The Ultimate Guide to the Neon Tetra 2020 (Care, Grading, Breeding)

Enchanting, vibrant, and active, these fish are also easy to care for, which makes them a favorite among aquarium hobbyists. 

If you want to enjoy these fish to the fullest and for many years to come, you will want to give them the proper care. 

You are in luck because caring for them is super easy, and this guide will walk you through all the ins and outs of providing the best care possible for your little critters.

Neon Tetra Care Guide

Species Profile Overview (lifespan, size, etc.)

A native to South America, the small Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a member of the Characidae family. First discovered in the Amazon jungles in 1934, it became known as the neon fish. 

This fish ranks among the most popular aquarium fish for several reasons. Fish keepers love it not just for its vibrant neon coloring but also because it’s one of the easiest fish to take care of in the aquarium world, which makes it perfect for both beginners and seasoned pros. 

In the U.S. alone, approximately two million Neon Tetras are sold every month, with the majority of them having been bred in captivity in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Fewer than 5% of the Neon Tetras that are sold have been caught in the rivers of South America.

The Neon Tetra can live upwards of eight years in their natural habitat, but they only live approximately five years in an aquarium.

Behavior

With a peaceful but energetic temperament, this fish brings dazzling color to your tank, especially when they school together. Perfect for your community tank, this non-aggressive fish will spend most of its time in the middle of the tank’s water column.

These fish feel more secure in schools of at least 15 or more Neon Tetras. Anything smaller could cause them to feel threatened, which can cause unnecessary stress for your fish.

Your Neon Tetras will be happier if you provide them with a mixed environment of open spaces to swim around in and plenty of plant cover. They will school together in the open swimming areas when they are feeling safe and secure, but as soon as they feel threatened, they will dart into the nearby vegetation and plants.

Neon Tetra Appearance

What draws people to the Neon Tetra is their brilliant coloring with the neon stripes. The neon red and turquoise blue coloring help to make them one of the most popular and recognizable fish among hobbyists.

The Neon Tetra has a vibrant red stripe that stretches from their caudal fin, all the way up to the middle of their bodies. There is also a turquoise blue stripe that extends from its adipose fin to its eyes. The small, rounded adipose fin is located between the dorsal fin and the tail. 

With the exception of their iridescent stripes, their bodies are almost transparent. In the wild, this transparency helps them hide from their predators. If they begin to feel threatened, they will even mute their blue and red iridescent stripes to keep them safe from predators. When they are sick or sleeping, their neon stripes will fade, as well. The vibrant iridescence is also used to help the Neon Tetras locate each other in water conditions that are unclear and murky. 

Their body is spindle-shaped with a rounded nose and large eyes that take up the majority of the space on their head. The average size of the Neon Tetra is approximately 1.5 inches, but they have been known to grow up to 2.5 inches. The females tend to be slightly shorter than the male Neon Tetras.

Cardinal Tetra vs. Neon Tetra

The Cardinal and the Neon Tetra’s appearances are so similar that they are often mistaken for one another. But once you know what to look for, you can easily distinguish one from the other. 

The Cardinal Tetra’s red stripe extends across the full length of its lower body, beneath the turquoise blue stripe. The red stripe goes all the way from its eye are to the tail area. However, the Neon Tetra’s red stripe starts below the dorsal fin and runs along the body to the tail.

The Neon Tetra has been around longer than the Cardinal Tetra for aquariums and tends to be slightly less expensive than the Cardinal. The Cardinal Tetras are usually a bit larger than their Neon cousins, as well. The Neon Tetra does best with soft, acidic water that has a pH of 6.0 – 6.5, with a hardness level of 5 – 10 dGH. 

The Cardinal Tetra has exceeded the Neon Tetras in popularity, and with the aquarium trade, they are primarily in high demand these days. Because of their popularity, sellers will often price them a little higher than their less vibrant, smaller cousins. They also prefer the soft acidic water like the Neons do, but Cardinals specifically prefer a pH that is below 6, with a hardness level that is below 5 dGH. 

Habitat and Tank Requirements

In their natural habitat, the wild Neon Tetra can be found in the clearwater as well as the blackwater of the Amazon tributaries in Peru, Columbia, and Brazil. They like dark waters and dense roots and vegetation. They do not like bright lights, preferring dim hiding places such as driftwoods and rocks. Driftwoods also soften, as well as darken the water. 

For the aquarium environment, you can mimic the Neon Tetra’s natural habitat by placing a dark substrate along the bottom of the tank, and even a dark background along the rear and sides of the tank. You can fill the tank with lots of plants, especially the floating varieties, if possible.

Neon Tetras are partial to tall plants such as the Cryptocoryne Wendtii, Cabomba, Vallisneria, Brazilian Pennywort (can also be a floating plant), and the Ludwigia Repens. They love floating plants such as red river floaters, dwarf water lettuce, and frogbit. They like to swim around in the hanging roots of these plants.

If you add live plants to your tank, they will help you by removing nitrates from your tank’s water. They are beautiful and functional – a perfect combination.

If you would rather not bother with the upkeep of live plants, then the tall fake ones are an option for you as well. As for any other kind of tank decor, that’s really up to you and what you prefer. The Neon Tetras don’t typically hide in caves or even stake out a territory. 

Neon Tetras do best when they can school together with at least six other Neons, but the more, the merrier for this fish. For this reason, you shouldn’t put them in anything smaller than a 10-gallon tank. However, the Neon Tetra tends to be more striking when they can school together in larger groups, which requires a tank bigger than 10-gallons. A larger tank will allow the school to swim back and forth in the tank beautifully, rather than a smaller tank with the school huddling together. 

Also, a taller tank will give them more area to move around in and feel comfortable since they inhabit the middle of the water column. When planning for the lighting in your aquarium, make sure you go with more subdued lighting. You can use a low wattage fluorescent light should be used. A good rule of thumb is two watts per gallon. 

Neon Tetras will only produce a tiny bio load, and because of this, their filtering should be minimal as well. You can use a regular sponge filter for their tank. Water changes should take place each week, with a 25% water change. Don’t go overboard with the water changes, though. Too many changes in your tank water could harm and possibly even kill your Neon Tetras.

Water Parameters

It’s always best to try to mimic a fish’s natural environment. For the Neon Tetra, that means mimicking the waters of the Amazon river basin. The water should be soft and slightly acidic, with conditions as follows:

  • The temperature should be between 72°-76°F (22.2°-24.4°C)
  • Ammonia levels should be 0 ppm
  • Nitrite levels should be 0 ppm
  • Nitrate levels should be less than 20 ppm
  • pH levels should be between 6-7
  • GH levels should be less than 10 dGH (<166.7 ppm)
  • KH levels should be between 1-2 dKH (17.8- 35.8ppm)

Do not use aragonite sand for your substrate. Because it’s made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), it will leach bot calcium and carbonate into your tank’s water, raising the pH, KH, and GH levels.

Diet and Feeding

When they are in their natural habitat in the wild, the Neon Tetras are omnivores, meaning they will eat meat and plant/vegetable matter. In order to keep your Neon Tetras healthy and happy, you should mimic this kind of diet in their tank. 

You want to feed them a balanced diet of high-quality flake food and the sinking micro-pellets. For a treat, you can feed them frozen or freeze-dried bloodworms as well as frozen brine shrimp. If you want, you can raise brine shrimp yourself inexpensively. That way, you will always have live food in order to supplement their diets.

Because the Neon Tetras are active and they have a higher energy requirement than others, you should feed them about once a day. You could even divide their meal and feed them half in the morning and the other half in the evening.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

The Neon Tetra is a small and peaceful fish and will do best with fish that have a similar personality. Some good choice for tankmates are:

  • Snails
  • Freshwater shrimp, such as red/black crystal, red cherry, or the ghost shrimp
  • Rainbow fish, which can grow over 6 inches but are peaceful and non-aggressive
  • Bristlenose or Clown plecos
  • Otoclinus Catfish
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Platies and other livebearers such as guppies and endlers
  • Other species of Tetras such as Cardinal Tetras, Black Neons, and Black Skirt Tetras

Avoid aggressive and even semi-aggressive fish because they will bully the Neon Tetras. You also need to be aware that fish will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths, so you don’t want to put larger fish like the Arowana or Oscar in the tank with them. You might not see your Neon Tetras again!

Can You Keep Neon Tetras Together?

Your Neon Tetras need to be kept in a school of other Tetras, as large a group as you can manage. When they are in their natural habitat in the wild, they will shoal together in large numbers, sometimes ranging in the thousands.

The Neon Tetra will become unhappy and stressed if there aren’t that many of them. They will feel more secure, less threatened in larger numbers. You need an absolute minimum of six Neon Tetras preferably more, lots more! Anything less than this will have them becoming nervous, and they could get aggressive with each other.

Diseases

There is a disease called the Neon Tetra disease, which is caused by Pleistophora hyphessobryconis, a protozoan organism. The disease was first identified in Neon Tetras, thus the name. However, this disease can also affect other Tetras and even completely different species. 

Neons can become infected by eating food that has been contaminated, such as live tubifex worms, which are known to carry the protozoan’s spores. Or they could become infected from feeding on a dead fish that was already infected. 

Currently, there is no cure for the disease, and if your fish become infected, they will die. The parasite will start eating the muscles of the intestinal tract, starting from the inside out.

Symptoms of Neon Tetra Disease Include:

  • A sudden loss of color
  • Fish stop schooling with others and hide
  • Irregular swimming patterns
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dwelling along the bottom of the tank
  • Developing cysts on their stomach
  • Stomach shrinkage and loss of mass
  • White patches on the body
  • Lumps under the skin
  • Spinal deformities

Chances are if one of your fish becomes infected with the Neon Tetra Disease, your other fish will have it as well. Unfortunately, it is recommended that you destroy all of the other fish in your tank once one fish is infected.

In order to prevent this from happening to your tank, you should maintain the tank’s water temperatures properly. Make sure you inspect and quarantine any new fish prior to adding them to your main aquarium tank. Make sure that all of the live organisms and fish that you add to your tank are disease-free and healthy before putting them in your tank.

Breeding

Breeding the Neon Tetra can be challenging because they require specific water conditions in order to ‘trigger’ its mating season. Due to the challenge, they are not the ideal fish for beginner aquarists looking to experiment with fish breeding in their home aquarium.

However, you may be rewarded with persistence. The first thing you need to do is to distinguish the males from the females. For the males, their blue stripes are straighter than the females because they have a slimmer, flatter stomach. The females have a bit of curve to their stripe because their bellies are rounder.

Once you have determined the male from the female, you need to place each of them into a separate breeding tank. The water conditions in the breeding tank should be slightly different than those of their main tank. The pH level should be lowered to between 5.0 – 6.0, and the temperature should be dropped to 75°F.

When spawning, the female will scatter approximately 100 eggs around, and the male will go behind her and fertilize them. Once the male has fertilized the eggs, you will need to remove both the male and the female from the breeding tank. Tetras are not known for carrying for their young. Instead, they tend to eat them.

You will want to keep the tank dark when you are raising eggs and fry. The Neon Tetras eggs are very light sensitive. Bright lights will actually kill them. It is best to keep the breeding tank as dark as possible for several weeks until the fry are strong enough to be transferred to the main tank.

Once the fry have hatched from their eggs, they will eat their egg sacks for several days. Once the egg sacks are gone, about 2 – 3 days, you should start feeding them tiny pieces of food.

Is the Neon Tetra Right for Your Aquarium?

Because these fish are so vibrant and make such beautiful schools together, they are trendy among the aquarium hobbyists today. 

Just remember to keep them in a group, the more, the merrier. They may be too sensitive for a cycling tank, but in an established tank, you can enjoy these brilliant fish for many years. 

These little electric-neon-looking fish are dazzling to watch as they swim around your tank, schooling together. They are non-aggressive and will get along with other peaceful fish. They make wonderful additions to your friendly community tank.

Michele Taylor
Michele Taylor

Hello, fellow aquarists! My name is Michele Taylor, and I am a homeschool mother of six children, which includes five boys and one girl. Growing up, our family had a large aquarium with angelfish, goldfish, and lots of different varieties of neons.

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