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Neon Tetra – Diet, Temperament, And Care Guide

The Neon tetra has been around in the aquarium hobby for many decades since they first appeared in the 1930s. A school of brilliantly colored Neons flitting around a beautifully aquascaped tank is sure to catch the eye, and these stunning little fish are just about the most peaceful of the hundred or so different tetra species, making them ideal for a community tank.

But how for long do neon tetras live? What do neon tetras eat? How big do Neon tetras get? And, why do neon tetras die so easily?

In this guide, we tell you everything that you need to know about Neon tetra care!

Neon Tetra – Overview

Neon tetra fish with aquatic plant in aquarium

Here’s a snapshot of what you need to know about basic Neon tetras:

Common Name (species) Neon Tetra, Paracheirodon innesi
Family Characidae
Origin Amazon Basin, Colombia, Peru, Brazil
Diet Omnivore: Tropical flakes, frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, and live food, including white worms, and brine shrimp.
Care Level Easy
Activity Peaceful, happiest in a school of at least six.
Temperament Peaceful Community
Tank Level All areas, but prefers the middle water column.
Minimum Tank Size Nano tanks, 10-gallon
Temperature Range Tropical 68° to 77°F
Water Hardness dGH 3-25
pH Range 5.0 to 8.0
Filtration/Flow Rate Prefers well-filtered water with a moderate flow rate.
Breeding Egg scatterer
Compatibility Peaceful community fish. Avoid housing with large, aggressive, or semi-aggressive fish.
OK for Planted Tanks? Yes, enjoys a heavily planted tank.

Background And Origins

Neon Tetra

Neon tetras are tropical, freshwater fish that are found living in nature in South America, especially in the Paraguay River basin, Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio Taquari, and Brazil. The species is plentiful in the wild environment and is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

There are several types of Neon tetra that are popular in the hobby, including:

  • True Neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)
  • Longfin Neon tetra
  • Albino Neon tetra
  • Diamond Head Neon tetra
  • Red Neon tetra
  • Green Neon tetra
  • Gold Neon tetra
  • Black Neon tetra

However, in this guide, we’re focusing on the True Neon tetra.

Natural Habitat

Neon tetras live in slow-moving waters, primarily river tributaries that flow beneath dense forest canopies, where the water is black and dimly lit. The fish live in large shoals, inhabiting the central water column, where they feed on small crustaceans, worms, and plant matter.

Captive-bred

Girl With Sales Assistant Choosing Goldfish In Pet Store

The Neon tetras that you buy in fish stores and online are captive-bred, mostly by breeders in eastern Europe and the Far East.

For that reason, these fish are readily available and relatively inexpensive to buy. In fact, you can often buy groups of tetras for a discounted price.

Appearance

Neon tetras are tiny and slim-bodied, measuring up to 1.5 inches in length when fully grown, making them a good choice of species for a smaller tank. The fish’s body has a stunning, red horizontal stripe running along half its body. Above that is a brilliant electric neon blue stripe, hence the fish’s common name, Neon tetra.

In captivity, Neon tetras are relatively long-lived, provided that they are given good care, the correct environment, and a high-quality diet, and typically have a lifespan of between five and eight years.

Gender Determination

It can be quite tricky to tell the difference between the boys and girls when looking at Neon tetras, as both sexes look pretty similar.

Generally, male fish are slimmer in body shape than females, making their neon blue line appear straighter. The female fish’s rounder body shape creates a slightly curved blue line.

Activity Level/Temperament

Neon tetras are schooling fish, and they won’t do well unless you keep a shoal of at least six individuals. Like many small fish species, tetras need the company of others of their own kind if they are to feel secure and happy in the aquarium. Happy, chilled-out Neon tetras show their best colors, whereas a stressed fish will often appear faded and lack the sparkle that’s so loved by hobbyists.

These are lively little critters, spending much of their time swimming together in a school in the middle of the water column, occasionally darting up to the surface to snatch a mouthful of food or flitting through the plants.

Compatibility And Tankmates

neon tetra- A beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium with bright blue neons and rummy nosed tetra fishes

Neon tetras make excellent community fish thanks to their peaceful nature. Large, predatory species should be avoided, as there’s a very real danger that the tiny tetras could end up on the menu!

Suitable tankmates for Neon tetras include other tetra species and small, peaceful fish, such as Endler’s livebearers, Platys, and Mollies. If you don’t want to add more fish to your tank, you can create an interesting community by recruiting a clean-up crew of shrimp and small snails. Invertebrates won’t hassle the fish in your aquarium, and they will work hard for you too, eating algae, leftover food, and scavenging bits of detritus that lands on the plants and substrate.

Nippy Fish?

Neon tetras have the reputation of being fin nippers. Mostly, the nipping is confined to other members of the school. However, fish with trailing fins can be victimized. I had a betta fish that I kept with a group of Neon tetras, and one individual continually harassed my poor betta. In the end, I had to remove the tetra and give it to a friend, much to the relief of my betta buddy!

Nipping behavior can usually be effectively managed by adding a few more individuals to the school, which seems to calm things down.

Feeding

Little girl feeding fishes in the aquarium.

In its natural environment, the Neon tetra feeds on tiny crustaceans, worms, as well as grazing on plant material and algae. As with any fish, you should try to replicate the captive Neon tetra’s wild diet as closely as possible.

What To feed

Neon tetras are easy to keep happy when it comes to food. You can feed your tetras a diet of tropical fish flakes and pellets supplemented with live daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and frozen foods too.

Gel foods are excellent! These products contain meaty proteins, as well as added vitamins and minerals that will help to keep your Neon tetras healthy and in peak condition, which is crucial for their bright colors.

Frequency Of Feeding

It’s important that you don’t overfeed your fish. Although the tetras will most likely gobble up whatever you offer them, uneaten food will finish up in the substrate, where it will eventually rot and pollute your water.

So, we recommend that you feed your fish twice or three times each day, offering just enough to keep them busy for a couple of minutes.

Tank Requirements

Little happy boy holding a plastic bag with new fishes he bought at the zoo store for his home room aquarium feeding and taking care of pets

Stress is a big killer of aquarium fish. One big cause of stress is unsuitable tank conditions. So, if you can give your Neon tetras the perfect environment, you stand a very chance of keeping them healthy and long-lived.

Tank Size

Thanks to their small size, a school of six to ten Neon tetras can be kept in small nano aquariums or 10-gallon tanks. That said, if you want to create a community setup, you will need a larger aquarium than that. As a general rule of thumb, you should allow one gallon of water per one inch of fish length, but do bear in mind that plants and decorations can account for a lot of the available swimming space in the tank.

Tank Shape

Neon tetras like to swim around their home in a school, so your best choice of tank is long rather than tall, which allows lots of space for swimming.

Setting Up Your Aquarium

First, gather together everything that you’ll need to set up your tank:

hands of aquarist planting water plant echinodorus in new aquarium

Setting up the tank:

  1. Wash the substrate under running water to remove dust and debris. Add the substrate to the tank to a depth of around two inches.
  2. Install the filter unit and heater, but don’t turn them on just yet.
  3. Add tap water to the tank to a few inches short of the fill line. That allows space for water displacement once you’ve added your plants and decorations. Put an upturned bowl on the substrate and pour the water onto so that you don’t disturb the substrate.
  4. If you intend to cycle the aquarium before you introduce the fish, don’t add treatment to the water. The beneficial bacteria that will reside in your biological filter media need the ammonia that’s contained in the tap water to start the nitrogen cycle.
  5. Wash off your decorations to dirt and dust, and then place them in the aquarium.
  6. Now add your plants, trimming off any dead leaves or damaged stems.
  7. Switch on the filter and heater, and allow the aquarium to cycle for at least ten days before adding your tetras.

Before you put the fish into the aquarium, remember to test the water to ensure that ammonia and nitrite levels are zero, and nitrates are under 20ppm (parts per million).

Water Conditions

close up image of underwater landscape nature style aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants inside.

In their natural environment, Neon tetras live in “black water.” So, ideally, the water in your tank should be peat-filtered. Also, these fish do enjoy a gentle current, so use powerheads or a canister filter to achieve a moderate flow through the tank.

Care should be taken that these little fish don’t get sucked into the filtration system. To protect the fish and prevent accidents, cover the filter intake with foam filter media or mesh.

Lighting

In nature, these tetras live in water that flows beneath a dense tree canopy where very little light penetrates the area below. So, ideally, you need a tank with relatively subdued lighting, which will also work well to show off the fishes’ coloring.

Tank Setup

Neon tetras like to have some dense, low-light planting to explore and hide in, and driftwood or tangled roots help to give the environment a natural look and feel that displays the fish perfectly.

Choose a dark river sand substrate, and add a few dried leaves to stain the water and give it that authentic black water look.

Water Parameters

A small catfish ancistrus stuck to the glass of the aquarium near the thermometer

Neon tetras are a tropical, freshwater fish species that need warm water, ideally between 68° to 77° Fahrenheit. The pH range should be between 5.0 and 8.0, with a water hardness of 3 to 25 dGH.

Habitat Maintenance

Once the aquarium is up and running and you’ve added your Neon tetras, you must keep the tank clean and hygienic for them.

Each week, you’ll need to carry out partial water changes of between 20% and 25% to keep nitrate levels to a minimum. Use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to get rid of uneaten food, fish waste, plant debris, and general detritus that will otherwise pollute the water.

Once a month, you must clean the filter unit and replace the filter media when necessary.

You’ll also need to keep your plants trimmed and maintained to prevent overgrowth and remove dead leaves before they get a chance to decompose.

Health And Disease

Neon tetras are generally robust and healthy fishes, although they can be susceptible to a few diseases that affect most species of tropical fish.

Signs Of Healthy Neon Tetras

Neon Cardinal Fish

Neon tetras are usually active and hang-out in a school in the central zone of the water column. They also like to explore the plants and tank décor.

These fish are also brightly colored and vibrant in appearance, and they should appear slightly plump. Your fish should have a good appetite and will readily swim to the surface at feeding times.

Red Flags

There are a few red flags to watch out for that might be an indicator that all is not well:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Not shoaling with tankmates
  • Hanging at the water surface
  • Laying on the substrate
  • Faded colors

Also, watch out for fish that are flicking against the substrate or the tank decorations. That usually means that the fish are being attacked by parasites. Obvious skin ulcers, ragged fins, reddened gills, swellings, and lumps are all indicators of disease or injury.

Common Diseases And Treatments

Showing sign of white spot on fish body.

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Ich (White Spot Disease) Ich is a parasitic disease that’s caused by the protozoan parasite, Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Affected fish flick against the substrate, breathe rapidly and develop a rash of tiny white spots on the body, fins, and gills. The parasite lives in the water, so you must treat the entire aquarium, as treating individual fish is not effective. Elevate water temperature to 82o F for three consecutive days, and use an over-the-counter remedy.
Fin rot Fin rot is caused by Pseudomonas, Aeromonas, or Vibrio bacteria. Fins are split and ragged with reddening at the base. Treat with a proprietary antibacterial treatment and improve water quality.
Fungal infections Discoloration of eyes, white cotton-like growths. Quarantine affected fish; treat with an antifungal remedy.
Bacterial infections Cloudy eyes, ulcers, red patches on the skin. Quarantine affected fish; treat with an antibacterial remedy.
Neon tetra disease Spreading spot or blemish underneath the dorsal fin. Incurable and often fatal condition. Isolate fish, treatment with Methylene Blue is occasionally successful.

Breeding

Neon tetras can be bred in captivity, although they are not the easiest fish species to breed. That said, if provided with the right conditions, these fishes will sometimes spawn in a community tank. However, the eggs and fry are usually eaten by other fish, so if you do want to have a go at raising your own Neon tetras, I recommend that you use a separate spawning tank.

Neon tetras can breed from around nine months of age. You can breed the fish in pairs or as part of a school of at least five fish in a ratio of two females per one male.

Breeding Tank

If you’re hoping to breed from one pair of Neon tetras, your breeding tank can be as small as just one gallon or up to 20 gallons if you want to breed from a school.

The water in the tank should be around five to six inches deep with a shallow bed of rocky substrate and a few clumps of live plants or a spawning mop. The lighting in the spawning tank should be kept dim, as both the eggs and fry are highly sensitive to light and can be prone to fungus.

To encourage spawning, keep the water temperature at around 75o Fahrenheit with a pH of between 5.0 and 6.5, and a water hardness of 1.0 to 2.0 dGH. Use a small, air-powered sponge filter to keep the water clean and create a gentle flow.

Spawning

Neon tetras generally spawn early in the morning. Females typically deposit up to 130 eggs that are scattered across the plants or spawning mop. The parents play no role in raising the fry, so you need to remove the adult fish once the eggs have been laid. The eggs usually hatch in around 24 hours, and the fry is free-swimming three or four days later.

Initially, you should feed the fry infusoria or liquid fry food. Once they’re large enough, you can offer the fry baby brine shrimp.

Availability

Neon tetras are readily available in most fish stores and high street pet shops. You can usually buy a small group of fish for just a few dollars.

Generally, the larger the group you buy, the lower the price.

Product Recommendations

Here’s a list of the supplies that you’ll need if you want to set up a tank for Neon tetras.

Asian women set the fish tank

  • Algae magnet
  • Aquarium thermometer
  • Aquarium vacuum or siphon cleaner
  • Dark-colored river sand substrate
  • Driftwood and tangled roots
  • Filter system
  • Fish net
  • Fish tank (nano or 10 gallons)
  • Heater
  • High-quality tropical flake food or micro-pellets
  • Lighting unit
  • Selection of frozen foods
  • Selection of live plants
  • Water conditioner

In Summary

A green beautiful planted tropical fish tank.

I hope you enjoyed our guide to caring for Neon tetras. Please share the article with your friends if you enjoyed it, and share your thoughts about the article with us in the comment box below.

Neon tetras are delightful little fish that can add a brilliant splash of vibrant color and life to your community tank. These fish are extremely easy to care for, making them popular with experienced aquarists and beginners, too. These tetras thrive best in a school of at least six individuals and love a tank with plenty of swimming space, as well as lots of live plants, black water, and dim lighting.

If given the correct care and a high-quality, nutritious diet, Neon tetras can live for up to eight years in captivity, and your efforts will be repaid with a shimmering, delightful display to rival any rare, expensive species.

Neon Tetra - Diet, Temperament, And Care Guide-infographic

Alison Page has been an avid fish keeper for over 35 years and has owned many different species of freshwater tropical fish including bettas. Currently Alison has two large freshwater tanks. The first tank has two huge fancy goldfish who are almost ten years old and still looking as good as ever. In the other, she has a happy community of tiger barbs, green tiger barbs, corydoras catfish, platys, and mollies.

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