Neon Tetra: A Beginner’s Guide To Nurturing This Pet Fish

Neon Tetra
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It’s a no-brainer why many aquarists keep neon tetras in their community tanks. These freshwater fish are a pretty addition to any tank. Besides, they are peaceful and easy to care for.

If you are a beginner looking to keep neon tetra…

This article details everything you need to know about the neon tetra care guide. 

Learn about neon tetra care, temperament, tank conditions, diet, lifespan, breeding, common diseases, and more. 

Keep reading. 

Neon Tetra Overview

Here is an overview of neon tetra.

Scientific NameParacheirodon innessi
Other NamesNeon fish
Origin Amazon Basin, Brazil, Colombia, Peru
TemperamentPeaceful, Schooling fish
Care LevelEasy
Size1 to 1.5 inches
Lifespan2 to 3 years (in captivity)Up to 10 years (in the wild)
Tank SizeAt least 10 gallons
Tank ZoneMiddle column
Water Temperature68 to 82 degrees F
pH6 to 8
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrite0 ppm
Nitrate<20 ppm
Water Hardness (GH)<10 dGH
Carbonate Hardness (KH)1 to 2 dKH
BreedingLays eggs
DietOmnivore 

Neon Tetra: Natural Habitat

Neon tetras are native to South America. Although most neon tetras are captive bred, you will find wild neon tetras swimming in the Amazon Basin in Brazil, Peru, and Columbia.

These tropical fish live in clear and black water. Neon tetra fish prefer slow-moving rivers with little light and dense vegetation. They thrive in shoals and mainly inhabit middle water levels. 

Neon Tetra: Appearance

Neon tetras are colorful fish with bright colors. These freshwater fish feature a straight blue line that runs horizontally from the fish’s nose to the adipose fin.

Neons also have an iridescent red stripe that starts at the middle of the body to the caudal fin. This red stripe differentiates them from cardinal tetras. 

For cardinal tetras, their red stripe runs from the eye to the tail. 

The other parts of a neon tetra’s body are partially transparent. This helps them camouflage and hide from predators. 

This tropical fish loses its vibrant colors when stressed. Moreover, baby neon tetras are not as colorful as adults and need a few weeks to develop their colors. 

You can tell the difference between a male and female neon tetra by their body shape. The female neon tetra has more rounded bellies that give the blue stripe a curve. The blue stripe appears straighter in males. 

Also, male neons have brighter colors than females. Besides, the dorsal and anal fins are longer in males than in females. Neon tetras have torpedo-shaped bodies that grow to reach a length of 1.5 inches.

There are several variations of the neon tetra due to breeding. 

They include:

  • Black Neon Tetras: They have silver bodies with a black stripe running vertically from the eye area to the tail. 
  • Albino Neon Tetras: Their bodies are white with pink eyes. These fish lack the blue and red stripes present in true neon tetra. 
  • Golden Neon Tetras: These fish have a red-gold line and gold color that beautifully contrast with planted plants in the fish tank. They look like albinos but they suffer from leucism.
  • Longfin Neon Tetras: These aquarium fish have longer fins than true neon tetra and subdued body colors.
  • Diamondhead Neon Tetras: These neons are native to South America. Their heads have a diamond shape, hence the name. 
  • Green Neon Tetras: Although these fish are classified as neon tetra, they are different. Green neon tetras have a green-blue stripe and a small red stripe on their tails. 

Neon Tetra: Temperament

Neon tetras are peaceful, community fish that make good tank mates. These peaceful fish will not bother other fish in the tank. 

Neon tetras are schooling fish who feel safe and happier in numbers. They feel secure living with their kind, which is why you should keep at least six neon tetras. If you own a bigger tank, get more than eight neons.

Neon tetras are active fish that spend most of their day swimming in the middle column. You will find them playing or hiding in the aquarium plants. 

These freshwater fish inhabit the middle water column. Nevertheless, they will swim to the surface to grab food or hide in the aquarium plants. 

These peaceful fish are also skittish and get easily scared by sudden movements in the tank. You can help them stay calm by reducing sudden motions, keeping their tank dimly lit, and adding floating plants to their tank. 

Sometimes, neon tetra fish are classified as fin nippers. This is because they are fascinated by fish species with long, flowing fins. It is not unusual to find a group of neons harassing a betta fish or guppy. 

Neon Tetra Care

Neon tetra care involves establishing the correct tank size, water chemistry, and tank requirements in terms of aquarium equipment and decorations. 

Tank Size

The general rule of keeping neon tetras is to provide one gallon of water for every inch of the fish. Neons tetra fish thrive in schools of at least six neons. Each neon may grow to 1.5 inches. This means that the minimum tank for neon tetras is 10 gallons. 

Even a 10-gallon tank can become crowded for six neon tetras because they need room for their schooling behavior. Besides, they love a planted tank, and you may need to add tank decorations. Therefore, it would be best to get a 20-gallon tank or bigger. 

Since these schooling fish are mid-column dwellers, we recommend getting a taller tank. The extra room will facilitate their graceful swimming movements.  

Water Parameters

Neon tetras live in the tropics, where the water is usually warm. The ideal water temperatures for neon tetra should be between 68 and 82 degrees F. You will need a heater to maintain stable water temperatures. Cooler temperature lowers the fish’s appetite and makes them prone to diseases. 

The pH levels should be between 6.0 to 8.0. However, always aim for a 7.0. In terms of water hardness rating, ensure it remains less than 10 dGH. 

Lighting

Neon tetras live in blackwater streams in the wild where little light passes through. In addition, the streams are slow-moving, with plenty of decomposing organic matter at the bottom. 

You need softer, dim lights for your neon tetra tank to replicate these conditions. Add driftwood and floating plants to create partial darkness in the aquarium. Alternatively, you can darken the aquarium glass to mimic a neon tetra’s natural habitat. 

Did you know you can create a blackwater biotope in your home? Here is a YouTube video about how to set up a biotope: 

Filtration

For neon tetra fish to thrive, they need a clean environment. A filtration system will remove debris, toxic chemicals, and waste. 

The size of your fish tank will determine the filtration method you use. The filter you use should have moderate flow as these fish live in gentle currents in their natural habitat. 

If you own a 10-gallon tank, you can use a hang-on-back since these fish have a small bioload. We recommend a canister filter for larger tanks and a sponge filter for breeding neon tetras. In addition, use peat filtration to lower pH levels and water hardness. 

Heater

If you live in the tropics, where the temperatures do not drop below 70 degrees F, you do not necessarily need a heater. But, if you live in areas where the temperatures keep fluctuating, an aquarium heater will help stabilize the tank temperature. 

Sudden temperature changes can stress your neons, making them prone to diseases. However, if you set the heater to the optimal temperature range for neon tetras, they will stay healthy. 

Aquarium Plants

Neon tetras are shy fish who love a heavily-planted tank. These fish enjoy swimming in and out of the bushy plants. Plus, live plants promote water quality by absorbing CO2 and ammonia.  

Some of the best aquarium plants for your neons are:

  • Java moss
  • Java fern
  • Cabomba
  • Moss
  • Anacharis
  • Pennywort
  • Red roof floaters
  • Ludwigia

Remember, the plants should not take up the neons’ swimming space. 

Substrates 

As middle-water dwellers, neon tetra fish are not choosy about their substrate. They usually spend most of their day swimming and playing and are not interested in scavenging in the substrate. But, you need a substrate that promotes plant growth, like organic soil, since neons love planted tanks. 

Tank Maintenance

Neon tetras love clean, fresh water in their tank. Therefore, carry out 20 to 25% partial water changes to prevent waste buildup. Stick to performing partial water change to prevent health problems for your neon tetras.

Use a siphon to remove water pollutants like decaying plant leaves, fish waste, uneaten food, and other detritus. Ammonia and nitrite levels should be maintained at 0 ppm as they are toxic to neon tetra fish.

Cycling The Fish Tank

Before you add neon tetras to their aquarium, ensure it is well-cycled. Cycling promotes the growth of good bacteria that breaks down ammonia and nitrates. This process may take 6 to 8 weeks. 

However, do not add neon tetras into a freshly cycled aquarium. These tropical fish are sensitive to sudden water changes that happen in newly cycled tanks. So, ensure the tank is well-established to prevent sudden neon tetra deaths. 

Neon Tetra: Diet

As omnivores, neon tetras eat meat and plant matter. These freshwater fish eat worms, tiny crustaceans, insect larvae, water fleas, fish eggs, algae, and plant material in their natural habitat. 

Since these fish are in your aquarium, provide high-quality fish flakes with at least 40% protein. Fish flakes are packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

Next, supplement the flakes with live or frozen foods. Blackworms, fruit flies, daphnia, bloodworms, tubifex, and frozen brine shrimp are healthy sources of protein. 

Only get live foods from reputable pet stores as they can harbor the parasite responsible for Neon Tetra Disease. 

When feeding neon tetras, offer small bits of live foods to prevent swallowing difficulties. Also, provide plant foods to guarantee good health. Cucumbers, strawberries, algae wafers, and floating plants are excellent plant foods. 

How many times should you feed neon tetras? We recommend feeding neon tetras a few pinches of food twice or thrice a day. Feeding should only last a minute or two. Overfeeding your neon tetras can result in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate buildup, which can prove fatal for your aquarium fish. 

Neon Tetra: Lifespan

In the wild, neon tetras live for up to 10 years. These hardy fish have a similar lifespan in captivity if their ideal living conditions are met. Expect to care for your neon tetras for 5 to 8 years. 

If you neglect to care for your neons, they may not live this long. Or, if you house them with large, aggressive tank mates, they will get eaten or stressed to death. 

Neon Tetra: Breeding

Some tetra species are easy to breed, but not the neon tetras. To breed neon tetras, you have to provide the correct water parameters and lighting conditions. Plus, you have to be extra vigilant and patient. 

Fortunately, breeding neon tetras is challenging but not impossible. Here is what you should do:

Culture Infusoria

Your new fry will need food after hatching. This is why you should culture infusoria a week or two before you breed your neon tetras. 

Here is a short YouTube video on how to set up your infusoria culture:

Alternatively, you can offer baby brine shrimp to the neon tetra fry. 

Condition The Breeding Parents

Feed the breeding neon tetras protein-rich foods to encourage spawning. Some excellent protein sources are frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, or other live foods. These foods encourage females to produce eggs. Besides, feeding neon tetras high-protein makes it easier to sex the females. 

Set Up A Breeding Tank

Adult neon tetras eat their eggs and fry. To avoid this, prepare a separate breeding tank. The tank size will depend on whether you are breeding just a pair or a school. 

To set up a successful breeding tank, follow the steps:

Step 1: Rehydrate peat by soaking it in warm water, then layer it at the bottom of the aquarium.

Step 2: Spread java moss on the peat. (Alternatively, use a breeding mat or round marble substrate to protect the eggs from the parents.)

Step 3: Add water to your tank. You could use fresh rainwater, distilled water, reverse osmosis water, or treated tap water with a <2 dGH. The tank will appear dark at first, but the peat will settle after a few hours. 

Step 4: Install a heater and set the temperature to 72 to 75 degrees F. 

Step 5: Add a sponge filter to generate a gentle flow and provide clean water.

Step 6: Maintain a pH of 5.0 to 6.0. 

Step 7: Keep the spawning tank dark. 

Step 8: Add the breeding pair(s) into the tank for one or two days. The females will scatter up to 100 eggs in the tank. The male neon will then fertilize these eggs. The eggs are transparent and stick to surfaces. 

Step 9: Remove the breeding pair(s) from the spawning tank as soon as you see the neon tetra eggs. 

Step 10: If there are no eggs after two days, carry out a large water change to soften the water. It also mimics the unpredictable rainfall seasons in the wild. 

Step 11: Maintain a gentle current in the tank to prevent the eggs from catching fungus. 

Step 12: You will have newly hatched fries after 24 hours. Expect only a third or a half of the laid eggs to hatch. 

Neon Tetra: Fish Fry Care

A dark tank is a must when you have fish fry in your spawning tank. Neon tetra eggs and fry are sensitive to bright light. So if you want to look at the blackwater tank, use a flashlight for a few seconds. 

The newly-hatched fry will absorb their egg sac for the first three days. Switch to prepared fry food, egg yolk, or infusoria and offer feedings 5 to 8 times a day.

As soon as the fries are large enough, include freshly hatched brine shrimp to eat them. You can also add powdered fry food in week three. The fry will start developing colors from week three. 

Neon Tetra: Tank Mates

Are you thinking of keeping neon tetras with other fish? Well, you need to guarantee that you keep them with compatible mates. 

When choosing tank mates for neon tetra fish, ensure they are about the same size as your tropical fish. If you keep your neons with larger fish, they will become tasty treats. 

Additionally, the tank mates should be peaceful. Aggressive fish will only stress your neons, making them susceptible to infections and diseases. Also, choose mates that inhabit the top or bottom of the tank, not the middle level.

Ideal tank mates for neon tetras include: 

  • Rasboras
  • Dwarf Gouramis
  • Dwarf Corydoras
  • Barbs
  • Danios 
  • Rainbow fish
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Aquarium snails
  • Small loaches
  • Livebearers
  • Other tetra species like black neons, black skirt tetras, and cardinal tetras

Fish types to avoid are Oscar, Betta fish, African Cichlids, Arowana, and Buenos Aires tetra.  

Neon Tetra: Common Diseases

Despite being a hardy tetra species, neon tetras are susceptible to illnesses. The following are the most common health issues. 

Neon Tetra Disease

Neon tetra disease is common and fatal. A protozoan parasite causes neon tetra disease. Neon tetras get parasitic spores from consuming contaminated live food, eating dead infected fish, or introducing new infected fish.

Symptoms of neon tetra disease are:

  • Dull colors
  • Restlessness
  • Fish stops shoaling
  • Trouble swimming
  • White cysts and lumps
  • Curved spine

The parasite weakens the fish’s body from the inside.  Sadly, there is no cure for this disease. If you suspect some of your fish are infected, the best remedy is to remove them from the neon tetra tank to prevent the infection from spreading to other fish in the tank. 

False Neon Tetra Disease

False neon tetra disease is a condition that mimics the symptoms of neon tetra disease. The disease is known as Columnaris and is caused by a bacterial infection. 

Symptoms include:

  • Fish stop eating
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Stops schooling
  • Loss of bright colors
  • Curved spine

False neon tetra disease is also fatal since it is usually misdiagnosed. However, it is less infectious, but it is better to quarantine the sick fish. 

Ich

Neon tetras are also prone to catching ich, a parasitic infection caused by a protozoan. The infected fish have white spots on their bodies, hence the name “white spot disease”. 

Symptoms of ich are:

  • Fish rubbing their bodies against surfaces
  • Flicking the substrate
  • Rapid breathing
  • White spots on the body

To treat the condition, place the sick fish in a hospital tank. Add aquarium salt and gradually increase the tank water temperature. 

Fin & Tail Rot

This disease affects neon tetras that live in poor water conditions. Fin and tail rot can either be a bacterial or fungal infection. The sick fish have split, ragged, and frayed fins that eventually fall off.

Performing a complete water change may help treat the condition. Also, ask your vet for an antibiotic prescription. 

How To Prevent Diseases

The best way to keep your neon tetra fish healthy is by maintaining their optimal tank conditions. Also, always quarantine new fish before adding them to the community tank. 

Keep the tank water temperature stable, perform partial water changes, have a mature, cycled tank, feed a balanced diet, and provide dim lighting.

Keep in mind that healthy neon tetras look different from sick neons. Healthy neons are active and spend their day schooling and exploring the tank. Plus, a display of vibrant colors is proof that your fish are well. 

But if your fish are lethargic, have reduced appetite, and are losing weight, they are not well. Other behaviors to watch out for are fish not shoaling, pale colors, and fish swimming at the surface or laying at the bottom. 

Neon Tetra Availability

Neon tetras are readily available at pocket-friendly prices. You can find a school of neon tetras in local pet stores or fish stores. 

Fun Fact: Complete your neon tetra education by reading our related post, How Long Do Neon Tetras LIve: Factors Swaying Their Lifespan!


Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Do Neon Tetras Breed?

These tropical fish can breed twice a month if their spawning conditions are met. The fertilized eggs take 24 to 36 hours to hatch. 

When Do Neon Tetra Fry Transition To Adult Food?

If you feed neon tetra fry with a proper diet, they will have a growth spurt. You can transition them to adult food in 4 to 6 weeks. 

What Is The Difference Between True Neon Tetras And Cardinal Tetras?

Cardinal tetras are larger than neons. Besides, the red stripe on cardinal tetra runs from the eye area to the tails. For neon tetras, this red stripe starts mid-body towards the tail. 


Conclusion

Neon tetras are hardy fish that can tolerate different water parameters. Nevertheless, maintain their ideal water conditions for your fish to live healthily. Provide a blackwater tank with optimal temperature, pH, and proper filtration. 

Also, keep your neon tetras in schools of more than six fish. These fish feel safer and secure in numbers and will look more vibrant in large schools. 

Before adding neon tetras to your community tank, be certain you are ready for an eight-year commitment. Neon tetras have a long lifespan but are generally easy to care for. 

Last Updated: July 12, 2022