Neon Tetra Care Guide & Species Profile

The neon tetra is a freshwater fish of the tetra fish family. Neon tetras have vibrant blue bodies with striking red markings from the belly to the tail.

Because of their hardiness, neon tetras have low care needs, making the fish a popular choice for beginner fishkeepers.

There are several variations of neon tetras available, including black neon tetras and diamond head neon tetras.

Neon Tetra Facts & Overview

Two neon tetras close up in their tank

Scientific name:Paracheirodon innesi
Common namesNeon tetra
Distribution:Brazil, Colombia, Peru
Size:1–1.5 inches
Life expectancy:6–8 years
Color:Blue, silver, or translucent with red markings
Diet:Omnivore
Temperament:Peaceful
Minimum tank size:10 gallons
Temperature:70–81°F (21–27°C)
pH:6.0–7.0
Hardness:2–10 dGH
Care level:Easy
Breeding:Egg scatterer

Origin

Neon tetras are found in the northern and western Amazon basins in Peru, Brazil, and Colombia. The waters in this region are acidic, with a pH as low as 0.4. Neon tetras live in blackwater and clearwater streams.

The neon tetra’s natural habitat is declining due to deforestation and farming, but there are still a lot of neon tetras in the wild. More than 1.5 million neon tetras are imported from fish farms to the U.S. every month.

Adult Size & Lifespan

Neon tetras are one of the smallest species of aquarium fish, and adult neon tetras only grow to 1.5 inches long. Males and female neon tetras are the same sizes, but males have longer dorsal and anal fins than females.

Male and female neon tetras have the same lifespan of up to eight years. In the wild, the fish can live for up to 10 years, depending on the population of predators in their habitat.

Availability

Neon tetras are widely available in the United States. You can buy neon tetras from local pet stores and online.

The average cost of a neon tetra is $3–$5. Neon tetras should be kept in groups of at least six, bringing up the average total cost to $18–$30.

  • LiveAquaria sells neon tetras and a couple of neon tetra variations, including black neon tetras.
  • Imperial Tropicals sells neon tetras in groups of three, 10, 25, and 50

Appearance & Behavior

Several neon tetras swimming in a planted tank
Neon tetras are vivid blue with a thick red line from the belly to the tail. Neon tetras are calm, peaceful fish and are rarely aggressive in a peaceful community tank setup.

Colors, Patterns, Fins, and Sex Differences

Neon tetras have bright blue heads and backs, with a deep blue stripe from the eye to the tail and an iridescent red stripe on each side of their bodies. The body of a neon tetra is narrow and torpedo-shaped, and the fish’s fins and tail are compact, translucent, and pointed.

Breeders have introduced different types of neon tetras, which can only be found in captivity. Types of neon tetras include:

  • Longfin neon tetras – this species has fins nearly double the length of the wild neon tetra’s.
  • Albino neon tetras – unique for their pale white bodies and pink eyes.
  • Diamond head neon tetras –the fish look like wild neon tetras but have diamond-shaped heads.
  • Golden neon tetras – these fish look like albino neon tetras but have more coloration than the albino fish.
  • Black neon tetras – these fish have silver bodies and a vertical black stripe that runs from behind the eye to the tail.

Male neon tetras are typically brighter in color than females. Males also have flatter bellies than females and straight blue stripes, while females have blue stripes that curve upward because of the female’s rounded body shape.

When stressed, a neon tetra loses some of its bright coloring and appears faded. Neon tetras turn a dull violet-blue in the dark, and a brilliant blue-green when exposed to light.

Baby neon tetras are paler than adult neon tetras, and it takes several weeks for the fry to become bold blue in color.

Typical Behavior

Neon tetras are non-aggressive schooling fish that get along with other peaceful fish of a similar size. If stressed or uncomfortable, neon tetras show signs of aggression including fin-nipping.

Neon tetras are active fish with high energy requirements. They are most active during the day, and they spend most of their time darting around the tank.

These fish swim in the middle of the water column and enjoy playing and hiding in underwater vegetation. The more comfortable a neon tetra feels in its environment, the less frequently the fish will hide.

Neon Tetra Care & Tank Requirements

A school of neon tetras swimming near the bottom of the aquarium

Caring for neon tetras is easy. Neon tetras are hardy fish that can adapt to brackish and clearwater environments, but a clean freshwater tank setup will ensure that the fish thrive in captivity.

Neon tetras are omnivores and have a varied diet in the wild, which you should replicate in your home aquarium.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

In the wild, neon tetras live in tropical flowing waters, with dense vegetation that includes floating plants and roots. You should replicate this habitat in the tank by providing low-light hiding places for your neon tetra.

Decorate your neon tetra tank with floating plants like hornwort and Java moss. These plants create shady, secluded hideaways that neon tetras enjoy. Driftwood can also be used to provide hiding places for the fish.

Neon tetras don’t spend much time digging in the substrate, so the choice of substrate isn’t as important to neon tetras as it is for bottom-dwelling fish. However, a dark substrate such as black sand will make your neon tetra feel at home and will showcase the fish’s beautiful neon coloring.

Darkening three sides of the aquarium’s glass helps to mimic the neon tetra’s low-light, wild habitat.

Tank Conditions

The ideal tank conditions for neon tetras are:

Water type:Hard, freshwater
Tank size:Minimum 10 gallons, and one extra gallon of water for every additional fish
Water temperature:70–81°F
Substrate:Sand, rocks, pebbles
Tank setup:Floating plants, caves
Acidity:6.0–7.0 pH
Water hardness:2–10 dkH
Filter:Helpful because filters aerate the water and reduce the risk of disease, but not necessary because neon tetras survive without filtration
Bubbler:No, as long as you have enough plants and a filter, which will do enough work without a bubbler
Lighting:No, neon tetras prefer dark environments
Water heater:Yes, to ensure a consistent tropical water temperature

Although neon tetras adapt well to tank environments, you shouldn’t add neon tetras to a startup tank because the fish don’t tolerate changes to the water chemistry. Add neon tetras to a fully-mature tank to ensure the fish thrive in their environment.

Disease

In poor tank conditions or stressful environments, neon tetras are prone to several common aquarium diseases:

Neon Tetra Disease

Neon tetra disease is so-called because the disease was first identified in neon tetras. Caused by a Microsporidian parasite, neon tetra disease causes restlessness, loss of coloration, cysts, difficulty swimming, and, in advanced cases, a curved spine. The parasite that causes neon tetra disease spreads when fish eat infected live foods.

There is no known cure for neon tetra disease, so you should remove all affected fish from the tank to prevent the disease from spreading to the entire tank population.

Ich

Ich, otherwise called ick or white spot disease, is a parasitic disease caused by the protozoan Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Fish with ich have white, salt-like spots on their bodies, tails, and fins, and rub their bodies against rough surfaces to relieve the itching.

To treat ich, quarantine the affected fish in a separate tank. Add one tablespoon of salt per five gallons of water to the tank and increase the water temperature by two degrees.

Fin and Tail Rot

Neon tetras housed in poor water conditions are at risk of developing fin rot and tail rot. This disease begins at the ends of the fins or tail and gradually works its way towards the fish’s body, causing the fins to become ragged and frayed.

Treat fin rot by carrying out a complete water change and using antibiotics if recommended by your veterinarian.

Tank Mates

Neon tetras are peaceful and passive, making them suitable tank mates for a variety of fish species.

Similarly-sized, bottom-dwelling, non-aggressive fish can be added to a community tank with neon tetras.

Great tank mates for neon tetras include:

Non-fish tank mates for neon tetras include:

Neon tetras are a schooling species, so make sure your neon tetras are housed in groups of six or more before considering other fish species for the tank.

Diet and Feeding

A large school of neon tetras among aquarium plants
In the wild, neon tetras are omnivores, eating a varied diet of meat and fish. Depending on the food source available in the fish’s habitat, a neon tetra will feed on insect larvae, small insects, algae, and other plant matter.

You should replicate the neon tetra’s diet by providing a similarly varied selection of animal- and plant-based foods in the tank.

Good-quality fish flakes that are fortified with vitamins and minerals are a staple food to feed neon tetras. Several times per week, feed neon tetras live or frozen foods like bloodworms, daphnia, tubifex, and brine shrimp. Cut live food into small pieces to prevent the neon tetras from having problems swallowing the food.

Make sure your neon tetras get enough plant foods in their diet. Feed the fish algae wafers, grapes, cucumbers, and strawberries up to three times per week.

From six months old, neon tetras should be fed twice a day. Provide enough food for the tetras to eat for two minutes, then discard the uneaten food to maintain good water quality. Overfeeding neon tetras can make the fish sick, so stick to a feeding schedule and don’t put too much food into the tank.

Breeding

Breeding neon tetras is difficult because specific water parameters are required to trigger mating. Experienced aquarists will have more luck than will beginners with breeding these fish in a home aquarium.

How to Breed Neon Tetras

To breed neon tetras, follow these steps:

  1. Select a healthy male and female neon tetra. The fish should both be at least 12 weeks old and ready for breeding.
  2. In the evening, place the tetras in a dedicated breeding tank. The tank should have a reduced pH level of between 5.0 and 6.0, and the water temperature should be reduced to 75°F. Place a filter in the tank and move the tank to a low-light location.
  3. Allow the tetras to remain in the breeding tank for up to two days. If the fish aren’t breeding, make sure the water temperature and pH are just right, and make the water softer than normal to mimic rainfall season in the wild.
  4. After two days, if the tetras still haven’t spawned, add a large amount of soft water to the tank.
  5. If breeding is still unsuccessful, replace the female with another female and continue to adjust the tank conditions.
  6. If successful, a male and female will spawn behind a plant or in a cave, and the female will scatter up to 130 translucent eggs across the substrate and plants in the tank.
  7. As soon as you see the eggs, remove the parents from the tank to prevent the fish from eating their babies.
  8. Up to 50 of the eggs will hatch after about 24 hours.
  9. Baby tetras are light-sensitive, so you should keep the fish in the dark for their first five days.
  10. The baby neon tetras will find enough nutrition for their first three days of life by eating their egg sacs.
  11. For their first three months following the first three days of feeding on their egg sacs, feed the baby fish special fry food and baby brine shrimp.
  12. After three months, place the babies in the home tank with the adult fish.

Should You Get a Neon Tetra for Your Aquarium?

Neon tetras are peaceful, hardy fish that are suitable for beginners and experienced aquarists. You should get a neon tetra for your aquarium if you have a freshwater tank with enough room for a school of at least six fish.

If your tank houses large or aggressive fish, either don’t get a neon tetra or establish a separate tank to house these tetras. As long as neon tetras are kept in peaceful community tanks with the right water conditions, the fish will thrive in a home aquarium.

Neon Tetra FAQs

About Robert 465 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.

48 Comments

  1. Lily says:

    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. Joseph says:

    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?

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Joseph, have you cycled your tank for at least 4 weeks before adding any fish? You can learn how to do that here: https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/how-to-set-up-a-fish-tank/ Thanks, Robert

    • Ato Yuuki says:

      i cycled my tank for about 2 weeks and the tetra seems fine to the though? or maybe the soil creates PH level over the limit? my old fishes almost died when i 1st added in the soil without filtering them 1 week early.

    • Katie says:

      Tank is too small need at least a 10-20 gallon minimum.

  3. Michael Teasdale says:

    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.

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      What type of Gouramis are you keeping? It is possible that some species are not compatible with your Tetras. Thanks, Robert

    • deddy says:

      add some more mate, they tend to hide if their number are low

  4. Selena says:

    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.

    • Brandy says:

      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. Brandon says:

    How many neons can i put in a 39 gal?

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Brandon, You can keep between 20-30. Thanks, Robert

  6. sudhir says:

    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

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      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

      • Jeanette Lodge says:

        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?

  7. Jenni says:

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

    • Fishkeeping World says:

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

      • Kelly says:

        I bought a 5 gallon tank. Water is cycling. I’m hoping for 6 tetras and a pleco/ suckermouth fish.
        Is this too small a tank to keep everyone happy?

  8. Braydon says:

    I have a 10 gallon tank, what would the max be for that?

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Braydon, you can keep 6 Neon Tetras in a 10 gallon tanks. Thanks, Robert

    • Dhivyan says:

      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.

      • Shamala says:

        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!

      • Sean says:

        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.

  9. Emily says:

    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?

    • Ashley S says:

      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.

  10. Max Stein says:

    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.

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Max, yes this could be possible. It sounds like a great setup. Thanks for sharing, Robert

  11. Sabina Saari says:

    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.
    Cheers,
    Sabina

  12. Sabina Saari says:

    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.
    Cheers,
    Sabina

  13. Andrew Duncan says:

    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?

  14. Val says:

    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.

  15. Jonas says:

    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
    Jonas

  16. Nac says:

    Hi, hom much neon and fire tetra fish should i keep in the 12 gallon tank.

  17. Nac says:

    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.

  18. Chris says:

    How many times and amount for 12 tetras in my tank

  19. Sohan says:

    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 …

  20. Himanshu says:

    Can I put tetras in bowls?

  21. Michael Pilkington says:

    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?

    Thanks!

  22. Cesar Nevarez says:

    Can I keep Neon Tetras with cherry and ghost shrimps?

  23. Nila says:

    Can ten of these live in a ten gallon with a Chinese algae eater ?

  24. Roisin says:

    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!

  25. Emma says:

    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

  26. Anonymous says:

    If I keep a betta fish with some neon tetras, what should the temperature be?

  27. Anonymous says:

    How big does a fish tank need to be if I want to keep a betta fish and 4 neon tetras?

  28. Quinn says:

    Can I keep 7 neon tetras and a Honey Gourami along with some other fish in a 10 gallon tank?

  29. Ty says:

    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

  30. 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

  31. Tyler says:

    Do you think that a 5 gallon Betta tank would work? Is there anything that I NEED to make sure my neon tetra survives?

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