When you think of fishkeeping and the many different tropical species available, neon tetras will often be the first fish 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 blue stripes, peaceful nature, and relatively easy care make neon tetras great for tropical community fish tanks. They are definitely a species of fish to keep in mind when you’re looking for your first perfect schooling fish!
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about neon tetra care and how to keep these small fish in your own freshwater aquarium!
|Neon Tetra Info
|Minimum tank size
|15 gal (57 L, long)
|68-78° F/20.0-25.6° C
Neon tetras, also known as Paracheirodon innesi, are so popular that they are usually the first species that comes to mind when someone mentions the word tetra. As we will discuss, these popular aquarium fish are named after their signature colors.
Neon tetras may sometimes still be referred to by their old taxonomic categorization, Hyphessobrycon innesi, though their only common name is the neon tetra.
There are two other types of neon tetra; the green neon tetra and the black neon tetra. However, the green neon tetra is an entirely different species, Paracheirodon simulans, and the black neon tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi) belongs to an entirely different scientific genus!
How long do neon tetras live?
Despite being so small, neon tetras live a surprisingly long time.
The average lifespan of an aquarium-kept neon tetra in good conditions is about five years. However, it isn’t unheard of for some to live close to 10 years!
The biggest challenge of having neon tetras for a long time is actually keeping them alive during the first 24 hours of introducing them into your tank. After that, they are pretty much guaranteed to be okay as long as there is no illness present in the aquarium.
Neon tetra natural habitat
Neon tetras are naturally found in lush rainforests throughout South America, specifically in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. They are primarily found in smaller streams with acidic water that is often stained a dark color by decomposing plants and other organic matter.
Their typical habitat in the hobby will be Amazon tributary biotope aquariums with dark water, driftwood branches, and plenty of leaf litter. They also live in large schools among many other species, making for a beautiful blackwater community aquarium in captivity.
Interestingly, wild neon tetra populations are found in very specific regions of the Amazon River throughout South America. These groups are relatively easy to track and document.
However, the aquarium hobby has since caused sporadic invasive populations to appear in Singapore, Canada, and the Philippines. Their need for tropical climates and acidic waters limits where they can establish themselves and prosper.
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 with a red iridescent stripe below it that stops halfway. The belly is a silver-white color. These fish stay small, maxing out at about 1 inch (2.5 cm).
Male and female neon tetras can be very difficult to tell apart. The only real difference is that female fish will typically have rounder bellies than males at full maturity.
Selective breeding has also produced multiple color variations in the aquarium trade, such as diamond neon tetras (missing the blue stripe) and albino neon tetras. Breeders have also developed a strain with long fins instead of naturally short ones.
Be sure not to confuse neon tetras with their slightly larger but very similar-looking cousins, cardinal tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi), which are somewhat more challenging to care for.
Cardinals are almost identical to neons but can be recognized by looking at their most significant difference, the red stripe. Cardinals have a red line that runs the length of the belly instead of stopping halfway like the neon tetra.
Why are your neon tetra’s colors fading?
There are a few reasons why your colorful fish might have turned grey or white!
This usually happens when the tank light has just turned on and is nothing to worry about, but it can also signify that your fish is stressed and something is wrong in the tank.
One of the main reasons for drained color is incorrect water temperature. Use a thermometer to check that the temperature is in the safe range for tropical fish.
If this doesn’t seem to be the problem, then check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Consider if the fish tank has possibly been exposed to chemicals or if you have recently added a new fish that could have increased aggression or introduced a disease.
Neon tetra requirements
As mentioned before, neon tetras are usually found in Amazon River tributaries. While it’s not necessary to keep them in an exact replica of this natural environment, they will definitely appreciate similar water parameters.
This means a lower pH, warm tropical water temperatures, and tannin-stained water.
pH should be acidic between 5.0-7.0, though hobbyists have successfully kept these fish in lower conditions than that. Though neon tetras are tropical, they can comfortably be kept in a lower water temperature range: 68-78° F (20.0-25.6° C).
If you’re not afraid of tinted water, you can add Indian almond leaves and plenty of driftwood that leak beneficial tannins for an extra natural feel. A dark substrate will add to the overall look, as well.
It might seem counterintuitive, but creating more hiding spots and providing surface coverage for your neon tetras actually makes them more willing to be out and about in the front of the aquarium. If hiding spots are limited, they are more likely to hide anywhere they can.
If you’re unsure how to keep aquatic 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 as they like to float in one spot and are not the most active fish.
A rectangular setup of at least 15 gallons (56.7 L) should be enough for a medium-sized school of about 6-8 neon tetras.
When buying a school, keep in mind that these are active schooling fish, and they will feel very uncomfortable and stressed when kept alone or in a small group.
They will also look much more attractive when kept in a big school, so more is better!
Do neon tetras need a heater?
Yes, neon tetras need a heater. Neon tetras are tropical fish even though they can be kept at lower temperatures.
Like all other tropical fish, though, neon tetras need temperature stability. It does not matter if the ambient temperature stays within the ideal temperature range. The temperature should always be one constant value.
Do neon tetras need a filter?
Neon tetras do not necessarily need a filter if enough live plants are available and water changes are completed. Theoretically, plants will recycle the nutrients introduced by fish, while water changes will remove any remaining.
However, most hobbyists don’t choose this method and instead go with a traditional filter. One of the biggest mistakes new hobbyists make is using a filter with a grated intake valve for their neon tetras.
These fish are notorious for getting sucked up into filters. Though this usually only happens when the fish is sick, it is best to use a filter intake sponge or a whole sponge filter system to ensure that your fish is safe.
Neon tetra tankmates
When it comes to tankmates for neon tetras, it’s best to stick to peaceful fish from similar acidic waters. Some possible choices are:
- Corydoras catfish
- Bristlenose plecos (Ancistrus spp.)
- Other tetra species
Though tetra species are closely related, they will usually not school together. There have been some exceptions with mixing neon tetras and cardinal tetras to form a shoal, though this won’t result in the same tight schooling system.
Some larger fish, like cichlids, are also an option but be sure to stick to more peaceful types, such as Apistogramma!
Can you keep neon tetras together?
Yes! It’s absolutely necessary to keep neon tetras together in schools.
If kept alone, neon tetras will quickly perish, usually overnight; it is almost guaranteed that you will lose at least one new tetra when adding it to your tank, let alone when they are introduced one by one.
If your single tetra manages to survive past the first night, it will probably stay hidden most of the time.
For the greatest chance of success with these fish, always keep them in groups of at least six or more.
Can bettas and neon tetras live together?
Although some sources will tell you it’s fine, betta fish (Betta splendens) are actually not considered suitable neon tetra tank mates.
Bettas can become stressed out by the neon tetra’s bright colors and activity levels. However, this largely depends on the personality of the individual betta, and some hobbyists have had success keeping one in a community tank with tetras.
Neon tetra diet
Neon tetras are omnivores that, in the wild, will eat plant matter and almost anything else they can find! In the aquarium, they will almost always accept regular flake and pellet food.
Though they will do just fine on high-quality flake food and pellets, you should regularly supplement their diet with other kinds of live, freeze-dried, and frozen food, like bloodworms and mosquito larvae.
In addition to protein-based foods, they will also appreciate algae pellets and wafers.
Give your fish enough food to eat for two minutes and remove the uneaten food after the time has passed.
In little to no time, a quality diet with a variety of food will lead to your neon tetras having some of the most vibrant colors in the entire tank!
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 an unsuitable tankmate is bullying them. Also, consider the number of hiding places in your tank and if your school is big enough.
A healthy, happy group of neon tetras will stay in the foreground around the middle of the water column, sticking closely together and swimming actively. If you see your neon tetras chasing each other around, congratulations! They might be spawning.
Neon tetra disease and illness
If a single neon tetra behaves oddly, looks lumpy and dull, or even has a strange bend to its spine, you may be dealing with neon tetra disease.
Neon tetra disease is caused by a parasite that can be transferred through store-bought live foods and new fish. This disease is almost always fatal, and there is no cure available for it.
Neon tetras are also especially likely to experience parasitic ich. These fish are very prone to stress and can quickly succumb to ich.
One of the major problems with this is that many beginner hobbyists purchase neon tetras due to their popularity. Sadly, they often fail to realize when the fish is sick and might even introduce them into worse water conditions than those in the store.
Because these fish are so commonly sold, pet stores need to meet demands, which means more transportation for neon tetras with poor conditions and even more stress.
Always buy from a reputable aquarium store to reduce the risk of introducing ich into the aquarium through neon tetras. Even then, it is strongly recommended that you place new fish in a quarantine system for at least three weeks to allow for signs of illness to show.
If you happen to experience ich, it is relatively easy to cure through daily water changes and raised water temperatures.
Breeding neon tetra
Although they are commercially bred on a large scale, getting your neon tetras to reproduce in your home aquarium can be a challenge, though it’s not impossible.
It’s strongly recommended to set up a dedicated breeding tank with dim lighting, fine-leaved plants, a slightly lower temperature than usual, and low water hardness.
A pair of healthy, bright neons should then be introduced; you may need to try this method several times because it is difficult to tell males and females apart.
Some sources report that feeding live foods and changing the water can help induce spawning.
The morning after being introduced, the fish should have produced eggs if water conditions are ideal. At this point, the eggs can be moved to a separate tank as the parents don’t care for their fry and will gladly eat their own eggs.
Once the neon tetra eggs have hatched and the fry have consumed their yolk sacs, it’s time to start feeding them. Egg yolk is a possible option but can get very messy. You can also provide infusoria.
After a few weeks, the fry will be large enough to eat baby brine shrimp, which you can breed yourself or buy by the jar!
Neon tetras are a favorite aquarium fish, and most hobbyists have them at one point or another in their system. Their bright colors can really cheer up an aquarium, and a school makes a great centerpiece!
Due to their relatively easy care and peaceful nature, tetras are highly recommended 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!