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Neon Tetra Overview, Care, Tank Setup, Breeding & More

Most aquarium hobbyist will start their fishkeeping journey with a few Neon Tetras, and for a good reason. They are peaceful, pack a ton of colors, and are bustling with energy.

Moreover, they’re easy to provide for and relatively low maintenance. These fish have an iridescent grey body with clear to transparent fins and tails.

As they swim around, you’ll notice a sparkling powder blue line stripe run over their eyes that runs 3/4th through their body. If you keep watching, you’ll see this line disappears in real-time under the right lighting conditions.

In this in-depth care guide, we will cover all there is to know about successfully keeping Neon Tetras.

Species Overview

Level of CareVery Easy
TemperamentGenerally peaceful with other fish
AppearanceClear fins and tail, blue and red color
Life ExpectancyCan live for 8 to 10 years or more if you provide the right condition
SizeReach a size of 1.5 inches and a max of 2 inches
DietOmnivorous species
Tank Size10 gallons
Tank EnvironmentModest freshwater tank with heavy plantation
Tank MatesVery peaceful with other community fish

Neon Tetras, also known as neon fish, were first imported from Amazonian freshwaters. They’ve been heavily bred in captivity since then, renowned for their dazzling color and energetic demeanor. Over 2 million of these are sold in the US every month, the vast majority of which come from captivity.

This freshwater fish belongs to the Characidae family and is relatively docile enough to get along with most community fish. They prefer to hang out in the middle of the aquarium, so you should carefully select the tank mates.


Neon Tetras are prized after their stunning appearance. The first thing you will notice is their turquoise blue line that stretches from their eyes down to their adipose fin (a tiny fin located between the dorsal fin and the tail).

Their red stripe is a distinguishing trait that helps you tell them apart from other tetras. Apart from blue and red coloring, they have mostly transparent body, a feature that allows it to hide from predators in the wild.

When they feel threatened, they can skillfully switch off their blue and red markings to an iridescent appearance. It gives off the impression that the fish is biologically sick.

They have a slender, torpedo-shaped body. Fish eyes are massive in proportion to their heads, and their noses are entirely round. The average length can measure anywhere from 1.5 inches to 2 inches.

Below their blue stripes, neon tetra fish have a white silver belly. Beyond the stomach, their bright red stripe runs the length of the tail. Males and females have slightly different appearances when fully mature, in that females are slightly shorter than males, although they do get a little broader during the breeding season.

Their striking colors make it one of the most popular fish in aquariums worldwide, rivaled only by the cardinal tetra, their nearest cousin, which looks almost entirely alike. The critical difference between the two species is that stripe. Cardinal tetras have a red stripe that runs their bodies’ entire length, from tail to mouth.

Their bright appearance will start fading at night when they are resting, when they feel threatened, or when they get ill. When you visit the pet store, make sure to choose fish that are active and brightly colored because faded colors are an indication of sick fish.

Black Neon Tetra

Black neon tetra

The Black Neon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi) is a hardy fish that can live for over five years. It thrives in schools of 4 or more and requires a 20-gallon tank at least. These are an elegant blend of bright, neon horizontals tripe of yellow-green paired with obsidian black all over the body.

Green Neon Tetra

Green neon tetra

Often described as the jewel of fishkeeping, the Green Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon simulans) is arguably one of the most popular freshwater species because of its pleasant appearance that is hard to find elsewhere. It has a bluish-green body that is vibrant and bright. It is easy to identify them when they are in a shoal where it’s easy to see all the green colors stand out.


Neon Tetras are small fish that only reach a length of about 1.5 inches to 2 inches max. Males are generally taller than females.

Neon Tetra Lifespan

The average lifespan of Neon Tetras is between 8 to 10 years in the wild or about 5 to 6 years in an aquarium. But they can live much longer if you provide the right conditions for them.

They are very susceptible to small water changes, which could lead them to disease and cause their death. Make sure to monitor the water parameters at all times to prevent this from happening.

Behavior & Temperament

Neon tetras are small, docile fish. They like to get along with other community fish. Their non-aggressive nature makes them fantastic additions to any community tank. They spend the majority of their time occupying the middle of the tank.

So when they start showing signs of bizarre behavior, it is essential to monitor the aquarium for abrupt changes to the water’s quality.

Although they are not aggressive, they will show their aggression when they are under stress, such as improper conditions or bullying by other fish.

Neon Tetras have been known to attack each other, although that is a relatively rare occurrence. It typically happens when a new one is introduced in an aquarium with lots of older ones. It may start getting bullied by the older fish and may not integrate into the school for quite some time. However, given enough time, the other tetras will become comfortable with the new guy and get along.

The ratio of males and females is essential. Please make sure there are more females because males will attack each other to win them over.

2 neon tetras in an aquarium

Tank Mates

Neon Tetras are very peaceful fish most of the time and only ever get aggressive during the mating season. Their docile nature allows them to get along with most species in the tank, and a school of them will spruce up your tank.

Because they are small fish, it is essential to place them with other non-threatening fish that aren’t big enough to mistake them for food.

The best tankmates are small creatures that occupy the top and bottom areas of the tank. The ideal tank mates include the following:

  • Barbs
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Gouramis
  • Kuhli Loach

Fish that you must avoid include angelfish and bettas – these guys are too aggressive and too wild to be kept in the same space.

Tank Setup

The minimum tank size for Neon Tetras is about 10 gallons, but if you are planning to keep an entire school of them, you should keep a least 15 to 20 Neon tetras in a 20-gallon tank. The larger the tank, the more comfortable these will be.

It is worth noting that they are very sensitive to small changes in water parameters. It means that newly cycled tanks won’t be suitable for Tetras because the tiny fluctuations in water chemistry could prove fatal for them. You should only add Neons to a well-established, mature aquarium. This little component may prove to be a bit complicated for new fishkeepers.

The ideal water conditions are pretty standard as far as freshwater fish goes: keep the temperature around 70 to 80° Fahrenheit. Keep the pH between 6 and 7. The water’s hardness levels should never exceed 10dGH.

Tetras place a minimal amount of bio-load in the aquarium’s ecosystem, which means their filtration requirements aren’t that high, to begin with. Something like a generic sponge filter system should do just fine.

It is essential to change 25% of the water every week. Just make sure never to exceed this recommendation because too much water change can prove fatal.

Things to Add in the Tank

Neon Tetras don’t have specific substrate requirements because they spend most of their time lurking in the middle portion of the aquarium.

That being said, you should avoid using aragonite sand as a substrate because it is made of calcium carbonate. Aragonite leaches carbonate and calcium into the tank, completely upsetting the water’s quality levels, ad raising KH, pH, and GH.

You could use a dark-colored substrate, small rocks, and pebbles – much of the same stuff that is typically found on the river bed.

Neon tetras come from darker environments where millions of leaves fall onto the water’s surface, which gives it a dark brown hue. They use their relatively brighter appearance to help identify each other in the dark waters. It is why they aren’t big fans of bright lights. But they do like low to medium subdued light.

The aquarium should be heavily planted to create as much shade and darkness for them. Floating plants are a freakishly effective way of blocking light and providing shade.

Below is our pick of the best floating plants:

  • Duckweed
  • Amazon Frogbit
  • Water Lettuce
  • Water Spangles
  • Java Moss

Food & Diet

Neon tetra eating food

Neon Tetras are omnivorous creatures and will eat just about anything that fits in their tiny mouths. They thrive on plant matter and meats. In their natural environment, you’ll find them eating larvae, algae, and small invertebrates. While they’re not picky eaters, they enjoy eating pellets, flakes, and live food.

But if you want them to maintain their electrifying colors, it is essential to feed them with a high-quality diet composed of pellets and flakes. You can nourish them with live and frozen food types such as blood worms, brine shrimp, tubifex, and daphnia.

As a general rule, it is essential to feed them as much as they can reasonably eat within 3 minutes. Please do not provide them with large worms because they will have a hard time swallowing them up. The frequency of eating should be about twice a day.

Breeding Guidelines

You need to create a particular set of circumstances to get Neon Tetras to breed. It is why they aren’t ideal for fishkeepers new to breeding. However, if you follow the rules, you can get them to mate.

The most obvious step is to identify the gender:

  • Males are slimmer with a flatter stomach, indicating a straight blue stripe
  • Females have a rounded belly that gives their blue stripe a more curved look

Once identified, place the male and female into a separate breeding tank designed for spawning. The tank should have a pH value between 5 to 6 and a temperature of 75° Fahrenheit.

It would help if you soaked peat moss in the water for several weeks before introducing the pair for the best results. Run the filer in aging water to kickstart a bacterial colony. Place some spawning mops on the bottom of the tank and put an aged sponge filter in as well.

Tetras scatter their eggs, which means that the female lays the eggs, and the male fertilizes them.

Male Neons court females by swimming around her in a square-ish pattern, using short jerky motion followed by periods of motionlessness.

You can tell that the eggs have been laid when the female’s circumference is reduced. The eggs are relatively small and can only be identified upon close inspection you will see lying among the spawning mops.

Now gently shake off the eggs from the mops, and the eggs will float to the bottom. Remove the mops and cover the tank to minimize light, which can be harmful to eggs and fry. The eggs will hatch in about 24-36 hours, and you can see the fry wiggling near the tank’s bottom. They will need 4 to 5 days to swim around and start eating.

The newly hatched Neon tetra fry only eats small microscopic food during the first couple of days. It is best to start an infusoria culture to feed them. Feed them half a cup of infusoria rich water two times every day.

A few days later, they should be old enough to eat microworms and vinegar eels. About a week later, they can start eating newly-hatched. While it is essential to provide enough nutrition to the fry, you should never pollute the water with too much food.

When Neon Tetra fry is about two weeks old, it is essential to change the water every other day. They are very sensitive to bad water conditions, so the water must be kept fresh and clean. After a few weeks, they should be old enough to show off their blue stripes, and you can reduce the rate at which they consume food and change more of the water.

Common Diseases

Two very devastating diseases that can kill your Neon Tetra are known as “Neon Tetra disease” and “False Neon Tetra Disease”. These diseases are contagious and will spread to other Tetras. The parasite reaches the intestinal tract and starts eating them from the inside out.

Symptoms include sudden loss of color, frequent visits to the bottom of the tank, cysts on the stomach, and weight (because they’re being eaten alive!). There is currently no cure, and if one fish catches this disease, it is recommended to destroy all other fish in the aquarium.

The best way to prevent this disease is to maintain the water temperatures in the right ranges. Quarantine any fish, food, plants, and décor before adding them to the tank.

Where to Buy?

You can buy Neon Tetras from most pet stores, online shops, and specialist breeders. They don’t cost a fortune, and you can easily buy an entire school of them for a small price. They make excellent additions to any tank – make sure to follow the guidelines above, and you should do fine.

Final Thoughts

Neons are a spectacle to watch. You’ll never really get bored with them, especially when there is an entire school of them in the tank. They are easy to care for, easy to feed, and ideal for new fishkeepers.

You’d have to make sure that the water’s quality levels are strict and don’t change too often. The temperatures shouldn’t be too high or too cold because it could cause problems such as fin rot.