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Family: Characidae, Subfamily Aphyocharacinae

Common Names: Dawn Tetra, Panda Tetra

Origin and Habitat: Rio Paraguay basin in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Occurs in small rivers and streams that are overshadowed by vegetation.

Compatibility/Temperament: In spite of its small size, this fish will easily terrorize a tank of larger fish. It must be kept in a group, the larger the better to reduce internal aggression, so we suggest 9 or more. Should never be combined with slow or sedate fish, or those with long fins, as it will fin nip constantly. It is really only suitable on its own, or combined with substrate fish.

Dawn Tetra Diet

Readily accepts almost any prepared foods.


Attains 3-4 cm (1.2 to 1.5 inches).

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length.

Water parameters for Dawn Tetra

Soft to medium hard (hardness 5-15 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH 5.5-7.5), temperature 22-26C/71-79F. Sources recommend soft, acidic water for best results. All available fish will be wild-caught.


A lively and quite pretty little fish, but one that cannot be recommended for a community aquarium. The writer (Byron) acquired a group of 11 of these and after two days in a 90g aquarium all the other characins were shivering among the plants and refused to come out even to feed. I have since read several similar reports from other sources. In a species tank, well planted with sufficient swimming room, this little gem will indeed sparkle. Reported to be good as dither fish to dwarf cichlids that will occupy the lower region of the aquarium.

This fish remains in the upper half of the aquarium, fairly near the surface, and is constantly swimming rapidly; they are quite aggressive, chasing each other continually around the tank. Floating plants are needed to dim the light [see comment on its habitat], and substrate-rooted plants along the back wall will showcase this fish. This species has a lifespan of about 5 years. It is now being seen in North America under the common name of "Panda Tetra," presumably a reference to the caudal spot.

Females are fuller and slightly larger than males. Spawning is reported as difficult. The eggs are scattered among fine-leaf plants, and the parents should be removed after spawning to avoid predation of the eggs.

The Subfamily Aphyocharacinae was originally proposed by Eigenmann in 1909 and included six genera. Since then, it has sometimes been considered within the Cheirodontinae, but today it is deemed to be a monophyletic group that contains only the one genus, Aphyocharax. There are now 10 species recognized as valid within this genus, with the remainder of the original 22 species transferred to other genera [Lima, in Reis et al. 2003].

The genus Aphyocharax was established by A. Gunther in 1868 for the type species A. pusillus. A. paraguayensis was described by C.H. Eigenmann in 1915. In 2003, Rosana S. Lima established the name as a synonym of A. nattereri, meaning that both names are the same species and A. nattereri being the first name given to the species it is the valid name. Dr. Lima further transferred the species to the genus Prionobama. Tagliacollo confirmed this placement after genetical investigation. This is quite new, so for the present we are retaining the former name to avoid confusion.


Reis, R.E., S.O. Kullander & C.J. Ferraris Jr. (2003), Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America.

Tagliacollo, V.A., F.F. Roxo, R. Britzke, F. Foresti & C. Oliveira (2009), "Molecular systematic of the subfamily Aphyocharacinae (Characiformes, Characidae)," Resumos do 55 Congresso Brasileiro de Genetica, 30.08.-02.09.2009, Aguas de Lindoia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, p. 80.

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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