Why Is Your Neon Tetra Losing Color? Reasons and Solutions


Aquariums have become a popular addition to most homes today. More and more people are accepting fish and pets so this shouldn’t be surprising. If you are an enthusiast and have got an aquarium at home, then chances are that you’ve filled it with neon tetras, am I right?

Neon tetras are perhaps some of the most recognizable fish out there. They add a splash of color to your aquarium. But at times, those vivid blues, greens, and reds start to dull. Naturally, fish lovers tend to find this alarming. If the colors of your neon tetra are fading, then you’re probably wondering why.

The reasons why the colors of your neon tetra may be fading include disease, stress, and schooling, too bright lights in your aquarium,  changes in temperature, or changes in the pH of your aquarium.

In this article, we are going to discuss why your neon tetra may be losing color, whether neon tetras lose color at night, as well as why your neon tetra may be turning white. So sit back, relax, and read on to find out more. This will certainly be an eye-opener for you!

Do Neon Tetras Change Color?

Neon tetras have become a popular pet for most people nowadays. Most of the time, when you see an aquarium in a room, you will most likely see one of these little fish swimming around in there.

The neon tetra is a freshwater fish that is native to blackwater and Clearwater streams in the Amazon basin of South America. They are extremely delicate fish.

One of the things that make the neon tetras so popular is their ability to change color. So to answer the main question, yes! Neon tetras can change color. This is why whenever you see them in an aquarium, they are usually glowing either a vivid blue, green, or red color.

Now understandably, this is fascinating. They are among the few water creatures that possess this ability. But why is this so? Why can neon tetras change their color?

There’s a simple answer for that. Neon tetras can change the structural color of their lateral stripes in response to light conditions. Generally, this color change is linked to cells called chromatophores.

These cells are subdivided into those that absorb light rays (pigmentary) and those that reflect light rays (structural). Pigmentary chromatophores can be classified further into erythrophores (red/orange), melanophores (brown/black), cynaphores (blue), and xanthophores (yellow). The structural chromatophores have iridescent and silver hues.

The color of neon tetras arises from a combination of light transfer mechanisms of the fish’s chromatophores. These include iridescence, fluorescence, refraction, and reflection.

The color change in neon tetra fish occurs within seconds to hours. This is based on the fish’s exposure to light.

After a few minutes of darkness, the cytoplasm layers on the chromatophores expand and part. This makes the fish become a dull violet-blue. When exposed to light, the cytoplasm layers come together and the fish becomes a brilliant blue, green, or red at times.

Why Is Your Neon Tetra Losing Color?

Now, we already know that neon tetras can change colors. We also know how they are capable of this. If you happen to own an aquarium then there’s a huge chance that you own these fish. This is no surprise. Neon tetras are considered the crowning glory of aquariums owing to their exquisite beauty and color-changing capabilities.

Why Is Your Neon Tetra Losing Color?
Why Is Your Neon Tetra Losing Color? Reasons and Solutions

One thing that may worry you when keeping these fish is their loss of color. Some aquarists choose to ignore this, imagining it as a figment of their imagination. But at times, it may be a serious issue that needs close attention.

Some of the reasons why your neon tetras may be losing color are:

1.   Water chemistry

Neon tetras are hardy fish and can live up to 10 years. Despite this fact, transitioning them into a new tank can be tricky business. You must have the right water chemistry for your neon tetras to thrive. If this is not maintained, then you may notice your neon tetras losing their color.

To fix this, always ensure the pH of your tank is between 6.0 and 6.5. Your tank should also be properly cycled. Although fish excrete ammonia, it’s toxic to them. Cycling serves to remove harmful chemicals. It will convert toxic ammonia and nitrates to non-toxic nitrates.

Purchase a test kit for testing your aquarium weekly. Nitrates and ammonia should both test at 0ppm before you add any tetras to the tank. Otherwise, you will see them losing their color or even die.

2.   Too bright lights

Neon tetras originate in the Amazon and are used to shady environments with lots of plant cover. If you have a brightly lit tank, it may stress your neon tetras out causing their colors to pale.

Neon Tetra losing its color
Why is Neon Tetra losing color?

So to prevent this, your tank should be softly lit and have plenty of plants for your tetras to retreat to. They may exhibit a color fade when they spend a lot of time in darkness or at night. This is normal and shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

3.   Temperature

High temperatures as well as cold can cause stress to your neon tetras. This may cause their color to fade and they may even be affected morphologically. Neon tetras require a steady temperature that is neither too high nor too cold. That’s why it’s important to maintain a steady temperature.

You should ensure that the temperature of the tank is around 24 to 27 degrees Celsius. Also, make sure the temperature doesn’t fluctuate.

4.   Disease

Neon tetras do get sick. The disease can be spread to other fish. When your tetras get sick, they may begin to lose their color and may even die at times. The condition is extremely contagious and untreatable. You won’t know your fish have been infected until they display symptoms, by which time the rest of the tank may also be infected. So it’s always important to be vigilant.

Early symptoms are a white patch at the base of the dorsal fin that rapidly spreads to the rest of the body tissue.

Your fish may have a fighting chance if you keep the tank clean. If your fish become sick, quarantine the affected ones immediately to protect the others and clean your aquarium thoroughly.

5.   Stress and Schooling

Neon tetras like to be part of a group, preferably a school of five or more. Rather than swim solo, these fish tend to stick to schools. So being alone will stress them out a lot. This may cause their color to begin fading.

To mitigate this, they should be kept in a school of 5 or more. This will reduce their stress levels and it will also make your tank look more beautiful.

Do Neon Tetras Lose Color at Night?

Yes, they do. It is normal for neon tetras to lose their color at night. This is because they need rest and when they are resting, their color will normally fade. So if you have witnessed your tetras losing their color at night, then it’s perfectly normal.

Though this color fade is normal, not all fish will lose their color at night. This is because different fish sleep at different times and have variable levels of rest. The intensity of color loss will also depend on individual fish. Some tetras will retain some of their vibrancy in the darkness which is normal.

Why Is My Neon Tetra Turning White?

By any chance, is your neon tetra turning white? If the answer to this is yes, then, unfortunately, there is cause for worry.

Neon Tetra losing color
Is Neon Tetra losing color?

The reason behind this is that your neon tetra may be sick. The neon tetra disease causes the fish to turn white. It will start with a white patch on the base of the dorsal fin. As the disease progresses, the affected muscle tissue turns white, starting with the color band and areas along the spine. As additional muscle tissue is affected, the white coloration expands.

Unfortunately, the disease is untreatable. The best you can do is quarantine the affected fish and hope for the best. The disease is also contagious, which is why the affected fish should be quarantined.

All in all, it’s important to always be vigilant. Take time to observe the mannerisms of your fish so you know what to or not to expect.

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