False Penguin Tetra (Thayeria Boehlkei) – Care Sheet

false penguin tetra

Tetra fish species are one of the most common fish species for the home aquarium. There are more than 700 species of tetras over the world. Among all the tetras, False Penguin (Thayeria Boehlkei) tetras are one of the underrated tetra species. The appearance of this tetra is unique. You can see a golden color body, with a black stripe running throughout the bottom half. This sign represents the features of a penguin.

This tetra specie is available as False Penguin Tetra, Penguin Tetra or Hockey Stick Tetra. Just like most of the tetras, these tetras are also a peaceful species. If you are able to keep them in sufficient numbers then you might not see the fin nipping behavior as well. Therefore, these species should live in at least 6 or more individuals.

This article can help you understand the characteristics, behavior and the requirements that will be needed to care for the Penguin Tetra. 

Keep reading to know more about Penguin tetra.

Origin, Habitat in the Wild and Distribution

This species mostly gets confused with true Penguin Tetra (Thayeria Obliqua) species. To clear this confusion, Dr. Stanley Weitzman described and differentiated the two species in 1957. However, the False Penguin Tetras are most commonly sold as Penguin Tetras Fish. 

The Hockey stick tetras have originated around the tributaries of backwaters as well as flood plains of the upper Amazon basin in regions of Brazil and Peru. 

The penguin tetras choose their habitat having dense vegetation and deep tree roots, these tetras are used to dim and diffused lightings. The dense plant in their habitat helps them protect themselves from large predators.

The IUCN has yet to list the false penguin in their list. Hence, at the present, these tetras do not fall in the red list and are commonly available as Penguin Tetras all over. 

About False Penguin Tetra

The penguin tetra is the tetras that can grow quite large, about 3 inches in length. These tetras are peace-loving fish. Like most of the tetra species, these tetras also need to be kept in a school.

This tetra is very less demanding because even the beginner owners are able to handle them. With the right tank set up and trying to replicate the natural environment as closely possible, you can create a safe and happy environment for your tetras.

Let us learn more about the hockey stick tetra’s appearance, availability, life span, and the prices in more detail.


Penguin tetra, as the name suggests, has an appearance of penguin markings in their body. These tetras have pale olive, golden color across the body with an additional thick vertical black strip. The strip runs from the top of the lower caudal lobe.

The fish might also have red coloration in the fins. You can mostly see this develop in the dorsal and anal fins.

The maximum size that these tetras can grow is about 3 to 3.2 inches in length. The false penguins are quite large tetras in comparison to other tetras


In the wild, the false penguin tetras can live in the freshwater streams. Especially, native to South America, Rio Araguaia (Brazil) and the Peruvian Amazon.

These species are not endangered hence, they are commonly found in the wild. You can find them in areas with dense plants and vegetation.

Now, if you want to purchase these tetras, you do not have to go and capture penguin tetras from the wild itself. The false penguins are cultivated in the fish farm and the local stores get most of the tetras from there.

Hence, if you wish to house the false penguin tetras, you can purchase them from your local fish store.


If you are able to provide the proper care and a stable environment, the penguin tetras will be able to live up to 5 years. 

There are cases reported where these tetras have lived up to 8 years as well. Therefore, proper care is the optimum requirement for the tetra’s well-being.


You do not have to worry about the prices when it comes to false penguin tetras. These tetras are not very expensive and have a great group price.

The tetras need to live in a school; you must purchase the false penguin in a bulk as well. The group price you will get for 6 to 11 penguin tetras can cost $3.09 per fish.

The more tetras you will get, the lesser the cost.

Sexual Difference

There is almost no sexual dimorphism in penguin tetra fish. Just like in more tetras, it will take an expert to distinguish the males and the females properly.

Generally, you can see the female tetras slightly bigger than the male tetras. This is the same case for the penguin tetra. The male penguin tetra can also be brighter than females.

The females have a more rounded body whereas the male will have the slender and small bodies.

Social Behavior and Tank Mates

Considering what I have said in the previous section of the article, you may be familiar with the tetra’s nature. Tetra fish are quite compatible and sociable. These fish do not do well when kept in isolation.

Stating that, the penguin tetras will also thrive and do great in a community tank. With at least 6 species of their own and other tank mates showing similar character traits, you can have a great tank.

If you do not provide them a good social environment, the false penguin tetra may show the tendencies of nipping others fin in the aquarium. This can create a stressful environment, for the false penguins as well as other species in the tank.

Some of the most eligible tank mates for penguin tetras are other species of similar tetra fish, barbs and danio species.

False Penguin Tetra Fishkeeping Difficulties

The false penguin tetras are most likely to live happily under captivity than in the wild. Thus, it can be said that these tetras can thrive in good, well-maintained biotope tanks with compatible tank mates.

With the right living environment, we can say that the false penguin tetras are very easy to care for. So much that even the beginner fish keepers are recommended to house them. From this, we can say that there is no great difficulty in raising this fish in a home aquarium.

In addition, these tetras are quite hardy as well. This will make the tetras quite tolerant of a wide water parameter range. 

If you research thoroughly and provide extra effort for the care of these tetras, handling them will be very easy.

Caring for False Penguin Tetra

Every living being needs proper care in order to flourish and develop. Your tetras do need proper nurture, attention so that they can live a good life in your aquarium. You will be able to do this by considering different tank and water conditions such as temperature, hardness, pH level as well as a suitable diet.

Keeping these requirements in mind, you can create a healthy and happy lifestyle for your tetras. It is important that your fish remain happy in the environment that you create. Clean water and environment, proper food, suitable spaces for swimming, etc. can help you to care about the tetras in the best way.

Humans are not able to live in a small, confined room for a long time. We need good interactions with friends, proper diet and pollution free environment to stay healthy. This is exact for your tetras as well. You will need to treat your fish as a part of your family for their wellbeing.

Tank Size

People have a big misconception that caring for the tetras will be easier in a small aquarium. However, the case is exactly the opposite. It will be a lot easier to manage your fish if you have a bigger aquarium.

In the case of false penguin tetras, your tank size must be around 24 inches in length. This means that you will handle this particular tank in a 10 to 15-gallon tank. 

If you follow the general rule of thumb, you will need 1 gallon of water for 1 inch of the fish. In this case, the size of the penguin tetra will be 2 to 3 inches in their full growth. Hence, you will need at least a 12-gallon of free space.

Read Full Article on How Many Neon Tetra in a 10 Gallon Tank. This is applicable for false penguin tetras too.


Lighting plays an important role in the tank environment. The light requirement can differ with respect to different species. In the case of tetras, they mostly prefer dim and diffused lights.

The false penguin tetras will need diffused lights. This will help them hide into darker places whenever the tetras will feel unsafe. The diffused lighting does not create a totally dark environment and tank species will not die due to light deficiency.

Decorations and Substrate

The decorations and substrate in a false penguin should try to replicate the tetra’s natural habitat as closely as possible.  

You should try to house them in a densely planted aquarium, having moderate to dim lighting. I will also recommend you to keep some floating plants so that it can break some direct lights.

Using smooth river rocks, small stones, as well as driftwood roots with a dark and sandy substrate, can help bring out the tetras colors. For the substrate, you might also add some dried catappa leaves.

Fish Diet

Good food and nutritional diet is a part of every living being. Tetras are omnivores, which means that they will be able to eat both plant and microorganism diet.

As the false penguin consume small organism in the wild, they can feed upon small insects, larvae, crustaceans as well as worms. However, you may not be able to get these in your home.

You can feed them commercial based products such as flake, freeze or dried bloodworms, tubifex worms, etc. The false penguin tetra can also enjoy some occasional treat or supplementation to their staple diet.

It is very much important to feed your false penguin tetras at least 2 to 3 times per day. This is essential to ensure that the tetras will have a healthy immune system. Make sure that you do not overfeed them as well. 

You will need to feed them the foods that they can consume within 2 to 3 minutes. 

Read Full Article on Tetra Fish Diet.

Maintain the Water Quality

Like we human beings need fresh air to breadth, fish needs good quality water to live. You must be able to take care of tetras living in the tank so that you can provide them with the life they deserve. 

The water for the penguin tetra should be rich in oxygen as well as minerals. This will help your tetras to live their life in a healthy way. There may be a chance of fish not being able to live up to their marked life span if the water condition is poor.

Good filters are not enough to keep your aquarium clean and toxin impurities. You need frequent water-changing, vacuum, cleaning the tank glass as well as maintain the pH, temperature, ammonia level, nitrate level, etc.

Read Full Article on How to clean the tetra fish tank.

Water Temperature

The false penguin tetras are tropical water fish therefore, you will need a similar temperature in your tank as well. The stable water temperature for this tetra will be 22 to 28°C or 72 to 82°F.

Water pH

The false penguin tetra can tolerate a high range of pH levels as well. The pH range that the tetra can adapt to can be from 5.8 to 8.5. Although, most owners keep them the water slightly basic around 8 to 8.5.


The hockey stick tetra prefers to live in moderately hard water. The hardness of the tank water can be 20dGH.


The fish tank filters are a vital part of your tank environment set up. Installing the filtration system will absorb the biological as well as mechanical wastes from the tank and provide the fish with high-quality water. 

The filter system may be different for various species. In the case of false penguin tetras, you can use a small net bag filled with aquarium safe peat to a regular filter. This will help to mirror the black water conditions of fish’s natural habitat.

Water Maintenance

Frequent changes of water in the tank is the optimum requirement. There are ways to do these changes. You can either do a partial water change or complete water change as well. 

This is a necessity for every fish tank because there will be a buildup of waste such as decaying excess and uneaten foods, fish excretes, solid debris in the gravel, etc. These need to be removed so that water quality is maintained. Over time, there might also be the development of toxins such as ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites as well.

Therefore, every week, there must be at least 30% of water changes, or you can also change 15% of the water twice a week.

False Penguin Tetra Fish Disease

The false penguin tetras are one of the hardiest fish. This means that these tetras will get less chance of getting sick easily. However, even when you take all the necessary precautions to stabilize the tank environment, sometimes your tetras may get sick.

The most common diseases that can occur in your penguin tetra can be ich disease, bacterial or fungal infections. You can see early signs if your tetras are sick, and act accordingly.

Breeding False Penguin Tetra

The false penguin tetras are frequent breeders. It is not much of a difficult task but whenever you want to breed the tetras, you should keep them in a separate tank of their own.

Read Full Article on How to Breed Tetra Fish.

The tank should be around 18 X 10 X 10 in size. You will need to adjust different water parameters for the breeding tank. These tetras lay eggs in small groups. The females lay eggs in the clumps of fine-leaved plants such as java moss or spawning mops. You should also cover the base of the breeding tank with a thin mesh so that the eggs can fall through it. 

You need to isolate the breeding pairs, keeping a couple of females with the male penguin tetra. Breeding generally takes place during the nighttime. The spawning starts when the males start to chase the females.

The females lay around 1000 eggs and they hatch after a day or two. You need to remove the parent tetras as soon as the fertilization of the eggs takes place. This will help prevent the parents from eating their own eggs.

The fries start to swim after 5 days or so. The tetra fries do not do well with too much lighting and hence, the tank should be covered.

Fry Care

After the eggs hatch, it can become a little bit difficult for you to handle. This is because you will find it very challenging to feed them. When it becomes difficult to feed, it will be tough for them to ensure the tetra’s growth as well.

You cannot feed the tetra fries commercial foods directly. You should first feed infusoria type food in the initial days. You should continue doing this until the fries are large enough to eat a micro worm or brine shrimps. 

Check our article about tetra fry care.

Closing Remarks

I hope that with this article you got a gist on how to work with false penguin tetra and properly care for their development. You should feel responsible for the tetras that you house. Your dedication and effort will definitely reflect when the tetras thrive.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top