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Neon Tetra Fish: The Ultimate Care, Diet, Breeding, & Info Guide

Neon Tetra fish are a very popular and colorful species in freshwater fish-keeping due to their blue stripe and active personality. This tetra species can be found in every fish store around the world.

Cardinal Tetra

They have a blue stripe across the top half of their body and a red stripe on the lower half with a silver stomach. The stunning, classic colors these fish display are actually their natural colors.

This complete guide covers everything you need to know about keeping, caring for, and breeding the Neon Tetra. And if you’re looking at keeping a planted tank, this fish is for you.

neon tetra

Neon Tetra Fish Behavior and Habitat

In this Neon Tetra Care Guide I talk about everything there is to know about these hardy and beautiful tetra fish. Armed with the right knowledge, your Neon Tetras will live for several years as a peaceful, active school of beautiful community fish.

  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Origin: Northern and Western Amazon Basin
  • Common Names: Neon Tetra, Neon Fish
  • Size: 11.5”

Glow Neon Tetra Temperament

Neon Tetras are very peaceful and they won’t bother any tankmate except for tiny fry and shrimplets. They are very shy because they are a schooling species. And they become very stressed if kept alone, even in a community tank with other fish.

When keeping schooling species you want 6 of the same fish. But Neon Tetras display even more activity in schools of 8-12 (or more, if space permits). 6 tetras may sound like a fine school but keep in mind that Neon Tetras live in schools of hundreds in the wild.

The movement pattern of Neon Tetras is very intriguing, as they tend to dart around the aquarium all at once. But they maintain a sense of grace while doing so.

They can be frightened easily by sudden motions around the aquarium or by larger tank mates, even if they are also peaceful. So your Neon Tetra fish may take some time to settle into their new home. But after the first few weeks, they will really show their active nature and colors.

Neon Tetras in their Natural Habitat

Neon Tetras live in the Amazon basin and are found in both blackwater and clearwater areas. Since this region is right on the equator the weather patterns are tropical, with little seasonal variation in water temperature. Their natural waters have a water temperature range of 68-82℉, with the warmer end of this range strongly preferred.

Neon Tetra fish tend to be more healthy in blackwater tanks thanks to the acidity and plant tannins in the water. Blackwater aquariums are also darker, with a tea color that reduces light and helps them feel less exposed. In nature, they use their blue stripe to keep track of one another in a school.

So if your Neon Tetras are extremely skittish, you may want to try either reducing the lighting or adding tannins. Floating plants can also help simulate a more natural environment while also removing ammonia and other waste products from your fish!

Sometimes new aquarists are intimidated by plants due to their demands for light and carbon dioxide. But floating plants tend to be super easy to care for because they are close to your lights. And they can get unlimited amounts of CO2 from the air so no expensive CO2 setups are needed.

amazon basin
Kmusser [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Neon Tetra Lifespan

Neon Tetras live for around 5 years, with a few aquarists reporting that theirs live for 8 to 10 years. For such small fish, this is a very long lifespan. Even larger fish like Bettas rarely live past 5 years of age!

So consider these pets to be a long-term commitment on your end. A school of Neon Tetras is fairly long-lived and will give you years of joy to watch.

Types of Neon Tetras

Believe it or not, you may find yourself running into more fish than you intended to when looking for Neon Tetras. There are actually a few fish that share this name; a couple of close cousins and one that is only distantly related. Let’s take a look at these alternative “Neon Tetras.”

Green Neon Tetra

Like the true Neon Tetra, the Green Neon Tetra is a member of the genus Paracheirodon. This means that it is actually a close relative of Paracheirodon innesi. However, the Green Neon Tetra is a slightly more complicated little fish.

They also look very similar at first, with their slightly dark green backs and darker red color. But you won’t have any trouble identifying a tank of them. Since all Green Neon Tetras are pricey wild-caught imports they will be clearly labeled. People buy Green Neon Tetras for blackwater biotope tanks and other specialized setups.

For starters, true neons have been captive-bred for decades, making them fairly hardy little fish. But any Green Neon Tetra is wild-caught; they are highly sensitive to built-up ammonia, nitrites, and nitrate. They may not even recognize prepared food, only eating live foods. So they really only belong in the hands of expert fish keepers.

  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon simulans
  • Origin: Orinoco & Rio Negro Rivers
  • Length: 1.5 inches
  • Ease of Care: Intermediate to Difficult

Black Neon Tetra

On the other hand, the Black Neon Tetra is a very different fish. It is only distantly related to the true Neon Tetra and has a very different look. Black Neons get their name from their vibrant dark stripe. Paired with their silver iridescent stripe and bright red eyes, a school of them makes for a handsome addition to any community tank.

Black Neon Tetras are also a little less sensitive to poor water quality than true Neon Tetras. While they are a little chunkier in look they are still small, schooling fish that prefer being kept in large groups! 

  • Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi
  • Origin: Paraguay River, Southern Brazil
  • Length: 2 inches
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Blue Neon Tetra and Gold Neon Tetras

Considering how long Neon Tetras have been tank raised it is surprising how few color and fin variations there are of these fish. Tetra species of all kinds are a little challenging to breed, which may be part of the reason why. However, this is starting to change with the introduction of blue and gold color morphs to the aquarium hobby!

Blue Neon Tetras are another wonderful color variant. Here the powder blue of the side stripe covers the entire upper half of the fish. They are also known as Blue Diamond Neon Tetras. These beautiful fish are just as suitable for community and planted aquariums.

The Gold Neon Tetra is even more striking; it has just the barest hint of blue and no brown. The red can either be bright or entirely gone, with a pale peach to gold tone along the fish’s body. 

Cardinal Tetra

cardinal tetra

Cardinal Tetras are gaining in popularity, almost to the point of surpassing the Neon Tetra! They look incredibly similar, as the Cardinal Tetras also have a blue stripe on the upper half of their body and a red stripe on the lower half

The difference is that their red stripe extends through their stomach towards the mouth. Cardinal Tetras also grow almost twice as large as Neon Tetras, reaching around 2” in length

Hence they are sometimes called the “Large Neon Tetra” as well as the “Red Neon Tetra”. Cardinal Tetras also come from soft water areas of the Amazon. Since they are all wild-caught they prefer softer water than Neon Tetras. Ideal conditions are no more than 4 degrees of water hardness. But they are sometimes able to adapt to harder water conditions.

  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon axelrodi
  • Origin: Orinoco & Negro River, Venezuela & Brazil
  • Length: 2 inches
  • Ease of Care: Intermediate

neon tetra

Neon Tetra Care

Here we will take a close look at what you should know if you’re thinking about keeping Neon Tetras!

Neon Tetra Tank Requirements

Despite how timid they may act at first, neon tetras are extremely hardy fish. They can be kept in relatively small aquariums and are tolerant of a wide variety of water parameters and temperatures.

Some are even kept in tanks without heaters due to their durability.

  • Tank Size: Most recommend a 10-gallon tank for neon tetras, which would work for 3-6 fish. But since they should be kept in larger schools, a 20-gallon, especially a 20 long, would be perfect for them. This gives them enough room to display schooling behavior and feel comfortable in the aquarium.
  • Community Aquariums: Glow Neon tetras are commonly kept in community aquariums. Community aquariums are aquariums that house multiple fish species, typically ones from all around the world, that are capable of coexisting with one another in terms of temperament and water parameters. Neon tetras are perfect candidates for community aquariums as they are incredibly peaceful and the presence of other fish in the tank can make them feel more secure.

Neon Tetra Water Parameters

Neon Tetra fish come from low pH, blackwater, soft water rivers. While they prefer softer, more acidic water, they have been in the aquarium trade long enough to be adaptable to most water conditions.

When it comes to Neon Tetra water parameters, stability is as important as specific water parameters. So once your tank is running and fully cycled, don’t make lots of changes; this will contribute massively to the health of your Neon Tetras!

Here are some basic guidelines for Neon Tetra water parameters:

  • pH: 5.0-7.5
  • Temperature: 68-82°F (74-82°F preferred)
  • Alkalinity: 1°-10° dGH

Water Temperature

Neon Tetra temperature is also important to monitor. Like I said before, these are equatorial fish. They can tolerate cooler temperatures for a while but it lowers their appetites and disease resistance.

Neon Tetras should not be kept much cooler than 74°F for extended periods. And when trying to breed them, raising the temperature to 83-85°F will often help!

While the Neon Tetra is a hardy fish, it will succumb to ammonia and nitrite, and nitrates. Any measurable amount of ammonia or nitrite will be toxic to them. Make sure to properly cycle your aquarium before adding Neon Tetras, or any other fish.

Nitrates tend to be a bit sneakier. They build up in the aquarium over time in clean, properly cycled aquariums. Bi-weekly water changes help keep nitrate levels down and keep your fish healthier.

It is extremely important to test your water on a regular basis. I have found that the API freshwater master test kit is the most accurate test kit on the market and the cheapest per test!

Another note to make about your tank’s cycle and schooling fish is that adding too many fish at one time can upset the process. Since you are increasing your bioload, you must give the beneficial bacteria time to catch up.

A group of schooling fish should be added all at once to reduce stress, though you should be prepared to do extra water changes for a short period in order to counteract the potential increases in ammonia or nitrite.

What Do Neon Tetras Eat?

In the wild, Neon Tetras are what we call “micro predators.” This means that they are entirely carnivorous, feeding on aquatic insect larvae, water fleas, worms, fish eggs, and anything else they can find. So we want to focus on animal protein over vegetable matter, which tetras don’t really eat.

Glow Neon Tetras are not picky when it comes to food and will accept almost any tropical fish food flakes. They seem to prefer flakes over pellets, but aside from that, they will accept almost any brand.

Some brands are better than others, and personally, I prefer Hikari since they have fewer fillers and more protein than others, and my fish love it.

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Another great brand of Neon Tetra food is Fluval Bug Bites. As the name suggests they contain black soldier fly larvae, a natural and healthy source of highly digestible insect protein. Most frozen foods are also great for feeding your Neon Tetra fish. The best options are blood worms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms.

Since overfeeding can lead to excess ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, it is important to feed several small meals per day. Neon Tetras are typically fed a few pinches of flakes, whatever they can eat in 20-35 seconds, two or three times a day.

How Many Neon Tetras Should Be Together?

As I have mentioned, Neon Tetras are schooling fish, and having a school for your tetra is essential to their long-term survival. Those that are isolated from their friends have a higher likelihood of catching diseases or dying from parameter shifts, as they are constantly stressed if they are not in a school.

The smallest school should be 8-12 tetras, depending on the tank size. The more tetras you have, the most comfortable they will be and the less they will hide. Plus, the way a large school of Neon Tetra fish moves around the tank in complete harmony is mesmerizing to watch!

Keeping Neon Tetras in Planted Aquariums

apistogramma tank
Photo by Dorenwolf

Neon Tetras and Plants

Neon Tetras have been an integral part of planted aquariums for decades. Their splash of red and blue against dense green backdrops has been a popular contrast in the aquascaping hobby for decades.

Some people choose to focus on their fish, others on their plants, but with a fish like the neon tetra, both can be addressed. The fish perfectly complement the plants and the plants help their blue strip stand out.

Floating plants are especially good for these shy fish. They provide cover and shade, helping to control algae as well.

Both Neon and Cardinal Tetras are also very popular in ADA-style nature and Iwagumi aquascapes. The minimalist layouts of these designs make these tetras a classic, eye-catching addition to these aquascapes.

Blackwater Biotope Tanks and Neon Tetras

The color and origin of Neon Tetra fish also make them very popular in blackwater biotopes. A blackwater biotope is generally used to represent the tannin-laden natural habitat of certain fish, including the Neon Tetra.

Tannins are a type of acid that leach from decaying plant matter and make the water appear yellow or brown, like tea. The darkened water makes these fish feel more comfortable, and some very vibrant fish inhabit blackwater areas aside from neon tetras, such as wild bettas.

You can even combine a small sorority or harem of wild bettas, mainly Smaragdina and Imbellis, with the stunning neon tetra in a blackwater tank. Add in a few plants, some hardscape, a substrate full of plant matter like peat, and you have an award-winning tank!

neon tetra

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Community tanks are the most popular way to keep Neon Tetras, which is perfect since they get along with most other community tropical fish.

They are generally recommended as tank mates for Betta splendens because they are both soft water species that thrive in warm conditions. Neon Tetras can also easily avoid a Betta that is prone to being aggressive on occasion.

Still, it is best to consider fish that are similar in size and temperament. Fortunately, there are hundreds of good options in the aquarium world today! These include other Tetras, Danios, Guppies, and peaceful bottom dwellers like Dwarf Otocinclus and Corydoras!

Good Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Neon Tetra Tank Mates to Avoid

As peaceful and small as Neon Tetras are, they can be easily bullied or even eaten if kept with the wrong tank mates. Here are a few species you should not keep with Neon Tetras:

  • Cichlids: Cichlids are aggressive and will make a snack of Neon Tetras. However many Dwarf Cichlids, including Blue Rams and Apistogramma, are from the same region of the world and are great tank mates for Neon Tetras!
  • Goldfish: Unfortunately Goldfish prefer much cooler water and get far too large to house with Neon Tetras. Common goldfish get 10-12” and their size will allow them to snack on the Tetras with ease. Even the more wobbly, uncoordinated fancy goldfish will also be able to eat the tetras as they typically get 8-12”, depending on the type.
  • Livebearers: While Neon Tetras are very adaptable, it is still advisable to keep them in soft water tanks. Livebearers need very hard water in order to survive, otherwise, you will see a lot of shimmying in your tank. Guppies are the only livebearers that thrive in soft, acidic conditions.

Setting up a Neon Tetra Tank

Thinking about setting up a tank for blue stripe Neon Tetras? Here are a few things that you will need to consider:


  • Tank: A 20 gallon (not a 20-high) is a good starting point for Neon Tetras. I recommend a long-style aquarium because it provides more length for these active fish to swim! And if you are planning on a more spacious aquascape, a 40-breeder would be better suited.
  • Filtration: Filtration is necessary, but the exact type of filtration is ultimately up to you and the tank size you choose. For a 20 gallon, a simple Hang On Back (H.O.B.) filter with a prefilter sponge would be perfect. With a larger tank you may want to consider a canister filter. If you plan on breeding them, a sponge filter would be the best type of filtration.
  • Lighting: Neon Tetras love heavily planted tanks and look absolutely stunning in them, so get yourself a quality LED light specifically for plants.
  • Heater: Heater: A heater is likely going to be necessary during the winter, unless the water will always stay at or above 74℉. Personally, I recommend a heater on all tanks, even cold-water tanks, simply to prevent temperature fluctuations. A fluctuating temperature will cause stress in your fish and stress easily leads to disease, so a stable temperature is a must. This does not mean the tank has to run warm, but setting the heater to 74℉ will help with stability and the health of your fish.

Choosing a Substrate

Substrate is not important when it comes to Neon Tetras; they can be kept on anything from gravel to sand to bare bottom. But since they prefer planted tanks, you may want to go with a plant growing substrate.

They spend most of their time swimming around and don’t peck at the substrate as much as other fish in the tank do.

If you plan on keeping them with Cory Catfish, you will want a sand substrate, but the majority of their other tank mate possibilities will not have a preference.

Adding Live Plants

Neon Tetras are not demanding in their plant choices, but they do prefer bushy plants like amazon swords and stem plants. Here are some beginner plants that are low-tech and undemanding:

  • Brazilian Water Weed (Anacharis)
  • Red Root Floaters
  • Java Fern
  • Amazon Sword
  • Java Moss
  • Subwassertang
  • Pennywort
  • Rotala
  • Ludwigia
  • Dwarf Sag
  • Vallisneria 

Neon Tetras love to dart through a wide variety of plants and duck behind large rock formations. This leaves the aquascaping options wide open – let your creativity run wild!


aquarium cycle

Although Neon Tetras are extremely hardy, they are sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, so it is essential to completely cycle your aquarium before introducing any fish.

The cycling process takes around a month, which may at first seem like a lot of wasted time, but it gives you the time to perfect your aquascape.

Plants also help absorb nitrogen compounds such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and can carry in small colonies of bacteria that convert these harmful compounds to less harmful ones.

This addition speeds up the cycling process. Since the bacterial colonies are already established the only thing left to do is to build up their numbers.

For more information about cycling your aquarium, check out our fishless cycle guide.

Breeding Neon Tetras

Breeding Neon Tetras, and Cardinal Tetras for that matter, are egg scattering species of fish. This means the males typically chase the females, who release eggs in mosses and other plants, which the males then fertilize.

They show no parental care and will eat the eggs soon after laying them. So once spawning is complete you will need to remove the eggs or the parents to a new aquarium.

Neon Tetra breeding has high success rates when you use tannins, low TDS (total dissolved solids) water, low pH water, and spawning mops. In the next section, we will cover ways to obtain all these items.

Neon Tetras very rarely have successful spawns in the main aquarium as the adults love to eat the eggs and fry. Additionally, since most Neon Tetras are kept in community tanks, the whole tank will go after the eggs and fry, not just the parents.

How to Breed Neon Tetras

Determining Gender in Neon Tetras

A 10-gallon separate breeding tank with a sponge filter is the most popular way to spawn neon tetras. A group of males and females is placed in the tank and left in for several days until eggs and/or fry are observed. Then you can remove them.

  • Tannins: this can be achieved through leaf litter from oak or Indian Almond Leaves, the latter being commonly available in pet stores. Driftwood also releases tannins into the water as will organic soil. But the organic soil also releases ammonia for the first month or so. This can also be used as an alternative cycling method, depending on the amount of ammonia released.
  • Low TDS and pH water: can be obtained through fresh rainwater, Reverse Osmosis water, and Distilled water. These can either be used alone if the TDS is above 10-30ppm or some tap water can be mixed in as long as the dGH stays at or below 2.
  • Spawning mops: Spawning mops for Neon Tetras are often just java moss or other kinds of moss. Acrylic yarn spawning mops might be cheaper for you. You can also set up a breeding tank with a round marble substrate. This way the eggs fall in between the marbles, out of the parents’ reach.

Determining Gender in Neon Tetras

There is little difference between the male and female Neon Tetra fish. But on close inspection, the males are slimmer with a straight blue line. Female fish are rounder with a slightly bent blue line.

There is not a specific ratio that has been determined for this species when it comes to breeding. However, when it comes to egg scattering fish you want to have more males than females to ensure the eggs get fertilized.

The actual ratio varies greatly depending on the species, anywhere from 3 males per 1 female to 5 males for 6 females in a breeding tank. Neon Tetras are difficult to sex with accuracy, so putting a large group, 6-10, in the breeding tank should still result in fry.

Caring for Neon Tetra Eggs

The spawning tank is kept in the dark in order to stop the adults from eating the eggs. Also, the eggs and fry tend to be light sensitive. Once they have spawned, remove the adults because they will not help you care for the eggs.

Make sure you have a good amount of flow in the aquarium to prevent the Neon Tetra eggs from getting fungus.

Normally, I would recommend the addition of an antifungal like Methylene Blue, but tannins have antifungal properties. So with strong water flow plus plant tannins, the eggs should hatch just fine.

Neon Tetra Fish Fry Care

Once the fry absorb their egg sacs and can swim on their own, which is called the free-swimming stage, they will require live food. The best two first foods are microforms and baby brine shrimp.

Baby brine shrimp should be their main staple food once they are large enough to accept them.

Set up multiple baby brine shrimp hatcheries to produce a continuous supply of them for your fish. The babies should be fed 3-8 times daily, depending on the number of babies.

Continue to add micro worms to the tank during the first few months as the fry grow at different sizes. This could be due to some eating more infusoria than others, which makes them stronger and better able to chase down larger food like baby brine shrimp.

It could also be delayed egg hatching due to a wide variety of factors. Either way, baby food should be continuously fed for those that develop slowly.

After a few weeks, sometimes as early as 2-3 weeks, they will begin to accept floating powdered fry food. Once they begin accepting premade, high-protein food, they will have an incredible growth spurt.

They may color up as soon as 3-4 weeks with the proper diet. Be careful when first trying out prepared fry food, as they will not initially recognize it as food, and it can quickly foul the water.

Since Neon Tetras stay relatively small, their fry are also extremely tiny, but they grow quickly. They can reach sexual maturity within 3-4 months and are sellable once they reach around ¾-1”. However, before you sell them, you need to take 1-2 weeks to slowly acclimate them back to tap water pH and TDS, otherwise, they will likely die once you sell them

Frequently Asked Questions about Neon Tetras

How Big Do Neon Tetras Get?

Neon Tetras are smaller tetras. They rarely grow larger than 1.5 inches. Males may even stay around 1 inch in length when fully grown.

How Many Neon Tetras in a 10 Gallon Tank?

You can keep up to 10 Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon tank. The 1 inch per gallon rule does not always work. But for small, slim fish like Neon Tetras, it is a great rule of thumb!

Are Neon Tetras Friendly?

Neon Tetra fish are peaceful, schooling pets that do well in community tanks with other fish of the same temperament. They may squabble with each other and nip fins sometimes. But they never cause severe harm to one another.

What Do Neon Tetras Eat?

Neon Tetras are carnivorous and need protein-rich food sources. Any flakes and pellets should have plenty of animal protein like fish and shrimp. You can supplement these with frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms!

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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