How Long Do Neon Tetras Live: Factors Swaying Their Lifespan

how long do neon tetras live
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Last Updated: June 6, 2023 by Flora Gibbins

Neon tetra fish are freshwater fish popular among beginners and professional aquarists. They are hardy, non-aggressive, and have vibrant colors.


Compared to other aquarium fish, neons have a longer lifespan. But how long do neon tetras live? And what can you do to increase neon tetra lifespan?

This guide will provide detailed answers to these questions. Let’s get started.

The Lifespan of Neon Tetra Fish

Neon tetras, also called Paracheirodon innesi, are native to the Amazon River in South America. Neon tetras can live up to 10 years while in their natural habitat.


Neon tetra lifespan decreases in captivity. Neon tetras live 5 to 8 years in an aquarium.

But that’s not to say they cannot live for 10 years in captivity like the wild neon tetra. If you observe their diet and maintain optimal water parameters, this long lifespan is achievable.

Do check out our blog post on how long Tetra fish live to learn more.

Having established that these tetra fish can live longer than five years, let’s consider the factors that reduce their lifespan.

How Can You Help Your Neon Tetra Live Longer?

Yes, you can maximize the longevity of your neon tetra’s life. And this starts way before you bring your colorful, tropical fish home. How? Read on.

Get Great Genetically-Bred Neons

two neon tetras with live plants

If you want to see your neon tetras live for 8+ years, buy them from experienced and reputable breeders. Such breeders are more invested in producing the best neon tetra’s genetics. Your neons have better odds of survival with good genetics.

Acclimate the Neon Tetra

Once you purchase healthy neon tetras, the breeder will pack them in a bag. And as we know, neons do not enjoy sudden water changes, so you cannot just move them from the bag and into the community tank.

What should you do? Acclimate your tetras. Acclimation is the process that helps a fish adjust to pH and temperature changes, salinity, oxygen content, and nutrient levels in their new tank.

Watch this YouTube video to learn how to acclimate your fish.

Cycle the Neon Tetra Tank

The tank should be well-cycled before you add the fish. Cycling is the process that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, which breaks toxic ammonia and nitrites into less harmful nitrates. The process also removes any parasites or impurities in the tank water.

Neon tetras can get ammonia poisoning if added to the tank during the cycling process. Therefore, perform a fishless cycle and only add the new fish after the beneficial bacteria have colonized the filter.

Get a Big Neon Tetra Tank

Neon tetras love the company of their kind. This means that you have to get multiple fish, at least six or more neons. Although these fish do not become so large, they need a big tank.

Housing neon tetras in a small tank may create stress or deformities in their spine and muscles, which will reduce their lifespan. Moreover, neons are territorial and will become aggressive and fight over the limited space.

volume of neon tetras in aquarium

This is why we recommend a 10-gallon tank size as the minimum size when keeping six neon tetras.

The general rule is to have 1-gallon for one neon tetra.

Doing so will maximize your neon tetra’s life.

Also, get a taller aquarium. Neon tetra feels comfortable swimming in the middle of the water column. This means the fish will enjoy the extra room and comfort in a tall tank.

Maintain Ideal Water Parameters

You can also improve your neon’s life by setting your aquarium to match a neon tetra’s natural habitat in terms of water temperature, pH, hardness, and filtration.

These fish are native to the Amazon River Basin, where the water temperatures are between 69 to 81 degrees F.

Maintaining consistency in this water temperature range will help your tetra fish live healthily and longer.

aquarium with heater

Add a heater to maintain the right temperatures, and it may pay off to have two. The extra heater will keep the temperatures consistent when one fails.

Also, confirm the pH that your neon tetra lives in when in the wild, then replicate it in your fish tank. Many neons are fine with a pH of 6 and 7.

The same applies to the hardness of the water. Neons like soft but slightly acidic water between 2 and 10 dGH.

Moreover, you should install a quality filtration system to improve water quality. The system will remove pollutants, bacteria, impurities, and harmful waste from the water to keep your neons healthy. This will greatly improve your fish’s lifespan.

Fun Fact: Learn more about Neon Tetra Temperature: Factors Keeping Fishes Cool And Lively to complement this article’s section.

Decorate the Aquarium

neon tetras in aquarim with plants

Neon tetra fish are shy. They will look for hiding places when they feel scared and stressed. This is where the plants come in.

Plants provide hiding spots when the neons feel stressed by other aggressive fish.

They offer a sense of comfort and security for the fish in distress. A stressed neon tetra is likely to die much faster than a distressed one.

Plants also provide enough darkness that feels similar to a neon tetra’s natural environment. For instance, driftwood created shades of darkness for the tetras.

Moreover, plants aid biological filtration to improve water quality. When you house your neons in a clean tank, they will enjoy a longer life.

Limit Lighting

aquarium set up with decorations

As previously mentioned, neon tetra thrives in a dark environment. This is why you should place their tank away from direct sunlight. The tetra fish tank should have subdued lights for at least 10 hours to maintain the neon’s circadian rhythm.

The dim lights will avoid stressing the neons for a happier, longer life.

Aerate the Water

A neon tetra needs oxygen to breathe. Take this away, and your fish will be dead in no time. To prevent this, ensure that the water surface gets agitated so that oxygen can enter the water. You can agitate the water with a bubbler, filter output, or an air pump.

Clean the Tank

I cannot emphasize this enough. A clean tank will go a long way in improving your neon tetra’s lifespan.

Therefore, have a regular maintenance schedule and partial, weekly water changes to prevent algae and waste buildup. Doing so will keep a neon tetra healthy.

Fun Fact: Cleaning the tank is one way of maintaining your pet fish because you get to see them up close. You have a better chance of catching whatever is distressing them since they are in a smaller (or separate) container. Diseases don’t happen randomly! Make sure to take care of all things related to aquarium fish well-being. Read this topic and learn more — Neon Tetra Disease: 6 Main Causes Of Your Pet’s Distress.

Choose Good Tank Mates

neon tetras with tank mates

Neon tetras have a calm and social nature, making them great tank mates for other fish species. But they do get aggressive during the mating season.

For instance, it is normal for male neon tetras to fight over female neon tetras. Other than the mating season, neon tetras are generally non-aggressive.

If you want to add more companions for your neon, you must choose those that have similar size and temperament as your neon. Larger, aggressive fish will only stress your neon tetra and make them sick.

The following are compatible tank mates for a neon tetra:

  • Small catfish (at least 4)
  • Barbs
  • Cardinal tetras (at least 6)
  • Guppies (at least 3)
  • Gourami (Avoid Pearl, Opaline, and Giant)
  • Mollies
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • American Dwarf Frogs
  • Ghost Shrimp
  • Swordtail (Just one male)

Proper Diet

Neon tetras should eat a properly balanced diet like any other pet. This will promote healthy living and longer life.

These schooling fish eat insect larvae, algae, small invertebrates, and dead vegetation in the wild. To match this nutrition, offer flakes, pellets, tubifex, bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, live food, and frozen food.

Feeding frequency for tetras in general should be once a day for adults and twice for juveniles. Overfeeding causes your fish to become overweight, which is a recipe for other illnesses. It also pollutes the water in the fish tank.

Avoid Stressful Triggers

Neon tetra fish get stressed from sickness, wrong water parameters, aggressive aquarium fish, bright lights, and boredom, which negatively impact their health. Since you want your fish to live 10+ years, we recommend that you prevent these stressful triggers.

Prevent Neon Tetra Disease

Diseases can reduce your neon tetra’s lifespan. For instance, quality filtration system is a common, highly infectious, and fatal disease caused by parasites. The most common signs include:

  • Body discoloration
  • Cysts in the stomach
  • Swimming erratically
  • Restless
  • Swimming difficulty
  • Weight loss
  • Curved fish spine

There are no cures for these diseases. But you can prevent it by maintaining high water quality, buying live foods from trusted sources, quarantining new fish, and removing the sick ones from the community tank.

Fun Fact: If you are new to aquarium keeping, then proceed to this article, Neon Tetra: A Beginner’s Guide To Nurturing This Pet Fish for tips and hints on taking care of neon tetras!

Factors That Shorten the Lifespan of a Neon Tetra

As a fish lover, you must be looking for ways to lengthen, not shorten, the life of your neon. This is why you should avoid the following factors as they reduce your pet’s life.


Neon tetras thrive when in the company of other neons. They are happier and healthier when in groups of six or more. In addition, they get along with different fish in the tank.

Even though neons are friendly, do not overcrowd their aquarium. Having too many fish makes the neon more susceptible to stress, sickness, and death.

Sudden Water Changes

The neon tetra is a hardy fish that can live in freshwater and black water. But, they are not immune to drastic water changes. Sudden changes in the water chemistry affect their overall health.

Aggressive Aquarium Mates

Neons prefer living with other small, non-aggressive fish. However, if you put them in the same tank as large, aggressive, or predatory fish, they will get stressed, sick, then die. Betta fish, cichlids, and angelfish are some of the species you should avoid for your tetras.

Bright Lights

Neon tetra does not do well with bright lights. They live in a darker environment in their natural habitat and get sick when kept in lit places in the home. Moreover, direct sunlight promotes algae growth. The algae make a neon tetra prone to becoming sick.

Dirty Tank

How short or long a neon tetra lives depends on the cleanness and health of the water in the aquarium.

Neon tetra tanks with high levels of toxic ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites rapidly reduce the lifespan of the fish. Neons often get stressed, contract an infection, and die.

Related Questions

How long can a tetra’s lifespan be in a bowl?

Not long. Neon tetras enjoy the company of their kind, which is not achievable in a bowl. Keeping a sole neon tetra can stress it and affect its lifespan.

How long can neon tetra fish live without food?

These fish can go for a week without food and three weeks if their tank has live plants. But, your neon tetra has to be healthy to last this long.

Does a male neon tetra have a longer lifespan than a female neon tetra?

Not really. However, if a male is constantly mating or the female is always breeding, they may have a shorter life.

Final Thoughts

So how long do neon tetras live? That depends on how you go about neon tetra care. On average, neons can live 5-8 years in captivity and up to 10 years in the wild.

Your neon tetra will lead a long, healthy life if you maintain the perfect water parameters, feed your fish a well-balanced diet, and avoid stressful conditions.

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