Most tropical fish keepers have kept neon tetras in their community tanks at some point. But did you know that there are many species of tetras to choose from?
In this guide, we’ll focus on the beautiful black neon tetra. These active little fish might lack the bright colors of some of their more glamorous cousins, but nonetheless, they make an interesting, attractive addition to any peaceful community aquarium.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about caring for the black neon tetra.
Black Neon Tetra – At a Glance
|Black Neon Tetra Info
|Common Name (species)
|Black Neon tetra, Black tetra
|Amazon Basin, Colombia, Peru, Brazil
|Schooling fish that must live in groups of at least six
|All areas, but prefers the middle to the upper water column
|Minimum Tank Size
|Tropical 68° to 82.5°F
|Slightly acidic water, 5.5 to 7.5
|Prefers well-filtered water with a moderate flow rate.
|Peaceful community fish
|OK for Planted Tanks?
|Yes, prefers a heavily planted tank.
Background and Origins
Black neon tetras are native to parts of the Amazon River drainage system in South America, specifically the upper Negro and Orinoco River basins in Brazil and Venezuela.
These pretty little fish first appeared in the hobby during the 1950s and have been popular with aquarists ever since.
Black neons live in slow-moving river tributaries that flow beneath dense overhanging rainforest canopies, where the water is dimly lit and stained with tannins.
In their natural habitat, the fish live in large schools, gravitating towards the mid to upper regions of the water column and feeding on small worms, crustaceans, mosquito larvae, and plant matter.
Although they aren’t closely related, black neon tetras and “true” neon tetras do look quite similar.
Black neon tetras have two horizontal stripes across the body – one stripe is black and the other is bluish-white in color. The rest of the fish’s body is a pale grayish-brown with the exception of the upper half of its eye, which features a bright orange half-circle.
As with many small schooling fish, it can be quite tricky to tell the boys from the girls, although it’s not impossible. Female fish are typically larger than males and appear plumper when viewed from above.
Adult black neon tetras generally grow to around two inches long with females being slightly larger than males.
As is the case with most small schooling fish, black neon tetras generally have a lifespan of a couple of years.
Black neon tetras are lively schooling fish that spend much of their time swimming together in a group in the middle of the water column. Occasionally, they’ll flit up to the surface to grab a mouthful of food or dart in and out of your plant stems and decorations.
As mentioned above, black neons do best when kept in a shoal of at least six individuals. Like many small fish species, tetras need the company of others of their own kind to feel happy and secure in an aquarium.
However, take care not to overcrowd a small tank, as that can lead to aggressive behavior in these usually peaceful fish.
Your tetras will show their best colors when they are happy and relaxed, appearing faded and dull when stressed.
Compatibility and Tankmates
Black neons make excellent community fish because of their peaceful temperament. Suitable tank mates include other tetra species and small non-aggressive fish, such as Danios, Endler’s livebearers, mollies, guppies, and the like.
Invertebrates, such as shrimp and ornamental aquatic snails, can also make good tank mates for black neons and will work hard for you in the aquarium by nibbling on leftover food, eating general detritus, and picking algae from the leaves of plants.
I would avoid keeping black neon tetras with large predatory species that could eat their smaller tank mates.
Diet and Nutrition
In the natural environment, black neons enjoy an omnivorous diet, feeding on worms, tiny crustaceans, and grays on algae and plant material.
In captivity, you can feed your fish a diet of high-quality tropical fish flakes and mini pellets, together with frozen foods including brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia.
I like to feed my fish on gel foods that contain meaty proteins as well as extra vitamins and minerals that help to boost the fish’s colors and keep them in peak condition.
Frequency of Feeding
It’s essential that you don’t overfeed your tetras. Any uneaten food will end up on the substrates where it will eventually decompose and pollute your water. In addition, overfeeding can cause digestive problems for your fish, potentially shortening their lifespan.
I recommend you feed your tetras twice a day, providing them with just enough food to keep them occupied for a few minutes.
In this part of our guide, we explain how to care for the beautiful black neon tetra:
As mentioned earlier, black neon tetras need to live in groups of at least six, although more is better. For that reason, I recommend using a tank of at least 20 gallons for a large school of these fish and creating a nice community setup.
As a general guideline, you should allow 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish. However, remember that plants and decorations will take up a lot of the available swimming space in your aquarium.
Black neon tetras are very active fish that like to swim around their tank in a school, so the best choice of tank shape is rectangular rather than tall.
In the wild environment, black neons live in what’s commonly known as “blackwater.” Blackwater is usually dimly-lit and stained the color of cold tea by tannins that leach out from fallen leaves that also cover the substrate.
All fish do better when kept in an environment that closely replicates what they are used to in nature. You can recreate a blackwater environment by scattering a few dried Indian almond leaves over the substrate or filtering the water through aquarium-safe peat.
The waters where tetras are found are generally slow flowing, so you should aim to provide a slow current throughout your tank and cover the filter intake with mesh or foam filter media. This will prevent the fish from being sucked into the unit.
The tetras’ natural environment is shady and quite dark, and you can replicate that in your tank conditions by using dim lighting and plenty of floating plants.
It’s also a good idea to choose plants that can tolerate low lighting conditions, such as those mentioned in the guide at this link.
Black neon tetras enjoy having plenty of dense plants to hide in and explore, as well as pieces of driftwood, tangled roots, and smooth stones to give the environment and natural looking feel that sets off these beautiful fish perfectly.
Use a dark river sandy substrate and add a few dried Indian almond leaves to stain the water and create that authentic blackwater look. You’ll find Indian almond leaves in most good fish stores and online.
Black neon tetras are a tropical freshwater fish species that need a water temperature of between 68° and 82.5°F.
The ideal pH range for these peaceful fish is between 5.5 and 7.5, with a water hardness of 3 to 25 dGH.
Black neons can be quite fussy when it comes to water conditions in their tank, so you’ll need to keep on top of tank maintenance tasks.
Every week, you’ll need to perform partial water changes of between 20% and 25% to reduce nitrates to below 20 ppm. Use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to remove fish waste, uneaten food, and plant debris that would otherwise decompose and contaminated your water.
Once a month, clean the filtration unit and replace the filter media periodically in line with the manufacturer’s directions.
Finally, prune and shape your plants to keep them looking tidy and prevent overgrowth, and snip off and remove brown or dead leaves before they start to rot.
Are Black Neon Tetras Healthy Fish?
Healthy black neon tetras typically spend their day schooling in a group in the mid to upper areas of the water column, occasionally darting up to the water’s surface or breaking away from the shoal to explore the plants.
Your fish should have bright colors and appear slightly plump, heading to the surface at feeding times and gobbling up the food you offer enthusiastically.
Like most tropical aquarium fish, black neon tetras can succumb to common fish diseases, including Ich, fluikes, and bacterial infections.
However, if you keep the environment clean, maintain the correct water chemistry, and give the fish a balanced, varied diet, these tetras are pretty hardy.
Although it is possible to breed black neon tetras in captivity, they’re not the easiest fish species to breed. However, my black neons did sometimes spawn in my community tank if the conditions were suitable.
If you want to try breeding your own black neon tetras, I recommend using a separate breeding tank to prevent the parents and other tank residents from eating the eggs and fry.
Black neon tetras are sexually mature from around nine months old, and you can breed them in pairs or as part of an established school with a ratio of two female fish to one male.
If you plan on breeding using just one pair of black neons, you can use a tank as small as 5 gallons or up to 20 gallons if you want to breed from a school.
The water in your spawning tank should be shallow, ideally around 5 to 6 inches deep. You need to use a rocky substrate and include a few spawning mops or dense clumps of live aquatic plants that the fish can lay their eggs on.
The lighting should be kept very dim since both the eggs and fish fry are extremely sensitive to light and the eggs are prone to fungus.
The ideal temperature for spawning is around 75o F with a pH of between 5.0 and 6.5, and a water hardness of 1.0 to 2.0 dGH.
To protect the fry, use an air-powered sponge filter that creates a very gentle flow and won’t suck up vulnerable fry.
Spawning usually happens in the early morning when it first comes to light.
The female fish scatter up to 130 eggs across a spawning mop or over your plants. Since the parent fish play no part in raising their babies, I recommend removing the plants or spawning mop, complete with its precious cargo of eggs, and placing them in a separate tank where they won’t be eaten.
The eggs typically hatch within 24 hours or so, and the fry is free-swimming within a few days.
Feed the fry with commercial liquid fry food or infusoria, offering them baby brine shrimp once they’re large enough.
You can buy black neon tetras in most fish and pet stores for a few dollars. I recommend buying these fish as a small group – you often get a discount that way.
I hope you enjoyed our guide to caring for black neon tetras. If you did, don’t forget to hit the share button before you go!
Black neons are active, attractive little fish that make a wonderful addition to a peaceful community fish tank. You’ll need to keep these fish in groups of at least six individuals for them to thrive and show their best colors.
They need a well-decorated, heavily-planted blackwater tank with plenty of swimming space. Ideally, your tank lighting should be subdued with a slow flow.
What’s your favorite species of tetra? Tell us in the comments box below!