The Complete Neon Tetra Care Guide


See those cute little blue neon things darting around in different community tanks? Those are the fascinating Neon Tetras. You might be familiar with them but taking a closer look will help you be successful in keeping them by themselves or with other fish.

Meet the Famous Neon Tetra

The Neon Tetra is a well-known fish found in many community tanks, as you may have seen in various pet stores.

The Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a freshwater fish native to South America. It is one to one-and-a-half inches long at maturity and is distinguished by an iridescent blue stripe underlined by a red stripe on a silver body.

Don’t confuse the Neon Tetra with the Cardinal Tetra which has the same coloration. However, Cardinals have the red stripe run throughout their body, while Neons only have this red coloring on half of their bodies.

Neon Tetras are easy to care for and are good beginner fish candidates.

You may have heard of Green Neon Tetras or Black Neon Tetras. Although bearing the same name, these are different species altogether.

Neon Tetra Behavior: Are Neon Tetra Schooling Fish?

You can keep Neon Tetras with other kinds of fish, or you can take care of just them. But you can’t keep just one or two.

Neon Tetras are very active schooling fish and will be happier in a large group. We recommend keeping at least 6 of them in a good-sized tank. More is better. They prefer to stay in the middle to the upper part of the water column.

Neon Tetras are not aggressive at all, but if you see them becoming either nippy or shy, check your water chemistry using a test kit. It’s always good to have one of these to ensure that your water is always safe and comfortable for the fish.

You see, problems with water parameters make them uncomfortable and might take it out on the next fish.

But if all is well, you might not have enough Neon Tetras in your tank. Complete a school of 10, or better yet, why not go for 15 or 20. This is because schooling helps keep fish safe. Not only is there strength in numbers but Tetras are smarter and less aggressive together as well. They are simply confident and happier if they have lots of buddies around.

Neon Tetra - Schooling Fish
Neon Tetras – Schooling Fish

Plus, they look fantastic in high numbers.

Tank Requirements For The Neon Tetra

Please don’t forget that keeping fish in an aquarium would require you to use fully cycled water. For beginners who are not sure what that means, check out “How To Care For Platy Fish? Important Tips for Newbies” where we discuss the nitrogen cycle in length.

These are the optimal parameters for the Neon Tetra:

ParameterRange
Temperature68 to 79°F (20 to 26°C)
pH6 to 7
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrites0 ppm
Nitrates< 40 ppm
Hardness< 10 dGH
Tank Size20 gallons minimum for a school of 8 to 14
Life ExpectancyUp to 5 years
Water ColumnMiddle

Along with the numbers of your Neon Tetra school (and tank mates!) is the requirement for space. Although you may want to begin with a 10-gallon tank, we recommend that you don’t get anything less than a 20-gallon. If you’re keeping a whole school of 15 or even over 20 Neon Tetras, go for a 20 or 29-gallon tank as this gives you a little more room to get, say, a Betta as a tank mate.

Neon Tetra - Tank Environment
Neon Tetra – Tank Environment

As hinted, also consider the tank size requirements of the other species. Lack of space will cause your fish to fight one another for territory.

Stick to a temperature of 77°F by using a heater. Lighting should be moderate and turned off for at least 8 hours each night. For more lighting and heater guidelines and explanations, check out “Why Do Glofish Stay In One Spot?”.

Keep the water clean using a sponge or hang-on back filter and your regular water changes. Neons are not known to create much waste, anyway.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

You should be changing around 25% of the water every week and removing any uneaten food in the tank. Otherwise, toxins such as too many nitrates will build up, causing nitrites and worse, ammonia to appear. These toxins will make your fish sick and might kill them eventually if not corrected.

Plants (planted or floating) help provide natural filtration while driftwood can be a good source of tannins in the water. Both are also great hiding and resting places for the fish.

Neon Tetra - Driftwood
Neon Tetra – Driftwood

What are tannins? They are healthy chemicals that keep your fish relaxed and happy. Aside from driftwood, you can get them by putting an Indian Almond leaf (or two) in your tank. However, they make the water make a little brown and some fish keepers don’t like that. So it’s up to you.

Neon Tetras don’t require any special substrate. But you should use one that can accommodate plants. For example, you can try an Aquasoil base with a top layer of any fine gravel or sand.

Neon Tetras live an average of 5 years in captivity, while they can live up to around 8 years in the wild. They can even live longer if they have optimal conditions as shown above, as well as have a large school in a good-sized tank.

Feeding Neon Tetras

Conveniently, Neon Tetras aren’t picky with food at all. Just give them a good variety and they’ll be happy.

Neon Tetras are omnivorous and would benefit well from a balanced diet of live or frozen worms and crustaceans (such as bloodworms and shrimp), flakes, pellets, spirulina, and some algae.

Feed your Tetras twice a day. You can do it when you wake up and once again before you go to sleep. Make sure the food is small enough for their tiny little mouths.

Please avoid overfeeding as this will make them sick. Drop an amount that they can finish in around a minute or two. You can add a little bit more if they still look hungry. But if they start to slow down, then it’s too much.

Neon Tetra -Feeding In Tank
Neon Tetra -Feeding In Tank

In the wild, Neon Tetras feed on insect larvae, invertebrates, and algae growing on plants.

Compatible Tankmates For The Neon Tetra

Being peaceful species, Neon Tetras can get along with so many kinds of freshwater fish.

Neon Tetras are compatible with other kinds of Tetras such as the Black Skirt Tetra, the Green Neon Tetra, and the Cardinal Tetra. Neon Tetras will even school with Cardinals. As for other types of fish, Neon Tetras also go well with Zebra Danios, a Betta, small Cichlids, Loaches, snails, shrimps, and Guppies.

Just remember that their tank mates shouldn’t be too big that they can eat your Neons.

So basically, all you need are peaceful species with the same water parameters and relative size as the Neon Tetras and you’ve got yourself a healthy community tank. We’ve compiled a longer list of compatible must-tries in “12 Best Tropical Fish To Keep With Neon Tetras” along with some guidelines.

Because of their size and active behavior, Neon Tetras are good dither fish for smaller species such as Paradise Fish and a sorority of Bettas. They encourage shy fish to come out more, and they distract more aggressive fish.

Paradise Fish
Paradise Fish

We got a question a while back about Neon Tetras being too small to be living with Angelfish. Size is indeed a factor in this combination as we discuss in “Will Angelfish Eat Tetras? The Surprising Answer”. Read up to understand more about this.

Size is also a factor in the Black Skirt Tetra-Neon Tetra combo. The former is bigger than the other, so if you’re afraid that the bigger species will endanger the Neons, look up “Will Black Tetras Eat Neon Tetras?” and put your fears to rest.

Would you like to have more amazingly colored fish with your Neon Tetras? You may want to try GloFish Tetras as they are derived from another common Tetra variant: the Black Skirt Tetra. Aside from the color, there’s virtually no difference between the two in their water requirements, diet, and lifespan.

For other kinds of GloFish, you’ll have to look at our article “Can Glofish Live Safely With Neon Tetras?” and learn more.

So you see there are so many community fish tank mate options for Neon Tetras. But don’t forget to observe the fish for a few days to find out if they’re getting along well. Fish have personalities, and that actually make them more interesting. If they don’t prefer their tankmate, you’ll have to remove that fish or give it away.

Breeding Neon Tetras

Female Neon Tetras are a bit rounder than the slender male Neon Tetras. Breeding them requires a few specific methods to prevent the fry from perishing.

Neon Tetras eat their eggs shortly after laying them. So you must intervene to ensure the survival of the fry.

Neon Tetra - Breeding
Neon Tetra – Breeding

We wrote the comprehensive article “How to Breed Neon Tetras: The Ultimate Guide” to help you. The information written includes optimal conditions for laying, caring for the eggs, and feeding the fry once they’ve hatched— all you need to know from start to finish, plus tips. Just click, read, and apply.

Neon Tetra Diseases And Treatments

Let’s look at some common diseases that you should be familiar with.

Neon Tetra disease is caused by a protozoan parasite that causes tumors to grow inside or outside of the fish’s body. Because of this, it starts as mild and will go unnoticed. But when it becomes worse, the fish will have difficulty swimming and a spinal curvature will become prominent. At this point, nothing can be done to save the fish. It is also very contagious.

The bad news is that despite its name, other fish can get this disease, too, and not just Neon Tetras.

So like with any other communicable disease, separating the sick fish proves to be effective to stop its spread. If you notice your Neon Tetra no longer schooling with others, becoming lethargic, and not eating, put it in a hospital tank right away.

Neon Tetra disease is one reason why these fish lose their color. But there are other reasons. Find those out from “Why Is Your Neon Tetra Losing Color? Reasons and Solutions” so you can understand more what’s happening.

Another parasitic disease that is quite common to fish is ich. It presents itself as salt-like white grains on your fish’s body. If not severe, it can be cured with saltwater dips or methylene blue soaks. You can also try fish medication available in pet stores.

Ich is commonly contracted from new fish so it is important to quarantine new fish for observation for 1 to 2 weeks before putting them in the community tank.

We mentioned that overfeeding is bad. That is because this may cause constipation in fish. One common practice among seasoned hobbyists is to skip a day of feeding every week to aid in digestion. Don’t worry, fish in the wild can skip a week of feeding and still survive, one day won’t be a problem for your Neon Tetras.

Another good practice is to feed them food with spirulina (blue-green algae). This is a healthy, plant-based food that not only helps in digestion but enhances fish coloration as well. Some fish flakes contain this component as well as other vitamins and nutrients beneficial to your fish. Just read the label.

Neon Tetra In Tank
Neon Tetra In Tank

Swim bladder disorder is a condition caused by either fungal or bacterial organisms and affects the ability of the fish to stay balanced. Hence, your fish might be constantly swimming sideways or upside down, or just finding it hard to swim entirely. Dirty water is the common culprit, so correct that right away. You can also try saltwater baths or methylene blue soaks. Severe SBD leads to death.

Are You Ready For The Neon Tetra?

You can take on the exciting challenge of fishkeeping by starting with a school of Neon Tetras. We believe they will teach you a lot as you begin this amazing journey. And because they look so awesome, you’ll surely enjoy them much as well. Even seasoned hobbyists like us do.

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