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Neon Tetras: Complete Care Guide (Diet, Tank & More)

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Neon tetras are known for their playful, yet peaceful personality and make a great starter fish. They do well in groups of their own kind and as part of a community tank. 

We will cover everything from where they come from to how to breed them. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about adorable neon tetras!

Neon Tetra Care Guide

Scientific NameParacheirodon innesi
Common NameNeon Tetra
Size1 to 1.5 inches
Minimum Tank Size10 Gallon Tank
Neon tetra fish

Neon tetras grow to a size of 1.5 inches and have bright red, blue, and white stripes on them which makes them beautiful. They are very peaceful and do great in community tanks, or amongst their own species. They do have the habit of fin-nipping and should be placed in tanks without large finned fish.

Appearance & Temperament


The biggest attraction, as well as their most distinct feature, is their vibrant colors. They are covered in vibrant red, white, and blue all over their bodies.

A school of neon tetras

They have a blue stripe from the tip of their heads to the adipose fin, this is iridescent and reflects light. It is believed that this stripe can actually be used to improve visibility.

Under that blue stripe is a red stripe that extends on the bottom half of the body onto the tail. This stripe is where people will mistake them for cardinal tetras as they have a similar red stripe on their bodies. 

The neon tetras also have a white belly, aside from the colors on their body they are translucent which allows them to blend in more with their surroundings.

There are different varieties of neon tetra due to different breeding in captivity. Some of the different variants are: Longfin neon tetras, black neon tetras, diamond head neon tetras and albino tetras.


Neon tetras are very small fish, in fact, they are one of the smallest species of aquarium fish. An adult neon tetra can only grow to about 1.5 inches in length in captivity.

In the wild however they have been known to grow to about 2 to 2.5 inches in length. They have thin and narrow bodies that are shaped like a torpedo.

Temperament and Behavior

Neon tetras are nonaggressive fish and do well with many other peaceful fish that are similar in size.

When they are stressed however they may show some aggression by nipping at others’ fins. They are schooling fish that are actually quite active, they may spend more of their time during the day darting around the tank.


With the proper care and tank environment you can expect your neon tetra to live about 5 to 8 years in captivity. In the wild, they can live up to 10 years depending on the number of predators around.

Gender Differences

Although it can be difficult to sex neon tetras, there are a couple of differences to look out for. Although both are such small fish, the main difference is their coloring.

Males are generally brighter than the females. Also, the blue stripes on the males are straight, whereas the females’ blue stripes will curve upwards.

The female’s blue stripe will curve upwards due to her rounded appearance whereas the males will have a flatter belly. 

Neon Tetra Diet & Feeding

Neon tetras are very easy to care for, they have a varied diet in the wild and this should be similar to the at-home diet.

They are omnivores so there are plenty of different options to feed them in order to give them a varied well balanced diet.

The foundation of their diet should be good flake food or pellets, as this will be the most of their meals.

Adding in other kinds of quality food will give them the variety they need. Live or frozen such as brine shrimp or bloodworms are suitable every now and then.

When giving live food you will want to ensure the quality as they can carry parasites that cause disease.

Food that is given to them should be in small pieces as these fish are very tiny and their mouths cannot handle too big of food.

It is recommended to feed neon tetras once or twice a day, only giving them what they can eat within a few minutes. 

Younger tetras are more active and have a high energy requirement that will need extra food. For younger neon tetras it is best to feed them more often.

It is better to feed small meals more frequently in order for better digestion in neon tetras.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

As previously stated, neon tetras are very peaceful fish that will do great in a community tank. They can coexist quite well with a variety of different tank mates.

They are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of their own kind of at least six. 

Great tank mates for neon tetras:

  • Cory Catfish
  • Honey Gouramis
  • Other Tetras
  • Rasboras
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Dwarf Gouramis
  • Mystery snails

They also do well with shrimp and crabs. However, you will want to avoid aggressive fish that can hurt your neon fish. Much larger fish should be avoided as tank mates as well as they can eat the neon tetra.

Tank mates to avoid for neon tetras:

  • Bettas
  • African Cichlids
  • Oscars
  • Jack Dempseys

Aquarium Setup & Water Conditions

Although neon tetras can be hardy and can adjust well to tank environments they should not be added to brand new tanks.

This is due to the fact that they do not handle changes to water chemistry well. As the water changes during the initial cycling process can be deadly for them.

Instead, put them in an already fully mature tank that is already established in order for them to thrive.

A 10-gallon tank is a minimum size for neon tetras, however, a 20-gallon tank is more suitable for them.

They do well with larger groups in their school and need the extra room to be able to swim around as they are active fish.

The larger size tank can help them feel less cramped, as well as safe and less stressed.

Ideal water parameters for Neon Tetras:

  • Water Temperature: 70°F to 81°F
  • pH Level: 6.0 to 7.0
  • Water Hardness: 2 to 10 dkH

Your neon tetra tank should have plenty of vegetation, with rooted and floating plants,  and driftwood. Floating plants and other decorations can create shade to get away from light. Adding to that you will want to have less lighting as neon tetras prefer dimmer lighting.

For substrate, there is a wide variety to choose from with neon tetras. This is due to the fact that they typically stay in the middle level of the tank. Different substrates such as gravel, sand, or anything else that works with live plants are suitable.

A standard filter system is fine as it will not be hard to keep their tank clean. These small fish do not create much waste that will dirty the tank waters.

Although you will need to keep up with regular water changes and other maintenance to keep the tank clean.

How To Breed Neon Tetras Fish

Neon tetras can be difficult as they need certain water parameters to trigger the mating process. You will want to start by setting up a separate breeding tank while you condition your neon tetras for spawning

Condition the neon tetras that you are going to use for the breeding process, they need to be mature enough to breed at least 12 weeks old providing them with live food.

You will want to make sure to add in plants and caves as this is where your neon tetras will spawn. The female will also scatter her eggs across the substrate and plants in the tank.

Ideal water parameters for neon tetra breeding tank:

  • Water Temperature: 75°F
  • pH Levels: between 5.0 and 6.0
  • Water Hardness: 2 dGH

When setting up the breeding tank you will want to have an adjustable light for the tank as this is important in the breeding process.

You might also want to place the breeding tank in a low-light spot as well. In the evening is when you want to add your neon tetras to the breeding tank with all the lights off as they should have exposure to light yet.

After the initial day in the dark breeding tank if there is still no breeding in the tank you will need to slightly increase the lighting in the tank each day until breeding occurs.

After two days you can add a large amount of soft water into the tank. If breeding still does not occur you may need to switch out the paired neon tetras.

When breeding does occur, it will start with the male and female spawning behind a cave, rock, or on plants.

After this the female will then scatter her eggs around the tank, laying up to 130 translucent eggs. As soon the female is done laying her eggs you will need to remove the parents to avoid eggs and fry from being eaten.

The eggs will hatch about 24 hours after they are laid. The babies are very sensitive to light and should be kept in the dark for about five days.

For the first two or three days they will live off of their eggs, eating the sacs.

After this, you will need to feed the baby fish special fry food and baby brine shrimp for about three months.

After these three months have passed they can be placed back into the main tank with the adult neon tetras.

Origin & Neon Tetra Habitat

Neon tetras come from acidic blackwater and clearwater streams. In the northern and western Amazon basin in Peru, Columbia, and Brazil.

Neon tetras were first brought to the U.S. from South America in the 1930s and quickly became popular after that.

Although due to farming and deforestation, their natural habits are declining. There are still a lot of neon tetras found in the wild, although most imported neon tetras come from fish farms.

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million neon tetras are imported to the U.S. each month from fish farms. Fortunately, this makes them widely available as they are a very popular choice amongst aquarists.

Common Neon Tetra Diseases

Neon tetras are very prone to several common aquarium diseases. They can be caused by stressful environments or poor tank conditions. The following are common diseases in neon tetras:

  • Neon Tetra Disease:  This disease was first found in neon tetras and how it got its name. This causes restlessness, difficulty swimming, cysts, and loss of color. This is caused by a parasite (Microsporidian), that can spread when fish eat infected live food. There is no cure for this disease that is known and when it is present it is best to remove affected fish to prevent spreading.
  • False Neon Tetra Disease: This is often misdiagnosed with neon tetra disease as it presents with the same symptoms. However, neon tetra disease is caused by a parasite and this one is caused by bacteria. Unfortunately, this disease is very fatal as well.
  • Ich: Also known as white spot disease, is another parasitic disease from the protozoan Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. This is when there are white spots all over and the fish will rub against the rough surface to relieve itching. With this disease the affected need to be quarantined and treated but using salt and increased water temperatures.
  • Fin and Tail Rot: When neon tetras live in poor water conditions, their fin and tails will start to rot. The disease begins at the ends of the fins and moves inward to the body. To treat this disease a complete water change would need to be performed as well as antibiotics.
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