The Ultimate Neon Tetra Care Guide

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

Neon tetra presence in any aquarium adds to the aquarium’s beauty! Their vibrant colors give the tank a charm that captures people’s eyes. Neon tetras are imported annually from South America and are exported to almost everywhere around the globe. The neon tetra is a unique breed of pet fish that every pet fish owner is keen on keeping. Now, let us delve deeper into neon tetras and uncover everything about them through this guide.

Neon Tetra | Beginner Guide (Video)


Historical background

  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • This unique species has been existing since the 1930s

Neon tetras were discovered by August Rabaut during his journey to the Amazon jungles. He was charmed by this fish’s glittery appearance and he decided to bring some to Europe to show them to the market! People in Europe marveled at these fish and were mesmerized by their shapes and breathtaking colors. They did not give the fish a name for quite some time, though. Neon tetras were presented by and to many famous people like the editor William T. Innes who gifted them to one of his friends, Dr. George Myer. There were some articles written in the newspaper about the newly discovered beautiful fish which caught everyone’s attention. Dr. George Myer named the fish after the surname of his friend Hyphessobrycon innesi, and then it was modified to its current scientific name Paracheirodon inessi.

Origin and Distribution

Neon tetras exist in freshwater bodies like rivers. You would also find them in blackwater streams as well as in the Amazon basin in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. These previously mentioned water sites are suitable for the existence of neon tetras. These sites are located in shaded areas which have dim lighting since they are usually surrounded by forests. Therefore, neon tetras function well in those places and are found in abundance there due to the suitable water condition. Neon tetras mainly live in the middle layers of water and they swim in shoals. In their original habitat, their main source of nutrition is worms and crustaceans which are small. This is the reason why they can be fed other foods in aquariums but in very small particles. There are many types of neon tetras that have their very unique features. For example, there is the long-finned neon tetra which is very rare, a golden strain, and a diamond neon tetra which looks sprinkled with very attractive scales all over its body.

Colors

The usual size of an adult neon tetra is an inch and a half. However, if the fish is smaller in size, its colors make up for this small stature. Neon tetras have a bright neon blue stripe which extends from the nose to the fin. It is believed that the blue color is what helps the neon tetras locate each other in water when it is too dark or the water is very murky. The neon tetra’s belly is silver and underneath the belly, there is a red stripe which covers this whole part to the tail. These sensational colors, of course, do magic when they are added to a tank filled with different types of fish. Neon tetras decorate the whole tank with their multicolored bodies. However, sometimes neon tetras are mistaken for cardinal tetra because they have a lot of resemblance. The main difference between both these breeds is the red stripe which covers the whole body of a cardinal fish yet extends only from the belly to the tail of the neon tetra. During the night, while the neon tetra is in a resting phase, its color will start to fade until it becomes transparent and this is a common thing that happens to any other colorful fish. But the transparent color does not only appear at night while the fish is resting, it also appears if the fish is sick, unsafe, and uncomfortable or threatened. Therefore, while choosing neon tetras from the pet store, pick the ones with the most vibrant and bright colors to avoid bringing back home a sick neon tetra which you cannot take care of and feel sorry after its death. And remember to bring back home not only one neon tetra on its own but a dozen at least because neon tetras are shoaling creatures that cannot live alone.

Tankmates

Remember when we said that neon tetras make a good community? They are sociable fish that function perfectly in a tank filled with many fish as long as there is a school of neon tetras. They are very peaceful creatures that live in harmony with peaceful small fish like rasboras, corys, and small catfish. And be careful! Do not place them with larger fish because neon tetras are easily preyed on by larger fish. How do you know that the other fish would eat the neon tetra? By looking at the size of its mouth. If the other fish has a mouth which, when opened, could fit a neon tetra, you should take this is a warning…it will sooner or later devour the neon tetra.

Neon tetra habitat and care

Do not be worried when your new neon tetras act weird in their new tank; this is because neon tetras are very sensitive to any change. The water conditions, temperature, and conditions of the tank would alarm them and they would take time to cope and get used to their new home. Therefore, never add your neon tetras in the tank until you prepare it efficiently to be suitable for them. Get your tank fully prepared and adjust the water temperature, parameter, and chemistry to provide a healthy atmosphere for the sensitive delicate little fish. The water is supposed to be really soft and acidic. The pH level should be a maximum of 7.0 and the hardness of the water can peak at 10 dGH, not above that. Adding blackwater extracts would help a lot in adjusting the water’s darkness. It also softens the water and makes it acidic. It is very important to get your tank in which you will keep your neon tetras fully planted because they are used to living in places filled with many plants and roots. When you make their tank resemble a bit with their natural habitat, you would find the neon tetras acting normal and their colors are shining brightly! Plants make the neon tetras happy. They are playful creatures and they always have the tendency to explore and hide in places. This would help in preventing any chance of causing the neon tetras stress. Neon tetras could feel stressed all of a sudden but there will always be a reason behind that which you need to find out. Sometimes, pet fish owners use a black background all around the aquarium to give the neon tetras a sensation of the darkness they need.

Neon tetra diet

We previously discussed what neon tetras feed on in their natural habitat. But when it comes to keeping them in a fish tank, they feed on different foods. For example:

  • Daphnia
  • Small granules
  • Frozen brine shrimp
  • Live and frozen or dried bloodworms

They eat a variety of foods but in the form of small particles. It is always good to mix their food with frozen or live food because it makes them healthier.

Male or female?

Distinguishing between a male and a female neon tetra is not a difficult task once you know the differences between both the genders. The female has a curvy body which may make the blue stripe appear a bit curved. It also has a smaller body but a larger belly. However, the male is thin and their blue stripe appears as a straight line.

Breeding neon tetras

Neon tetras are not livebearers but are egg scatterers instead. It is a very difficult task to breed neon tetras, but it could be done in very specific and precise conditions to ensure the process’ success. First of all, you need a separate tank which you are going to keep only for breeding neon tetras. The hardness of the water needs to be 1 to 2 dGH and pH level 5.0 to 6.0. You need a sponge filter to filter the water regularly. Plus, you will need to add plants everywhere in the tank. Make sure your tank is sufficiently covered by a lid because spawning fish will be jumping continuously till the spawning process is over. Then provide the tank with the suitable dim lightning. The water’s temperature must be exactly 24 degrees Celsius. Feed the male and the female neon tetras in the breeding tank live food to make them healthier and to accelerate the mating and spawning processes. When you first put the two fish in the tank, make sure it is completely dark, then bring more light to the tank the next day. It is believed that spawning takes place in the morning. The female scatters about 100 eggs at once. Be careful because the eggs are transparent and you will notice them sticking to the plants. As soon as the eggs are seen, quickly remove the male and the female neon tetras from the breeding tank because neon tetras eat their young ones. You have to keep the tank in a dark place because this will help the eggs hatch. Hatching occurs in 24 hours and tiny transparent baby neon tetras will be released to the water. Not all of the eggs hatch so do not be disappointed when a particular one doesn’t. 3 to 4 days after birth, you can feed the little neon tetras small particles of food like egg yolk, infusoria or prepared fry food. Then, in a matter of weeks, they will become larger and you will be able to feed them normally. A fry becomes an adult which is fully colored after nearly one month only while they can start breeding when they are nine months of age.

Neon tetra Disease

This disease which affects the neon tetras is a lethal one. It happens all of a sudden and it kills the fish step by step. It is incurable and contagious. Therefore, if you detect that any of your neon tetras are infected with the disease, immediately separate the sick neon tetra from the tank and isolate it so as not to spread the disease among the other healthy neon tetras. There are certain symptoms that appear on the neon tetra when it carries the disease. For example loss of color, irregular swimming, an appearance of cysts,  the fish stays away from its school, the fish refuses to eat and loss of mass. This disease not only affects neon tetras but also other kinds of fish. To prevent the disease, take care of the water’s temperature and cleanliness. The symptoms of a dying neon tetra are:

  • Stress
  • Usually, a dying neon tetra is restless and sits at the bottom
  • Swims in abnormal patterns
  • Inability to raise itself in the water

Therefore, you should make sure that any new fish that will be added to the tank is healthy and not infected with that abominable disease. It is serious and very contagious. Always inspect the fish in your tank and detect the slightest change in the fish’s behaviors. Neon tetras are always more prone to infection from bacteria and parasites so always keep an eye on them and change the water regularly to get rid of the wastes and the ammonia.

Lifespan

Neon tetras usually live for quite a few years only when they are carefully taken care of. If this happens, they could live up to a decade! However, if they are neglected and the water conditions are always unstable, they would die immediately.

The requirements to keep healthy neon tetras

  • A relatively large aquarium (10 gallons would be the best)
  • Cycle the tank without fish inside
  • Cover the filter because the fish could be sucked into it
  • Get your aquarium planted
  • Monitor the pH level
  • Place the tank in subdued lighting
  • Add some fish with the neon tetras
  • Feed the fish twice or three times daily

It is important to have a large tank because neon tetras do not like to be crowded in a very tiny place. They love to swim freely and explore all around the place, so you must prepare a 10-gallon tank for a group of 10 neon tetras. You can add their tank mates as well, if you want. Taking care of neon tetras could be difficult at first but neon tetras are worth trying for. You will genuinely find yourself very keen on following the instructions and taking care of the water parameter regularly. It is very important to provide this species with a convenient atmosphere. They are not a boring species at all by the way. Their swimming patterns will intrigue you and amuse you. You will always have your attention captured by their playful swimming manners! Neon tetras are tropical fish, so providing the tank with a heater would be a perfect idea! the more you add things that will help in improving the neon tetra’s performance, the safer they get, the more comfortable they become, and the less there is a risk of having stressed and ill neon tetras.

Are neon tetras available?

Yes, they are available in any pet store and they are very inexpensive too. You can afford to buy some neon tetras to add more beauty to your fish tank. However, everything is a double-edged weapon; selling neon tetras in low prices could be a disaster. Some people are not very good at keeping pets at all so they can buy the neon tetras and completely neglect their needs. This will end up killing the neon tetras very quickly. Therefore, I believe it would be better to sell it for a reasonable price that only pet fish enthusiasts would really be willing to pay. This species is recommended for beginner pet fish owners by the way, but only serious ones will exert an effort to provide the neon tetras with the best tank conditions by learning how to do so.

Getting along with Bettas

Yes, neon tetras get along with Betta fish because they give them enough space to swim around freely. Neon tetras swim in the mid-layers of water in the tank and this does not cause any annoyance to the Bettas. But a big tank is recommended in order to keep all of these peaceful fish happy and satisfied!

Fin nipping

Neon tetras are best kept in schools. So, if you plan to get a neon tetra, you really should bring along about 10 neon tetras as well and you might as well add some little fish that could live in the same water conditions and are small in size too. However, do not bring only one neon tetra in a tank filled with fish from different types. When this happens, you will notice that your neon tetra is nipping at other fish’s fins and chasing them. Neon tetras prefer being kept in their school of fish. By bringing them in their school, they will nip at each other and avoid nipping at other fish. Neon tetras are curious creatures who always suspect new tank mates that belong to a different school. So, basically, nipping is just a means of getting themselves introduced to other fish and it might also be a means of protection. Some people wonder if the nipping happens because the fish are hungry. But actually nipping has nothing to with hunger; whereas, fish use nipping as a means of expression. It could indicate territories, desire for mating or just simply bullying other fish. There are many different interpretations for fin nipping. Do not worry if you see the neon tetra’s fins ruined because they heal quickly. Furthermore, a tank crowded with fish increases the risk of fin nipping. The less the crowd is, the better. A school of maximum 8 neon tetras would be enough. But anyway, nipping will always be there as a natural response of fish. Glow tetras are usually more nippers than other tetras.

Challenging neon tetras

Some of the challenging tetras to keep are cardinals, penguin tetras, and emperors are not easy at all to keep. They need very soft acidic water. So, these tetras are not recommended for a beginner to own.

Glowlight Tetra

This type of neon tetras could reach a size of 2 inches. It only lives for 3 or 4 years maximum. Did you know that “glofish” are the first genetically engineered pets?  People tend to ask if glowlight tetras glow in the dark…the answer is: “The glofish is a fluorescent zebra fish. It is bright red under regular room light. And in a dark room, it will appear to glow in the dark.” mentioned by Alan Blake of Yorktown Technology.

Related questions

Can guppies live with neon tetras? Of course, yes! Guppies and neon tetras are excellent tankmates! They get along easily. Both of them are peaceful species and are small in size. Thus, their presence together in a tank would be a positive for you!

How many times do I need to feed my neon tetras daily? About 3 or 4 times daily would be enough. Remember that their food must be in small pieces. You always have to check their feeding behavior because any change could indicate illness or stress which leads to the fish’s death. Let us hope you never have to watch something as tragic and sad as that! Good luck Neon tetra enthusiasts!

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