Black skirt tetra in aquarium

Black Skirt Tetra Care: Tank Setup, Diet, And More

Black Skirt Tetras are an easy freshwater fish for your aquarium that will entertain you with its schooling antics . They have a unique black translucent sheen that will add a new and beautiful dimension to your tank. With proper care, the Black Skirt Tetra can make a fantastic addition to your home and be a source of joy and entertainment.

Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know to keep Black Skirt Tetras properly, maintain their health, and help them thrive.

Recommend Black Skirt Tetra Tank and Tank Equipment:

Species Overview

Black Skirt Tetras (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) are a unique addition to community tanks. Following their names, they embody a darker appearance than most other Tetras, helping them add a special element to your tank.

They’re found naturally in South America – Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina specifically. They go by many different names including the Black Widow Tetra, Blackamoor, and Blackskirt Tetra. But don’t worry! They’re nothing like the Black Widow Spider and they’re totally safe for your aquarium.

Black Skirt Tetra Appearance

Black Skirt Tetras belong to the Characidae family, the main family of Tetra fish. Like other tetras, Black Skirt Tetras share a body shaped like a tetragonal figure. In everyday speak, imagine an unbalanced rectangular cube, with one side taller than the other. Still confused? They’re taller at the front of the body with the rear end tapering dramatically to the tail. This shape is further dramatized by their fins. Still confused? Check out the picture.

black skirt tetra

Black Skirt Tetras have a beautiful gradient color pattern. It begins with a silver translucent color at their head that evolves into darker colors down the length of the fish, ending at black at the tail. On the front half of their bodies, they have two distinctive vertical stripes, which provide nice contrast to the color gradient. Their anal and dorsal fins are black too.

Younger Black Skirt Tetras are darker in color. As they mature, their colors begin to fade, and by the time they reach old age, they are a much paler fish.

How to distinguish male/female Black Skirt Tetras

It is an imprecise science to determine the sex of Black Skirt Tetras. The female black skirt tetra tends to be larger and rounder. This is common with freshwater fish since the females carry the eggs.  These differences are emphasized when the fish are breeding.

Additionally, the male Black Skirt Tetra tends to have larger anal fins. Beyond these two distinctions, it can be difficult to tell the two sexes apart.

Black Skirt Tetra Lifespan

Black Skirt Tetras have relatively short life spans compared to other freshwater fish. In proper conditions, they live about 3-5 years. This time frame can be greatly reduced without proper water and tank conditions so be sure to keep their tanks clean.

Black Skirt Tetra Size

Black Skirt Tetras are small fish, averaging about 1-2 ½  inches. They can get up to 3 inches in length but this is rare, and rarely ever happens in captivity.

Black Skirt Tetra Care

Black Skirt Tetras are beginner fish. You don’t need a ton of experience with fishkeeping or aquariums to be successful. They don’t have any complex habitat requirements which makes them an ideal starter Tetra.

However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore your tank. You must put their monitor water and tank conditions to ensure that you’re meeting their needs.

Black Skirt Tetra Habitat

The recommended tank size for Black Skirt Tetras is a minimum of 15 gallons. If possible, go for a 20-gallon tank, especially if you’re putting together a community tank. Black Skirt Tetras are schooling fish so you’re going to want the group to have enough space to swim around, explore, and avoid overcrowding.


The minimum recommended tank size is 20 gallons. Even though they’re small, these fish need to be groups so having at least 20 gallons is recommended. Also, water parameters are less likely to fluctuate in larger tanks, which is good for keeping stress low.

Our recommendation: Tetra 20 gallon aquarium

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Water Conditions

Good water conditions are extremely important for Black Skirt Tetras, and aquariums in general. Poor water quality will stress your fish, which will increase the likelihood of a wide range of diseases taking over your tank. In the best case scenario, stress shortens the fish lifespan. In the worst case scenario, stress leads to illness,  which can lead to death. Rule of thumb here is to prioritize your water conditions.

One concept that is important when thinking through tank set-up is that you want to replicate the water conditions of the natural habitat of the fish. Black Skirt Tetras are from bodies of water in South America that are warm and slightly acidic. You want your water conditions to mimic this.

Here are the ideal parameters for Black Skirt Tetras:

  • Water temperature: 70°F to 85°F (aim for the middle of this range)
  • pH levels: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 4 to 8 dKH

We recommend a water testing kit in order to regularly check your water conditions. Our recommendation is the API Freshwater Kit. It is important to make sure the nitrogen cycle is working properly in your tank.

Additionally, Black Skirt Tetras prefer slightly acidic water so keep an eye on the pH in your tank. If you need help lowering the pH, check out our pH lowering guide.

What to put in their tank


For the bottom of the tank, use a dark sandy substrate. River gravel is a good option, too. These dark colors mimic the decaying organic at the bottom of rivers where these fish live, so they will feel at home with the darker color.

These fish aren’t bottom-dwellers so don’t stress about the substrate too much!

Our recommendation: Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand


Black Skirt Tetras love plants. As you can imagine, the rivers and natural spaces where Black Skirt Tetras live in the wild are filled with plants and organic matter. Black Skirt Tetras love to explore,  swim through, and nibble on plants. Therefore, you will want some hardy plants in your tank so your tetras don’t nibble them to nothing!

Black Skirt Tetras typically swim in the middle channel of the aquarium. Include some taller plants in your mix to make sure that the fish don’t have to travel to the bottom of the tank in order to explore or nibble.

Also, don’t jam pack the tank with plants. Your Black Skirt Tetras like to swim and school together, so you will want to leave plenty of swimming space. The easiest way to achieve this is by putting plants in the back of the tank, or around the perimeter of the tank to keep clear swim lanes.

We recommend Java Ferns, Amazon Swords, Java Moss, or Water Wisteria.


Lastly, cave systems and driftwood are good hiding spots for Black Skirt Tetras. These are helpful for fish that are feeling a shy or threatened, and helps keep stress levels low.


A strong filtration system is important. A single Black Skirt Tetra is small and individually doesn’t produce a ton of waste. However, a school of 10 fish can quickly alter the water quality.  Your filter needs to keep ammonia and nitrate levels relatively low and get rid of all forms of waste. Check out the best canister filters for more ideas. Finally, we recommend using a dedicated aquarium power strip for your filter and any additional electrical equipment. It will protect your Black Skirts from any potential power surges.

Black Skirt Tetra potential diseases

Black Skirt Tetras are prone to a variety of diseases. Probably the most common disease with Black Skirt Tetras is Ich. Ich is a parasitic infection that’s brought on by stress. It causes visible white spots all over the fish body, which makes it easy to identify.

Because Ich is a stress-induced disease, it is important to keep your tetras’  stress levels low. This is best achieved by ideal water conditions, keeping a school of 8+ Black Skirt Tetras simultaneously, and providing enough space to swim and hide.

Ich can be fatal, especially if not dealt with quickly. You can reduce the chances of Ich by performing water tests regularly and making the necessary changes to the water conditions. 

Ich is not difficult to treat but it is highly contagious. Infected fish should be separated from the rest of your fish as soon as possible to reduce transmission. Additionally, if you treat it with a copper-based medication, be warned – Copper is fatal to shrimp and snails.

Other potential risks to Black Skirt Tetras are fungal and bacterial infections such as Dropsy and fin rot. 

How to Feed your Black Skirt Tetra

Black Skirt Tetras are easy feeders.  In the wild, they nibble on plants, insects, and larvae that happen to get stuck in the river water.

In captivity, this species can consume commercially-available dry food like nutrient-rich flake foods or pellets. Many aquarium owners also like to supplement with snacks like bloodworms or brine shrimp

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Black Skirt Tetra Breeding

Black Skirt Tetra are relatively easy to breed in the world of freshwater fish. However, it does require a bit of work because Black Skirt Tetras are lazy, hungry parents. They do not care for their eggs or the baby fish fry and will actually try to eat them. They’re cannibals!

Breeding Tank Set-up

For this reason, it is recommended to set up a separate 10-gallon breeding tank. Use the same water parameters as the main tank. You will also want some plants to keep your inhabitants happy. 

We also recommend using a spawning mop or a net in your set-up to help hide eggs and block the parents from eating  them. 

Breeding Guidelines

To breed, separate a bonded pair from the main tank and place them in the breeding tank together. Feed protein-rich live foods for 7-10 days. Shortly thereafter, you should start to see the female start swell with eggs.

The male fish is likely to start chasing the female at this point. Make sure that the male isn’t being too aggressive and if he is, remove him from the tank. 

Egg Laying

If the breeding efforts were successful, the female will lay up to 1,000 eggs all over the tank. Be prepared for lots of eggs scattered throughout the tank  instead of being focused in one spot. The eggs will sink to the bottom of the tank, which is  where using a net can help block the parents from picking off eggs. The eggs will sink to the bottom through the holes in the net, where they will be safe.

After they are finished breeding, return the bonded pair to the main tank. You want the eggs to be in a peaceful environment while hatching.  The eggs will hatch in 24 to 36 hours. For their first meals, the baby fish will feed off the egg sac. 

Fry Care

For feeding, provide powdered fry food or infusoria for the first few weeks of life. After a few weeks, they can start to eat baby brine shrimp. 

Keep the fry separate until they are large enough to not be consumed by other fish. Expect to have them in a separate tank for at least a month.

Black Skirt Tetra Tank Mates

We recommend keeping at least 8 Black Skirt Tetras together to keep them happy. If you have enough space for more, they’re happiest in large groups so feel free to add more! Larger groups help reduce the stress of Black Skirt Tetras and reduce any hierarchical aggression issues, as each fish has less power in the group. You are also less likely to see fin nipping issues.

With regards to other tropical fish species, Black Skirt Tetras are pretty flexible. In general, avoid aggressive fish such as Oscars or Jack Dempseys. Black Skirt Tetras are peaceful fish and will get bossed around by aggressive tank mates. Overall, they’re good community aquarium members.

Additionally, Black Skirt Tetra’s long fins are the favorites of fin nippers. This is ironic because Black Skirt Tetras are also fin nippers so try to avoid any long-finned tank mates.

Here are some compatible species that make good tank mate options for Black Skirt Tetras:

Depositphotos 356720054 xl 2015

Black Skirt Tetra FAQs

Are black skirt tetras schooling fish?

Yes, the Black Skirt Tetra is a schooling fish. It prefers to be kept in groups of at least 8 Black Skirt Tetras. This helps reduce their stress and fin nipping tendencies.

Are black skirt tetras hardy?

Yes, Black Skirt Tetras are hardy fish. They can tolerate a fairly wide range of water conditions. Hobbyists report they’re adaptable and enjoyable active fish who will entertain with their schooling antics. However, they can be fin nippers so it is best to avoid long-finned tank mates.

Can black skirt tetras live alone?

No, it is not recommended to keep Black Skirt Tetras alone. If put into a tank alone, they will try to hide and often end up getting picked on by other fish. Living alone will also significantly shorten their lifespan. They should be kept in groups of 8 or more. 

Will black skirt tetras eat neon tetras?

Technically, yes, Black Skirt Tetras could kill Neon Tetras. However, if Black Skirt Tetras are kept in a large enough group (8+ minimal, 10+ recommended), have plenty of space to swim, decompress, and hide, enough food to eat, and good water conditions, then it is an unlikely situation. Black Skirt Tetras are considered peaceful fish typically. 

Can black skirt tetra live with goldfish?

If the Black Skirt Tetras have a large enough group and enough space to swim, they can be kept with goldfish. It is not recommended to keep them with fancy goldfish with flowing fins, however, as Black Skirt Tetras are well-documented fin nippers and will swim circles around your slower moving goldfish.

Do I need to have a separate breeding tank?

Yes, a separate breeding tank is advised for Black Skirt Tetra. Black Skirt Tetra have minimal parenting instincts and will try to eat the eggs and fry after laying them. For this reason, it is advised to use a separate breeding tank where the parents can be removed soon after laying the eggs.

What do black skirt tetra eggs look like?

Black Skirt Tetra eggs look like little white sticky balls. They sink so you will find them at the bottom of tanks.

Will black skirt tetra nip fins?

Yes, Black Skirt Tetras are known fin-nippers. It is recommended to keep them in large groups and avoid long-finned tank mates like Angel Fish to avoid issues.

Is the Black Skirt Tetra Right For Your Aquarium?

Black Skirt Tetras are a great beginner freshwater fish. They’re beautiful and entertaining and it is fun to watch them swim in their schools. They’re also peaceful community fish tank members and can add a new dimension of color to your aquarium.

They do need sufficient school sizes of 8+ fish, enough room to swim and explore, and proper water conditions. Provided you can give them the care they need, this schooling fish will bring beauty and glamour to your community tank.

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