Neon Tetra Complete Care Guide 2021

The Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a small freshwater fish native to South America.

Due to its vibrant colors and ease-of-care, it is one of the most popular fish amongst fish keepers.

Its peaceful temperament and simple dietary needs make it an ideal beginner fish.

In our complete care guide, we will cover everything you need to know so you can successfully keep Neon Tetras.

Want To Learn More? Download our free guide on Neon Tetras. Learn all about caring for them, their dietray requirements and more.

Care Level:Easy
Color Form:Blue, Red, Translucent
Lifespan:8 Years
Minimum Tank Size:10 Gallons
Tank Set-Up:Freshwater: Planted

Neon Tetra Overview

Neon TetraThe Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), also known as neon fish was first discovered back in 1934 in the Amazon jungles.

It is a freshwater fish that belongs to the Characidae family and is known for its dazzling colors and energetic temperament. So much so that around 2 million are sold in the US each month; the vast majority of these are bred in captivity.

They are a great, non-aggressive, community fish and spend the majority of their time in the middle of the water column.

These fish should generally be kept in schools with at least 15 members. Smaller schools than this can feel threatened and this can cause stress.

Typical Behavior

They are peaceful, non-aggressive fish that can make fantastic additions to a community tank.

You will notice they spend their time in a school and will swim in the middle of the water column.

Neon Tetra Lifespan

In the wild, they live until they are around 8 years old. However, in aquariums Neon Tetras will generally live for around 5 years.

Appearance of Neon Tetra

Neon TetraThe first thing everyone is drawn to is their sensational coloring. It has a turquoise blue line that stretches from its eyes down to its adipose fin (the small rounded fin between the tail and the dorsal fin).

In addition to the blue coloration, they also have a red stripe that runs from the middle of their body down to the caudal fin. This bright iridescence helps the fish local each other in murky water conditions.

Their color combination has helped to make them one of the most recognizable fish amongst hobbyists.

Interestingly, except for their blue/red coloring, they are transparent; in the wild, this will help to hide from predators. When they feel really threatened they can even turn off’ their red/blue iridescent hue to stay safe. Their coloring will also fade when they are sleeping or sick.

As for their body type, they have a spindle-like body and a rounded nose. Large eyes make up the majority of their head. They can grow up to 2.5 inches long; however, the average size is around 1.5 inches, with females being slightly shorter.

Cardinal Tetra vs Neon Tetra

This fish is often confused with the Cardinal Tetra.

If you look closely you will notice that the vibrant red horizontal line of the Neon Tetra only runs from the middle of their body to the tail.

With the Cardinal Tetra, their red line runs the entire length of their body.

Neon Tetra Habitat and Tank Requirements

Neon TetrasNeon Tetras are native to the warm rivers of South America including Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. The largest gathering of them can be found in the Amazon River basin.

These rivers generally flow through thick forests with dense canopies blocking lots of natural daylight. Within these dark waters, there are generally lots of fallen leaves, vegetation, and tree roots. This is why their coloration is so vivid; it helps them identify their fellow fish in these dark murky waters.

You will find that they live in schools, and spend their time in the middle of the water column.

As always you should attempt to replicate their natural environment into their aquarium as closely as possible.

Following this logic, with Neon Tetras your aquarium should be heavily planted. You can use driftwood to help create yet more shade and darkness for them. You should also make sure that the substrate you use is a dark color; you can use small rocks and pebbles as you would find on the river bed.

Tank Conditions

Before we talk about the required conditions it’s important to say that Tetras are very sensitive to changes in water conditions.

This means that newly cycled tanks are not suitable for your Tetras; generally, the changes in the water chemistry during this time will kill them. You should only add Tetras to an established, matured tank.

Now the ideal water conditions for Neon Tetras are as follows; water temperature should be between 70°F to 81°F. You should keep the pH level below 7.0 and above 6.0 and maintain soft water (<10 dGH).

As for lighting, they will want subdued lighting; a low-watt fluorescent light can be used. You should provide 2 watts per gallon.

Tetras produce a very small bio load so their filtering needs are very small; a regular sponge filter will do. Finally, in terms of water changes, you should aim to perform a 25% water change each week. Make sure not to exceed this recommendation as too much water change can be deadly for Neons.

What Size Tank Do Neon Tetras Need?

This depends on the number of them you are planning to keep.

The smallest size is 10 gallons. However, if you’re keeping the minimum number of Tetras we recommend (15) then you should get a tank that is at least 20 gallons.

Neon Tetra Diet and Feeding

Neon Tetra ShoalIn their natural environment in the wild, neon tetras are omnivorous. This means they will eat both meat and vegetables/plant matter.

You will find them eating algae, larvae from insects, and other minuscule invertebrates.

Fortunately, they aren’t fussy eaters and will enjoy eating all different types of food including pellets, flakes, frozen, and live.

As always a high-quality pellet/flake should make the core of their diet. You can supplement the flake with live/frozen food offerings such as:

  • Blood Worm
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Tubifex

If you’re looking for ideas on how to get vegetables into their diet, read our guide on how to make your own fish food here.

As a rule, you should only feed them extremely small pieces. So when feeding them worms/shrimp make sure to only feed the small ones otherwise Tetras can have problems trying to swallow them.

In terms of how often to feed them, as young adults you should aim to feed them twice a day as much as they can eat in 3 minutes. As they mature you can reduce this to once a day and still follow the three-minute feeding guidance.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

In general Neon Tetras are very peaceful fish; with the only exception to this being throughout mating season.

They can make the perfect community fish, and a school of them really helps to bring vibrant colors to your tank.

As they are such a small fish you should only place them in a community tank with other non-aggressive fish that aren’t big enough to eat them. Small, peaceful bottom dwellers make perfect tank mates for them. As for ideal tank mates, you should be thinking of:

Now fish which should be avoided include:

  • Bettas
  • Angelfish
  • Cichlids

A sensible rule of thumb to follow is if the fish’s mouth is large enough to swallow a Tetra don’t put it in the same tank.

Can You Keep Neon Tetras Together?

Yes, in fact, Neon Tetras do better when they are kept together.

If you’re planning to keep a school of them, you should keep at least 15-20 of them. An aquarium that is at least 20 gallons is needed for this number of them.

As a general rule the larger the school the more comfortable your Tetras will be.

Neon Tetra Disease

When reading about these fish, you may have come across the disease known as Neon Tetra disease.

There is also the false Neon Tetra disease. Unfortunately, both diseases are fatal, and currently, no cure exists.

The disease is named such because it was first found in Neon Tetras. However, the disease can also attack other Tetras and completely separate breeds.

Once the parasite reaches the intestinal tract it will eat the muscles starting from the inside out.

Common symptoms include:

  • A sudden loss of color.
  • Irregular swimming patterns and turning into a bottom dweller.
  • Developing cysts on their stomach.
  • Stomach shrinking and losing mass.

As mentioned above there is currently no cure. Devastatingly if one of your fish catches this disease it’s generally recommended that you destroy all the other fish in the tank.

As they say, the best cure is prevention.

To prevent the disease you should maintain the water temperatures properly. You should also make sure that any fish or live organism added to the tank is healthy and disease-free before adding it; you should quarantine and inspect new fish before adding them to your main tank.

Breeding Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras are difficult to breed as they require specific water parameters to ‘trigger’ the mating season. For this reason I would say they aren’t ideal for beginners looking to experiment with breeding fish in a home aquarium.

However, if you are persistent it is possible.

First, you need to determine the gender of the fish;

  • Males tend to be slimmer; this flat stomach means their blue stripe is straight.
  • Females are rounder; this round belly causes the blue stripe on them to become ‘bent’.

Once you have a male and female you need to place them into a separate breeder tank. The breeder tank should have slightly different water conditions to their main tank. The pH level should be dropped to between 5.0 and 6.0 and the temperature should be dropped by a few degrees to 75°F

Tetras are egg scatterers, which means the female will lay her eggs first (around 100 of them) and the male will then fertilize them. After the male has fertilized the eggs you should remove the parents from the breeder tank.

Tetras do not care for their young and in fact, have been known to eat them.

Once the eggs have hatched the fry will live off their egg sacks for 2-3 days. After this, you should begin to feed them very small pieces of food (see the diet section above).

Is the Neon Tetra Right For Your Aquarium? (Summary)

The Neon Tetra is one of the most popular fish in the hobby with around 2 million sold in the US every month.

We hope this complete care guide has helped you decide whether they are the right fish for your aquarium.

They are easy to feed and take care of and are ideal for beginners to the hobby.

The only thing you need to bear in mind is the strict water parameters. Remember to keep the water slightly too warm rather than slightly too cool. Cold water can cause issues such as fin rot.

Do you keep Neon Tetras? Let us know your experience with them in the comments section below…

About Robert 378 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.


  1. I have 9 neons in my 50 gallon tank , I find that they are hardy fish and don’t seem to be bothered by water changes . I have 2 cuckoo catfish and a red tail shark who is 5 inches and have never had a problem with him eating or being aggressive with my fish .

  2. I bought 7 neons for a 6 gal tank. Added cond & plants. Bought 7 neon tetra fish, keeping them in the bag for 20 minutes & they swam out. The following day all but one died. I return the six to the store and was asked to come in when they received a new shipment & they would replace them. I did 6 hrs after shipment arrived. The following day all were dead & I ret. them. What could be the cause?

  3. I have (had?) 6 neon tetras in my 60 litre tank along with some gouramis, zebra danios, some guppies and a few corydoras. Everyone seems to be happy except that the neon tetras seem to have disappeared completely.

  4. I have 10 tetras with my betta and some ghost shrimp. Everyone is happy and all of them get along. : ) I do have a20 gallon tall tank and my betta has a hiding spot but he’s out and about a lot.

    • This is good to hear. I have 1 female betta and 3 ghost shrimp in a 5.5 gallon tank. I just added 3 neon tetras and so far so good. Let’s hope my tank has the same positive experience as yours 🙂

  5. Does Neon Tetra is Good with Gold Fish
    I like it; But always I see that neon tetra get lost

    Please advice is it good to keep with Gold fish and neon tetra

    • Hi Sudhir, personally I wouldn’t keep these fish together. Whilst Neon Tetras can live in cooler waters, they prefer warm tropical waters. They also won’t deal well with the amount of waste your Goldfish make, and eventually the Goldfish will grow large enough to eat them. Thanks, Robert

      • I bought a used mudded tank that had been shut down and low and behold it had one male and female in it living in the algae infested tank much to the sellers surprise. I quarantined the fish for a week and within 24 hrs of going in the tank they laid a clutch of eggs on my sponge filters…not knowing while I was out picking up 2 more neons they had laid eggs…question is how big do fry have to be before I can put them in with mom and dad fish? Again the new two also when should I introduce them back in with the younger fish?

  6. Can you keep a smaller amount of tetras in a 2 gallon tank? Like 5 neon tetras? or is that number too small?

    • Hi Jenni, personally I wouldn’t keep anything in a 2 gallon tank. 5 gallons is the smallest we recommend. Thanks, Robert

    • Hi, I have 15 gallon tank with 10 neon tetra. They are happy for past one month. Suddenly one neon tetra looks bloated than usual, his eyes are popping out and not taking food. Is that a disease? Suggestions required to save him.

      • Likely dropsy. My dwarf honey gourami died of that even after i “hospitalized” him and put him under aggressive treatment he lasted and started to improve after a day or two but died in a week. Heartbreaking!

      • i have 13 neons currently with a few penguin tetras, razboras ,corys albino and zebra, black neon tetras and some bristle nose albino and lemon blue eyes in my 40 gallon they all get along but have found i cycled for 6 weeks and added water softners and stability but that day there was a water boil advisories for my tap in my community due to water main repairs. For got to check for ammonia got rocked there sadly so the first 10 tetras i had added dropped to 3. Moral of the story is make sure you check water advisories before using tap or get bottled also my levels currently are safe i treated for everything got back to within excellent parameters. All of the fish i have listed are very happy currently. I feed them a combination of flakes 2 different types that i have mixed to get a very good well balanced diet for color, strength, and energy, also mixed in ground brine shrimp. I got the algae waffers for my plecos and cory cats seem to love them as well i found that interesting. I would however like more pointers on breeding a what would be a proper setup for that.

  7. I have a 3 gallon tank that recommends tetra. Would I be able to keep 5 in a 3 gal? If not, is 4 an ok number for tetra? Also what does it mean to have a mature tank? Do I just turn on the filter and keep it on with no fish for a couple weeks?

    • I’m not an expert, but I’ve been keeping fish as a hobby for a little over a year now. I just got 5 tetras to hopefully include them in my 5-gallon betta tank. From the research I have done on other sites and forums, it is okay if you have practice working with smaller aquariums, you have to be vigilant with watching the water and fish. The tetras will be happier in a larger tank though, as they are active swimmers. A mature tank is a tank that has been cycled with a filter for at least a month and has gone through the nitrate cycle and established the bacteria in the tank.

  8. I have a 55 gallon tank that I have 6 neon, 5 ember and 5 red eye tetras and 2 snails. I plan on adding more but I am trying to have a balanced plant to fish tank so I am trying to take it slow. I have 15 marimo moss balls which have grown larger and darker green. Also Java fern,Amazon sword, and several other plants so far. I plan to add Java moss soon. I have a large castle in the center with most of the plants on both sides except the moss balls. I noticed that most of the fish do not seem to swim in schools but alone or with just one or two companions. Do you think this is because the fish don’t feel threaten? I plan on add more of each type of fish.

  9. Hello. just a few days ago I’ve notice that my neon tetras is scattering eggs and the other (I guess a male) swimming around like a crazy. I keep my tetras (10 pcs) in 16 gallon community tank with few endler guppies and dwarf shrimps. Do you think the eggs will survive??? Thank in advance.

  10. Hello. Just a few days ago I’ve notice that one of my neon tetras is scattering eggs and the other (I guess a male) swimming around like a crazy. I keep my tetras (10 pcs) in 16 gallon community tank with few endler guppies and dwarf shrimps. Do you think the eggs will survive??? Thank you in advance.

  11. One of my 6 neon tetras has developed a strange swimming habit, it’s a jerky motion, his body seems slightly curved as though he’s had some sort of stroke, he’s been like this for a few weeks, i’m worried he may have a disease that could spread throughout the tank. Should I remove him?

  12. We have bought neon tetras and both times they developed Ice and died. We did quarantine them for a few days before introducing them into the 65 gal tank. We removed them as soon as we noticed the ick and put them into another tank that is healthy. They have to date mostly died. What is up with this? We have other fish that are fine.

  13. Hello
    I have a 10 gallon tank with 2 Guppies and 2 Amano Shrimp.
    Is it a good idea to get neon tetras? Do I have enough space?

    Best regards

  14. Hi, I’m building a new fish tank and it has been in running for like 5 weeks with no fish, i had got 3 fish in it but after 2 years they have died. So i think aquarium is ready for new fish and i think that im gonna put 5 neon tetras and 5 fire tetras in a 12 gallon tank. Is it OK and i’m gonna put bacopa australis in and anubias barteri nana and a moss ball,is that OK or should i do different.
    Tnx for your answers.

  15. Hi … I have a large 8’W x 1’D x 2’H tank in my study with some baby goldfish and about 20 Neoons … once I move the goldfish to the pond I want have about 100 neons from a single stock … if they are disease free and make it through without any sickness would they be free of Neon Tetra diseas or would they still get it …

  16. I have a 49L (~11 gallon) aquarium and I have had 2 mollies in there for 2 weeks. Would it now be safe to add 5 neons?


  17. Hi!

    Do Tetra fish do well with musk turtles…? I’ll be getting a baby musk turtle and some shrimp. Would love to add some diamond neon tetra fish too! I have to monitor the water for the turtle anyway and based on what was said above the PH requirements are the same plus the water will warmed using an internal heater. Plus I will be cycling the water before I get the turtle to make sure it’s safe so its good to know to cycle it for 4 weeks for the Tetras. I’ll also be providing lots of plants and hiding spots. The only thing I’m concerned about is that although I have a 40 gallon tank, I won’t be filling the whole tank as a baby musk turtle cannot swim very well so the water will be fairly shallow although it’s 36w x 18h inches so it’s longer rather than taller. It’s hard to say what the amount of water will be but what would you recommend in this case? I suppose what I’d like to know is are Tetras active swimmers or do they stick more to the ground? I wouldn’t want them to be deprived of space to swim!

  18. I have a blue black male betta (who seems to get along with the other), 1 albino catfish, 1 clown loacher, 2 fan tail guppy. We had 3 neon tetra but 2 died. Can i get 6 more to bring the total neons up to 7 or is that too many fish in the tank? The size tank is 54 litres. Thanks

  19. While in my second semester of college my School gave us free tanks with filters and I decided to get some tetras, I only had 4 because I did not want to overcrowd the tank, all of them died except for the one I named (I remember from its distinct size) and for some reason this fish thrived so much alone and when I tried to get more so it wasn’t alone and they died too except for the one fish that survived the first round. It survived for a few months but unfortunately the stress of driving 4 hours home from school it died…. RIP Benji the tetra

  20. I have neons and penguin tetras, angel, corydoras, betta, shrimp in a 90l tank. All real plants and logs have been living together for a couple months now and no issues to aggression or loss of colour. Although I do have only 7 terra and 6 penguins. I feed them 2 times a day and it is very planted with a plain bottom

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