Neon Tetra Care: Tank Mates, Breeding, Lifespan & Disease

Neon Tetras are a neat and enjoyable freshwater fish that can be found in the tanks of hobbyists all over the world.

This is because they’re very pretty, reasonably active, easy to care for, and peaceful.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Neon Tetra care. We’ll cover things like their lifespan, ideal tank conditions, preferred food, and even how to try breeding them!

Let’s get started.

Species Summary

Chances are, you’ve seen a Neon Tetra before. These fish are one of the most popular species for aquarists around the world.

However, there’s more to this fish than meets the eye.

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While most of the fish sold are bred in captivity, you can find Neon Tetras swimming throughout the Amazon Basin. They’re most prevalent in Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and sometimes Ecuador.

Neon Tetras (also called paracheirodon innesi) were classified back in the 1930s when they were first brought to the United States from South America. Thanks to their stunning good looks, these fish quickly became a hot commodity among enthusiasts.

Their popularity continues even today due to their beauty and relatively easy care.


The most distinct aspect of the Neon Tetra is its color. As their name would suggest, these fish have a noticeably vibrant color pattern. Splashes of red, white, and blue cover their bodies.

Neon Tetra view from the side

A shiny blue stripe extends from the tip of their heads to the adipose fine, which is a small rounded fin above the tail. This stripe has a somewhat iridescent quality and reflects light very well. It’s believed that the stripe is used to improve visibility among different types of tetras.

Below the blue stripe, there’s a partial red stripe that starts at the middle of the fish’s body. It extends all the way to the tail. Because of this red streak, Neon Tetras are commonly mistaken for Cardinal Tetras.

While they do look similar, the biggest difference is the size of the red stripe. For Neon Tetras, the stripe only crosses half of the body. For Cardinal Tetras, it runs through the entire length of the fish.

The belly of the fish is colored in a neutral white. Aside from those three colors, Neon Tetras have a translucent body. This allows them to blend into their natural habitat and hide from predatory fish.

Size & Shape

When it comes to size, Neon Tetras are not very big at all. In the wild, they can reach about two and a half inches in length. However, bred fish usually don’t get much larger than one and a half inches.

Their bodies are thin, narrow, and torpedo-shaped. Most of their head is taken up by large beady eyes which sit almost perfectly level with their mouth.

General Neon Tetra Care

Keeping a Neon Tetra healthy is not very difficult. They’re surprising hardy and don’t require a ton of attention like other fish.

This is obviously a huge advantage (especially if you’ve had to care for high-maintenance fish in the past). As long as you provide them with the basic care and water conditions they need, they should do just fine!

The Average Neon Tetra Lifespan

Once they’re set up in an established tank with the proper conditions, the average Neon Tetra lifespan is somewhere between 5 to 10 years.

You can expect this range to drop if you neglect them for long periods of time. No matter how hardy a fish is, you should always aim to give them the perfect environment in which they can thrive.

Essential Tank & Water Conditions

The best way to keep your Neon Tetras happy and healthy is to provide them with a habitat that’s comfortable and fine-tuned to their needs.

Tank Size

You shouldn’t consider a minimum tank size of anything less than 10 gallons. However, we’re strong advocates for 20 gallon tanks being the better size to shoot for.

While they’re definitely considered nano fish, the reason why this species won’t do well in a super tiny tank (think 5 gallons) is simple. Neon Tetras are schooling fish, so you need to provide enough room for the whole crew! This will help them feel safe, stress-free, and not too cramped.

Water Conditions

Finding the right water conditions and parameters is essential if you want your fish to thrive, no matter how hardy they might be. Here’s what you should aim for:

  • Water temperature: Aim for somewhere between 70°F to 81°F
  • pH levels: Keep this below 7.0
  • Hardness rating: This should never exceed 10 dGH

Remember, these tropical fish come from environments in South America. These water parameters will help mimic the warmer area where they come from and keep them comfortable.

Habitat Setup

When you’re decorating the tank, consider proving your fish with plenty of places to get out of the light. In the wild, Neon Tetras live in slow-moving blackwater streams. Because the water doesn’t move much, organic matter settles to the bottom of the stream and decomposes.

This results in water that’s dark and difficult to see through. You don’t have to make your tank murky like their natural environments, but you can keep lighting conditions a bit lower. Softer light is preferred.

You should also include plenty of dense vegetation and driftwood. Floating plants and pieces of natural wood will create dark spots for your fish to get away from the light.

Neon Tetras spend most of their time in the middle of the tank. They’ll go up to the surface to eat, but other than that, they will swim around in medium depths. 

This means you don’t have to worry much about getting a natural-looking substrate.

The fish do fine with gravel, sand, and anything else you want to use. Just make sure that the substrate works with any live plants that you plan on putting in the tank.

Proper Filtration

When keeping Neon Tetras it doesn’t take much to keep their habitat and water clean. Due to their small size, these fish don’t produce a ton of waste. This means your tank will be just fine with a standard sponge filter.

The water should be replaced once a week. About a quarter of the tank needs to be changed to keep things in good condition.

Note: It’s very important that you don’t exceed this number when making a water change. This can have serious health consequences for these fish.

When you’re first bringing your fish home, it’s important that you do not put them in a tank that’s just been cycled. The water changes that happen during the cycling process can be deadly for Neon Tetras. They have a bit more sensitivity to changes in water chemistry than other species.

As a result, introducing them to a freshly cycled tank could be fatal. They need to be placed in a mature tank that’s well-established.

Food & Diet

Neon Tetras aren’t picky eaters by any means. They’re omnivores, so they can thrive with practically any diet.

In the wild, they spend their days feeding off of organic matter in the water. This includes dead vegetations, insect larvae, and tiny little crustaceans. In captivity, standard flake food or pellets should make up most of their meals.

Younger Neon Tetras should be fed twice a day. As they get older and more mature, you can decrease the frequency down to once a day. Every once in a while, feel free to throw in some hearty treats.

Live or frozen foods are great for Neon Tetras. You can try feeding them bloodworms, brine shrimp, and more. Just be careful about the food’s quality, as it could carry the deadly parasite that causes Neon Tetra Disease (more on that in the following section).

Also, keep all food pieces small. These fish are tiny and have small mouths that can’t handle huge chunks of meat.

Neon Tetra Disease

Despite their general hardiness and low-maintenance nature, there are some health issues that could pop up.

One condition is even named after the fish, called Neon Tetra Disease. This health problem is very dangerous and has the potential to wipe out your entire tank.

Even though this disease is common, there’s no known cure. However, there is some information about how it afflicts Neon Tetras.

Typically, it’s introduced to the environment through a newly introduced fish that was not showing any signs of the problem. It can also come from live food or dead tank mates. 

Whatever the cause may be, the issue stems from a spore-forming parasite.

This parasite will continue to grow inside your fish’s body, eventually reaching its intestine. Once there, the invader will start killing your fish from the inside out by feeding on the muscles. If the problem is not dealt with, it could eventually spread to other fish in the tank.

Symptoms for Neon Tetra Disease can be quite alarming. You may notice that your fish’s once vibrant colors are now faded and dull. They can also exhibit physical changes, such as a shrinking belly, cysts, and more.

Unfortunately, the only real way to treat Neon Tetra Disease is to remove the fish from the tank once you have noticed the symptoms. However, by that point, there’s a good chance that the remaining Tetras have already been infected. It’s not uncommon for aquarists to euthanize every Neon Tetra in the tank when the disease makes itself known, as it’s almost always fatal.

False Neon Tetra Disease

Another health issue you have to wary about is, ironically, False Neon Tetra Disease. It includes all of the same symptoms as Neon Tetra Disease and is often misdiagnosed.

The primary difference between the two conditions is that False Neon Tetra Disease is caused by bacteria rather than a parasite.

Unfortunately, false Neon Tetra Disease is fatal as well.

Best Practices To Keep Them Safe

Your best bet for avoiding these diseases is to keep your fish tank in good condition. Stay on top of the water temperature and quality on a consistent basis.

If you ever introduce new fish into the community, make sure that you quarantine them for a bit to ensure that they’re not going to spread diseases to your existing Neon Tetras.

Behavior & Temperament

If you’re looking for a peaceful fish that can play well with others, Neon Tetras are a great choice. As we mentioned earlier, they are schooling fish. They prefer to be around many other Neon Tetras.

Tail angle of a Neon Tetra as it swims away

Multiple fish will stay close together and swim in the middle of the water column for safety. This makes them fun to watch because they look like a flurry of light when they move around your tank!

Overall these fish are peaceful and non-aggressive. However, they can get a bit unruly during the mating season.

What Are Good Tank Mates For Neon Tetras?

For the most part, Neon Tetras will get along well with any other non-aggressive fish when in a community tank. This means fish like African Cichlids and bettas are not a good match at all.

Even if you’ve paird them with non-aggressive fish, you need to make sure the tankmates are not large enough to swallow them! Their bright colors and tiny size makes it easy for larger fish to mistake them as food rather than friends.

Rasboras, Barbs, and Dwarf Gouramis are excellent options for Neon Tetra Tanks. It’s a good idea to pair them with fish that take up other parts of the tank. Bottom-dwellers like small catfish, for example, will not interact with the fish much at all.

While any peaceful fish will do great with Neon Tetras, your best bet is always to add fish of the same species. It’s recommended that you keep a group of at least 15 Neon Tetras together so that they can rely on each other like they do in the wild.

Breeding Neon Tetras

Breeding Neon Tetras is no easy task. To do it correctly requires very specific lighting and water conditions.

With that being said, it can be done. It just requires vigilance and patience.

Starting The Process

The first step is to sex your fish. There aren’t too many differences in appearance between male and female fish, so you have to get a good look at them.

Males are slender and tend to have straighter stripes. Females, on the other hand, can have a slightly plumper shape. This often causes the stripes to appear curved.

Before you initiate breeding, provide your fish with live food. In the meantime, you need to prepare a separate breeding tank.

The Breeding Tank

The water in this tank should have a lower pH between 5.0 and 6.0. The hardness needs to drop down to about 2 dGH as well. As for temperature, decrease it slightly so that you get a reading between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The last thing you need to do is turn off the lights and cover the sides. When you place your breeding fish in the tank, it needs to be completely dark. You should also secure the top with a durable cover to prevent accidental escapes.

During the first day, your male and female Neon Tetra should not have any exposure to light. With each passing day, increase light levels slightly. Hopefully, this will trigger the fish to breed.

Neon Tetras have a unique breeding process. The fish are scatter breeders. The male will stay close to the female as she spreads her eggs throughout the tank. The tiny transparent eggs may stick to plants, rocks, any other surface they get close to.

About 100 eggs will be laid at once. After they’re all laid, the male will go back around to fertilize them. When all is said and done, you should remove the adult Neon Tetras and give the eggs some time to hatch.

Continue to keep light levels low for the eggs. Only about a third of the eggs will hatch, so you need to make sure that the conditions of the tank are maintained after breeding.

Tiny fish fry will emerge from the eggs after about 24 hours. The babies will feed on the egg sac for a few days before needing infusoria or commercial foods. Several weeks later, the fry will be ready for brine shrimp.            

In Summary

Neon Tetras are a joy to have in your tank and are easy to care for. There’s a reason why they’re so darn popular!

By now you should know all you need to ensure that your fish thrive and live the best lives possible. If you have any questions for us regarding this species (or any others) we invite you to get in touch!

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