to 2 minutes. Congo Tetras are greedy feeders so be cautious not to overfeed them.

I have had great success feeding my Congo Tetras Hikari Vibra Bites and Fluval Bug Bites.

What Size Tank Do Congo Tetras Need?

Congo Tetras are active schooling fish, and with the males reaching around 4 inches, they do need some swimming space. A group of 6 (6 being the minimum you should keep in a group) will need a tank of at least 50 gallons of water.

A longer tank is better than a taller tank so the Congos can swim from one end to the other. As with all active fish, the bigger the tank, the happier the fish will be. I currently keep a school of 10 Congo Tetras in a 155-gallon tank with around 100 Cardinal Tetras. They look stunning!

How Should A Congo Tetra Tank Be Setup

Congo Tetras come from streams and rivers where plenty of vegetation grows and floats in the water. If we want our Congo Tetras to feel comfortable, so they display their colors in full, we should try to recreate this environment.

Congo Tetras like a heavily planted aquarium with the addition of some rocks or aquarium-safe wood. Although it seems counterintuitive, provide them with plenty of places to hide and lots of cover, and they will spend more time out in the open.

Congo Tetras prefer a dark substrate rather than a light one like sand. In their natural environment, the bottom of the river would be heavily made up of mud and rotting vegetation.

My own Congo Tetra tank

Best Lighting For A Congo Tetra Aquarium

Congo Tetras prefer their tank dimly lit. Use either a light that you can adjust, such as a Fluval 3.0, or provide plenty of cover by adding floating plants. Floating plants not only block out some of the light, but their trailing roots also help create the natural feel the Congos are looking for.

You may be surprised to learn that your Congo Tetras will actually look more colorful in a dimly lit aquarium than a bright one.

Congo Tetra Tank Mates

Congo Tetras make great community tank fish and there are literally dozens of different fish species you could pair them within your tank. Below I have listed some of my favorites.

Lemon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis): 

Lemon Tetras are one of my favorite tetras. They have a slightly deeper body than some of the other tetras, which means they are less likely to end up in the Congo Tetra’s mouth.

Lemon tetras like similar conditions to Congo Tetras and the lemon coloration at the ends of their fins will complement the Congos perfectly. The more Lemon Tetras you have, the better they will look. A school of 10 – 15 will look amazing in your planted Congo Tetra Tank.

Harlequin Rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha): 

Harlequin Rasbora are another fish whose colors will contrast against the rainbow colors of the Congo Tetra. Harlequin Rasbora are a Peaceful, schooling fish that spend all their time swimming in the mid-water.

A group of 10 or more Harlequins will school tightly together. Harlequin Tetras share Congo Tetras’ love of live or frozen bloodworms or daphnia. Harlequins will also appreciate the addition of some frozen cyclops or baby brine shrimp.

Panda Corydoras (Corydoras panda): 

I’ve chosen Panda Corydoras, but in reality, almost any species in the Corydoras family would work well in a Congo Tetra setup. Generally speaking, Corydoras fish are super peaceful, spending their entire day swimming along the substrate looking for food. Corydoras are an essential ‘clean-up crew’ for your aquarium.

They will gladly eat all the food that makes it past the Congo Tetras and other tank members. Some Corydoras species, including Bronze Corydoras and Paleatus Corydoras, may even breed in your community aquarium.

Frequently Asked Questions About Congo Tetras

Do Congo Tetra Eat Plants?

Whilst plant matter does make up some of the Congo Tetras diet, they don’t actively eat plants in your aquarium. I keep 10 Congo Tetras in a heavily planted, 155-gallon aquarium. I have never seen them actively target plants.

Do Congo Tetra Jump?

Congo Tetra can jump so keep them in an aquarium with a tight-fitting lid. Males may jump when they are showing off to the females.

Will Congo Tetra Eat Shrimp?

Congo Tetra will eat shrimp if they have the opportunity to. The secret to keeping Congo Tetra with shrimp, like Red Cherry Shrimp, is to provide lots of cover. Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to stopping your shrimp from getting eaten. If your aquarium is heavily planted or has lots of wood and rocks, you may be able to establish a thriving shrimp colony in a Congo Tetra Aquarium.

Can Congo Tetra Live With Neon Tetra?

Yes, Congo Tetra can Live with Neon Tetras, providing the Neon Tetras aren’t very small. Congo Tetras will eat very small fish. Congo Tetra can also live with Cardinal Tetras, Black Neon Tetras and even Ember Tetras.

In Conclusion

Congo Tetras are truly stunning! The way the light catches their scales when they dart around their tank won’t ever get boring to watch and never fails to impress others who are admiring your tank.

Congos tetras are peaceful and fit well into any community aquarium. The more hiding places and cover you provide your Congo Tetras, the safer and more relaxed they will feel, meaning they spend more time out in the open water. Keep the light dim, and provide cover in the form of floating plants.

Congo Tetras are hardy, tolerant of a wide range of water parameters, and easy to feed. Whether you are new to fish keeping or looking for a new challenge, why not give Congo Tetras ago?


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

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