Neon Tetras – A Complete Guide – Care, Diet, Facts

The neon tetra is a fish popular among aquarists.

It’s vital that you understand what it takes to be a good neon tetra owner. While they make a great addition to many aquariums, there are many things to consider. By understanding what neon tetras require, you are on your way to adding these beautiful animals into your home.

Before buying your new fish, you should know how to take care of them. To be a good neon tetra owner, you should know how to provide them with the proper habitat, food, tankmates, and more.

About Neon Tetras

Neon tetras are from South America, where they live in the freshwaters of Columbia, Peru, and Brazil. Their tank should replicate this environment.

They are members of the Characidae family of fish. The Characidae family includes many popular aquarium fish including tetras and characins.[1]

Neon tetras were discovered by Naturalist Auguste Rabaut, a collector of flora and fauna.[2] Rabaut discovered the animals in Iquitos by chance. Despite having no aquarium experience, he transported the animals to Paris. From there, they were transported to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium via the famed airship, “The Hindenburg”.

Since being found in 1934, neon tetras have mesmerized many who’ve witnessed their vibrant colors and peaceful nature. Today, neon tetras are one of the most popular fish in home aquariums today.


People are most attracted to neon tetras due to their vibrance. Neon tetras are brightly colored with distinct patterns. These distinct patterns make them easy to identify for even beginner fish keepers.

This notable range of appearances is one of the reasons neon tetras are one of the most popular fish in today’s home aquariums.

With around 20 species of tetras, they come in a variety of appearances. This notable range of presentation is one of the reasons neon tetras are so popular among fish keepers.

Neon tetras can grow up to 2.5 inches in length, but tend to average at 1.5 inches.


Neon tetras coloration can assist in monitoring their health. Neon Tetras have specialized adaptations, or physical qualities that help them survive. One adaptation  is that they can “turn off” their iridescent hue when they feel threatened. This allows them to hide from predators.[3]

Neon tetras may appear faded when sleeping or sick, as well.[4]

Many might note that neon tetras have a shiny appearance. This iridescent or metallic look is due to colorless cells. These cells, called iridophores, refract light, giving them a natural shine.[5]


The neon tetra is species that demonstrates dimorphism. A dimorphic species is one where the males and females of the species look different. This makes it easy to differentiate the species by their appearance.

Males tend to be thinner. Neon tetras have a strip pattern down their stomach. A male’s stripe appears straight due to their thinner body type. A female’s stripe tends to look bent due to their body being rounder.

Tank Requirements

Before buying a neon tetra, you must make sure that their future home is set up properly. The first step is setting your tank up. Keep in mind that neon tetras are very sensitive to changes in their water quality. This sensitivity can cause illness and death in your neon tetra.

When deciding which tank to buy, ten gallons is the smallest appropriate size. This is taking into consideration their need to be in school of fifteen or larger.

You need to cycle your tank before introducing fish. This introduces good bacteria that helps to regulate harmful compounds.

If your tank has been recently cycled, it’s best that tetras are not yet included. Change in water chemistry can kill them. Neon tetras will thrive best in an established system.

Neon tetras tank will need to be set up to match their natural habitat. As South American fish, they will require warmer, fresh water. It’s important that your tank is set up with a heater to keep their water between 70 and 81 degrees fahrenheit. It’s important to monitor this temperature with a thermometer. Ensure that you check this often and regulate as needed.

Another important factor for your fish’s habitat is their tank’s pH levels. PH is the potential of hydrogen and is the acidity level in the water. Neon tetras require a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. They require soft water, as well. This should be monitored, as well.

Daily maintenance and monitoring is important. You should clean and change your fish’s water regularly.

Neon tetras are most comfortable in habitats with a lot of vegetation. They’re accustomed to dark water with a lot of shrubbery.

Replicating this natural environment is important. Your home tank should have a lot of plants. Wood and shade will help achieve the darkness they’re most comfortable in. You should also consider darker substrate material. Rock and pebbles would most accurately mimic the river beds of their Amazon basin home.

Keep in mind that in the wild, neon tetras can live around eight years. In home aquariums, they tend to live closer to five years.

Behavior & Social

Neon tetras tend to do well with most other fish. While they’re usually calm, well-mannered fish, neon tetras can be high-energy animals that add life to your home aquarium.

As social fish, if you see a neon tetra acting slow or shy, they might be under medical distress.

Neon tetras do better with other fish than alone. Due to this, it’s important that your tank is large enough to house multiple individuals. Your take should be at least ten gallons to comfortably hold multiple neon tetras.

While they have a peaceful demeanor, neon tetras can become aggressive during courtship and mating.

Neon tetras do well with more of the same species. They can and should live together. Neon tetras are a social species and tend to do well in larger groups. Smaller schools can cause stress on the fish. Ensure that when housing neon tetras, you’re equipped to house them in multiples.

Neon tetras should only live with other peaceful fish that are not large enough to eat them. Good options include barbs, dwarf cichlids, and small catfish. You should avoid housing betas, angelfish, and cichlids with your neon tetras.


Neon tetras are difficult to breed and it’s not recommended among novices. They require a specific environment to induce mating season. This makes it difficult for aquarists inexperienced in rearing fish.

If you do choose to breed your neon tetras, there are a few things to note.

First is how to distinguish males and females. As mentioned, males tend to be thinner and females are rounder. The stripes on their stomach’s look different due to this.

When breeding neon tetras, a separate breeder tank is required. The breeder tank’s temperature should stay around 75 degrees. The breeder tanks pH balance is best kept between 5.0 and 6.0.

Tetras will lay around 100 eggs, then the male will fertilize them. Once this has happened, you should remove both fish from the breeder tank as the parents don’t care for their young. Many times, neon tetras will eat their eggs if provided the opportunity.[6]

The fry, or young, will get their nutrients from their egg sacks for two to three days. You should feed them small, crushed pieces of food after this.

When breeding, it is believed that males know when a female is pregnant.

Keep in mind that neon tetras should be removed from their young as to avoid them eating their eggs.

If you are transporting fish during this process, monitor stress levels as they can be fatal.


Neon tetras are omnivores. The term omnivore is used for animals that eat both plant and animal matter.

When choosing your neon tetra’s diet you should choose the highest quality appropriate for your fish. Their diet should have a focus on protein, as it’s a big necessity in their diet. When checking the ingredients list, you should ensure that the first few ingredients are a high-protein item like shrimp or other fish.

Avoid products whose first ingredients are not high in protein. This might be a sign that they lack proper nutrients.

You can also feed your neon tetras food that is more organic like bloodworms, shrimp, or vegetables.

Keep in mind that neon tetras are small fish and should be fed small pieces of food. Larger pieces can cause issues in swallowing and digestion.

It’s important to supply a variety of food for your neon tetras.

When feeding your neon tetras, they should only eat twice a day for no more than three minutes. As they age, they should eat once a day for three minutes. Overfeeding fish can lead to health and water quality issues. Overconsumption has also been linked to death in neon tetras.

If you’re choosing to breed your neon tetras, you must also consider how to feed their young. Fry eat smaller amounts, but more often. They will need to eat crushed up or specific fry food four to five times a day.


While neon tetras are hardy fish, there are certain diseases that can be fatal.

A common disease witnessed in neon tetras is “ich”. Ich creates small, white dots on your fish’s skin. You might observe them rubbing their bodies on their tank due to ich.

Neon tetras are also susceptible to both the neon tetra disease and the false neon tetra disease.[7] No cure exists for either ailment. The neon tetra disease is a parasite that affects the intestinal tract. Once it reaches the tract, it eats the muscle.

Symptoms include:

  • Color loss
  • Irregular swimming or bottom-dwelling
  • Stomach cysts
  • Stomach shrinking

While the disease shares the neon tetra name, it can affect several species. Its name derives from first being noted in neon tetras.

It’s important to monitor your fish for any behavior that might be a symptom of these or other illnesses. Ways to avoid these diseases are by providing your fish with a healthy environment via routine maintenance. In giving your fish a healthy habitat and diet, you are helping to avoid these diseases. If your fish still gets a disease, there are medications and treatments available for some illnesses.

Ways to avoid these fungal infections include:

  • Water quality and maintenance
  • Regular cleaning of your fish’s habitat
  • Providing a low stress environment
  • Supplementing your fish with a varied diet
  • Giving your fish enough space and social interactions

Global Reputation

Neon tetras gained rapid popularity shortly after being discovered in 1934. Many aquarists fought to own the new species and learn more about their reproduction. It was understood that, once they were bred, they’d be less valuable. Being one of the first to reproduce neon tetras was important.

Due to this race to breed neon tetras, scientists from around the world clamored to own them. Neon tetras could be found in aquarist’s labs all around the country. While World War II slowed the process down, they were reignited shortly after the war.

The process of breeding neon tetras was not without error, though. These aquarists lost many fish due to lack of knowledge on water conditions, diet, and disease. It’s this these errors that we have the information needed to successfully care for neon tetras today.

The aquarists were right to think that neon tetras would be a highly regarded fish. Today, tetras found in home aquariums are 99.9% captive-bred.[8]

Are Neon Tetras Right For Me?

Neon tetras are a great fish for many different household aquariums.

It’s important to understand how to take care of your fish prior to getting one. Setting up for your fish is the first step to having a new home tank full of neon tetras. If you are prepared to deal with the pros and cons of owning a neon tetra, you are well on your way to doing so!

We hope that this article has provided your with the knowledge and confidence to be a great neon tetra owner!







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