Cardinal – a cold water fish with a neon stripe

Most aquarium fish originate from warm tropical waters, so a comfortable temperature for them is 24-26 ° C. However, some fish species tolerate keeping well at lower temperatures – 15-20 ° C. Among large fish, the most popular are goldfish, and among small species, of course, a beautiful and unpretentious fish is the cardinal.

General information

The cardinal (Tanichthys albonubes) is a small fish from the carp family. It got its name for the presence of red in color, reminiscent of the color of the mantle of high-ranking priests of the Catholic Church.

This small cold-water fish has spread throughout the world from China. Currently, several color variations have been bred, as well as a form with veil fins. In China, it is sometimes kept in decorative ponds.

Due to its endurance and small size, it can be safely recommended for novice aquarists.


In the aquarium, the size of the cardinal does not exceed 4 cm. The body is elongated, bronze-brown in color. On the sides, from head to tail, there is a bright luminous strip, reminiscent of that of neons. The upper mouth is adapted for catching insects floating on the water surface; antennae are absent.

The anal and dorsal fins are aligned. They are completely or partially colored bright red. The caudal fin has a similar color. There is a dark spot at the base of the tail. The gill fins are transparent, but often with a yellow sheen or black edging.

Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced, usually, males are slimmer than females and have a brighter outfit.


After the discovery of the fish in 1930, it was sold under various names: Chinese zebrafish, false neon, etc. But the original name of the fish, which is used in China and English-speaking countries, sounds like “minnow of the mountain of white clouds”, and is named after the mountain range, located north of Guangzhou (China), near which a previously unknown species of fish was first discovered.

The pioneer of the cardinal is considered the leader of the youth pioneer movement in China – Tang. All this is reflected in the Latin name of the fish. Tanichthys means Tana fish and albonubes means white clouds.

The first specimens came to Europe in 1938, and, thanks to their unpretentiousness, beautiful color, and luminous stripes on the sides of the body, won the hearts of aquarists.


The historical homeland of the cardinal is the reservoirs of southeastern China. The fish can be found in small rivers and streams with a slow flow and rocky bottom. Usually, cardinals do not dive below 60 cm from the water level but hide in thickets of dense coastal aquatic vegetation.

Unfortunately, significant changes in environmental conditions caused by human activities, as well as uncontrolled fishing, led to the almost complete destruction of the natural populations of the cardinal. Since the 80s of the XX century, the fish was completely considered extinct. However, later it was possible to find several isolated populations in China and Vietnam. The government of these countries is taking measures to restore the number of cardinals. All fish for sale are now grown artificially on special fish farms.

Care and maintenance

Cardinals are schooling fish, so they must be kept in groups of at least 6-8 individuals. An aquarium of 30 liters or more is suitable for such a number of fish. When kept in a flock, cardinals become less fearful, and the internal struggle for the attention of females leads to an increase in the color of males. Coarse sand or small pebbles can be used as soil. It is desirable that it be dark. A filter and a compressor must be installed in the aquarium to create the most comfortable environment. But the thermostat is no longer needed because the cardinal prefers to live in water with a temperature not higher than 22 ° C. It is noted that if the temperature in the aquarium does not rise above the 20 ° C mark, then the color of the cardinals becomes brighter. Warmer water has a shorter lifespan. The lighting should be bright, under it, the flocks of cardinals will play with bright colors.

Cardinals thrive best in aquariums with live plants. It is advisable to plant them along the walls of the aquarium, leaving more space for swimming. Commonly used are elodea, ludwigia, Vallisneria, hornwort, ferns, and other small-leaved plants. Natural driftwood and rocks will look good in the aquarium.

Despite the high endurance of the cardinals, regular maintenance of the aquarium should not be neglected. Water changes and soil cleaning are required weekly. Cardinals are sensitive to the copper content in the water, so it is necessary to carefully use the medications that contain it.


Cardinals are peaceful in nature. These mobile, calm fish do not offend anyone in the aquarium and are even relatively calm about the fry.

The most suitable neighbors will be small fish with a similar temperament and feel comfortable at temperatures slightly above 20 ° C: zebrafish, thorns, guppies, tetra-fon-Rio, galaxy micro-assemblies, corridors.

Sometimes you can hear recommendations for joint keeping with goldfish because they are also cold-water organisms. But there is a limitation here – the gold coins should not be large, otherwise, they will be able to swallow small cardinals.

Of course, cardinals with large aggressive fish cannot be kept.

Reproduction and breeding

Breeding cardinals at home is not difficult. Sexual maturity occurs in fish at the age of 6-12 months. Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced, but males have a brighter color and slender body, while females have a rounded abdomen. Spawning is possible throughout the year.

When males become sexually mature, they begin to perform in front of each other, spreading their fins and showing bright colors. All this is done to attract females.

If you are the owner of a species aquarium that contains only cardinals, then you can observe reproduction right in it, because the fish calmly relate to their own caviar and fry.

If the aquarium is shared, then spawning is best done in a separate container. To do this, you need an aquarium of 30-40 liters, with aeration and filtration without a strong current. At the bottom, you can lay a separator mesh or lay a carpet of moss.

Before spawning, it is recommended that producers are transplanted for a week and fed with high-protein feed, after which they are placed in a spawning aquarium. For 4-5 females, you need to put a pair of the brightest males.

Spawning is stimulated by raising the temperature to 20-22 ° C and adding soft water. It is desirable to brightly illuminate the aquarium. Spawning lasts several days, during which time females lay up to 300 eggs. After spawning, the producers are planted.

The fry appears in 36-48 hours and begins to feed on their own 3-4 days after hatching.

Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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