When we think of fishkeeping and tropical fish, neon tetras will often be the first thing that comes to mind. They are true ‘classics’ in the aquarium hobby and remain very popular to this day among new and old aquarists alike. Their striking bright colors, peaceful nature and relatively easy care make them great for tropical communities and definitely a species to keep in mind when you’re looking for the perfect schooling fish!
Keep reading for more about neon tetra keeping, care and requirements.
|Minimum tank size||15 gal (57 L, long)|
|Temperature||70-79 °F/21-26 °C|
Paracheirodon innesi, neon tetra
Neon tetra natural habitat
Neon tetras are naturally found in rainforests in South America. Here, they are mostly found in smaller streams with acidic water that is often stained a dark color by decomposing plants.
This makes them typical inhabitants for Amazon tributary biotope aquariums with dark water, driftwood branches and plenty of leaf litter.
Neon tetra appearance
Neon tetras are well known for their colors, which are indeed very bright and almost neon-like! In naturally colored specimens a blue line runs across the top of the body, along with a red line below it that stops halfway. The belly is a silver-white color. Selective breeding has also produced multiple other color variations, such as ‘diamond’ (missing the blue stripe) and albino. Breeders have also developed a strain with long fins instead of the naturally short ones.
Be sure not to confuse neon tetras with their slightly larger but very similar looking cousins, cardinal tetras. These are almost identical but can be recognized by looking at the red stripe, which runs all the way across the belly instead of stopping halfway.
When they’re stressed or if you’ve just turned the tank light on, you may find your neon tetras looking grey instead of bright red and blue. This is nothing to worry about unless the color doesn’t reappear within a few hours!
Apart from the neon colors, neon tetras are a typical tetra species. They grow to a size of 0,8-1,2 inch (2-3 cm) and females can be a bit hard to distinguish from males. When they are fully grown and healthy, they should be slightly larger and rounder.
Neon tetra requirements
As mentioned before, neon tetras are usually found in Amazon tributaries. While it’s not necessary to keep them in an exact replica of this natural environment, they will definitely appreciate a fairly low pH and hardness level and dim lighting.
If you’re not afraid of tinted water, you can also add Indian almond leaves and plenty of driftwood for an extra natural feel. If you’re unsure how to keep plants in a darker Amazon setup look into easy, low-light plants like Java fern that will grow wonderfully in almost any type of aquarium!
A large aquarium is not necessary to keep these tetras: a rectangular setup of at least 15 gallons (57L) should be enough for a medium sized school. When buying them, keep in mind that these are absolutely schooling fish and they will feel very uncomfortable and stressed when kept alone or in a very small group. They will also look much more attractive when kept in a big school, so more is definitely better! 8 is a great place to start.
Neon tetra tankmates
When it comes to tankmates for neon tetras, it’s best to stick to peaceful fish that come from similar acidic waters. Corydoras catfish, bristlenose plecos or small schooling fish like rummy-nose tetras would make a great choice.
Some cichlids are also an option, but be sure to stick to the smaller, more peaceful types such as Apistogramma! Although some sources will tell you it’s fine, betta fish (Betta splendens) are actually not considered suitable neon tetra tankmates. Bettas can become stressed out by the neon tetra’s bright colors and activity level.
Neon tetras will actually shoal with their cardinal tetra cousins, so if you accidentally or purposely mix them it’s not a problem at all as long as your aquarium is suitable for the slightly larger and more sensitive cardinals.
Neon tetra diet
Neon tetras are omnivores that in the wild will eat almost anything they can find! In the aquarium, they will almost always accept regular flake and pellet food.
You can (and should!) supplement their diet with all kinds of other foods: frozen bloodworms and mosquito larvae, algae pellets and homemade gel fish food will all happily be eaten. If you’re not sure how to make gel food, have a look at this article!
Neon tetra behavior
Neon tetras are a peaceful species. They will not bother each other or other fish and are very timid! If your neon tetras are hiding, there is a possibility they are being bullied by an unsuitable tankmate or your school is too small. A healthy, happy group of neon tetras will stay on the foreground in the middle water layer, sticking closely together and swimming actively. If you see your neon tetras chasing each other around, congratulations! They are probably spawning.
If a single neon tetra is behaving oddly, looks lumpy and dull or even has a strange bend in its spine, you may be dealing with neon tetra disease, which is caused by a parasite that can be transferred through store-bought live foods and new fish. Neon tetra disease is almost always fatal and there is no cure available for it.
Breeding neon tetra
Although they are commercially bred on a large scale, getting your neon tetras to reproduce in your own home aquarium can be a challenge, though not impossible. It’s recommended to set up a separate breeding tank with dim lighting, fine-leaved plants and a slightly lower temperature than usual and a low water hardness. A pair of healthy, bright neons should then be introduced. Some sources report that feeding live foods and doing a water change can help induce spawning.
The morning after being introduced, the fish should have produced eggs and can be removed, as they don’t care for their fry and will actually gladly eat their own eggs. Once the eggs have hatched and the fry have consumed their yolk sacs, it’s time to start feeding them. Egg yolk is an option, but this can get very messy. You can also feed infusoria. After a few weeks, the fry will be large enough to eat baby brine shrimp, which you can breed yourself or buy in a jar!
We’ve been keeping neon and cardinal tetras in our own tropical community for quite a while now. Their bright colors can really cheer up an aquarium and they make a great centerpiece!
Due to their relatively easy care and peacful nature, I’d definitely recommend them for anyone looking for that one perfect schooling fish for an Amazon/blackwater themed aquarium.
If you have any more questions about keeping neon tetras or want to share your own experiences with this species, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!