Neon Tetra Care Guide

Neon Tetra Care Guide

There is a common misconception that freshwater aquariums are not very pretty but that could not be further from the truth. Anyone who holds such a notion has never seen an aquarium stocked with Neon Tetra fish. They are one of the most popular fishes in the aquarium and for good reason. Neon Tetras are the literal embodiment of small is big. However, they aren’t the easiest fish to take care, however with a little knowledge and good water quality, Neon Tetra care is not complicated. Here is everything you need to know to ensure that your Neon Tetras live to their expected lifespans and offer years of fishkeeping pleasure.

Neon Tetra Care Summary

Neon Tetra Care At A Glance
Care Level: Easy
Behaviour: Peaceful
Tank Type: Peaceful Community, Neon Tetra Only
Lifespan:7.5 Years
Minimum Tank Size:15 Gal
Tank Set-Up: Planted

Neon Tetra Overview And Appearance

Neon Tetra Overview And Appearance

Neon Tetra fish, as the name suggests, are tetra fish that have a beautiful and striking neon glow to them. They are one of the smallest and yet one of the most colorful members of the freshwater aquatic world. This fish does not grow bigger than an inch and a half, however, the striking coloration more than makes up for its diminutive appearance.

The Neon Tetra has a blue stripe that runs from its nose to about three-quarters of its body. Another red stripe runs below this blue stripe starting about halfway from the body through to the tail. The rest of the body is translucent.

What is amazing is that Neon Tetras can turn these colors on and off based on the presence of danger or when they are sleeping and turn almost completely translucent.

A Neon Tetra lifespan can exceed 7.5 years, making them a fairly long-lived aquarium fish.

Natural Habitat

Neon Tetras In Their Natural Habitat

Neon Tetras come from the waters of the Orinoco and Amazon basin in Brazil, Columbia, and Peru. These waters are generally murky and the visibility is low and that is why Neon Tetras have such brilliant coloration so that they can find each other and shoal together.

Being quite small means that they can be prey to pretty much every other fish in the river system. As such, their coloration can make them stick out like a sore thumb and make them an easy target. That is why they can switch off this color when stressed or when they are sleeping. This can be quite useful in the aquarium as a sudden loss in color during daytime can be a great indicator of something being wrong.

Most Neon Tetras sold today are captive bred and are a bit more suited for aquarium life than their wild cousins. Neon Tetra care is easier when keeping captive-bred fish.

Neon Tetra Tank Setup

Many people new to the hobby often mistakenly assume that Neon Tetras can be housed in really small aquariums or even bowls. This is absolutely wrong on two counts. A single Neon Tetra can be kept in a very small aquarium but it will get highly stressed out. This must be avoided. These are social fishes and need to be in the company of their own kind to feel safe.

Neon Tetras need well-oxygenated waters with near non-existent levels of nitrates, both of which can be difficult to maintain in a really small aquarium.

Neon Tetras should be kept in groups of at least six and that would need an aquarium that is at least 15 gallons, is well oxygenated and adequately filtered.

It is very important to provide plenty of hiding spots in the form of plants, rocks, and driftwood. A dark substrate * and dark background will help the fish feel more secure. It also brings out their color better.

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Neon Tetra Water Parameters

This is where a lot of care has to be taken. Stability of water parameters is extremely important for Neon Tetras.

The first thing to ensure is that the tank has been properly cycled and matured before adding them. These fish also come from soft and acidic waters and it is important to ensure that the pH stays south of 7.0. The hardness should also be below 10 dGH. Driftwood * really helps in this regards.

There should be no ammonia or nitrites and a minimal amount of nitrates which means that tank maintenance should be done fastidiously and the water parameters should be monitored regularly. The temperature should be maintained between 70°F to 81°F.

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Neon Tetra Tankmates

Mostly Only Neon Tetras In An Aquarium.

The Neon Tetra is perhaps one of the most peaceful fish you can come across. It is also quite small and hence requires tankmates of a similar disposition and small enough mouths that won’t be able to swallow these diminutive fish.

Other small and peaceful tetras, Rasboras, Dwarf Gouramis, and Corydoras make for great tankmates. You can also keep just a species only tank and a school of Neon Tetras look really amazing just by itself.

Neon Tetra Food

In their natural habitat, these fish feed on small crustaceans, worms, and plant matter. They are omnivores and as such should be fed a diet that has both animal and plant matter. Flakes *, tiny pellets *, frozen and dried food * like bloodworms * and live food are all great options for Neon Tetra food.

Neon Tetras are active fish and should be fed small quantities of food multiple times a day. Overfeeding should be avoided and the food quantity should be just enough that the fish can finish it off in a couple of minutes.

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Neon Tetra Disease

Neon Tetra Disease is the dark side of keeping Neon Tetras, and something that can be devastating for all the tetras in your aquarium. The sad fact is that there is currently no effective cure for this disease and the only real option is prevention. Maintain the proper water temperature and ensure that any new fish you add is properly quarantined and you adhere to effective Neon Tetra Care.

A sudden loss in color, weird swimming behavior, fish spending all their time in the bottom and the stomach shrinking are all signs of Neon Tetra Disease and fishes with these symptoms should not be introduced into the aquarium.

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Neon Tetra Breeding

Breeding Neon Tetras can be a bit difficult. They require very specific tank conditions to spawn. Water hardness should be between 1 to 2 dGH, and pH should be maintained between 5.0 and 6.0.

The tank should be covered with dark paper on all sides and the tank should have a top cover as spawning Neon Tetras can jump.

The temperature should be maintained between 72°F and 75°F.

Initially, there should be no light. Then the light should be increased very gradually each day and that will induce spawning.

The breeding tank should have plenty of plants for the 100 or so eggs to attach themselves to. The eggs usually hatch in 24 hours and the fry become free swimming in a week.

The Neon Tetra fry must be fed very small food such as commercially prepared fry food. The fry will start to display adult coloration in about a month.


Neon Tetras come in a few color and finage variations, which make amazing additions to a community aquarium or even Neon Tetra only fish tanks. The following are some of the more common Neon Tetra variations. All variations require the same Neon Tetra care.

Black Neon Tetra

Black Neon Tetra
Black Neon Tetra.

Gold Neon Tetra

Gold Neon Tetra
Gold Neon Tetra.

Neon Tetra Lyretail

Neon Tetra Lyretail
Neon Tetra Lyretail.

Are Neon Tetras The Same As Cardinal Tetras?

Close Up Of A Cardinal Tetra
Close Up Of A Cardinal Tetra.

These two are interchanged unintentionally very often. The striking resemblance they bear to each other is the main reason that causes this confusion.

However, Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras are a totally different species. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the red stripe. If it runs through the entire length of the body then it is a Cardinal Tetra and if it only runs through half of the body length then it is a Neon Tetra.

So, is this difference important? Yes, it is. Cardinal Tetras are a little more delicate and require a bit more of a hands-on approach.


So, there you have it. Neon Tetras can be one of the most rewarding and visually striking fish you can keep. Neon Tetra care does require some attention but is well worth the effort.

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