Neon Tetra Ultimate Care Guide: Keeping, Breeding & Feeding

If there is one fish that is instantly recognizable, even by non-fishkeepers, it is probably the Neon Tetra. These little fish pack a real punch of color which stands out from the other side of the room.

Neon Tetras were one of the first fish I ever kept, and they still occupy a couple of tanks in my fish room today. Whether you keep 5 Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon (38 liters) tank or you keep 500 Neons in a 150-gallon (570 liters) tank, the effect is always stunning.

Overview of the Neon Tetra

Neon Tetras (Aracheirodon innesi) were first described by George S. Myers in 1936. Myers was a highly renowned ichthyologist. This small, peaceful fish comes from a vast area covering much of northern South America. In fact, even to this day, the full extent of the Neon Tetras range isn’t fully known.

Neon Tetras are hardy, easy to feed, extremely peaceful, and relatively easy to breed, making them deservedly one of the most popular fish in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby.

For decades Neon Tetras have been recommended as the fish first time fishkeepers should start with.

Characteristics

Common Name:Neon Tetra
Scientific Name:Paracheirodon innesi
Family:Characidae
Origin:Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru
Tank Distribution:All over
Adult Size:1″ (2.5cm)
Life Expectancy:3-5 Years
Care Level:Easy
Minimum Tank Size:10-gallons (38 liters)
Breeding Method:Egg scatterer
Temperature:70°F-78°F (21°C-25.5°C)
pH:4.0 – 7.5
Hardness:25 – 215 ppm

Neon Tetra Origins

Neon Tetra Origin Map

Neon Tetra Habitat

Although Neon Tetras are found across a huge area, they are usually found in very similar waterways.

Typically, Neon Tetras are found in waters that are acidic and deeply stained brown due to the amount of organic matter breaking down in the water. They prefer the slower flowing minor streams, tributaries, and flooded forest areas to the main, often fast flowing, sections of the river.

Often, the streams Neon Tetras are found in, have large numbers of roots, branches, and fallen trees in them as well as deep layers of fallen leaves on the river bed.



Are Neon Tetras Wild Caught?

Neon Tetras are one of the most popular fish in the hobby. It is estimated that between 2,000,000 and 2,500,000 Neon Tetras are sold in the US alone every month. The vast majority of these fish are bred on fish farms in South East Asia.

A small number of Neon Tetras are still wild-caught and exported, although far less than used to be.



Neon Tetra General Description

Neon Tetras are small, slender fish that usually grow to about 1″ (2.5cm) long. They are famous for their neon blue line that runs from their eye to their tail as well as their distinctive bright red line which runs from their pelvic fin to their tail.

Much of the rest of the Neon Tetra is dark grey to a light grey in color with the underside of the belly being almost silver.

Neon Tetra

Neon Tetras are often confused with their slightly more exotic cousins the Cardinal Tetra. The easy way we can tell a Neon Tetra from a Cardinal Tetra is the Cardinal Tetra has red along the whole of its body length, rather than just halfway like the Neon Tetra.

Neon Tetra Tank Set Up

Due to their hardy nature, setting up a tank for Neon Tetras is really simple. I currently have a small group of them in a 10-gallon (38 liters) tank on my desk as well as a large school in a 155-gallon (600 liters) tank in my fish room. Both tanks are essentially set up the same way.

Neon Tetra Tank Size

Neon Tetras can work in just about any tank size you have. You simply adjust the number of Neons to match the size of the tank.

For a 10-gallon (38 liters) tank, I would keep 6 Neon Tetras. As a schooling fish, 6 is really the minimum number that should be kept together. For a 20-gallon (76 liters) tank, I would probably look to keep 20 or 30 Neon Tetras. If you had a larger tank, maybe a 55-gallon (200 liters) you could easily keep 70 or 80 Neon Tetras.

Neon Tetras place a fairly low burden on an aquarium, so you can keep a lot of them in one tank. In fact, in my experience, the more Neon Tetras you keep in a tank, the better they look.

Substrate in a Neon Tetra tank

I don’t think Neon Tetras really care what substrate they have in their aquariums. I have kept them in tanks with gravel and tanks with sand, and they thrived in both setups.

Personally, I use a lot of sand in my display tanks at the moment. The bright colors of the Neon Tetras really do pop against the light, sandy background.

Decorations in a Neon Tetra tank

As with substrate, I don’t think Neon Tetras really have a preference for what decorations they have in their tanks. For me, it’s natural-looking rocks, roots, and aquarium-safe wood, but if you want to have a ceramic castle or a SpongeBob Pineapple House, you go for it.

One thing I think that is a really important addition to a Neon Tetra tank is plants.

Whether you go for live plants, or you prefer fake ones, the addition of plants will not only make the Neon Tetras really stand out but will also provide hiding spaces and line-of-sight blocks should one or more fish need to get away from the rest of the school.

Best filter for Neon Tetra Tank

I have found the best way to filter my Neon Tetra tanks is using a hang-on-back filter. Hang-on-back filters are generally powerful enough to filter all but the largest tanks but don’t cost anywhere near as much as canister filters do.

At the moment I am using a lot of these AquaClear hang-on-back filters in my fish room. They were very reasonable on Amazon, so I bought a few of them.

If you are keeping a small group of Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon tank, a small sponge filter will provide ample filtration.

Feeding Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras are omnivores, meaning they need a diet based around both meat and vegetable matter.

In the wild, Neon Tetras’ diet is made up largely of small insects, waterborne crustaceans, small pieces of plant matter and other, small bugs and creatures that live in the water column.

It is really important that Neon Tetra receive a balanced diet made up of good quality food. Fortunately, there are many different fish foods we can feed our Neon Tetras.

When selecting food for your Neon Tetras, remember their mouths are really small. As such, they need either food that is equally small or something they can easily take a bite out of, such as flake food.

At the moment, I am feeding my own Neon Tetras a selection of foods including Bug Bites, which is made from Black Soldier Fly larvae, TetraMin Tropical Flake Food, which has been a staple in the hobby for decades, and Xtreme Krill Flakes, as these flakes really enhance the Neon Tetras bright colors.

How often and how much should you feed Neon Tetras?

In my experience, Neon Tetras do best when they are fed several small meals throughout the day rather than just one large meal a day. When you think about it, a Neon Tetras digestive system is very small and doesn’t hold much food.

I try to feed my Neon Tetras 3 or 4 times a day, ideally giving them flake food in the morning, small pellets later in the day, and live or frozen food in the evening.

There are a number of different live or frozen foods that can be fed to a Neon Tetra. I try to keep some of the following in my freezer, or I pick them up live if my local fish store has them in stock;

  • Daphnia
  • Cyclops
  • Baby Brine Shrimp
  • Mosquito Larvae


Breeding Neon Tetras

Not many people realize that it is possible to breed Neon Tetras in the home aquarium.

Neon Tetras are egg scatterers. This means, when spawning, the female Neon Tetras will scatter their eggs through the water and the male Neon Tetras will fertilize the eggs as they fall through the water column. Neon Tetras take no parental responsibility for either their eggs or the resulting baby fish.

Sexing Neon Tetras

At first glance, it may not seem possible to tell male and female Neon Tetras apart. However, with a little experience, it is possible to tell the two sexes apart.

Female Neon Tetras tend to be slightly larger than males and they are certainly plumper and rounder in the belly area. As they mature this plumpness increases as the females swell with eggs. Male Neon Tetras a slightly small and more slender than the females.

The more Neon Tetras you have in front of you when you are trying to sex them, the easier it is. In any group of 20 or 30 Neons, there will be some that are clearly female, some that are almost certainly male, and some that could be either.

Getting Neon Tetras ready to spawn

If you are actively planning to spawn your Neon Tetras, there is a far greater chance of being successful if you move the Neons into their own dedicated spawning tank. Every fish, even the Neon Tetras themselves, will eat either the Neons eggs of the developing babies.

To induce breeding, Neons Tetras need a pH that is ideally below 6.0 Somewhere between 5.0 and 6.0 is perfect. For most of us, that means setting up a breeding tank that has peat as a substrate.

I have used this peat which I usually just order from Amazon. It does the job well.

The spawning tank will also need something to catch the eggs and keep them away from the spawning parents. For me, a large lump of Java Moss has always worked well, but a spawning mop made from wool will do the same job.

In my Neon Tetra spawning tank, I also use a very small sponge filter and a heater to raise the water temperature to around 84°F (29°C).

Neon Tetra Spawning

One of the most crucial aspects of spawning Neon Tetras is light. When ready to spawn, Neon Tetras start at dawn, so if you hope to witness the actual spawning take place, cover the tank with a towel or sheet and allow no light to access the tank until you are ready for the spawning to take place.

During the actual spawning process, the male will try to lure the female Neon Tetra over the clump of Java Moss or spawning mop. The female should then release a small cloud of eggs, which the male will fertilize as they pass through the water into the Java Moss.

This process will repeat many times over the next few hours. Once one or both fish lose interest in spawning, remove all the fish so the eggs can develop and hatch without being eaten.



Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Neon Tetras are really placid and make great tank mates for countless fish. In fact, pretty much any fish can live with Neon Tetras providing they aren’t 1, aggressive and likely to bully the Neon Tetras, and 2, their mouth isn’t big enough to swallow the Neons.

Some of the fish I personally have had great success keeping with my Neon Tetras include;

Guppies

Guppies are almost as ubiquitous as Neon Tetras. Guppies are hardy, colorful, and super easy to breed. The great thing about guppies is they can be found in either colors to compliment the Neon Tetras, such as reds and blues, or colors to completely contrast the Neons, like black or yellow.

Platies

Platies, like guppies, come in a wide range of colors, allowing you to make a really colorful tank. Platies are non-aggressive, easy to breed, and want almost the same tank conditions as Neon Tetras. Neons and Platies are a great mix for an active, colorful aquarium.

Angelfish

Angelfish and Neon Tetras is a classic combination and one you will see set up as a display tank in almost every local fish store around the country.

The one concern many people have is will the Angelfish will eat the Neon Tetras? I currently have a large tank set up in my fish room with half a dozen Angelfish and many Neon Tetras. So far, I am yet to see any signs the Angelfish are eating the Neon Tetras.

Pearl Gouramis

Pearl Gouramis are one of the most elegant fish in the hobby. They swim slowly, and most importantly, peacefully around the tank looking stunning. Peral Gouramis, as the name suggests, have a wonderful pearl-like coloration that you only notice when the light hits them at the right angle. A tank with a handful of Pearl Gouramis and a bunch of Neon Tetras will never get boring to watch.

Leopard Danios

In contrast to many of the other fish on my list, Leopard Danios are fast, active fish that bring constant movement to an aquarium. Their subtle coloration contrasts against the bright red and blue on the Neon Tetras creating a real visual feast.

Dwarf Gouramis

Although Dwarf Gouramis come from the other side of the world to Neon Tetras, they want almost identical water conditions. Dwarf Gouramis, which are small and placid, work well in a peaceful community set up with Neon Tetras. Dwarf Gouramis will also appreciate the same foods as Neon Tetras, but won’t necessarily try to out-compete them for food.

Rummy Nose Tetras

I sometimes think Rummy Nose Tetras might be my all-time favorite small fish. These little Tetras are slightly larger than Neon Tetras, but, as they are found in the same part of the world, want an almost identical tank setup.

I currently have a 150-gallon (600 liters) tank in my fish room with a large school of Rummy Nose Tetras, and a large school of Cardinal Tetras. You could easily swap the Cardinals for Neon Tetras and the tank would be equally stunning.

Pygmy Corydoras

Pygmy Corydoras are the smallest of the commonly available Corydoras catfish. Unlike other Corydoras, Pygmy Corydoras don’t stay on the bottom, they like to swim in schools around the whole take. The gray coloration of the Pygmy Corydoras really sets off the red and blue of the Neon Tetras

Silver Tip Tetras

Silver Tip Tetras are another one of those fish that really compliment Neon Tetras. Silver Tip Tetras want very similar conditions to Neon Tetras and they want to eat very similar foods. If you keep a school of Silver Tip Tetras with a school of Neon Tetras, you might even find the fish school together, forming flashes of color swimming back and forth across your tank.

Buenos Aires Tetras

Buenos Aires Tetras aren’t seen in the hobby nearly as often as they should be. These Tetras are slightly larger than Neon Tetras, but their bright orange colors really set of the blue of the Neon Tetras.

Bristlenose Plecos

In my opinion, almost every tank should have a Bristlenose Pleco in them. These hard-working little fish not only look fab but work hard to remove algae from the aquarium glass, rocks, and decorations. They will also quickly eat any uneaten food that has reached the aquarium substrate. Bristlenose Plecos don’t grow very large, they are very friendly and also really easy to breed should you wish to.


Common Neon Tetra Pests and Diseases.

As with pretty much, all fish, Neon Tetras are susceptible to a number of different pests and diseases. We can’t have a conversation about Neon Tetra illness without first discussing Neon Tetra Disease.

Neon Tetra Disease

What is Neon Tetra Disease?

Neon Tetra Disease is a degenerative disease, which means the symptoms the Neon Tetras show start off mild, but quickly get worse. Neon Tetra Disease is caused by a parasite called Microsporidian parasite.

Although Neon Tetra Disease is called such, it doesn’t only affect Neon Tetras. In fact, other Tetras as well as Rasboras, Barbs, and Cichlids such as Angelfish can also suffer from Neon Tetra Disease.

Neon Tetra Disease is simply named after the first fish it was discovered in, the Neon Tetra.

What are the symptoms of Neon Tetra Disease?

Typically, when a fish suffers from Neon Tetra Disease, the symptoms are usually the same for every fish, and almost always develop in the following order;

  • Restlessness
  • Loss of coloration, although usually not all over the whole body
  • Fish’s body becomes lumpy due to the formation of cysts in the muscles
  • Fish starts to find swimming difficult
  • Fishes spine may start to become curved or twisted

An added complication with Neon Tetra Disease is the fact secondary infections may take hold of an already weakened fish. Fish suffering from Neon Tetra Disease are especially susceptible to Fin Rot and Ich.

Typically, the early signs a fish is suffering from Neon Tetra Disease include the fish being restless, especially at night time. Unfortunately, as this restlessness is normally when the lights are out it may go unnoticed by the fishkeeper.

Normally the first symptom of something being wrong that the fishkeeper notices is the fact the fish no longer swims in the school with the other Neon Tetras. As time progresses, the lone Neon Tetras’ ability to swim may become completely affected meaning it swims erratically or stops swimming altogether.

As the disease progresses, and cysts start to form in the muscle tissue of the Neon Tetra, the fish’s body may take on a definite ‘lumpy’ appearance. The color may start to fade out of the fish, especially along the dorsal fin area. Ultimately the cysts cause the fish’s spine to begin curving

What causes Neon Tetra Disease?

Neon Tetra Disease is caused by a parasite known as Pleistophora hyphessobryconis.

Spores of this microscopic parasite usually enter the Neon Tetra when infected live foods such as waterborne crustaceans are eaten by the Neon Tetra. Pleistophora hyphessobryconis often use live crustaceans as intermediate hosts. Neon Tetra disease can also be spread if a fish eats another, infected fish.

Once a fish becomes infected with Neon Tetra Disease, the parasite essentially develops in the fish’s digestive system before starting to eat its way out of the intestines, into the fish’s body, burrowing into the muscles, resulting in debilitating cysts.

Neon Tetra Disease is highly infectious and will spread through a tank of fish in no time at all. It is imperative any fish infected with Neon Tetra Disease are removed immediately.

How to treat Neon Tetra Disease?

Sadly, there is currently no known cure for Neon Tetra Disease, so prevention is better than cure. The kindest thing to do is often to euthanize infected fish.

How to prevent Neon Tetra Disease

As mentioned above, prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to Neon Tetra Disease. To prevent the disease from entering your aquarium in the first place, always follow these simple rules;

  • Only buy fish from reputable sources such as a local fish store
  • Never buy a fish that looks sick. Don’t feel sorry for that Neon Tetra sat in the corner not swimming with the other fish
  • Always quarantine new fish before adding them to your main tank. Keeping new fish separate for 2 weeks will give any pests or diseases time to show up
  • Always keep your aquarium water at the highest standards you can, changing a portion of the water frequently to reduce nitrate levels in the aquarium


Ich (Whitespot)

Ich is another disease that is especially prevalent in the fishkeeping hobby.

The main symptom of Ich is the characteristic white spots that develop initially on the fish’s fins and tail, slowly spreading across the fish’s body, eventually covering the entire fish.

Ich is caused by a parasite that burrows under the scales and into the skin of the fish. The white spots are actually cysts that form as a result of the parasite.

Ich spreads quickly through a tank of fish. Luckily there are some very good, fast-acting treatments for Ich. I have had great success using Ich-X which is made by Hikari.

Ich is another disease that can be easily prevented through quarantine fish. I can not recommend enough placing all new fish in a quarantine tank for at least 2 weeks before adding them to your display tank.



Fin Rot

Fin Rot is usually the result of a bacterial infection that is literally eating away at the Neon Tetras fin. The most common cause of fin rot is poor water quality.

If caught and treated in the early stages, there is no reason fin rot will have a long-term effect on a Neon Tetra. If however the fin rot is allowed to persist it can result in the death of the fish.

The best treatment I have managed to find to date for fin rot is Maracyn which is made by Fritz (see more on the Aquarium-Coop website).

To prevent fin rot, ensure your aquarium has good filtration, regularly carry out partial water changes, perhaps changing as much as 25% of the water once a week, and only feed your Neon Tetras good quality foods.


Neon Tetra Color Morphs

Thanks to some very skilled breeders around the world, there are now a number of different color morphs of Neon Tetras available. Most of these are not often seen in local fish stores, so you may have to seek them out.

Brilliant White Neon Tetra

These fish are sometimes referred to as Albino Neon Tetras, although there are not strictly albino. Brilliant White Neon Tetras lack the dark grey coloration on the main sections of their bodies. Their other colors are often slightly faded too.

Diamond Head Neon Tetra

Through carefully selected breeding, the Diamond Head Neon Tetra has been developed to have a brightly colored patch on the back of their head, just above and behind the eyes.

A large school of Diamond Head Neon Tetras looks especially stunning when the light hits them.

Gold Neon Tetra

Gold Neon Tetras have almost no color at all except for the very distinctive gold coloration that covers their bodies. In some countries, Gold Neon Tetras are a highly sought-after fish that can command fairly high prices.

Long Finned Neon Tetras

OK, so not strictly a color variation, but nonetheless, Long Finned Neon Tetras are stunning fish that aren’t available anywhere near as often as they should be. I believe Long Finned Neon Tetras are seen far more often in countries like Japan.

If I ever came across some in a store, I would buy them straight away.

Other Fish in the Neon Family

There are a number of other fish in the freshwater fish-keeping hobby that look similar to Neon Tetras but are actually separate species.

Black Neon Tetras

Black Neon Tetras (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi) share many of the characteristics of regular Neon Tetras, except the blue coloration is replaced with a gold stripe and the red color with black.

Black Neon Tetras are found in similar habitats to regular Neon Tetras, although their general distribution does tend to be more northerly than regular Neons.

Green Neon Tetra

At first glance, it is easy to think Green Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon simulans) are just regular Neon Tetras. However, when you look more closely, that ‘blue’ stripe is definitely more of a turquoise, and in certain lights, definitely green.

I have been keeping Green Neon Tetras for a few years now, and they are a truly stunning, and certainly underappreciated fish in the hobby. Put 20 Green Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon planted tank, and you will not be disappointed.



Frequently Asked Questions About Neon Tetras

Are Neon Tetras good for beginners?

Neon Tetras make an excellent choice for those who are new to fishkeeping. Neon Tetras are very hardy, meaning they are forgiving of new fish keeper mistakes, they are peaceful, meaning they get along with just about every other community safe fish in the hobby, and they are not fussy eaters, meaning they don’t need a specialized diet.

How long do Neon Tetras Live?

It is said that Neon Tetras will usually live between 3 and 5 years, depending on the level of care they receive. With that said, I have a small group of Neon Tetras that are easily pushing 7 years old, and they don’t show any signs of giving up life yet.

Do Neon Tetras need a heater?

The simple answer is yes! Neon Tetras are tropical fish who need their water to be kept at a temperature of 70°F-78°F (21°C-25.5°C). The easiest way to maintain that water temperature is with an aquarium heater.

Are Neon Tetras aggressive?

No, Neon Tetras are not aggressive. In fact, they are probably one of the most placid, easy-going fish in the hobby. It is easy to select tank mates for Neon Tetras for this very reason.

Do Neon Tetras eat algae?

Neon Tetras are omnivores, meaning they want to eat a diet based on both meat and vegetation. Whilst Neon Tetras may pick at algae, they won’t actively consume it as a Black Molly might.


My Final Thoughts on Neon Tetras

I am a massive fan of Neon Tetras. I genuinely believe the Neon Tetra should have a place in every community tank. I certainly enjoy the various tanks of Neon Tetras I have in my fish room.

Whether you are new to fishkeeping or looking to try breeding something a little thicker than a livebearer, give Neon Tetras ago. I don’t think I have ever seen a tank with Neons in it, and though it was a poor display.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

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