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Family: Characidae, Hemigrammus Clade

Common Name: Black Phantom Tetra

Origin and Habitat: South America: Rio San Francisco headwaters, Brazil; Rio Guapore and upper Rio Paraguay basins in Bolivia and Brazil. These rivers are unusually thick with aquatic vegetation, primarily species of Echinodorus and floating plants.

Compatibility/Temperament: Very peaceful, good community fish with other tetras, rasbora, pencilfish, hatchetfish, discus, angels, dwarf cichlids, gourami, small catfish and loaches. Males will frequently engage in "mock battles" without inflicting damage.

Black Phantom Tetra Diet

Primarily carnivorous, it will readily accept most all prepared foods, including flake and frozen.


Adults to 1.75 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length

Water parameters for Black Phantom Tetra

Soft to moderately hard (hardness to 18 dGH) acidic to slightly basic (pH 6.0 to 7.5) water, temperature 22-28C/72-82F. Does better in water below 10 dGH and pH below 7.0.


A truly delightful community fish when maintained in a group of at least six but preferably 8 or more with a ratio of males/females. Although it adapts to basic, harder water, it is at its best in soft, acidic water in a well-planted aquarium with subdued lighting. Floating plants are beneficial, as the species occurs in streams with floating and substrate-rooted vegetation. The substrate should be dark or the colours may pale. Most available fish are now commercially bred.

Sexes are easily distinguished; the first photo below shows a male, the second a female. Males are dark gray with black fins and a black shoulder patch, with an extended dorsal fin that can be unfurled like a banner above the fish. When displaying, the gray colouration darkens almost to black. Females are lighter, usually with a slightly reddish background colour, with a smaller dorsal and with vivid red adipose, pectoral and ventral fins. All these colours are less intense in harder water.

This species and the closely-related Red Phantom were originally described in the genus Megalamphodus by C.H. Eigenmann in 1915 on the basis of dentition; Megalamphodus derives from the Greek mega [=great], amphi [=in both sides] and odous [=teeth]. This placement was determined to be in error and that genus was disbanded and the Megalamphodus species were assigned to the genus Hyphessobrycon by Weitzman & Palmer (1997). The species epithet derives from the Greek mega [=much, many] and pterus [=wing].

The two "phantom" species share several external traits with the 30 species now grouped in the "rosy tetra clade" of Hyphessobrycon, including the "signal" black dorsal and a dark shoulder patch immediately behind the gill cover. On the subject species, the dark shoulder patch is surrounded by an irridescent blue ring that is especially brilliant when the very dark body colouration of the male occurs during his display. The usual red body colouration of species in the rosy tetra clade is only present in females of this species, the males being grey/black.

The several species in the rosy tetra clade will interact and group together in the aquarium, and remain in the lower half of the water column, showing a marked preference for shade provided by plants. Some authors suggest the species may cross-breed.

The genus Hyphessobrycon--the name from the Greek hyphesson [believed to mean "slightly smaller"] and brycon [=to bite]--was erected by C.H. Durbin in 1908 and presently contains more than 100 described species. The classification is deemed incertae sedis [Latin, "of uncertain placement"]. It was formerly considered within the subfamily Tetragonopterinae, but Javonillo (2010) suggest that this subfamily should be restricted to species within the genus Tetragonopterus since they do not share physiological characteristics with species in other genera such as Hyphessobrycon.

Authors that have recently studied the systematics of the genus Hyphessobrycon have unanimously pointed out that the group is not well defined and its monophyly is yet uncertain. [A monophyletic genus is one wherein the species share a common ancestor, thus linking them together physiologically.] Mirande (2009) for example has proposed several revisions to the family Characidae based upon phylogenetic diagnosis. Some genera have been moved to a new subfamily, while others are now (temporarily) assigned to a specific clade within the family pending further study. The recognition of groups of species [clades] within Hyphessobrycon is based primarily on similarities of color patterns; an hypothesis of its intra-relationships is currently unavailable, except for the rosy tetra clade proposed as monophyletic by Weitzman & Palmer (1997).

Hyphessobrycon has until recently been differentiated from Hemigrammus solely on the basis of the fish in Hemigrammus possessing a scaled caudal fin; this however is now known to be unreliable, since it occurs in intermediate conditions (de Lucina, 2003).


de Lucena, Carlos Alberto Santos (2003), "A new characid fish, Hyphessobrycon scutulatus, from the Rio Teles Pires drainage, upper Rio Tapajos system (Ostariophysi: Characiformes: Characidae)," Neotropical Ichthyology 1 (2), pp. 93-96.

Javonillo, Robert, Luiz R. Malabarba, Stanley H. Weitzman and John R. Burns (2010), "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).

Mirande, J. Marcos (2009), "Weighted parsimony phylogeny of the family Characidae (Teleostei: Characiformes)," Cladistics, Vol. 25, No. 6 (July 2009).

Weitzman, Stanley H. & Lisa Palmer (1997), "A new species of Hyphessobrycon (Teleostei: Characidae) from the Neblina region of Venezuela and Brazil, with comments on the putative 'rosy tetra clade'," Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters volume 7 (no. 3), pp. 209-242.

Contributing Members

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