Do you want a peaceful fish that adds beautiful color to your aquarium and spectacular schools? Look no further than the Neon Tetra! Neon Tetras add vibrant swirls of iridescence to freshwater aquariums. They’re truly impressive when in a large school.
There are around 2 million Neon Tetras sold in the United States each month. And it’s easy to see why because of their simple care requirements and eye-catching coloring.
If you would like to keep a school of these beautiful fish, consult this Neon Tetra Care Guide first to learn how to do it right!
All About Neon Tetras
Behavior & Temperament
Technically, Neon Tetras are considered semi-aggressive, but they are unlikely to try and attack tankmates due to their relatively small size.
Neon Tetras can get along with various fish species but they do need to be kept in a school of their species. The absolute minimum is three, but ideally, at least six should be kept in the school. The more fish, the less likely they are to bully one another, which also helps with the overall health and quality of your Neon Tetra’s life.
Color changes are expected in Neon Tetras. During the day, you are more likely to see bright colored Neon Tetras with vibrant colors. When stressed, sick, or during the nighttime, Neon, Tetras fade in color. Often when first being transferred or at fish stores, they are seen with less vibrant colors. The color should return as they become more comfortable with their new surroundings.
Neon Tetras school in the pelagic (middle-column) of their tank, and larger groups will school more tightly. When Neon Tetras swim in smaller schools, they are more likely to leave space between one another, creating an arguably less visually pleasing effect.
Neon Tetras are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Like most animals feeding a varied diet will expand the life of your fish. Ideal foods are
- Brine Shrimp
- Insect Larvae
- Blanched Veggies
Stay away from living food due to the possible introduction of disease.
Neon Tetras can be fed up to twice a day and should not take longer than three minutes to eat their food. If possible, remove excess food, and be careful to watch for spikes in nitrates. If your nitrates get over 20ppm and you have been conducting water changes once a week, consider reducing the amount of food offered.
How long do they live?
Neon Tetras live for approximately five years despite their tiny size. Some have even lived as long as eight years.
Neon Tetras have a simple body shape reaching a max of two inches across. These fish are silver iridescent with a blue line running from behind their large eye to the top of their bodies, just perpendicular to their anal fin. A bright opaque line of red goes from the split of their tail, stopping abruptly in the middle of their bodies.
Males are usually smaller with a less rounded lower-abdomen than females. The larger body causes their blue line’s shape to be bent if they are a female and straight if they are a male.
There are other variations of Neon Tetras, including:
Where are they located?
Neon tetras were discovered in 1934 in the Amazon Jungle. Most Neon Tetras in the aquarium trade are born in captivity these days.
You can find wild Neon Tetras in rivers and streams of South America. They reside in cloudy water with dense vegetation and little sunlight. Their bright colors give them an advantage in locating their school. Their ability to dim their color also gives them better camouflage when predators are near.
Setting up your Neon Tetras Tank
Aquarium Size is highly dependent on the amount of Neon Tetras you would like to keep. Neon Tetras are low waste producers, and with regular water changes, nitrate production is manageable.
A minimum tank size for a school of four to five Neon Tetras will be ten gallons. I would suggest trying to keep about two gallons available per fish, although this number can be stretched slightly. As always, consider the waste products of other tank mates before ultimately deciding on how many Neon Tetras are appropriate in your aquarium.
Type of Substrate
Neon Tetras do not have particular needs for their aquarium’s substrate. If you are planting your tank, use a substrate that will help promote plant growth. If you are not using live plants, small rocks are similar to their substrate found in rivers and streams.
Do stray from crushed coral or any substrates that might accidentally raise pH; Neon Tetras require moderately acidic soft water. Avoid clay ball substrates that are marketed as being good for plants, these will also raise the soil pH.
Neon Tetras do not require heavy filtration. A low flow filter will work fine. Consider a GPH (gallons per hour) flow of about four times the size of your tank.
Their oxygen and waste needs are relatively low, and you can even consider just working with a sponge filter (or two) attached to an air pump. Ensure that you clean out the sponge filter about once a month with RO water and do not introduce any cleaning chemicals. If you notice your sponge filter has gotten incredibly filthy, consider changing out the filter entirely.
Neon Tetras prefer low light environments since they replicate their natural habitat. To replicate this soft lighting, consider about two watts per gallon. Their lighting needs can be accomplished with fluorescent lighting, but if you are growing plants and would like LED lights, consider getting a lower wattage and having plants that sprout at the top and block light from reaching your Neon Tetras.
Plants and Decorations
Neon Tetras do not have any specific requirements for plants or decorations. Keeping an environment similar to that of their natural habitat is ideal.
Plants do help maintain ideal water quality and create an appealing natural environment for your Neon Tetra. Consider plants that require low or mid-level lighting since high-level lighting stresses out Neon Tetras. On a similar note, plants that shoot up and offer shade are ideal for creating an inviting environment.
Any type of aquarium-safe decoration is acceptable. Large driftwood pieces are ideal because they soften the water and help to lower the pH. Neon Tetras like to feel hidden and will enjoy having tannins in their tank from uncured driftwood. If you do not want the appearance of tannins (tea-colored aquarium water) consider buying pieces that are already cured or curing the driftwood before adding them to your tank.
Neon Tetras are relatively passive, but they may nip at each other when displaying aggressive behaviors. Make sure to keep a BARE MINIMUM of three tetras in your school. The more Neon Tetras available in your school, the more likely they will not display aggressive qualities.
Do not keep an aggressive fish with Neon Tetras. Due to their small size, they are bite-size for some fish and an easier target for bullying.
Ideal tankmates include:
- Dwarf Gouramis
- Smaller or similar-sized Tetras
- Cory Catfish
- Non-aggressive Loach species
- Clown or Bristlenose Plecos
Tank Environment for Neon Tetras
Neon Tetras have a broad tolerance for temperature. 70 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit will work, although they prefer warmer water.
If trying to mate Neon Tetras, try to raise or lower the temperature to precisely 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Neon Tetras are not picky about water flow. Try to get a filter that offers a flow gallon per hour flow four times the tank’s size. Otherwise, get an air pump with an appropriately sized sponge filter to provide oxygen.
Hardness Levels & pH
Neon Tetras prefer stable water conditions. The pH should remain below 7.0 and above 6.0. If you have issues maintaining a lower pH, consider adding aquarium remedies such as pH Down until you can find out a more permanent way to lower the pH. Wood pieces added to the aquarium will assist with lowering pH.
Soft water is necessary for this species and General Hardness should be kept below 10 dGH (general hardness). I would suggest monitoring this once a week or every other week once established. Wood pieces for the aquarium will help soften the water and lower general hardness.
Chlorine and Chloramines
Ideally, use RO (reverse osmosis) or DI (deionized) water for your aquarium. No matter your water source, chances are there are potential issues with the water quality.
You can either buy RO water or purchase the components to create your own RO water. Keeping an RO unit does require extra space as well as routine maintenance. It is worth getting your own unit if you would like to keep multiple aquariums or plan on housing a larger tank.
If you want to just use tap water, be sure to treat your water with a tap water conditioner or a chlorine chloramine remover during each water change. The build-up of chlorine and chloramines are fatal to fish if left unchecked. If chlorine or chloramine is in your tank, usually white spots appear on your fish, or they may experience lethargy. If you think this may be the case, buy a test kit right away.
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate
The nitrogen cycle is one of the essential parts of fishkeeping. Neon Tetras are hardy but will not tolerate an uncycled tank. Make sure your tank has been fully cycled before introducing your fish.
To ensure a proper cycle is maintained, make sure to:
- Thoroughly cycle your tank initially.
- Add fish slowly
- Watch out for surprise mini-cycles after the initial tank cycle.
Ideal parameters or ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate are:
- Ammonia: 0ppm
- Nitrite: 0ppm
- Nitrate: less than 20ppm
After the tank is set up, perform 25% water changes once a week for the tank. When performing them, try to keep parameters as close to the tank’s water as possible. DO NOT perform water changes greater than 25% at one time.
The best way to prevent cycling issues is to check the water quality numbers at least once a week, perform the weekly water changes, and be careful not to overfeed your fish.
Breeding Neon Tetras is difficult for beginners. If you choose to try to breed them, separate one male and one female from the group in an established breeder tank. The breeder tank does not have to be large and should have a sponge filter to prevent fry loss.
Males are thinner and have a straight blue stripe, while females are rounded with a bent blue line. Once you have selected your male and female, make sure to create their ideal water parameters. Neon Tetras will breed when the pH is 5.0-6.0, and the temperature remains at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feed both fish a protein-rich diet while waiting on eggs. Neon Tetras are egg scatterers and prefer to leave them in an area they could hide, such as Java Moss. Neon Tetras are known to eat their own young so remove the parents as soon as possible. The eggs will be transparent and adhesive.
Low lighting to no lighting is ideal for the fry. The female will lay about 100 eggs, but only around a third will be viable. All Neon Tetras require tank lids, but young Neon Tetras are known jumpers, so make sure to keep a lid on their breeder tank.
The eggs will hatch after 30 hours and the babies will live off of the nutrition from their egg sacs for 2-3 days. Keep the lights off and feed the fry small foods such as rotifers, egg yolk, or micropellets. DO NOT introduce them to the school until they are too large to be eaten. Neon Tetra fry receive no parental care.
Neon Tetra Disease
A parasitic Protozoan introduces Neon Tetra disease. The parasite is brought in through the intestine and eats its way out of the abdomen through the Tetra’s muscle. Little is known about the parasite, and there are no known cures.
If only one or a couple of fish appear to have, symptoms remove them immediately and humanely euthanize them. Symptoms for Neon Tetra Disease include
- Lack of coordination
- White patches
- Spinal deformities
- Color Loss
- Cysts in the stomach
Since there is no cure, the best solution is prevention. Quarantine all new fish before introducing them to your tank and maintain a healthy environment and water quality.
Neon Tetras are fun and dynamic schooling fish that add a gorgeous burst of color to your aquarium.
Whether you are an expert fish keeper or a new aquarist, I hope you find this guide helpful for keeping happy and healthy Neon Tetras!