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Pristella Tetra

Scientific Name: Pristella maxillaris
Family: Characidae, Hemigrammus Clade

About the Pristella Tetra

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Characins

Care Level: Very Easy. Will tolerate a wide range of water parameters including pH, temperature and hardness. Can tolerate higher nitrate levels than other fish and is hardy enough to withstand the cycling process. Will readily eat prepared foods and has no special care requirements.

Origin: South America: basins of the Amazon and Orinoco, and coastal river drainages of the Guianas. Found in calm coastal waters and in densely vegetated swamps inland.

Compatibility/Temperament: Very peaceful and somewhat active, a good community fish with other characins, small catfish and loaches, dwarf cichlids, the hardier gourami species, angelfish, rasbora, barbs or livebearers.


Due to its adaptability to varying water conditions and being quite hardy, this tetra is a good fish for almost any community aquarium and well suited to new aquarists. Shoaling by nature, it must be kept in a group of at least six but preferably more. It does not appreciate bright lighting, and although adaptable to basic harder water, it will not achieve maximum colouration in hard water. This is one of the few characins that occur in brackish water in the coastal habitat of its range, though aquarium fish are commercially raised and best suited to freshwater without salt. In a well-planted aquarium with soft water it will sparkle.

No external sexual dimorphism; females are noticeably stockier than males. A prolific spawner in soft, acidic water; in its habitat, it moves into the flooded savannah and spawns among the thick vegetation where the water is soft and acidic due to the dissolved organic matter.

This species was described by Ulrey in 1894, and is currently the only species in the genus; the older name Pristella riddlei is incorrect and now considered a synonym. Gery grouped this genus with Megalamphodus (Black and Red Phantoms), noting that it was very close to the Hyphessobrycon bentosi group. [Weitzman & Palmer (1977) reassigned the Megalamphodus species to Hyphessobrycon.] Aside from internal similarities, these species share a "signal" black spot on the dorsal that is usually framed by white. Gery (1977) surmised that the species enter into protective associations with each other.

The genus Pristella was previously considered within the Sub-Family Tetragonopterinae, but this classification has for some time been deemed incertae sedis [Latin for "of uncertain placement"]. In a study published in 2010, it was determined that the Sub-Family Tetragonopterinae should only be used for species within the genus Tetragonopterus. [Robert Javonillo, Luiz R. Malabarba, Stanley H. Weitzman and John R. Burns, "Relationships among major lineages of characid fishes (Teleostei: Ostariophysi: Characiformes), based on molecular sequence data," Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Vol. 54, No. 2 (February 2010)]. Also, J. Marcos Mirande proposed several revisions to the Family Characidae based upon phylogenetic diagnosis in "Weighted parsimony phylogeny of the family Characidae (Teleostei: Characiformes)," Cladistics, Vol. 25, No. 6 (July 2009). Some genera have been moved to a new Sub-Family, while others are now (temporarily) assinged to a specific clade within the Family pending further study.

Pristella Tetra Diet

Omnivorous, will accept practically any prepared flake, dry or frozen food. An active feeder.


Reaches 1.75 inches when mature.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

A tank 20-24 inches in length.

Ideal water parameters for Pristella Tetra

Very adaptable for a tetra. Soft to slightly hard (hardness to 30/35 dGH), acidic to basic (pH up to 8.0) water, temperature 24-28C/74-82F. In hard water it will not be colourful.

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