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Ultimate Care Guide To The Brilliant Rummy Nose Tetra

If you’re looking to add color and movement to a freshwater aquarium, why not consider a group of Rummy Nose Tetras? With their vibrant red faces, zebra-like markings, and interesting social behaviors, these peaceful fish really stand out in a community, but they have a reputation for being tricky to care for. Let’s take a closer look at these sensitive, red-nosed tetras and see what all the fuss is about!

Overview Of The Common Rummy Nose Tetra

Common Name (species)

Brilliant Rummy Nose Tetra (Hemigrammus bleheri)
True Rummy Nose Tetra (Hemigrammus rhodostomus)
False Rummy Nose Tetra
(Petitella georgiae)

Family

Characidae

Origin

Amazon Basin in Brazil and Peru

Diet and Feeding

Omnivore; offer a commercial omnivore diet supplemented with fresh/frozen/dried treats like brine shrimp, blood worms, and occasional algae flakes or blanched veggies

Care Level

Moderate

Activity

Energetic shoaling species best kept in groups of 6 or more

Temperament

Peaceful, outgoing, and curious

Tank Level

Middle

Minimum Tank Size

20 gallons for 10 tetras; allow 2 gallons per tetra

Temperature Range

75 to 84°F

Water Hardness

soft water 2 to 6 dKH

pH Range

slightly acidic 6.2 to 7.0

Filtration/Flow Rate

Very clean and well-filtered water, not sensitive to flow rate

Breeding

Egglayer; challenging to breed in captivity

Compatibility

Ideal tank mates are similar-sized peaceful fish like tetras, rasboras, danios, live-bearers, Corydoras species and some loaches. Avoid keeping them with large or aggressive fish

OK for Planted Tanks?

Ideal for planted tanks especially plants with very fine leaves. While they may snack on your plants, they usually don’t damage them or eat a lot of plant material

The Brilliant Rummy Nose Tetra (Hemigrammus bleheri) is one of the most popular and widely available fish in the aquarium trade. Also known as the Common Rummy Nose or Firehead Tetra, these small but energetic fish are one of three nearly-identical species sold under the trade name “Rummy Nose.”

Brilliant Rummys are often billed incorrectly as nano fish suitable for tiny aquariums or recommended for new aquarium keepers. While they’re not hard to care for, they’re one of the more challenging tetras and are not a good choice for new aquariums or very small set-ups:

  • Rummys are active, energetic, and social fish, so you’ll need at least 20 gallons capacity for a group of 10.
  • They are very sensitive to their water parameters and quality. Even small elevations in pH or carbonate hardness (KH), or measurable levels of toxins like ammonia can cause distress, lower their immune system and even render them sterile.
  • Rummys do best in mature, planted aquariums (at least 3 months old), and you should have experience with water testing and understand the basics of the Nitrogen Cycle before adding them to your community. They’re not starter fish.

Natural History And Habitat

amazon river

Rummys are native to the Amazon region of South America. These small fish live in slow-moving freshwater streams and shallow rivers where they feed omnivorously on plant materials, crustaceans, worms and insects, eggs and larvae:

  • In the wild, Rummy Nose Tetras live in mineral deficient water rich in organic materials and tannins, which can give it a brown or black tint.
  • These so-called “black-water” ecosystems are slightly acidic and very soft and have especially low calcium levels

While there are at least three known species of Rummy Nose, we don’t know very much about them. Wild-caught juveniles are usually identified based on their capture location (if known), while captive-bred fish are assumed to be the same species as their parent stock:

Rummy nose tetra in planted aquaruim
  • The Brilliant or Common Rummy Nose (Hemigrammus bleheri) is found in a narrow range along the Negro and Meta River basins in Brazil and Columbia.
  • The True Rummy Nose (Hemigrammus rhodostomus) was the first species to be described and is found in the coastal regions of the lower Amazon and Orinoco River basins in Brazil and Venezuela.
  • The False Rummy Nose (Petitella georgiae) has a broader range than the other two and can be found in the upper Amazon River in Peru and the Purus, Negro, and Madeira River basins in Brazil

Rummy Nose Appearance And Size 

Rummy Nose Tetras have a long, torpedo-shaped body, which hints at their strong swimming abilities, and really beautiful colors and markings:

  • They have a silvery base color, often with an iridescent green tint at the fontanel (where their head and body join) or on other parts of their body. 
  • Their pectoral and dorsal fins are opaque, but their widely forked caudal fin (tail) has striking horizontal black and white stripes which resemble a zebra. There is often a black edge to their anal fins as well.
    • The number of blacktail stripes varies from 3 to 5, and the stripes may be stark and broad, or faint and quite thin. 
    • In some tetras, the central black tail stripe may extend past the caudal peduncle (base of the tail) and partway down their body.
  • The stand-out feature of a Rummy Nose is their vibrant iridescent redhead! The red scales usually cover their snout, iris, and top of their head, and in some cases, the color may extend past the operculum (gill cover) onto the upper part of their body.

Rummy Nose Size And Species Differences

Since the three species look nearly identical, even experts have trouble telling them apart without a close examination. We’re still learning about the subtle differences between the species. Both Common and True Rummys have the black spot on the lower part of their caudal peduncle, which the False Rummy lacks.

Adults range from 1.25 to 2.5 inches in length, while juveniles are usually sold when they’re 1 to 1.5 inches long and before they’ve developed their adult coloration. You may not know which type you have for sure, and might even end up with a mix of species if you buy fish from several sources.

  • The Brilliant Rummy Nose tends to be shorter but plumper than the others, and typically reaches 1.25 to 2 inches in length at maturity. 
    • They have the most vivid and extensive patch of red, which is why this is the most popular type in the trade. It’s thought that they are the only species in which the red color spreads past the gill cover and onto the upper part of their bodies.
    • Unlike the other two species, these tetras have opaque anal fins with no black edging. 
  • The True Rummy Nose tends to be a little longer and leaner, and may reach up to 2.5 inches in length at maturity. 
    • They often have 3 black tail stripes instead of 5 and their markings may be less intense or narrower than the Brilliant variety, but we don’t know if this is a species difference or just their normal variation.
    • Their anal fins have a light amount of faint black edging, but it’s often hard to distinguish.
  • The False Rummy Nose ranges from 1.25 to just over 2 inches in length at maturity.
    • Their tail stripes are usually very broad and deeply colored, and the central strip often extends down the lateral line towards their head and may even be edged with a faint golden color
    • They usually have a small patch of red on their head and snout and are the least-colorful type.
    • Their most distinguishing feature is the dark black edging on their anal fins, which sets them apart from the other two species.

Average Tetra Lifespan

Rummy Noses usually live for 5 to 8 years in captivity, but it depends on their water quality and care. Since they mature slowly, it’s not uncommon to see adult fish for sale in stores, so you may not know their age at the time of purchase.

Unique Behaviors And Temperament 

Rummy Noses are active and strong daytime swimmers who spend most of their time in a group or shoal in the middle part of your tank. They get depressed and lose color when kept on their own, but overall they are outgoing, peaceful, non-aggressive fish ideal for community aquariums.

Rummys aren’t the only tetras who like to school, but with their bright red heads and zebra stripes, they create some amazing and dramatic patterns inside your tank! You’ll need at least 6 tetras to start a shoal but aim for 15 to 30 if you want to enjoy the full range of their social shoaling and schooling behaviors.

How To Care For Your Rummy Nose Tetras

These red-nosed tetras are tricky to care for because they are very sensitive to their water quality and have narrow parameters in which they thrive. In some respects, they’re similar to the Neon Tetra, which also prefers mature aquariums, but Rummys tolerate less fluctuation in their temperature and water chemistry.

Tank Set-up And Habitat Requirements

Asian women set the fish tank

You’ll need to set-up your aquarium 3 to 6 months prior to introducing a group of red-headed tetras. These fish can’t handle new or cycling aquariums!

Aquarium Size 

As very active and energetic swimmers, Rummys do best when they have at least 2-gallons capacity per fish. Since the smallest group you can keep is 6 to 10, I recommend starting with a 20 gallon or larger aquarium, although it doesn’t matter if you opt for a long or tall-style tank.

Substrate

As mid-level swimmers, tetras do well with any type of sand, soil, or gravel substrates suitable for freshwater tanks. Avoid using marine products that contain calcium carbonate, since that raises the mineral levels and increases the hardness. If you’re trying to recreate their natural habitat you can use a mix of sand and small pebbles or fine gravel, or go with commercial aquatic soil to boost the growth of your live plants.

Ideal Water And Temperature Parameters

close up image of landscape nature style aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants inside.

Rummy Noses are tropical fish and prefer temperatures from 75 to 84°F, so you’ll need an aquarium heater. They do best in slightly acidic conditions with a pH of 6.2 to 7, and don’t tolerate hard, calcium-rich water at all. You’ll need to measure and maintain a hardness of 2 to 6 dKH and may also need to monitor the calcium, especially if you plan on breeding your tetras.

Filtration And Aeration

Since Rummys are very sensitive to their water quality and get stressed when exposed to toxins like ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates, you’ll need a robust HOB or canister filtration system to keep your tetra tank clean. For larger aquariums (40+ gallons), you might need multiple filters and may also benefit from using an air stone to increase circulation and water oxygenation.

Plants, Lights, And Decorations

Rummys prefer aquariums with live plants but still, need open areas to swim and socialize in. They especially enjoy fine-leaved varieties such as Cabomba (Carolina Fanwort) and Myriophyllum species like Parrot-Feather. You can place plants around the edges of their open areas, so they can explore or school as they choose.

These tetras don’t enjoy bright lights, and they’ll stay near the vegetation if the light levels bother them. You can shade their swimming areas with tall or floating plants and use piles of rocks and driftwood to darken the tank.

Maintenance Is Key To Healthy Tetras

Vilnius, Lithuania A man vacuums a fish tank.

Rummys need very clean water, so even with high-quality filtration, it’s still best to do weekly water changes to avoid causing them any stress. Your filter media should be changed every few weeks as well and might benefit from using a mix of zeolite and carbon depending on how many fish you have in your community.

They’re sensitive to less-toxic nitrates as well, so even mature aquariums require regular testing and maintenance to ensure toxins stay at undetectable levels. This is especially critical for young fish and breeding stock since even mild exposure to toxins or minerals like calcium can cause sterility.

Feeding Rummy Nose Tetras

Rummys are omnivores and not picky about what they eat. Offer them a high-quality omnivorous flake or floating food as their primary diet and supplement with a few treats a week. I usually feed tetras one meal a day for 6 days and then fast them one day a week, to mimic their natural eating pattern.

To avoid obesity and health problems, it’s best to offer a variety of treats in addition to their primary commercial diet. You can alternate feeding protein-rich treats of live/frozen/dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, Daphnia and crustacean eggs with algae flakes, spirulina pellets, and fresh blanched veggies like zucchini and spinach.

Best Tetra Tank Mates

Rummy Nose Tetras are easy-going and non-aggressive fish, so you have a huge number of possibilities when it comes to choosing their tank mates. They’re ideal for communities with other small and peaceful fish and do well with many types of bottom dwellers. Your options include but are not limited to:

  • Danios, rasboras, and other types of tetras
  • Hatchetfish and live-bearers like Mollies, Platys and Guppies
  • Peaceful Cherry and Gold Barbs
  • Dwarf Gourami and Rainbowfish
  • Non-aggressive freshwater sharks like the Torpedo Shark and Siamese Algae Eater
  • Bottom feeders like Yoyo Loaches, Corydoras and Upside Down Catfish

Avoid keeping your tetras in a semi-aggressive or aggressive community or with larger fish that may prey on them.

Breeding Rummy Nose Tetras

Theoretically, these egg-laying tetras shouldn’t be too difficult to breed if you have a large enough group of 4 to 12-month old fish in a 40-gallon planted breeding tank. Raise the temperature to 84°F, feed a protein-rich diet for a few weeks and the group should come into season and spawn. 

Female tetras lay a few large eggs in a folded leaf where they’re inseminated by a male. The fry usually hatches within 24 hours, but barely moves for the first week and grows very slowly. You’ll have to carefully feed them drops of infusoria until they’re large enough for brine shrimp nauplii. 

But in truth, it’s incredibly hard for non-professionals to breed Rummys and most attempts fail for a few reasons:

  • It’s nearly impossible to identify male and female fish from their appearance, so getting a good balance of genders (6 male, 6 female) in a group is very difficult and mostly guesswork. Females may be slightly rounder than males during their breeding season, but that’s not a definitive characteristic.
  • Even if you have the right gender balance, a mating may fail if the fish have been exposed to toxins like ammonia or especially if they’ve been in hard water conditions. High calcium levels cause sterility, so you’ll need to know the conditions in which your juvenile fish have been raised to have a chance at success. 
  • Rummy Nose fry is incredibly delicate and grows very slowly, much slower than other types of tetras. They have to be pampered for at least a month and sometimes as long as three months until they can eat adult foods, and don’t tolerate any fluctuations in their temperature, parameters, or water quality.

Rummy Nose Health Concerns

If you’re diligent in your feeding and maintenance routines and closely monitor the conditions inside your tank, your Rummy Nose tetras should thrive in your community. Common health problems include the parasitic White Spot Disease and dropsy, or fluid build-up in the abdomen. 

Most health problems can be avoided if you feed a balanced diet, practice good aquarium hygiene, and quarantine new plants and fish before introducing them to your community. One advantage of having Rummys in a tank is they’re a great indicator species since they lose their vibrant red color when stressed!

Basic Rummy Nose Tetra Tank: Equipment And Supply List

To set-up a small planted tank appropriate for a shoal of 10 Rummys and other community fish, you’ll need:

  • 30 gallon+ aquarium with a stand, cover, and light fixture
  • HOB or canister filter
  • Heater and temperature gauge 
  • Airstone with an air pump and tubing
  • Sand, soil, or gravel substrate
  • Live plants
  • Decors such as rocks, driftwood, and branches
  • Water conditioner

To feed your tetras, you’ll need:

Frozen bloodworm for feeding aquarium fish and crabs.
  • Commercial omnivore flake or floating pellets
  • Treats such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, or veggie flakes

To care for your fish and plants, you’ll need:

  • Water testing kit (pH, KH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, calcium)
  • Bucket and gravel siphon for water changes
  • Filter media
  • Plant fertilizer and/or CO2 injection system 

Conclusion

While Rummy Nose Tetras can be a little challenging, once you’ve mastered their ideal water parameters you’ll see that they’re not very hard to care for. I’ve kept groups of red-nose tetras in my community tanks for years and never had a problem. What do you think of these beautiful schoolers? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the bigger community online!

Jen has more than 30 years experience as a biologist, aquarist, and fishkeeper. She is an expert in setting up new tanks and maintaining naturally-planted freshwater habitats, and has experience raising a wide variety of aquatic species.

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