What to Know About the White Skirt Tetra

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 20, 2023
5 min read

If you’re searching for an uncomplicated, cute fish to put in your freshwater tank, look no further than the white skirt tetra. Learn more about caring for this popular freshwater fish in the following guide.

Tetras are beautiful fish that are compatible with many other freshwater species. You’ll want to know the following facts about the white skirt variety before considering it for your tank at home:

Origin. Tetras are native to the tropical waters of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, you won’t find white tetras (or any of their colorful counterparts) in the wild. The white skirt tetra is just an albino variation of the black skirt tetra.

Different names. The white skirt tetra may be labeled as the “petticoat tetra” (referencing the appearance of the skirt-like fins) or gold skirt tetra. Naming differences might depend on where you shop, what the preference of the store owner is, and where the fish were bred. Overall, there is no real difference in these fish, as they are all the Gymnocorymbus ternetzi species. Some “gold skirt” varieties might appear more cream-colored or light gold than white, but they are still white skirt tetras.

Appearance. The white skirt tetra is, as its name suggests, all-white in color. While its black counterpart has dark gray vertical bands or stripes against a lighter gray background, the white tetra does not have any stripes. Its body and fins are white, while its eyes are black. Intensely colored tetras that you might see in a local pet store are white tetras that have been dyed or genetically modified. They are not these intense colors in the wild. 

Personality. It's important to consider the personality of your new tank inhabitants before you bring them home. Tetras, like many other small tropical fish, like to stick together. It’s important to purchase schooling fish in groups of at least three — but ideally more, if you have the room for them. You should also be careful not to put them with aggressive larger fish (like cichlids) or fish with long fins. White skirt tetras sometimes enjoy nipping the fins of bettas and other slow-moving species.

Skirt tetras are omnivorous, which means that in the wild, they enjoy a variety of both plant and insect matter. For ideal white skirt tetra care, you can provide them with fast-growing aquatic plants they can nibble on for snacks. Feed them a variety of high-quality flake food, live organisms like brine shrimp, or freeze-dried granules that contain nutrients they need to maintain their health.

White skirt tetras, like most tropical fish, thrive in warmer water temperatures. Aim for around 75°F to 80°F. Additionally, make sure that your water is free of ammonia and nitrites, which are naturally occurring chemicals that can poison your fish. Nitrates should be kept under 50 ppm, and lower if possible. 

The pH level of your tank is important, too, as overly acidic or alkaline water can make your fish sick. Try to keep your tetras’ pH between 6 and 7. Your tap water’s pH might be ideal for white skirt tetras, but it’s a good idea to test it to be sure.

Keep your white skirt tetras with tank mates that require the same water conditions and are not aggressive toward tetras. Other species of tetras, such as neon tetras, rummynose tetras, and ember tetras do well with white skirt tetras and do not require a large space to live. Peaceful freshwater bottom-dwellers like bristlenose plecos and algae-eaters like mystery snails can complement your tank as well.

If you’ve kept freshwater fish as a hobby for a while, you might have heard about the controversy surrounding the colorful tetras you see in pet stores. Maybe you’ve even owned a few. Like plain white tetras, these fluorescent blue, pink, and green tetras are not found in the wild. They’re white skirt tetras that have either been dyed or genetically modified to be more eye-catching. When it comes to your pet’s health, you should know that there’s a drastic difference between these two methods.

Dyed or injected tetras. Most people now regard this method as inhumane. It’s exactly what it sounds like: White skirt tetras that are naturally without pigment are injected with colorful pigment or dipped into artificial dye. This process is highly stressful to fish (and to many fish owners when they realize why their fish are so colorful!).

Thankfully, this practice has been made illegal in many countries, and hopefully, many more will follow in banning this practice. If you are unsure of your tetra’s “origin story,” your pet shop owner or manager should be able to enlighten you. Note that there are many naturally bright, colorful fish — red-and-blue neon tetras, for example — that look this way in the wild and are not dipped or dyed.

Genetically modified tetras. Many of the luminescent tetras, danios, and bettas you see in pet stores are genetically modified to look that way. This is similar to how some plant foods are genetically modified to grow bigger or produce more fruit. Scientists have found a way to introduce a fluorescent protein gene into the white skirt tetra’s genome that does not physically harm the fish or make it more susceptible to disease. These fish won’t lose their brilliant coloration over their lifespan, while dyed fish will slowly fade back to white over time.

You, as the owner, play a big part in how long your fish lives. On average, they have a lifespan that ranges from two to five years. Expand your tetra’s lifespan by feeding it a high-quality diet; keeping it with additional tetras (they are less stressed in schools) and similar, peaceful tank mates; and maintaining the water quality in its tank. 

The white skirt tetra fish is a peaceful, low-maintenance freshwater staple for beginning fish lovers as well as experienced ones. Follow the guidelines listed here for happy, healthy tetras and their tank mates. Ask your vet (or seek out an aquatic vet who specializes in fish care) for more specific instructions if you need help caring for a sick tetra or if you’re concerned about anything regarding its care.