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9 Great Tank Mates for Serpae Tetras (Compatibility Guide 2023)

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By Lindsey Stanton

serpae tetra in a tank

The Serpae tetra is a freshwater fish that makes a great addition to an aquarium. These fish are colorful, playful, and are pretty easy to take care of.

Serpae are typically red in color but can range from an olive-brown to a bright red hue with black markings, depending on the fish.

Whether you are planning on investing in your first Serpae tetra or already have one and are trying to figure out if your new fish should have tank mates, we’ve got you covered. We’ll go over the benefits as well as the best tank mates that will make your tetra comfortable and happy.

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The 9 Tank Mates for Serpae Tetras

1. Bushynose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.)

Bushynose Plecostomus
Image Credit: Deborah Aronds, Shutterstock
Size: 3–5 inches
Diet: Herbivore (also needs protein)
Minimum Tank Size: 25 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

Also known as the bristlenose pleco, these bottom feeders are the most common of the plecos for the aquarium. It’s best to only have one pleco in your tank, but they aren’t known to harm tetras, and they’ll keep your tank relatively clean.

2. Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)

Cardinal tetra
Image Credit: InsectWorld, Shutterstock
Size: Up to 2 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

The cardinal is a hardy, easy to look after, and a striking vivid blue and red. The blue runs vertically along the top and the red along the bottom. They make great tank mates because they are also tetras, and they have similar eating habits as the Serpae.

3. Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)

Image Credit: Grigorev Mikhail, Shutterstock
Size: 1.5 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

The neon is a very popular tetra, thanks to its vibrant colors and easy upkeep. Somewhat similar in appearance to the cardinal, they are turquoise towards the front with a thick, red stripe towards its back.

Also, like the cardinal, they make excellent tank mates because they are tetras and can form a part of a school, and they live in similar conditions as the Serpae.

4. Zebra Danio (Danio rerio)

zebra danios
Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock
Size: 2 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

The zebra danio is a peaceful, hardy, and easy-to-care-for freshwater fish. They do well in a school with faster-moving fish as they are social, and like the Serpae, they don’t do well on their own. They, like many of the others on this list, are also great for beginners.

5. Black Skirt Tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi)

black skirt tetra
Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock
Size: 1 to 2.5 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
Care Level: Moderate
Temperament: Mildly aggressive

Also known as the black widow tetra, the black skirt makes a great tank mate as long as no other fish in your aquarium has long-flowing fins. They are translucent silver that graduates to black towards the bottom of the tetra.

While all tetras are known to be fin nippers, the black skirt is a little more aggressive in this way. Otherwise, they won’t show any aggressive tendencies unless they are provoked.

6. Bloodfin Tetra (Aphyocharax anisitsi)

bloodfin tetra in aquarium
Image Credit: Karel Zahradka, Shutterstock
Size: 1.5–2 inches
Diet: Carnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

The bloodfin is a silvery-blue fish with bright red fins that is hardy, easy to keep, and peaceful. They tend to prefer swimming in the middle and upper levels of the tank, and you’ll need a lid to prevent them from jumping out. They should be in a school of at least six fish, and they are constantly moving and fast swimmers.

7. Peppered Cory Catfish (Corydoras paleatus)

Corydoras paleatus 2007
Corydoras paleatus 2007 (Image Credit: Przemysław Malkowski, Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 Unported)
Size: 2–3 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

There are quite a large number of species of cory catfish available. The most common is the peppered cory, which is bronze in color with black patches and is 2 to 3 inches in size.

The cory is a bottom feeder and spends its time on the bottom of the tank, so the Serpae won’t pester this fish.

8. Tiger Barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona)

Tiger barb
Image Credit: Grigoriev Mikhail, Shutterstock
Size: 2–3 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
Care Level: Easy to moderate
Temperament: Playful with some aggression

Tiger barbs are also known as fin nippers, so if you decide to add some to your Serpae tetra’s aquarium, you’ll need to have a minimum of five, but eight would be ideal. This way, they have their own school and will be less likely to bother the Serpae.

Tiger barbs are prone to harassing other fish, but they don’t necessarily cause any real harm. They tend to be gold, green, red, or pale silver with black stripes, which is how they got their name.

9. Kuhli Loaches (Pangio kuhlii)

Kuhli Loach
Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock
Size: 3–4 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful

There are many species of loaches, but the kuhli is one of the most common. They are very long fish that can almost appear eel-like. While they are bottom feeders, they also do well with other loaches, and therefore you should consider adding three to six to the aquarium.

Loaches are easy to take care of as they are not picky eaters and will eat much of what drops into the substrate.

What Makes a Good Tank Mate for the Serpae Tetra?

Serpae tetras are fast swimming and are generally calm. They most definitely do best when living in a community tank and with a school of a minimum of five other Serpae tetras.

Tetras will only school with the same species, so while having other tetras in your aquarium (like the neon) will work, you’ll still need a minimum of six of the other species, so they can form their own school.

Tankmates should also be fast swimmers and have short fins, thanks to the tetra’s fin nipping.

Obviously, you’ll also want the tank mates to be comfortable with the size of your tank. You need to take into account their swimming habits, that they eat the same kind of food as your Serpae, are calm and peaceful, and that they prefer the same or similar water parameters (more on this later).

What Swimming Levels Do Serpae Tetra Prefer in the Aquarium?

All tetras tend to be middle-level fish, which is the perfect spot in the aquarium to watch a school of your Serpae tetras swimming.

When populating your aquarium, it’s a good idea to do your research. Not just what fish will make the best community tank mates, but also think about the different levels they all swim in. It’s a good idea to aim for a variety of top-level, middle, and bottom-dwelling fish for variety.

Remember to avoid slow-moving fish, particularly for the middle level.

tetra serpae in a tank
Image Credit: Joan. Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

Water Parameters

Serpae tetras come from South America and can be found in the Amazon Basin in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Guyana. They live in slow-moving rivers and are also found in streams and ponds.

It’s best, of course, to provide the tetras with the water parameters that closely mimic their natural environment.

The ideal parameters are:
  • Temperature: 72° F to 79° F
  • Water Hardness: 5 to 25 dGH
  • Water pH: 5 to 7.8

Tetras, in general, prefer the water to be slightly acidic, soft, and warm, which won’t work for other kinds of fish, which is why finding the right tank mates is so important.


The Serpae tetra has the famous tetra shape it’s been named after: a tall frame that is relatively flat and in a trapezoidal shape. A full-grown Serpae tetra can be as large as 1.75 inches but averages about 1.6 inches, making them a smaller fish.

It is possible for these fish to grow as large as 2 inches, but that’s quite rare, and they have an expected lifespan of about 3 to 7 years.

Aggressive Behaviors

The Serpae tetra isn’t necessarily aggressive, but as previously discussed, they are known to be fin nippers. This is why it’s crucial to have at least six Serpae kept together to form a school. This reduces a lot of fin nipping behavior.

Other than the fin nipping, it’s a good idea to provide your fish with materials and objects for them to explore. They’ll spend time chasing each other, and having areas to hide will keep them happy.

4 Benefits of Having Tank Mates for the Serpae Tetra in Your Aquarium

1. School

The Serpae tetra prefers to swim in a school instead of being on its own, which helps them be less shy.

2. Confidence

The tetra gains confidence when swimming with a school. It will spend more time exploring rather than hiding. Which it will be inclined to do when alone.

3. Peaceful

The Serpae tetra tends to be a calm and peaceful fish and is only aggressive if provoked. Keeping six or more tetras together reduces their aggressive tendencies, including nipping behavior. They are great candidates for tank mates.

4. Exploration

Serpae tetras will leave other tank mates alone if they aren’t part of the school, but it gives them the opportunity to explore.

red minor serpae tetra
Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

Swimming Habits

Other than swimming at the middle levels, the Serpae has a unique swimming method. They tend to swim in a rather jerky fashion, which means they will swim fast for a time, suddenly stop, and then dart off again.

You should plan on a tank that is a minimum of 20 gallons if you only want a small school of Serpae, but the more tank mates you add, the bigger the tank needs to be.


Serpae tetras are beautiful little fish that should get along with their tank mates, provided they are fast swimmers and don’t have tantalizingly long fins.

Remember to research any tank mates you’re considering, as you want your Serpae and the new fish to all get along and remain healthy. You should also avoid any large fish as the tiny Serpae might fall victim to these larger species.

As long as you choose the tank mates with consideration and read up on the Serpae tetra, and carefully observe after you’ve introduced them to your tank, you should end up with a beautiful and exciting aquarium with some happy fish.

Featured Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

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