Neon Tetra: Care, Diet, Lifespan, Tank size and More

Neon Tetra Care Guide

I’m sure you can guess the major reasons why the Neon Tetra have become so widespread in the aquarium hobby space. 

These fish can be found all over the world in different aquariums from community to solo ones. That is mostly due to their enticing appearance, ease of care and adorable schooling behavior.

They are among the few fish species that have the capability of instantly instilling the love of fish keeping to non-hobbyists once they observe their schooling.

Although they are generally easy to care for they still require the conditions of their habitat imitated and maintained in the tank, together with some other vital requirements as well.

This guide covers everything you need to know to successfully keep the Neon Tetra in your tank from water parameters, tank size, diet, breeding, disease, tank mates and much more.

What I like about the Neon Tetras;

  • Their Iridescent red and blue color which makes them stand out in any community tank (except with their cousin; the Cardinal Tetra)   
  • Peaceful schooling behavior
  • High degree of activity
  • Not picky eaters
  • Hardiness
  • How it is possible to successfully keep a happy shoal of Neon Tetras starting with just a 10-gallon tank 

To successfully care for any fish, you have to first understand the nature of the environment it originated from and how it lives in that particular environment. 

We start with the origin and later we talk about their behaviors in the subsequent section of the guide.

Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesioriginated from the warm rivers of South America, Brazil, Peru and Columbia. 

Sunlight barely penetrates the water due to the presence of thick forest and dense vegetation which make canopies in the areas around. 

The dense vegetation also results in fallen debris comprising of leaves, trees branches, twigs into the water. The debris decomposes at the bottom and turn the water murky.

As a feature to survive the murky water, Neon Tetra posses that nice vibrant coloration (we are all the luckier for that) which help them find one another in the wild without separating from the school.

Neon Tetra Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 1.5 inch
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Temperament: Very peaceful
  • Temperature: 70°F to 81°F (22.2°C to 27.2°C)
  • PH: Below 7.0
  • Hardness: Below 10dGH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Ember Tetras, Dwarf Gourami, Pygmy Corydoras, Chili Rasbora, Hachetfish, Guppies, Kuhli Loach

Appearance

Appearance is where Neon Tetras got their popularity and admiration among both fish and non-fish keepers. 

I mean, I can’t imagine someone who could look at the school of these little red and blue sparkling beauties and not fall in love with them.

As the name suggests; Neon Tetra have their body covered in a vibrant color pattern of blue, red and white together with glassy looking fins. 

A shiny blue stripe extends from the top edge of their head to what is called the adipose fin which is a small rounded fin above the tail. 

Down the blue stripe, the body is covered in a partial red stripe extending from middle of the body to the tail. 

Both the red and the blue stripe have lustrous quality and reflect lights very well. The abdomen of the fish is covered in a neutral white. 

With all these colors coming together, it’s impossible for the Neon tetra to not stand out among all types of Tetra, except from its rivaled cousin; the Cardinal Tetra.

The cardinal tetra is the only fish that look so similar to Neon Tetra. That is why they are often mistaken for one another.

Difference between Neon and Cardinal Tetra

The key details to differentiating the two are size and the red stripe.

Neon Tetra have their stripe extending only half the length of the body and are a bit smaller than the Cardinal tetra.

Cardinal Tetras have their red stripe run from head to tail.

A Cardinal Tetra

Source: Ltshears CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

An interesting fact about the Neon Tetras body is that they have the capability of dousing the red and blue iridescent hue to hide from the enemy. 

The coloring also appears dull when they are sick or sleeping.

Another feature that has to to with their appearance is their body shape. They have a torpedo-like body with the eyes making up the majority of the head.

Neon Tetra Size

Neon tetra are among the smallest Tetras. They are not as big as the  Rummy nose Tetra or the Congo tetra but not as small as the Ember Tetra either.

The average maximum size of a Neon tetra is about 1.5 Inches when kept in captivity with females being a bit shorter. In the wild, they can grow up to 2.5 inches.

Lifespan

A major factor that seems to affect the lifespan of these fish is drastic water parameter change. We talk about why that is in a bit. 

The average lifespan of a Neon Tetra is between 5 to 10 years. That is provided they are kept in a well-established tank with ideal requirements.

Neon Tetra Care

Caring for Neon Tetras does not involve so many challenges because they at all, not a high maintenance fish. To take care of them effectively, the first thing you need to do is put them in an established tank.

Like I mentioned, before drastic water parameter changes affect them negatively. Specifically, when you place them in a newly cycled tank the changes in chemistry the water undergoes before the tank matures will most likely kill them.

The second thing you need to do is, try to mimic the nature of their habitat by providing one of its most important element in your tank – Vegetation. 

Lastly, Neon Tetras can not do well without a decently sized school.

Tank size and requirements

To begin with; the recommended minimum tank size for keeping Neon Tetra is 10 gallons. You could argue that why can’t they be kept in a smaller tank say like a 5 gallons since they are nano fish

But that is if you forget to factor in the fact that they are schooling fish. As such, you will require ample space for a suitably-sized school. 

This rule applies to any schooling fish; the more you can keep together the better (Obviously with standard space provision as it would do more harm than good if they are cramped).

Neon Tetra swimming in a nicely planted tank

Source: Wojciech Pluciennik CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

For this reason, many aquarists have recommended going for at least a 20-gallon tank to successfully keep Neon Tetras happy, safe and stress-free.

For the tank requirements, these are the aspects you need to be clear on;

  • Vegetation and driftwood
  • Substrate
  • Lighting
  • Heater

Vegetation and Driftwood: To mimic the nature of the Neon Tetras habitat, easy-care aquarium plants have to be heavily planted in their tank. I recommend planting some at the substrate level. Plants such as Java Moss, Java Fern or Anacharis will be a good choice.

Seeing as Neon tetra stick to swimming in the middle section of the tank it helps if you include some free-floating plant such as Hornwort or the same Java Moss. 

Because they are middle dwellers, substrate’s color does not seem to affect them much. They do just fine with both gravel and sand. 

However, if you can find a dark substrate to make use of, it will be an added advantage. It will only bring out their colors more. Just make sure you consider the plants you are planning to use before choosing the substrate.

Lighting: We can establish that neon tetras would prefer a low level of light in their tanks. This is evident from decomposed organic matter from vegetation and low level of sunlight penetration in their habitat.

As long as you stick to the guideline of enriching their tank with plants and driftwoods, you won’t have to worry about an unrequired level of lighting exposure. Plants will take care of most of that problem. Dark substrate will aid in lowering the lighting levels of the tank as well.

In a situation whereby the tank is positioned where there is too much lighting and it hasn’t been heavily planted yet, you could try providing dark background to the tank.

Heater: Whether or not your Neon Tetras need a heater will depend solely on the location of your tank. If you have it in a room where the temperature falls below 72°F (22.2°C) then you will definitely need a heater to keep the water at the required level.

Neon Tetra Water parameters

It has been established that Neon Tetra do best when kept in temperature between 70°F to 81°F (22.2°C to 27.2°C), a pH level of below 7.0 and water hardness of below 10dGH.

These requirements should be maintained to the best of your ability. Don’t let the thought of Neon Tetras hardiness trick you into skimping on their water quality. 

Water Care

One major benefit of keeping a nano fish is that most of them don’t produce a ton of bioload. This comes in handy when keeping their water clean. You won’t have to budget for a high-performance filtration system. 

Neon Tetra produces so little waste that your tank will probably be alright with just a standard sponge filter.

Its recommended you replace about 25% of the water per week to keep the water in qualitative condition, but no more than that!

The reason comes back to what I stated before; Neon Tetras do not like a drastic water change. A higher percentage has the potential of killing them.

Neon Tetra Food and diet

Another contributing factor to the Neon Tetra ease of care is they are omnivorous and consume all sorts of foods from both vegetative matters and meaty sources.

In their habitat, they feed on different organic matters in the water such as insect larvae, leaves, tiny crustaceans and so on.

In captivity, they are mostly fed standard flakes food or pellets. These are supplemented by live or frozen food sources such as brine shrimp, blood worm, daphnia and tubifex.

Neon Tetras need tiny food particles because of their tiny mouth, so make sure you take this into account.

As a rule, you should feed the younger ones more. The young ones should be fed twice a day, as much as they can take in for 3 minutes each time. While the matured ones should be fed once a day for the same 3 minutes every time.

Breeding

In my opinion, this is the only tricky part of keeping Neon Tetras. The good news is you don’t have to breed them if you don’t want the headache, especially if you are a beginner. 

However, if you want to try that out, know that it’s very possible and lots of people are doing it. 

When you attempt to breed them for the first time you might not succeed but eventually, you will.

The first step in their breeding is making sure that both male and female are present in the tank. It is not uncommon to have difficulty in identifying their gender. Here are the details to help you to differentiate the two;

Males are slimmer with flat stomach making the blue stripe on their body appear straight

Females are rounder with rounder stomach making the blue stripe on their body appear bent.

After you have established the presence of both males and females, the next thing you need to do is, move them to a separate breeding tank with slightly different water conditions from the main tank.

To induce spawning the pH of the breeding tank should be lowered to between 5.0 and 6.0. The hardness level should be lowered to about 2dGH and lastly, the temperature should be lowered by just a few degrees to 75°F.

The next important factor that dictates the spawning of neon tetra is the lighting level. Take note that lighting is the enemy when trying to  breed them. Consequently, the tank need to be completely dark the first day of the process. 

You could use dark paper or other materials to cover the sides of the tank to prevent light from penetrating. The lighting levels should then be increased slightly with each passing day. Most likely this will trigger the breeding.

Naturally, Tetras are egg scatters, for this reason the female Neon Tetra will spread her eggs throughout the tank (about 100 of them at once). The scattered eggs mostly stick plants, driftwoods, rocks and other surfaces close to them. 

After this, the male will go round the tank fertilizing those eggs. At this point, it’s highly recommended you withdraw the parents and give the eggs a chance to hatch.

The essence of this is that in most cases, the parent Neon Tetras will end up eating any egg they can find in the tank and you want to prevent that from happening.

The eggs also require low-level lighting and the existing tank condition to give them a better chance at hatching successfully. In most cases only about a third of the eggs will end up hatching.

Tiny fry will start coming out from the eggs roughly after 24 hours and they will live off their egg sac for the next 2-3 days. After this period, you can start feeding them food such as infusoria and other commercial foods.

Neon Tetra Tankmates

Essentially, the vital considerations in selecting tank mates for the Neon Tetras is size, temperament, schooling behavior and water chemistry.

A school of Neon Tetra with other tank mates

Source: Monika Korzeniec CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

At first, you have to make sure any mate you choose for them is within their size bracket. 

The rule is; do not combine them with mates that are large enough to swallow them except in a case where that mate stays completely at the bottom section of the tank.

Following this rule, you can keep them with bottom-dwelling fish such as Cory Catfish, Otocinclus and even small Plecos provided your tank is adequately spacious and you have the recommended number of Neon Tetras together.

Temperament is the next important factor to consider. Neon Tetra are very peaceful species that show no aggression to their kind, other tetras, or any other fish for that matter.

Logically, it makes no sense to combine them with other aggressive fish of whatever size.

For this reason, I recommend you stay away from combining them with fish such as African cichlids and Bettas.

Water chemistry is the next vital factor to consider before keeping two or more different species together. 

We have already discussed the Neon Tetras water parameters. Use that knowledge and also conduct thorough research on the fish you are planning to combine them with. This way you will make sure they can survive the same water conditions.

Using the above considerations other ideal mates for the Neon Tetra include small tetras, Chili Rasbora, Harlequin Rasboras, Zebra Danios, Guppies, Hatchetfish, Dwarf Gourami, Kuhli Loach, Zebra Loach. 

Critters such as Chery Shrimp and Nerite Snails are good tank mates to them as well.

It can not be overemphasized that before you start considering other tank mates, make sure you already have the recommended minimum number of Neon Tetras in your tank. 

They do best when among their kind. It’s recommended you have at least 15 to 20 of them together.

Common Diseases

This is the aspect anyone keeping Neon Tetras needs to pay close attention to. My reason is; you won’t have that much challenge in maintaining their water chemistry and keeping them happy.

The only thing that has the potential of taking you by surprise are the two unfortunately incurable Neon Tetra diseases.

As of writing this guide, there is no cure for the deadliest and most commonly known disease that afflicts this species. They are called the Neon Tetra disease and the False Neon Tetra disease.

Neon Tetra Disease: This disease is caused by what is referred to as microsporidian parasite– a spore-forming parasite. 

Its mostly brought through newly introduced fish showing no sign of the disease yet, live foods that are fed to the fish, or through a dead fish.

Regrettably, fish afflicted with this disease do not always show any sign at the early stage. By the time the signs start to manifest it would be too late to stop it from spreading to other fish.

The parasite generally starts growing in the fish body and quickly making its way to its intestine and feeding on the muscles.

Symptoms of Neon Tetra disease include;

  • Fading and dulling of the fish color
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty in swimming
  • Cysts
  • Shrinking abdomen
  • Infections such as fin rot and bloating

This disease has proven to be almost always fatal. This is why it’s not hard to understand why many aquarists recommend euthanizing every other tetra in the tank when the disease reveals itself.

False Neon Tetra: The primary difference between this disease and the earlier one is that, false neon tetra is caused by a bacteria rather than a parasite. Unfortunately as I mentioned before it’s deadly and incurable as well.

 How to avoid these diseases?

Firstly, you need to make sure you quarantine any fish or any animal you are adding to the tank for some period time. This is to make sure they are not carrying any disease whether it’s for the fish consumption or as an additional tank mate.

Secondly, make sure you practice proper hygiene on anything you are adding to the tank be it driftwood, substrate, plants and so on.

Lastly, provide and maintain top-notch water quality always.

Temperament and general behavior

Neon Tetras are highly active and peaceful schooling fish that play well with their kind, other tetras, and other non-aggressive species.

They are fantastic additions to home aquariums. Overall, they prefer to swim in large school of their kind, then among other small tetras.

They habitually stick to swimming within the middle layer of the water in groups to ensure their safety. This makes watching them an absolute delight to the eyes.

Conclusion

Neon Tetras are among the most recommended fish by many aquarists to fish keeping enthusiasts of all experience level.

This is specifically due to their hardiness, mind captivating appearance and popularity. 

In terms of appearance, they are my first choice among all the types of tetras followed by the Cardinal and Glowlight. I just can’t get tired watching them swim around in school in perfect harmony.

I hope this guide has provided with all the answers you might have had about keeping Neon Tetras the right way. 

Please feel free to rich out if you have any question we haven’t covered or if you have any info you think will help improve this guide. We’ll be more than happy if you do

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