Neon Tetras: Easy-to-Care-for Colorful Fish

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Neon tetras are the perfect fish for peaceful community tanks.

They are stunning to look at, easy to care for and small enough for most sized tanks.

These tropical fish are a popular choice among hobbyists and are often found in pet stores.

Neon tetras are known for their bright colors, which include shades of blue, red, and silver.

They’re small in size, typically growing to only about 1.5 inches long, but they’re a joy to watch as they swim around your tank.

Whether you’re looking to add some color to your aquarium or just want a peaceful fish that’s easy to care for, neon tetras are definitely worth considering.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about these beautiful fish, from their ideal tank setup to their lifespan and diet.

Origin and Habitat

The neon tetra, scientifically known as Paracheirodon innesi, is a popular freshwater fish species that is native to the tropical rainforests of South America.

It is specifically found in the regions of the upper Orinoco and Negro rivers, which flow through Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.

The scientific name Paracheirodon innesi was given to this species to honor William T. Innes, an aquarium writer and publisher who played a significant role in popularizing and documenting the neon tetra in the early 20th century.

Innes was an avid aquarist who contributed greatly to the knowledge and understanding of various fish species, and the naming of the neon tetra after him is a testament to his contributions to the aquarium hobby.

In their natural habitat, neon tetras live in densely vegetated streams, creeks, and tributaries with slow-moving or still water.

They are known to form large shoals, sometimes consisting of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, creating a mesmerizing spectacle of color when they swim together.

The dense vegetation provides them with hiding places and mimics their natural environment, which helps reduce stress and promotes their overall well-being.

Albino long fin neon tetra
Albino long fin neon tetra

Appearance & Size

The most striking feature of neon tetras is their vibrant coloration.

They have a slender body shape with a distinctive iridescent blue-green back, a bright red or orange stripe that runs horizontally from the middle of their body to their forked caudal fin, and a silvery-white abdomen.

These vibrant colors make them visually appealing and add a splash of brilliance to any aquarium they live in.

Neon tetras are small fish, typically growing to be around 1.5 inches in length. 

Their small size makes them perfect for smaller tanks or community aquariums.

Keep in mind that they are a schooling fish, so it’s best to keep them in groups of six or more to ensure their happiness and well-being.

Neon Tetra vs Cardinal Tetra

When it comes to choosing between the two, there are some noticeable differences.

Firstly, in terms of appearance, Cardinal Tetras are slightly larger than Neon Tetras, with Cardinals reaching approximately 2 inches in length compared to the 1.5 inch of Neons.

Additionally, while both fish have a distinctive blue and red coloration, the Cardinal Tetra has a red stripe that runs the full length of its body, whereas the red stripe on the Neon Tetra only extends halfway down its body.

Another factor to consider is ease of care.

Neon Tetras are generally regarded as being easier to care for than Cardinals.

If you’re a beginner aquarist, Neon Tetras may be a better choice for you.

They are hardy fish that can adapt to a wide range of water conditions and are generally more forgiving of beginner mistakes.

Neon TetraCardinal Tetra
Size1 inch2 inches
Red StripeHalfway down bodyFull length of body
Ease of CareEasyIntermediate
Breeding DifficultyEasyDifficult
Water ConditionspH 6.0-6.8pH 5-6.2
Water Temperature76-85°F75-85°F
Black Neon Tetra
Black Neon Tetra

Types of Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras come in a variety of different types.

Here are some of the most common types of Neon Tetras:

  • True Neon Tetras: These are the most common type of Neon Tetras and are known for their distinctive blue and red coloration. They are also sometimes referred to as “wild forms” of Neon Tetras.
  • Green Neon Tetras: These are a close relative of the True Neon Tetra and have a similar appearance, but with a greenish-blue color as a top stripe and a very diluted bottom red stripe.
  • Black Neon Tetra: This is not a true Neon Tetra as it belongs to a different genus. Their bodies are characterized by a greyish-brown hue, with a fine horizontal line that stretches from the gill cover to the caudal fin. Their prominent eyes are surrounded by an enchanting orange semicircle.
  • Gold Neon Tetras: This variant displays a stunning blend of red and silver hues that covers their bodies. They have blue eyes, a trait attributed to leucism. Their bodies are silvery-peach with a striking red-gold line that extends from their snouts to their tails.

There are also some less common types of Neon Tetras that are worth mentioning:

  • Longfin Neon Tetras: This species has fins that are nearly double the length of the wild Neon Tetra’s fins.
  • Albino Neon Tetras: These Neon Tetras are unique with their pearlescent body color and red or pink eyes.
  • Diamond Head Neon Tetras: These fish look like wild Neon Tetras but have reflective diamond-shaped scales. The blue strip extends to the stomach area.

Behavior and Temperament

Neon tetras are known for their peaceful and non-aggressive behavior.

They are shoaling fish, which means they prefer to live in groups of at least six individuals but more will be better.

A big shoal of 50 or more Neon Tetras is an awesome sight to behold.

When neon tetras are comfortable in their environment, they exhibit active and playful behavior.

They enjoy swimming around the tank and darting in and out of plants and other decorations.

Neon tetras are a great choice for beginner aquarists due to their easy-going temperament and low-maintenance care requirements.

As long as they are kept in a suitable environment with plenty of hiding places and non-aggressive tank mates, they will thrive and provide endless entertainment with their playful behavior.

Long finned Diamond Tetra
Long finned Diamond Tetra

Neon Tetra Care

To keep your neon tetras healthy and happy, it’s important to provide them with the right care.

In this section, we’ll cover the essential aspects of neon tetra care, including tank size, water parameters, tank setup and landscape.

Tank Size

While these are small fish, they still need enough space to swim and thrive.

I recommend a minimum tank size of 10 gallons for a small group of neon tetras.

However, if you plan to keep other fish in the tank, you’ll need a larger tank.

A 20-gallon tank is a good choice for a community tank with neon tetras and other small fish.

Water Parameters

Neon tetras are native to the Amazon basin, where they live in soft, acidic water.

To replicate their natural habitat, you should aim for a pH of 6.0-7.0 and a water hardness of less than 10 dGH.

The water temperature should be between 72°-76°F (22.2°-24.4°C)

Tank Setup and Landscape

When setting up your neon tetra tank, you should aim to create a natural-looking environment with plenty of hiding places and swimming space.

Lots of live plants, driftwood, rocks, and substrate can all be used to create a beautiful and functional landscape.

They also prefer dim lighting so keep this in mind when choosing your tank’s lighting unit.

A slow or moderate water flow is suitable for these fish.

Tank Mates

These peaceful fish that can be kept with other small, non-aggressive fish.

Good tank mates for neon tetras include:

  • Small Tetra Species: Neon tetras naturally form shoals, so adding other small tetra species like cardinal tetras, ember tetras, or glowlight tetras can create a vibrant and dynamic display of colors. These tetras share similar water parameter requirements and peaceful temperaments, making them ideal companions.
  • Rasboras: Harlequin rasboras, celestial pearl danios (galaxy rasboras), and chili rasboras are great choices as tank mates for neon tetras. These fish species are peaceful, share similar water conditions, and add their own charm with their distinct colors and patterns.
  • Corydoras Catfish: Considered as bottom-dwelling fish, corydoras catfish are excellent tank mates for neon tetras. They help keep the aquarium clean by scavenging leftover food and debris. Various corydoras species, such as bronze corydoras or panda corydoras, can cohabit peacefully with neon tetras.
  • Small Livebearers: Certain species of small livebearers, such as guppies or endlers, can be suitable tank mates for neon tetras. These fish are colorful, active, and peaceful, creating a lively atmosphere in the aquarium.
  • Dwarf Gouramis: If you are looking to add a centerpiece fish to your aquarium, consider dwarf gouramis. These small-sized gouramis are known for their vibrant colors and peaceful nature.
Green Neon Tetra
Green Neon Tetra

Diet and Feeding

Neon tetras are omnivores that require a varied diet to stay healthy. 

A good-quality flake or pellet food specifically formulated for tropical fish serves as the foundation of the neon tetras’ diet.

Look for products that contain a mix of proteins, vitamins, and minerals to meet their nutritional needs.

Feed them small portions two to three times a day, only giving them what they can consume within a few minutes.

They can also greatly benefit from the addition of live and frozen foods in their diet.

These foods offer essential nutrients and can simulate their natural feeding behaviors.

Brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms, and microworms are excellent choices.

Feed them these foods occasionally to provide variety and enhance their overall health.

While neon tetras are primarily carnivorous, incorporating vegetable matter into their diet is beneficial.

You can offer them blanched spinach, lettuce, or finely crushed spirulina flakes.

These provide fiber and essential plant-based nutrients.

Be sure to remove any uneaten vegetable matter promptly to maintain water quality.

Long finned Neon tetra
Long finned Neon tetra

Common Neon Tetra Diseases

Like all fish, neon tetras are susceptible to certain diseases.

The most common neon tetra diseases include fin rot and ich. 

One disease that is found in Neon Tetras is called the ‘Neon Tetra Disease’.

Neon Tetra Disease

This is a highly contagious and devastating condition that affects neon tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) and some other fish species.

It is caused by the parasitic flagellate known as Pleistophora hyphessobryconis.

This disease poses a significant threat to neon tetra populations and can quickly spread throughout an aquarium if not immediately addressed.

Infected fish often appear sluggish, with a lack of energy and reduced interest in food.

The vibrant colors of the neon tetras may become pale or dull, losing their characteristic brilliance.

One distinct symptom of the disease is the development of a curved or deformed spine, giving affected fish a distorted appearance.

Infected fish may also exhibit a bloated or swollen abdomen, indicating internal complications.

Neon tetras affected by the disease may exhibit irregular swimming patterns, swimming in circles or struggling to maintain balance.

The impact of Neon Tetra Disease can be devastating.

Infected fish often experience a progressive deterioration in health, leading to a weakened immune system and eventual death.

If left untreated, the disease can wipe out an entire neon tetra population and pose a risk to other fish species in the aquarium.

Treatment and Prevention: Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Neon Tetra Disease.

Infected fish should be isolated and removed from the main aquarium to prevent further contamination.

It is crucial to disinfect any equipment or surfaces that have come into contact with the infected fish to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.

Neon Tetra care

Breeding Neon Tetras

Breeding neon tetras can present some challenges.

It requires maintaining optimal water parameters to induce spawning and ensure the health of the fry.

It is crucial to keep ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates at a 0 level.

Additionally, maintaining a high level of acidity is important, with a pH around 6.0 or lower being ideal to create the appropriate environment that will stimulate breeding behavior.

Preparing your tank for breeding involves a few necessary steps.

One essential step is covering the sides of the aquarium with a dark background to mimic the natural darkness of their habitat.

This helps create a sense of security for the fish.

As neon tetras are known to jump more frequently during spawning, a secure fitting lid is a necessity to prevent any accidents.

It is also highly recommended to have a separate breeding tank, as adult tetras have a tendency to eat their own eggs after they are laid.

Newborn fry are extremely tiny and vulnerable to being sucked into the filter intake.

To ensure their safety, it is best to use a sponge filter in the breeding tank.

A sponge filter provides gentle filtration while preventing the fry from being drawn into the filter.

Place the breeding fish in the breeding tank and keep the tank dark.

As soon as the eggs have been laid then remove the adult fish to stop them from eating them.

Approximately 24 hours after spawning, the eggs will hatch.

The newborn fry are light-sensitive, so it is advisable to keep the tank dark for the first five days to promote their development.

For the first three days of their life, the baby tetras will derive nutrition from their egg sacs.

No additional feeding is necessary during this time.

After the initial three days, begin feeding the baby fish specialized fry food and baby brine shrimp to support their growth and development.

Continue this feeding regimen for the next three months.

Should You Get Neon Tetras for Your Aquarium?

If you have a peaceful community tank with enough room for a school of neon tetras, these fish can be a great addition to your aquarium.

They are easy to care for, pretty to look at, and can coexist with other peaceful fish.

Just make sure to provide them with a well-maintained environment and they will thrive in your home aquarium.

Neon Tetra FAQs

If you’re considering getting Neon Tetras for your aquarium, you probably have some questions.

Here are some FAQs to help you out:

What is the ideal temperature range for Neon Tetras?

Neon Tetras thrive in tropical temperatures between 72°F and 76°F. Make sure to use a heater to maintain a consistent temperature in your tank.

What is the ideal pH range for Neon Tetras?

Neon Tetras prefer slightly acidic water with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. However, they can adapt to water with a pH range of 4 to 7.5.

What do Neon Tetras eat?

Neon Tetras are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods, including flakes, pellets, and frozen or live foods like brine shrimp. Make sure to provide a balanced diet and not overfeed.

Do Neon Tetras need a lot of light?

Neon Tetras don’t need a lot of light and can actually be stressed by too much light. Aim for moderate lighting and provide plenty of hiding places with aquatic plants and decorations.

What is Neon Tetra Disease?

Neon Tetra Disease is a bacterial infection that can be fatal to Neon Tetras. Symptoms include loss of color, lack of appetite, and curved spines. It’s important to quarantine new fish and maintain good water quality to prevent the spread of disease.

Where can I buy Neon Tetras?

Neon Tetras are widely available at pet stores and online retailers. Make sure to choose a reputable source and check the health of the fish before purchasing.

Do Neon Tetras prefer acidic blackwater or clearwater streams?

Neon Tetras are found in both acidic blackwater and clearwater streams in the Amazon basin. While they can adapt to a range of water conditions, they do prefer slightly acidic water with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.

Do I need a heater for my Neon Tetra tank?

Yes, you should use a heater to maintain a consistent temperature in your Neon Tetra tank. Remember to choose a heater appropriate for the size of your tank and monitor the temperature regularly.

Photo of author


Irma Bense is the founder of She has over 42 years of experience in keeping fish.She has kept both freshwater and saltwater fish through the years.She has extensive knowledge in breeding numerous species of fish from Show Guppies, Cory Catfish, German Blue Rams to Apistogrammas.You can learn more about Irma on the 'About' page.

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