Neon Tetra Fish – A complete Care Guide

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Neon tetras are one of the most popular freshwater fish for beginners and seasoned aquarists because of their peaceful and shoaling nature. However, when I say beginner aquarists, I don’t mean complete beginners. That’s because they get a lot of diseases that are difficult to handle for complete novices.

However, still, it is a popular choice for freshwater aquariums due to its vibrant colors and ability to withstand tank conditions. In this article, I’ll share everything about Neon tetras and also, why it is not suitable for complete beginners.

Read on…

Species Overview

Scientific NameParacheirodon innesi
Common NamesNeon Tetra, Neon Fish
OriginAmazon rivers, particularly, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela
Care LevelIntermediate
LifespanAround 8 years
Tank LevelTop to mid-dweller
Minimum Tank Size10 gallons
Temperature Range70 – 79°F
Water Hardness10 dGH
pH Range6 to 7
Filtration/Water FlowLow to moderate
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg layer
Difficulty to BreedDifficult
CompatibilityCommunity tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What Is A Neon Tetra?

Neon Tetra is a small to medium-sized tropical fish that belongs to the Characin Family. They are beautiful freshwater, hardy fish, known for their peaceful nature. Neon Tetras are schooling fish that do well in a group of 10 or more. There are many types of Neon tetras and each of them is equally amazing. They usually come from soft, acidic water from the Amazonia.

Different Types

Here are some of the most common types of Neon Tetra.

True Breeds

True Neon tetra or wild neon tetras are blue and red with silver white color. They possess bright blue color on both of their sides, i.e., from their eyes to the adipose fins. Their body is of red color from the anal fins and exceeding to the tail with transparent fins and tails.

The wild neon tetras or True neon tetra have a silver and white body that grows no longer than 1.2 inches. These are peaceful fish, smaller in size, and enjoys the company of at least 6 other fish. They usually occupy the middle tank levels.

Long Fins

The long fin neon tetra is a captive variety of neon tetras that are similar in appearance to true neon tetra. However, they have long fins twice the length of true neon tetra. Besides the size of their flowy, long fins, the long fins of neon tetra are identical to true neon tetra in terms of their appearance, lifespan, or living water conditions.

Gold Head

Gold neon tetra or glowlight neon tetra has a red and silver body with beautiful blue eyes and a gold-red stripe running from its snout to the tail. Despite their beautiful patterns, they are leucistic, i.e., their bodies are transparent with a peachy silver hue.

Diamond Neon Tetras

These tetra species possess a diamond-shaped patch on the back of their bodies, between their eyes and a dorsal fin. Hence, the name. Diamond Neon tetra is a product of selective breeding and many buyers prefer to buy them with they are adults since juvenile diamond tetras are bland in color. However, as they grow, they develop beautiful colors that are appealing to the eyes with horizontal blue stripes and red stripes down their bodies.


They are commonly called black neons only. These species of neon tetra have a unique and striking appearance with an orange-colored semi-circle above their big eyes. Two horizontal lines run from their gill cover to the caudal fin. One line is black while the other one is bluish white. The entire body of black neon tetra is greyish brown with shimmery marks of yellow and green.


Red neon tetra or Cardinal tetra has an uncanny resemblance to the true neon tetras, but they are slightly longer than the true neons. Cardinal tetras have blue stripes that run from their eyes to the tails. There is a red stripe below the blue stripe which extends from the head to the tail.

Green Tetra

False neon tetra or Green Neon tetras are often confused with their close cousins; Cardinal tetras or true neon tetra because of their overall appearance. They have a light red color on the lower part of the body like neon tetras while the upper part has a bluish-green color that looks gorgeous. The head and back of the green tetras are also green colored, hence, the name.

Origin and Habitat

Neon tetras come from the tropical areas of Amazonia which makes them tropical fish. Neons prefer warm water and they originate from Western Brazil, South America, Southeastern Columbia, and Peru.

However, the wild bred variety of neon tetras lives in headwaters of the River Amazon, Tiger, Napo, and Yarapa. In their natural habitat, they can be found in clear water streams or blackwater. But mostly, neon tetra is now commercially bred.


Neon tetras are graced with a light blue black and silvery white abdomen. The bodies of Neon tetras are spindle shaped with a blunt nose. From the base of the adipose fin to the close runs an iridescent blue stripe and from the middle body to the base of the caudal fin runs an iridescent red stripe.

The anal fins of Neon tetra are almost transparent and most neon tetras develop an olive green shimmery lining on their backs. The most prominent feature of neon tetras is when at rest, the fish becomes silver and when it is active during the day, it again becomes red and blue.

Average Size

The neon tetra is a small, peaceful fish that grows no longer than 1.2 inches in length or 3 centimeters.


Neon tetra species are an investment because they have a great life expectancy when provided with optimal water parameters and tank conditions. A healthy neon tetra lives for up to 8 years or longer in captivity.

Tank Care Guide

Neon tetras are hardy fish that can withstand varying water parameters and tank conditions. However, when it comes to the cleanliness and hygiene of your tank, neon tetras are no exception. Neon tetras need crystal clear, bacteria-free water to do well in your home aquariums.

Therefore, to keep your neon tetra happy and healthy, follow this guide.

Aquarium Setup

Since neon tetra is a schooling fish, they should be kept in a group of 10 fish. However, a group or shoal of at least 10 neon tetras is highly recommended to avoid stress and aggression in your fish. Also, neon tetras live in the mid-upper levels of the tank. Therefore, choose plants and other fish species accordingly.

Tank Size

If you’re keeping neon tetras in small numbers, for example; one or two fish in a single tank, then size doesn’t matter. They are such small fish that can easily fit into a 2 or even 1-gallon tank.

However, as mentioned above, neon tetra is a shoaling fish that enjoys the company of other fish. Therefore, for keeping a group of 10 or more, I recommend a bare minimum of 10-gallon tank size. Also, as they are mid to upper-level swimmers, a taller tank works the best than a wider one.

Water Parameters

In their natural habitat, neon tetra enjoys slightly acidic water with a water temperature of around 70-79°F. The pH of South American regions is more or less 6.8. Thus, they should be provided with similar water parameters to ensure their health.

Water Temperature: The ideal water temperature range is around 73°F to 78°F.

pH range: The recommended pH range for an aquarium tank is between 6 to 7.

Water Hardness: The neon tetra prefers soft and slightly acidic water with a water hardness of no more than 10 dGH.

Filtration and Aeration

Neon tetra, in the wild, is a very hardy fish. However, in captivity, you need to take care of their ecosystem since they develop fatal diseases detrimental to their well-being. Therefore, proper filtration and aeration in a fish tank are essential.

Many aquarists use air pumps to promote aeration. They are okay to use, however, not necessary. If the air pump becomes a necessity, the reason is you have overstocked your fish tank. Air pumps create bubbles in the water and break the surface tension. But there are more easy ways to promote aeration in your tank. These are:

  1. Aquarium Filter: Aquarium filters are excellent to promote aeration and oxygenation in the tank. For maximum aeration, I highly recommend getting a filter that is powerful enough for your neon tetra tank.
  2. Powerheads: Powerheads supplement your aquarium filter and are usually placed on the side of your tank, connected to an air hose. They add water movement and promote aeration in your fish tank.
  3. Spray Bar Aerators: Spray bar aerators are attached to your filter outlet that sprays the water. They are fitted in the tank horizontally. I highly recommend space bars if you have dead spots in your aquarium.

Best Aquarium Filter for Them

Neon tetras are small fish that need a lot of oxygen in their tank. Without proper aeration and oxygenation, neon tetras will suffocate to death.

The recommended filters for a small fish like neon tetra are a sponge filter or a hang-on back filter. However, if you have a larger community tank with lots of fish and plants, I recommend canister filters.

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The best filters for neon tetras are those that perform biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration and provide movement in the water. I also recommend a drip filter that creates a waterfall effect and promotes oxygenation.

Pro Tip: While installing a filter, make sure you cover the intake as neon tetra is a small fish that can easily be sucked into the filter.


In their natural habitat, neon tetra lives in brackish or blackwater. And so, thousands of leaves cover the river streams making their ecosystem dimly lit. We also suggest mimicking their natural environment to keep them happy. Thus, a dimly lit aquarium is the best bet for your fish.

If you have aquatic plants, make sure to get those that thrive in low light. Otherwise, you can get floating plants that cast dark shadows on your fish.

Aquatic Plants and Decorations

Neon tetra appreciates a densely vegetated aquarium. Also, aquatic plants help in the breeding tank while mating and spawning. In a community tank, neon tetras like to swim freely in groups where they feel safe. However, when they feel threatened, they like to hide in plants and other decorations. Therefore, aquatic plants are necessary for the neon tetra tank.

I recommend keeping tall plants, i.e., Ludwigia repens, Brazilian pennywort, vallisneria, cabomba, or Cryptocoryne wendtii. Floating plants also add great colors to the aquarium and provide them shade from direct sunlight. I recommend frogbit, dwarf water lettuce, or red river floaters.

Live plants also help filter out the water by removing nitrates from water. Additionally, for plant decors, you can get driftwood, logs, and castle with hiding places and bubbles to adorn your aquarium.


Neon tetra fish is not finicky about substrates because they are mid to top level swimmers that rarely settle in the bottom.

However, avoid using Aragonite sand as a tank substrate. That’s because it is made of Calcium Carbonate which will increase the calcium and carbonate levels in your tank and mess up your fish ecosystem. If you opt for a densely planted tank, consider using a planted tank substrate.

Community Tank Mates neon tetras

The neon tetra is a small and non-aggressive fish that get along with other fish similar in size and temperament. Also, neon tetras are top to mid-level swimming fish, make sure to add the tank mates that are mid to top-level dwellers.

The best community tank mates for neon tetras are:

  1. Harlequin rasboras
  2. Zebra Danios
  3. Hatchetfish
  4. Guppies
  5. Chili Rasboras
  6. Dwarf Gourami
  7. Zebra Loach
  8. Corydoras Catfish
  9. Kuhli Loach
  10. Otocinclus Catfish
  11. Clown Pleco
  12. Bristlenose Pleco
  13. Freshwater shrimp

I don’t recommend keeping neon tetras with large, aggressive fish of around 3 to 4 inches in size that may bully, harm, or eat your neon tetras.


Many aquarists struggle breeding neon tetras in their home aquariums because to breed neon tetras, you need special water conditions that should be followed religiously. In a breeding tank, the water temperature should not exceed 75 degrees. Also, the breeding fish in the tank should be separated from other fish. The eggs and fry of neon tetra are photosensitive, therefore, little to no light should be available.

In essence, you cannot breed neon tetras in the same standard tank. Thus, invest in a separate tank to breed neon tetras. The video above by KeepingFishSimple offers a unique method of breeding these fish.

Setting up a separate breeding tank

First of all, before breeding neon tetras, feed them with high-protein live food at least three days prior to breeding. You can feed them brine shrimp, tubifex worms, and bloodworms to achieve initiate the spawning cycle. 

  1. Prepare at least a 5 to 10 gallon tank with a lid and leave them in the tank for a full day
  2. Maintain the proper water parameters. The water should be soft and slightly acidic with a pH of 6.0 to 6.2
  3. Install the heater to maintain the water temperature at 75 degrees. Invest in an aquarium thermometer to closely monitor the temperature.
  4. Keep the breeding tank densely vegetated with floating plants like Hornwort as neon tetras are egg scatterers and scatter their eggs onto the plants. Also, keep your tank in a dark or dimly lit room
  5. The eggs of neon tetras release early in the morning and the fish tend to spray the eggs onto the plants. Once you identify neon tetra eggs, remove the breeding fish from your tank as neon tetras eat their own unhatched eggs
  6. The eggs of neon tetra hatch in around 22 to 30 hours and in 3 to 4 days, the fry will be swimming freely. The neon fry should be fed infusoria or some other liquid-prepared fry food as soon as they start swimming
  7. Once the fry gets bigger, you can switch their diet to freshly hatched brine shrimp, powdered eggs, or fry food
  8. Once the neon tetra fry is almost a month old, you can feed them regular adult neon tetras food

Food and Diet

Neon tetras eat everything since they are omnivorous. In the wild, they eat everything that fits their mouth—algae, larvae, shrimps, and other food.

However, captive-bred neon has a varied diet that is high in protein to ensure healthy colors and a longer lifespan. I recommend feeding neon tetras with a balanced, high-quality flake or frozen foods, and sinking micro pellets as these fish are small. You can also treat your neons with freeze-dried or frozen foods such as bloodworms or frozen brine shrimp.

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Pro Tip: The fry of neon tetras should be fed with infusoria and after a few weeks, you can feed them baby brine shrimp, powdered eggs, or powdered fry food.

Here’s a list of neon tetra food you can feed neon tetras without worry.

  • Brine Shrimp
  • Earthworms
  • Maggots
  • Daphnia
  • Frozen Blood Worms
  • Fish Flakes
  • Tubifex Worms
  • Mysis Shrimp
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Egg Yolk
  • Beef

How Often Should You Feed Them?

Neon tetras are active shoaling fish and feeding neon tetras every day is highly recommended. You should feed neon tetras at least twice a day. Once in the morning and again in the evening or at night. However, make sure you don’t overfeed them and remove any uneaten food from the fish aquarium.

Common Health Problems and Disease

Though many aquarists believe neon tetras are hardy. However, for novices, it can be a challenging pet. That’s because neon tetras are blackwater fish that are easily killed by bacterial infections. Also, overbreeding has led to weaker less hardy strains of neons.

These diseased fish often shows no symptoms of illness. Therefore, neon tetras need crystal clear and clean water that is only possible with mature aquarists in mature aquarium settings with a proper filtration system and substrate that is uncleaned for at least two months.

How To Cope-Up With Disease

Seasoned aquarists seldom experience any neon tetra disease problems because they know how to raise them well. Neon fish thrive in bacteria-free, crystal-clear water with exceptional aeration. However, if you keep neon fish in a tank teeming with bacteria, they will die rapidly because their immune system is vulnerable to bacteria.

Here’s how you can fight neon tetra disease.

  1. Over-filter your tank with a canister, sponge filter, or a hang-on back filter.
  2. Keep your neons in the tanks that are established for over five months.
  3. Keep the water crystal clear and clean. Do regular water cycling and keep track of aeration.
  4. Install an in-line UV unit.

Here are some of the common neon tetra diseases.


Named after neon tetras, this disease is not only limited to neon tetra fish. However, it was first diagnosed in a neon tetra fish. Unfortunately, it can be devastating to have a fish with neon tetra disease in a community tank because it is fatal and affects almost all fish of varying sizes. This disease is usually spread by a diseased fish in an aquarium. Thus, quarantining your new fish before introducing it to a community tank is the best thing to do.

If you come across any fish with neon tetra disease, remove it from the fish aquarium before it dies. The spores in your aquarium tank cause neon tetra disease. Thus, careful cleaning and regular maintenance are imperative to avoid these diseases,

Symptoms of Neon tetra disease:

  1. Restlessness at night
  2. Erratic fish swimming behavior
  3. Fish becomes inactive and lethargic
  4. Loss of colors on fish’s body
  5. Formation of cysts in muscles
  6. Curved spine

Cotton Wool Disease

The cotton wool disease is caused by fungal infections in the fish. It happens when two fungi, Saprolegnia and Achyla, affect your neon tetra’s immune system. The first sign of the cotton wool disease is the white fluffy appearance like a bulge on their mouth. As the infection worsens, it becomes grey or red in color. 

Symptoms of Cotton Wool Disease:

  1. Loss of color around the mouth
  2. The cotton-like abnormal bulge on their mouth
  3. Lethargy and less movement
  4. Loss of appetite and solitary behavior

Fish Tumor

Many aquarists confirmed that neon tetras can get tumors that appear as lumps or bumps on the fish’s body. Therefore, if you notice abnormal growth on your fish’s skin, experts recommend removing it from the tank before it spreads to other fish in the tank.

Symptoms of Fish Tumor

  1. Pea-sized growth on the mouth
  2. Difficulty in breathing and eating

How to Prevent Diseases in This Type of Fish?

Prevention is always better than cure and to keep your neons away from diseases, maintain optimal water conditions and check your fish’s health while buying from the fish store. I highly recommend buying fish from fish farms or a reputable supplier. Once you get your fish, keep it quarantined for at least two weeks before transferring it to the community tank. Also, always get your fish food supplies from a reputable source.

The foremost thing to do is to maintain a healthy environment in your tank. It is recommended to clean your aquarium every week. Also, change your water anywhere from 15 to 50 percent depending on your water parameters. This will keep your nitrate levels low and keep your fish healthy.

Differences Between Male and Female

The differences between male and female neons are close to none. However, female fish is usually bigger and bulkier than males with more round bodies. Also, the male fish has a straight blue line on their bodies while the blue stripe on the female fish is more bent.


Are they good for beginners?

Neon tetras are not beginner-friendly. They are excellent for experienced aquarists, only if they dedicate their time to keeping the tank water crystal clear. The thing that most aquarists miss about neon tetra fish is that they come from blackwater in South America. Blackwater is low in bacteria and bacterial diseases. Thus, if you keep your neons in less than ideal conditions, they will be stressed out, become sick and ultimately die.  A good alternative to neon fish is black neons, which are generally hardier than traditional neons.

What do they like in their tank?

Neon tetras are shoaling and schooling fish that enjoys the company of at least 10 fish in their tank. Also, they like lots of aquatic plants, dim lights, slightly acidic water, and water temperature of around 73°F to 78°F. Most importantly, neon tetras like crystal clear, bacteria-free water.

How long do they live?

A healthy neon tetra lives for up to 8 years or longer in captivity.

How many should be kept together?

The neon tetra is a peaceful and active fish that enjoys the most in a group of at least ten fish.

What size tank do they need?

If there’s one or two fish in a tank, a 1-gallon tank would suffice. However, if you’re going for a community tank with a group of 10 or more neon tetras and tank mates, I recommend a bare minimum of 10 gallons. The larger the tank, the better.

Are they hard to keep?

For beginner aquarists, yes, they are hard to keep. However, if you’re a dedicated fish owner who likes keeping the tank top-notch and maintaining the tank environment regularly, neon tetras are easy to care for and hardy. 

Are they hard to keep alive?

Neon tetras are fairly easy to keep alive. However, if any of your fish catches the neon tetra disease, it is hard to control the spread of the disease, and eventually, you will have to lose all your fish, if preventive measures are not taken. Unfortunately, the neon tetra disease is incurable, however, you can always remove the infected fish before it spreads the disease in the tank.

Can neon fish live with other fish?

Yes, neon tetra is a schooling and shoaling fish that enjoys with other fish. The best tank mates for neon tetras are Harlequin rasboras, Zebra Danios, Guppies, and Chili Rasboras

How many can I put in a 6-gallon tank?

Neons are not recommended for tanks this same. The best fish for a tank this size will be a sole Betta fish.

Do tetras need acidic water?

Yes, neon tetras need slightly acidic and soft water to thrive in your home aquariums.

Do they need a planted tank?

Not necessarily. However, neons come from South America and the rivers of Amazonian. The water of their natural habitat is slightly acidic, soft, and blackwater, i.e, heavily covered with plants that cast dark shadows on the fish. Therefore, neons appreciate a densely vegetated tank with floating plants and other aquatic plants to scatter their eggs and hide. 

What water parameters do they need?

A neon tetra tank should have the following water parameters: 

Water Temperature: The ideal water temperature range is around 73°F to 78°F.
pH range: The recommended pH range for an aquarium tank is between 6 to 7.
Water Hardness: The neon tetra prefers soft and slightly acidic water with a water hardness of no more than 10 dGH.

Final Thoughts

There are many types of neons—all with a peaceful nature and vibrant, enchanting colors that are pleasing to the human eyes. The Neon tetra fish is small and colorful that makes a beautiful addition to your home aquariums. However, they come from blackwater that is low of bacteria, so, you should aim to mimic their natural environment to provide them with the best living conditions that they will cherish for the rest of their adorable lives.

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