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How Long Do Cardinal Tetras Live?

The Cardinal Tetra can live for 2-5 years if kept in optimum living conditions and you can do a lot to extend or maximize its life span which we cover below. The Cardinal Tetra will do best in schools of 10 or more and be kept in a tank that is at least 15 gallons.

About The Cardinal Tetra

The Cardinal Tetra is a peaceful and docile fish species. You will not find this fish giving you any trouble, especially when it comes to how they interact with other fish in community fish tanks.

Like the neon tetra, they require soft acidic water with dim light conditions to emulate the conditions of the wild. A well-planted fish tank that has an open center space can prove to be the ideal aquarium for them.

Care Level: Beginner
Max Size of Fish: 2 inches
Temperature Range: 79 to 82 degree Fahrenheit
pH Range: 6 to 7

The information above clearly shows how easy it is to maintain ideal conditions for the Cardinal Tetra. These are normal conditions for most other fish tank species as well. However, these tips can help make sure that the fish remains happy, healthy, and thriving in your aquarium:

  • Cardinal Tetras are peaceful and can survive with most other fish species in a fish tank. While they do not require large tanks themselves, it is a good idea to get a sizable aquarium to accommodate other species.
  • In order to make sure that this schooling fish does not get too nervous, make sure you get a decent-sized group of at least 7 the ideal school size would be about 10 or 12.
  • Keep the lighting low so that they can easily adjust to the new living conditions.
  • You won’t find them fussing over the food you give them. They are omnivores that will eat anything from high-quality flakes, pellets, live food, or frozen food.

Equipment You Might Need For Your Cardinal Tetra

    1. Aqua Clear – Fish Tank Filter
    2. NICREW Classic LED Aquarium Light
    3. Tetra Aquarium Heater
    4. Python Pro-Clean Gravel Washer and Siphon Kit
    5. Marina Algae Magnet Cleaner
    6. API Freshwater Master Test Kit

What Impacts The Lifespan Of Cardinal Tetras?

When it comes to Cardinal Tetras, one of the main things that can impact lifespan are your water parameters. Above all, how healthy and clean your water will determine just how long your Fish will live.

For example, unkept water can become toxic with high levels of Ammonia, Nitrites, and Nitrates, all of which can be extremely harmful to your Fish.

Dirty water can also lead to many other problems like stress, infections, and disease, which ultimately will impact the overall health of your Fish and shorten it’s lifespan considerably.

Below we will go into detail on how you can help your Fish live a long and happy life, but first, here are a few other things that can also impact how long your Cardinal Tetras will live.

  • Tank Size
  • Water Parameters
  • Temperature
  • Oxygenation
  • Maint schedule
  • Diet
  • Tankmates
  • Stress
  • Disease

Alright, let’s get into the details.

How To Help Your Cardinal Tetra Live Longer

As we mentioned above there are some things you can do to help maximize your fish’s life and ensure it’s a long one.

Here they are in no particular order.

1. Get The Right Size Tank To Maximize The Lifespan Of Your Cardinal Tetra

When Fish are kept in a tank that is too small for them to grow or swim they can fall victim to a whole bunch of health problems such as;

  • Deformities,
  • Underdeveloped muscles,
  • Spinal
  • Stress

As well as other problems that can cut their lives short.

Additionally, if you keep multiple Fish in a small tank, Fish that might not usually be aggressive will start to fight for space and become territorial. Ultimately leading to one of the Fish getting hurt, being stressed, not getting enough food or not resting, which could eventually lead to death.

2. The Right Water Parameters To Ensure A Long Healthy Life

As I mentioned above, the quality of your water is the number one thing that can have an impact on your Fish’s lifespan.

Fish make waste which collects at the bottom of the tank and slowly converts to Ammonia, then to nitrites, and lastly nitrates. This is called the nitrogen cycle, and it is continuously happening in every tank.

If you don’t regularly change your water, these toxins can build up in the water column and cause your Fish to experience a slow, painful death.

Stress, disease, and infections are another side effect of poor water quality that will no doubt determine how long your fish live.

However, there is so much more to water quality than just how clean it is. Things like the Temperature how well it’s oxygenated (which we will discuss next) but also The PH, Hardness/Softness of the water will have an impact on your Fish.

Every Fish is unique; the key here is to understand the species of fish and ensure that the water parameters are as close as possible to their natural habitat to promote maximum living conditions.

3. The Ideal Temperature For Your Cardinal Tetra

The Temperature of your tank is another critical piece that you’ll need to manage. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to do. All Fish have a specific temperature range that is best suited to them.

To manage the Temperature of your tank, you’ll need a heater and a thermometer. Now there are many options out there, and we’ve showcased a few of them here and here.

What you want to know is the temperature range that suits most of the Fish in your tank, set our heater to this Temperature and monitor it daily with your thermometer.

That said, there are some fish out there that don’t need a heater; they are considered cold water fish.

Here are a few articles about coldwater fish;

4. Your Fish Need Oxygen To Live

Just like all living things Fish need to breathe. So keeping your water well oxygenated is essential. This doesn’t mean you need to run out and purchase an air pump. However, it’s crucial to understand how oxygen enters the water in your aquarium.

As water on the surface is disturbed, oxygen will enter the water naturally, so if the surface water is being agitated by a filter output, bubbler, or even an air pump, you are likely providing enough oxygen into your aquarium.

You can tell if your Fish lack oxygen if they look like they are gasping or coming up to the surface for air.

As you can imagine, an aquarium without oxygen can cause some severe health issues for your Fish and will likely cause your Fish to live a very short life.

5. Keeping Your Tank Clean

Keeping your tank clean is another important step in prolonging the life of your Fish.

A regular maintenance schedule will not only ensure that your water parameters are in check, but it will ensure that algae and other harmful things won’t build up in your aquarium. Perform Partial Water Changes to Keep Fish Healthy

6. The Right Diet: Feeding The Right Foods At The Right Time.

Just like humans, it’s best to keep your Fish on a healthy diet of food that they are accustomed to. Some fish need proteins while others need more vegetation. Make sure you feed your Fish what they need to be healthy.

The quantity and frequency of feeding is also an important thing to ensure a long healthy life. If you overfeed, not only will you pollute your water, but your Fish will grow overweight and lazy and potentially suffer other ill effects.

If you feed to little, your Fish won’t have enough energy to swim and fight off any sickness or infections and slowly die from malnutrition.

Optimize Fish Health by feeding at regular intervals, mix up the food, so they get the right mix of all the nutrients they need to live a healthy life.

7. The Right Tankmates, Companionship & Prevent Boredom

If you want to keep some friends in the tank, you’ll need to ensure that you mix similar temperaments of Fish. It would be a horrible idea to mix cichlids with guppies – you’re guppies life would be over before you finish reading this article.

Read: Cardinal Tetra Tank Mates – How to form a Happy Little Community With Cardinal Tetras

The wrong tank mates can bully, fin nip, injure, or worse eat each other if you’re not careful.

My Favorite Filter
AquaClear HOB Filter

The AquaClear HOB filter has been around FOREVER and is typically the first filter recommended for most beginners. That said, it's a great reliable filter for experienced fish keepers and Aquascapers. It comes with prepackaged filter media but also has the ability to customize to your needs. Don't worry about water flow as the gentle waterfall design creates oxygenation without a strong current perfect for small tanks and Bettas.



It only takes a few minutes, and you can find some great tank mates for almost any Fish out there. In fact, we can help you find some good buddies for your fish. Click here to see a bunch of tank mate suggestions for many of the most popular Fish.

8. Reduce Stress

Stress is one of those things that are typically a result of not doing something you should be.

If you keep your water clean and healthy, the right Temperature, feed them a healthy diet, and keep your tank stocked with friendly tank mates, stress shouldn’t impact your Fish’s health.

Decor like natural plants, cover, toys, and hiding places can also help reduce stress and prevent fish boredom (yes, the struggle is real).

9. Disease Prevention

Again most diseases are a result of something in your aquarium that’s not quite right.

Usually, it’s the water quality and Temperature that will lead to sickness. However, when adding new Fish you should always try to quarantine your Fish to ensure they aren’t sick and bringing over some unknown issue from another tank.

How To Tell If Your Fish Is Sick

The good news is that most fish diseases can be prevented, treated, and easily identified.

Some typical things to look for would be;

  1. Watch out for faded coloring.
  2. Keep an eye on your Fish’s fins.
  3. Look for lethargy.
  4. Watch your Fish’s eating habits.
  5. Check for spots.
  6. Look for breathing problems.
  7. Watch for your Fish to rub or scratch.
  8. look for other physical symptoms.

8 Easy Things You Can Do To Increase The Lifespan Of Cardinal Tetras

The lifespan of a Cardinal Tetra can be greatly be increased by doing a few simple things, they are as follows;

  1. Tank Size: The Bigger the Better
  2. Maintain the Ideal Tank Temperature
  3. Pay Attention to Water Quality
  4. Include a Lid and Space at the Top
  5. Use An Aquarium Filter & Heater
  6. Include Plenty of Places to Hide
  7. Reduce Stress & Disease
  8. Select the Right Tank Companions

Final Thoughts About The Lifespan Of Cardinal Tetras

Cardinal Tetras are hardy and easy to care for provided you know what you’re doing. With the information in this guide, there is no reason your Tetras can’t live for at least 5 years.

If you do only two things on this list, the things that make the biggest difference to their lifespan would be water quality and diet.

How Long Do Cardinal Tetras Live & Easy Things You Can Do To Increase Their Lifespan

Featured Image Credit: Lisa Brewster