Neon Tetra Care & Species Profile

The neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a small, freshwater fish that’s part of the tetra family and is native to South America.

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

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

Want to learn more? Download our free guide on neon tetras.

Neon Tetra Facts & Overview

Neon Tetra

CategoryRating
Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful
Color:Blue, red, translucent
Lifespan:~8 Years
Size:~1.5 inches
Diet:Omnivore
Family:Characidae
Minimum Tank Size:10 gallons
Tank Setup:Freshwater with plants
Compatibility:Universally compatible

The neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), also known as the neon fish, was first discovered back in 1934 in the Amazon jungles of South America. They originated from the clear and blackwater streams of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

Neon tetras are freshwater fish that belong to the Characidae family and are known for their dazzling colors and energetic temperament.

These fish are so popular among aquarists that nearly 2 million are sold in the US each month, with the vast majority of these fish being bred in captivity.

Neon tetras are great, non-aggressive, community fish that spend most of their time dwelling in the middle of the water column.

These fish should generally be kept in schools with at least 15 members. Schools of fewer than 15 can make neons feel threatened and stressed.

Typical Behavior

Neon tetras 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, neon tetras live until they are around 8 years old. However, in aquariums, neon tetras generally live for around 5 years.

Appearance

Neon Tetra

The neon tetra has a slender body with sensational, bright coloring.

Colors

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 their brilliant blue line, they also have a red stripe that runs from the middle of their bodies down to their caudal fin. This bright iridescence helps the fish see and locate each other in murky water conditions.

The unique color combination of neon tetras 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 transparency helps them hide from predators. When they feel threatened, they can also fade their red/blue iridescent hues to stay inconspicuous and safe. Their coloring will also fade at night, and when they are sleeping or sick.

Body

Neon tetras have spindle-like bodies and rounded noses. They also have large eyes that take up much of the space of their head.

Neons can grow up to 2.5 inches long. However, the average size of a neon tetra is around 1.5 inches, with females growing to be slightly shorter than males.

Cardinal Tetra vs Neon Tetra

Neon tetras are often confused with cardinal tetras, which is another closely related species of tetra fish.

In order to tell the difference between neon tetras and cardinal tetras, you can see that the vibrant red horizontal line of the neon tetra only runs from the middle of its body to its tail.

On cardinal tetras, the red line runs across the entire length of their bodies.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

Neon Tetras

Natural Habitat

Neon tetras are native to the warm rivers of South America in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. The greatest populations of tetras can be found in the Amazon River basin.

These rivers generally flow through thick forests with dense canopies that block out a lot of natural daylight. Within these dark waters, there are generally lots of fallen leaves, vegetation, and tree roots. Because their natural habitat is so dark and murky, neon tetras developed vivid coloration to help them identify their fellow fish in these dark murky waters.

In the wild, neon tetras live primarily in schools and spend their time in the middle water layers feeding on worms, insects, and crustaceans.

Tank Conditions

In order to provide the best living conditions for your neon tetras, you need to try to imitate their natural habitat in your tank.

Therefore, your neon tetra tank should be heavily planted. You can also use driftwood to help create more shade and darkness. You should also make sure that your substrate is dark in color. You can use small rocks and pebbles like what you’d find in the river bed.

Tetras are very sensitive to changes in water conditions, so newly cycled tanks are not suitable for neon tetras. Generally, changes in the water chemistry during this time will kill your fish. You should only add tetras to an established, matured tank.

Ideal water conditions for neon tetras are as follows:

  • The water temperature should be between 70°F to 81°F
  • The pH level should be between 7.0 and 6.0
  • Water hardness should be maintained at less than 10 dGH

Neons prefer subdued lighting that mimics the dark, murky waters of their natural habitat. A low-watt fluorescent light can be used. You should provide two watts of light per gallon of water.

Neon tetras produce a very small bioload, so their filtering needs are minimal. A regular sponge filter is all you need.

Finally, you should try to perform a 25% water change each week. Make sure not to exceed this recommendation, as too much or too frequent water changes can be deadly for neons.

What Size Tank Do Neon Tetras Need?

The size of tank you need for neon tetras depends on the number of neons you intend to keep.

The smallest size tank you can use for neons is 10 gallons. However, if you intend on keeping the minimum recommended number of tetras, which is 15, then you should get a tank that is at least 20 gallons or larger.

Tank Mates

Neon tetras are very peaceful, passive fish. The only exception to this is when they are mating.

Neons are the perfect community fish, and a school of them really helps to bring vibrant colors to your tank.

Because neon tetras are 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 tetras.

The following fish are ideal tank mates for neon tetras:

The following fish should be avoided as tank mates:

A general 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 are happier and healthier when they are kept together.

If you’re planning to keep a school of tetras, you should keep at least 15-20 of them. You will need at least a 20-gallon aquarium for this number of them.

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

Diet

Neon Tetra Shoal

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

You will find neons 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 food.

High-quality pellets or flakes should make the core of your neon’s diet. You can supplement the flakes with live/frozen food offerings such as:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Tubifex

If you’re looking for ideas on how to get vegetables into their diet, learning how to make your own fish food is surprisingly easy.

As a general rule, you should only feed neon tetras extremely small pieces. When feeding them worms or shrimp, make sure to only feed them small ones, otherwise, your tetras can have problems trying to swallow them.

When your neons are young adults, you should aim to feed them as much as they can eat in three minutes twice a day. As they mature, you can reduce their feeding times to once a day and continue to follow the three-minute feeding guidance.

Neon Tetra Disease

Disease is fairly common among tetra fish, and neon tetra disease is one of the most common. There is also a disease called false neon tetra disease. Unfortunately, both diseases are fatal, and currently, no cure exists.

These diseases are named because they were first found in neon tetras. However, these diseases 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

Because there is no cure, if one of your fish catches this disease, it’s generally recommended that you destroy all the other fish in the tank. While devastating, this spares them the pain of getting the disease and dying a painful death.

As they say, the best cure is prevention.

To prevent these diseases, 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.

Other Diseases

Neon tetras may also pick up other common freshwater diseases, many of which can cause problems for most popular aquarium species.

Ich

Perhaps the most well know is white spot disease (also known as ich). This disease is easily spotted because it presents as white spots across the affected fish’s body.

It is caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.

Other symptoms include fatigue, a loss of appetite, and flashing (scratching against surfaces in the aquarium).

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a bacterial disease that can set in when your fish are stressed. Their fins will start to discolor and eventually, small pieces will start falling off.

Fin rot can be difficult to treat, so preventing it in the first place is the best tactic. Maintain a clean aquarium and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Swim Bladder Disease

Another common disease is swim bladder disease. You will know if your fish has this because they will be struggling to swim in an upright position.

There could be a few possible causes, such as injury, bacteria, a poor diet, or an unhealthy environment. Diagnosing the cause and fixing it is the first step to improving the health of your fish.

There are treatments available from pet stores for many common diseases. If possible, separate the infected fish into a quarantine tank before treatment to ensure that the medicines do not negatively affect any of their tank mates.

Breeding

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

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).

Should You Get a Neon Tetra for Your Aquarium?

You should definitely get a neon tetra if you have a freshwater tank and like the appearance and behavior of these fish.

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.

Neon Tetra FAQs

About Robert 394 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.

46 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

  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

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