Danios and Tetras – Are They Compatible Tank Mates?

Alison Page

Alison Page

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Danios and Tetras

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There are many different species of tetras that can make a wonderful addition to a community setup. Danios are another staple aquarium favorite, and there are quite a few varieties to choose from.

But can danios and tetras live together in the same community aquarium? Are all the species of danios and tetras peaceful? And do they share the same dietary and environmental requirements?

Keep reading to find out if danios and tetras are a marriage made in heaven or hell!

Are Danios and Tetras Compatible Tank Mates?

Essentially, danios and tetras can make excellent tank mates, depending on the species.

Danios and tetras are both small, active fish that must live in groups of at least five individuals to be happy and thrive.

Both species are tropical fish that require similar water temperatures and conditions, and both eat a similar diet. So, on the face of it, danios and tetras are pretty compatible.

That said, there are over 150 species of tetras and 27 danio varieties to choose from, and they don’t all share the same behaviors and habitat conditions.

In this guide, we’re going to focus on two of the most popular species; Neon tetras and Zebra danios.

Neon Tetras vs. Zebra Danios

Here’s an at-a-glance comparison of these two popular freshwater fish species.

 Neon TetraZebra Danio
Scientific name:Paracheirodon innesiDanio rerio
Common name:Neon tetra, Neon fishZebra danio, Zebrafish, Striped danios
Care:BeginnerBeginner
Behavior:Peaceful, schooling fishPeaceful, schooling fish
Size:1.5 inches2 inches
Life expectancy:5 to 10 years5 years
Diet:OmnivoreOmnivore
Min. tank size:10 gallons10 gallons
Water temperature:68 to 79°F64 to 74°F
Water parameters:pH: 7.0 Water hardness: up to 10 dGHpH 6.5 to 7.0 Water hardness: 5 to 12 dGH

Background and Origins

So, as you can see above, Neon tetras and Zebra danios are peaceful fish that can make compatible tank mates. But do these two colorful fish species share similar origins?

Neon Tetras

Neon tetra fish in aquarium.

Neon tetras come in three varieties:

  • Regular
  • Green
  • Black

However, the Green Neon tetra type is a completely different fish species, Paracheirodon simulans, and the Black Neon belongs to a different scientific genus (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi).

Neon tetras come from the South American rainforests of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, where the fish inhabit small, acidic blackwater streams. But since these fish became popular in the hobby, wild invasive populations have appeared in Canada, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Zebra Danios

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) in planted aquarium

In contrast, Zebra danios come from South Asia, specifically Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Nepal. Danios fish originate from the Kosi River basin and there are now dense populations in the Brahmaputra and Ganges River basins.

However, like the Neon tetra, some rogue populations of danios now appear in parts of the US, such as Florida, California, Connecticut, and New Mexico. Those fish have most likely unwanted pets that have been released by their owners.

Appearance

Neon tetras are so-named for their bright, neon-like colors. The fish have a turquoise blue line running across the top of the body with a metallic red stripe below it that extends halfway. The underside is silvery-white.

You can buy artificially created color variations of Neon tetras and long-tailed versions, too.

Neons are tiny fish, growing to around 1 to 1.5 inches.

In contrast, Zebra danios grow to around 2 inches long. The fish have a silvery-gray body with five horizontal blue stripes running along their sides. The danios have two small whiskers near their mouths.

Male Zebra danios have gold lines between the blue stripes, which the females lack.

Behavior

Both danios and tetras do well in a community tank, being calm, docile fish that are happiest when kept in schools of at least five or six.

The two species will often mingle together when schooling around your fish tank.

When choosing tank mates for your danios and tetras, avoid predatory or aggressive fish that would attempt to eat their smaller companions.

Small fish become highly stressed if hassled by larger ones. Stress compromises the fish’s immune system, potentially leaving the fish vulnerable to attack by bacteria and parasites.

Care Requirements

If you’re hoping to keep danios and tetras as tank mates, so far, so good!

However, a community tank only works if all its residents have similar needs in terms of space, water parameters, etc. So, let’s take a look at the care requirements of both species.

Tank Size

Neon tetras and Zebra danios are generally classed as being nano fish, meaning they can live in a smaller aquarium.

We recommend a 10-gallon fish tank as the minimum aquarium size for these fish. Of course, if you have a more spacious tank, you can keep a few other species in your community or perhaps have larger shoals of tetras and danios.

Both species tend to hang out in the central area of the water column, so a rectangular tank with plenty of swimming space is a good choice.

Tetras tend to be somewhat less active than danios, often hanging in one spot for long periods. That said, if you keep large schools of both species, you’ll find them more active.

Use A Lid!

Both tetras and danios are perfectly able to jump out of the water when alarmed, so you’ll need a cover slide or a lid for your aquarium to prevent accidents.

In addition, a lid prevents dust and foreign objects from falling into the tank and helps to limit evaporation.

Filtration

Neither species are strong swimmers, so Neon tetras and Zebra danios appreciate a relatively low flow rate in the tank.

Both species are pretty hardy, although they can be sensitive to high nitrate levels, so a properly-cycled aquarium is essential, together with a well-maintained filtration system.

When choosing a filter for nano fish, be very careful that you don’t pick one that has a grated intake valve. That style of internal filter can suck the fish into the filter outtake!

Water Parameters

In the wild, Zebra danios thrive in cooler aquarium temperatures ranging from 68°F to 72°F. However, captive-bred specimens that have been bred for the tropical aquarium tend to be less tolerant of cool water.

That’s good news for hobbyists wanting to keep both these charming fish because Neon tetras need slightly warm water to thrive, ideally from 68°F to 78°F, although they can tolerate lower tropical temperature levels, too.

Note that although both fish species have similar temperature requirements, consistent temperature is essential. Temperature fluctuations will stress your fish, potentially causing them to lose color and fail to thrive.

pH and Water Hardness

When it comes to water hardness and pH levels, Neon tetras need slightly acidic water with a pH of between 5.0 and 7.0 and a hardness level of up to 12 dGH, whereas Zebra danios prefer a pH of 6.0 to 5.8 and a water hardness of 5 to 25 dGH.

Habitat

In the Neon tetra’s natural environment, the water is overhung by the rainforest canopy, creating a shady habitat with little direct sunlight. The water here is stained by leaf litter, creating a tannin-heavy, blackwater habitat. The substrate is soft and muddy with lots of leaf litter, fallen branches, roots, and aquatic plants.

Zebra danios enjoy similar requirements when it comes to hardscape and planting, and they can live happily in a blackwater tank.

Both species appreciate a heavily-planted tank with lots of hiding places where the fish can take refuge if necessary. Remember that both danios and tetras are schooling fish that need plenty of space for swimming.

Can Tetras And Danios Eat The Same Foods?

Danios and Tetras

Tetras and danios are omnivores, eating a wild diet of some plant matter, algae, tiny crustaceans, insects, and insect larvae.

In captivity, you can feed both species pretty much the same diet. High-quality tropical flakes can form a basis for the fish’s diet, and you should add variety by including frozen meaty foods, such as brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, and daphnia.

Although both species appreciate live foods in their diet, we don’t recommend that. Unfortunately, live foods often include a cargo of bacteria and parasites that could infect your aquarium and make your fish sick.

So, unless you have a reliable, reputable supplier or you run a home brine shrimp hatchery, it’s safer to use frozen foods.

Both tetras and danios will graze on any algae they can find in your tank, too.

Breeding

Since Neon tetras and Zebra danios are different species, they won’t interbreed.

Both species are egglayers that can be bred in captivity. However, you’ll need to set up a separate spawning tank to prevent the other fish in your community from eating the eggs and fry.

Neon tetras will randomly breed with each other, whereas Zebra danios form mated pairs for life. If one of the pair dies, the fish left behind won’t find another partner to breed again.

Health and Disease

Of the two species, Zebra danios are probably the hardiest fish.

However, both fish are sensitive to inappropriate water conditions and stress. So, provided you keep your aquarium clean and well-maintained, carry out weekly water changes, and feed your fish a correct, high-quality diet, your fish should remain healthy.

Neon tetras and Zebra danios can be affected by common fish diseases, including Ich, fin rot, and velvet disease. To prevent those diseases from getting into your tank, always quarantine new fish and plants before introducing them to your main setup.

Availability

Neon tetras and Zebra danios are common, popular fish pets readily available in most good fish and pet stores.

Neon tetras are usually more expensive than Zebra danios, but both can be purchased for a few dollars per fish. However, most fish stores offer a discount if you buy a group of fish.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our guide to keeping danios and tetras together in a community of fish? If you found the article helpful, please share it with other readers!

Of all the species of danios and tetras out there in the hobby, Neon tetras and Zebra danios are a proven combination of fish that can work well in your aquarium.

Both species are peaceful fish for beginners that share the same basic requirements for diet, water temperatures, and parameters.

Do you keep danios and tetras together? Tell us about your fish collection in the comments box below.

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