Neon Tetra Overview
The Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), also known as neon fish was first discovered back in 1934 in the Amazon jungles.
It is a freshwater fish that belongs to the Characidae family and is known for its dazzling colors and energetic temperament. So much so that around 2 million are sold in the US each month; the vast majority of these are bred in captivity.
They are a great, non-aggressive, community fish and spend the majority of their time in the middle of the water column.
These fish should generally be kept in schools with at least 15 members. Smaller schools than this can feel threatened and this can cause stress.
They are peaceful, non-aggressive fish which can make fantastic additions to a community tank.
You will notice they spend their time in a school and will swim in the middle of the water column.
Neon Tetra Lifespan
In the wild they live until they are around 8 years old. However in aquariums Neon Tetras will generally live for around 5 years.
Appearance of Neon Tetra
The first thing everyone is drawn to is their sensational coloring. It has a turquoise blue line that stretches from its eyes down to its adipose fin (the small rounded fin between the tail and the dorsal fin).
In addition to the blue coloration, they also have a red stripe that runs from the middle of their body down to the caudal fin. This bright iridescence helps the fish local each other in murky water conditions.
Their color combination has helped to make them one of the most recognizable fish amongst hobbyists.
Interestingly, except for their blue/red coloring they are transparent; in the wild this will help to hide from predators. When they feel really threaten they can even ‘turn off’ their red/blue iridescent hue to stay safe. Their coloring will also fade when they are sleeping or sick.
As for their body type, they have a spindle-like body and a rounded nose. Large eyes make up the majority of their head. They can grow up to 2.5 inches long; however the average size is around 1.5 inches, with females being slightly shorter.
Cardinal Tetra vs Neon Tetra
This fish is often confused with the Cardinal Tetra.
If you look closely you will notice that the vibrant red horizontal line of the Neon Tetra only runs from the middle of their body to the tail.
With the Cardinal Tetra their red line runs the entire length of their body.
Neon Tetra Habitat and Tank Requirements
Neon Tetras are native to the warm rivers of South America including Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The largest gathering of them can be found in the Amazon River basin.
These rivers generally flow through thick forests with dense canopies blocking lots of natural daylight. Within these dark waters there are generally lots of fallen leaves, vegetation, and tree roots. This is why their coloration is so vivid; it helps them identify their fellow fish in these dark murky waters.
You will find that they live in schools, and spend their time in the middle of the water column.
As always you should attempt to replicate their natural environment into their aquarium as closely as possible.
Following this logic, with Neon Tetras your aquarium should be heavily planted. You can use driftwood to help create yet more shade and darkness for them. You should also make sure that substrate you use is a dark color; you can use small rocks and pebbles like you would find on the river bed.
Before we talk about the required conditions it’s important to say that Tetras are very sensitive to changes in water conditions.
This means that newly cycled tanks are not suitable for your Tetras; generally the changes in the water chemistry during this time will kill them. You should only add Tetras to an established, matured tank.
Now the ideal water conditions for Neon Tetras are as follows; water temperature should be between 70°F to 81°F. You should keep the pH level below 7.0 and above 6.0 and maintain soft water (<10 dGH).
As for lighting they will want subdued lighting; a low watt fluorescent light can be used. You should provide 2 watts per gallon.
Tetras produce a very small bio load so their filtering needs are very small; a regular sponge filter will do. Finally in terms of water changes, you should aim to perform a 25% water change each week. Make sure not to exceed this recommendation as too much water change can be deadly for Neons.
What Size Tank Do Neon Tetras Need?
This depends on the number of them you are planning to keep.
The smallest size is 10 gallons. However if you’re keeping the minimum number of Tetras we recommend (15) then you should get a tank that is at least 20 gallons.
Neon Tetra Diet and Feeding
In their natural environment in the wild, neon tetras are omnivorous. This means they will eat both meat and vegetables/plant matter.
You will find them eating algae, larvae from insects and other miniscule invertebrates.
Fortunately, they aren’t fussy eaters and will enjoy eating all different types of food including pellets, flakes, frozen and live.
As always a high quality pellet/flake should make the core of their diet. You can supplement the flake with live/frozen food offerings such as:
- Blood Worm
- Brine Shrimp
If you’re looking for ideas on how to get vegetables into their diet, read our guide on how to make your own fish food here.
As a rule, you should only feed them extremely small pieces. So when feeding them worms/shrimp make sure to only feed the small ones otherwise Tetras can have problems trying to swallow them.
In terms of how often to feed them, as young adults you should aim to feed them twice a day as much as they can eat in 3 minutes. As they mature you can reduce this to once a day and still follow the three minute feeding guidance.
Neon Tetra Tank Mates
In general Neon Tetras are very peaceful fish; with the only exception to this being throughout mating season.
They can make the perfect community fish, and a school of them really helps to bring vibrant colors to your tank.
As they are such a small fish you should only place them in a community tank with other non-aggressive fish that aren’t big enough to eat them. Small, peaceful bottom dwellers make perfect tank mates for them. As for ideal tank mates you should be thinking of:
- Gouramis (Avoid the Giant, Pearl and Opaline)
- Small Catfish (e.g. Cory)
- Dwarf Cichlids
Now fish which should be avoided include:
A sensible rule of thumb to follow is if the fish’s mouth is large enough to swallow a Tetra don’t put it in the same tank.
Can You Keep Neon Tetras Together?
Yes, in fact Neon Tetras do better when they are kept together.
If you’re planning to keep a school of them, you should keep at least 15-20 of them. An aquarium that is at least 20 gallons is needed for this number of them.
As a general rule the larger the school the more comfortable your Tetras will be.
Neon Tetra Disease
When reading about these fish, you may have come across the disease known as Neon Tetra disease.
There is also the false Neon Tetra disease. Unfortunately both diseases are fatal and currently no cure exists.
The disease is named such because it was first found in Neon Tetras. However the disease can also attack other Tetras and completely separate breeds.
Once the parasite reaches the intestinal tract it will eat the muscles starting from the inside out.
Common symptoms include:
- A sudden loss of color.
- Irregular swimming patterns and turning into a bottom dweller.
- Developing cysts on their stomach.
- Stomach shrinking and loosing mass.
As mentioned above there is currently no cure. Devastatingly if one of your fish catches this disease it’s generally recommend that you destroy all the other fish in the tank.
Like they say, the best cure is prevention.
To prevent the disease you should maintain the water temperatures properly. You should also make sure that any fish or live organism added to the tank is healthy and disease free before adding it; you should quarantine and inspect new fish before adding them to your main tank.
Breeding Neon Tetras
Neon Tetras are difficult to breed as they require specific water parameters to ‘trigger’ the mating season. For this reason I would say they aren’t ideal for beginners looking to experiment with breeding fish in a home aquarium.
However if you are persistent it is possible.
First you need to determine the gender of the fish;
- Males tend to be slimmer; this flat stomach means their blue stripe is straight.
- Female are rounder; this round belly causes the blue stripe on them to become ‘bent’.
Once you have a male and female you need to place them into a separate breeder tank. The breeder tank should have slightly different water conditions to their main tank. The pH level should be dropped to between 5.0 and 6.0 and the temperature should be dropped by a few degrees to 75°F
Tetras are egg scatterers, which means the female will lay her eggs first (around 100 of them) and the male will then fertilize them. After the male has fertilized the eggs you should remove the parents from the breeder tank.
Tetras do not care for their young and in fact have been known to eat them.
Once the eggs have hatched the fry will live off their egg sacks for 2-3 days. After this you should begin to feed them very small pieces of food (see the diet section above).
Is the Neon Tetra Right For Your Aquarium? (Summary)
The Neon Tetra is one of the most popular fish in the hobby with around 2 million sold in the US every month.
We hope this complete care guide has helped you decide whether they are the right fish for your aquarium.
They are easy to feed and take care of and are ideal for beginners to the hobby.
The only thing you need to bear in mind is the strict water parameters. Remember to keep the water slightly too warm rather than slight too cool. Cold water can cause issues such as fin rot.