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The lemon tetra, Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, is a species of tropical freshwater fish which originates from South America, belonging to the family Characidae. It is a small tetra growing to 5 cm in length. The species is a long established favourite aquarium fish, being introduced to the aquarium in 1932.
The lemon tetra is one of the deeper-bodied tetras, contrasting with slender, torpedo-shaped relations such as the cardinal tetra and the rummy nosed tetra, whose approximate body shape when seen from the side is that of a lozenge. The basic body color of an adult specimen is a translucent yellow, with a pearlescent lustre emanating from the scales in particularly fine specimens. The dorsal and anal fin of the fish are marked with black and yellow: specifically, the anal fin is hyaline, with a black outer margin, the anterior three or four rays being an intense, acrylic lemon-yellow in hue, while the dorsal fin is principally black with a yellow central patch. The tail fin is mostly hyaline, but in fine specimens (particularly alpha males) acquires a gunmetal-blue lustre. The pectoral fins are hyaline, whilst the pelvic fins are translucent yellow, becoming more solidly and opaquely yellow with black posterior edges in fine specimens (again, alpha males are particularly notable in this regard). The eye is a notable feature of this fish, the upper half of the iris being an intense red, in some specimens almost gemstone-ruby in appearance. The colour of this part of the iris is an indicator of the health of the fish: if this red colouration fades, or worse still turns grey, then this is an indicator of serious disease in the fish. In common with many characins, the lemon tetra possesses an adipose fin. This fin may acquire a black border, particularly in males, though this is not a reliable characteristic. Black areas of colouration on adult fishes frequently acquire a glossy sheen, enhancing the beauty of the fish.
Determining the gender of the fish is achieved in adult specimens by examining the black outer border of the anal fin. In female specimens, this consists of a fine black line, appearing almost as if drawn onto the fin with a fine pencil. In male specimens, particularly alpha males, the border is conspicuously wider, and in breeding alpha males, can cover up to a third of the total area of the anal fin. This is the only reliable means of differentiating gender in this species – while males frequently have taller and more pointed dorsal fins, some females also possess tall, pointed dorsal fins, and thus this characteristic is not reliable. Ripe females are fuller bodied, particularly when viewed from directly above, as the body cavity expands to accommodate the eggs forming within the female’s reproductive tract.
Juvenile fishes are usually translucent with only a hint of the colour of the adult. Additionally, the gender characteristics in juvenile fishes are not fully formed, so differentiating juveniles into male and female individuals is extremely difficult.
The lemon tetra is an Amazon River fish species, first collected from the basin of the Rio Tapajos, near to Santarem, Brazil. The fish can be found in both the Rio Tapajos and stretches of the Amazon proper in this region (the Rio Tapajos joins the Amazon at Santarem).