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Family: Characidae, Hemigrammus Clade

Common Name: Head and Tail Light Tetra

Origin and Habitat: Widespread in rivers of Guyana, French Guyana, Suriname, and the Amazon basin in Peru and Brazil. Inhabits slow-flowing rivers and streams and floodplain lakes. All available fish are likely to be commercially raised.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful shoaling tetra, good community fish with other characins, danios, rasbora, common gourami, dwarf cichlids, small catfish and loaches (in slightly acidic tanks) and livebearers (in slightly alkaline tanks).

Head and Tail Light Tetra Diet

Readily accepts prepared foods, including flake and frozen daphnia and bloodworms.


Up to 2 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length.

Water parameters for Head and Tail Light Tetra

Soft to moderately hard (hardness up to 20 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH up to 8.0) water, temperature 24-28C/75-82F. The extensive range means this species occurs in varying water parameters depending upon origin locale.


A lively, colourful and hardy fish, good for beginning aquarists. It must be kept in a group of at least six but more if the tank is larger. In a planted tank with subdued lighting its colours will be brighter. Prefers the upper half of the aquarium.

Females are rounder and slightly larger, and the swim bladder (which can be seen through the skin) is rounded, whereas it is pointed in males. Easy to spawn, using standard tetra methods. Parents will eat the eggs if not removed.

The fish gets its common name from the gold spot on the caudal peduncle (tail base) and the bright red eye. The scientific species epithet ocellifer means "eye-bearing" and refers to the caudal spot.

Originally described and named Tetragonopterus ocellifer by Steindachner in 1882, it was moved to the genus Hemigrammus by Ortega & Vari (1986). A very similar fish was described as Hemigrammus ocellifer falsus by Meinken in 1958, and later considered a possible synonym of H. ocellifer (Lima & Oyakawa in Reis et al. 2003). It is now considered a distinct species, and it lacks the (second) red spot on the caudal peduncle of H. ocellifer. Frankel (2002) considers there are two subspecies, H. ocellifer ocellifer and H. ocellifer falsus, determined by the presence or absence respectively of the red spot on the caudal peduncle.

The genus Hemigrammus--the name derived from the Greek and meaning "with half line," a reference to the incomplete lateral line--was erected as a subgenus of Poecilurichthys by T.N. Gill in 1858 but has been recognized as a distinct genus since Gery (1977). There are presently about 50 valid 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 Hemigrammus.

None of the diagnostic characteristics presently used to describe species in Hemigrammus, including the incomplete lateral line which gave rise to the genus name, are unique to the genus. Mirande (2009) states that the genus is not monophyletic, a view shared by most ichthyologists working with the characidae. [A monophyletic genus is one wherein the species share a common ancestor, thus linking them together physiologically.] Mirande 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.

Hemigrammus has until recently been differentiated from Hyphessobrycon 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.

Gery, Jacques (1977), Characoids of the World, TFH Books.

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).

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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