The cardinal tetra, Paracheirodon axelrodi, is a freshwater fish of the characin family (family Characidae) of order Characiformes. It is native to the upper Orinoco and Negro Rivers in South America.Growing to about 3 cm (1.25 in) total length, the cardinal tetra has the striking iridescent blue line characteristic of the Paracheirodon species laterally bisecting the fish, with the body below this line being vivid red in color, hence the name "cardinal tetra". The cardinal tetra's appearance is similar to that of the closely related neon tetra, with which it is often confused; the neon's red coloration extends only about halfway to the nose, and the neon's blue stripe is a less vibrant blue.The cardinal tetra is a very popular aquarium fish, but is less widespread than the neon tetra because until recently, it was difficult to breed in captivity. However, many breeders are now producing the fish; in most cases one can determine if the cardinal tetra is bred or wild-caught due to damaged fins on wild caught specimens. Normally, aquarists prefer to buy tank-bred fish, but some Brazilian ichthyologists believe fishkeepers should continue to support the sustainable cardinal fishery of the Amazon basin, since thousands of people are employed in the region to capture fish for the aquarium trade. If those fishermen lost their livelihoods catching cardinals and other tropical fish, they might turn their attention to engaging in deforestation.
The fish might also be effectively an annual species with a lifespan of just a single year in nature. It lives for several years in captivity.An entire industry is in place in Barcelos on the banks of Brazil's Rio Negro in which the local population catches fish for the aquarium trade. The cardinal fishery here is highly valued by the local people who act as stewards for the environment. The local people may not become involved in potentially environmentally damaging activities, such as deforestation, because they can make a sustainable living from the fishery.
Perhaps due to their wild-caught origins, cardinal tetras tend to be somewhat delicate in captivity. In the wild, these fish inhabit extremely soft, acidic waters, but seem to be tolerant of harder, more alkaline water conditions; a greater concern is probably polluted tank water (including high nitrate levels). They prefer warmer water temperatures [above 75°F (24°C) or warmer], and will readily accept most forms of dry food. Captive-bred cardinals tend to adapt to hard water better than wild-caught cardinals.P. axelrodi is also often called the red neon tetra. Cheirodon axelrodi (the original name) and Hyphessobrycon cardinalis are obsolete synonyms. The fish's common name, cardinal tetra, refers to the brilliant red coloration, reminiscent of a cardinal's robes. The specific epithet honors ichthyologist Herbert R. Axelrod
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