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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Neon Tetra Facts & Overview
|Color:||Blue, red, translucent|
|Minimum Tank Size:||10 gallons|
|Tank Setup:||Freshwater with plants|
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.
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.
The neon tetra has a slender body with sensational, bright 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
- Gouramis (avoid the giant, opaline, and pearl gouramis)
- Small catfish (e.g. cory catfish)
- Dwarf cichlids
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.
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:
- Brine shrimp
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.
Neon tetras may also pick up other common freshwater diseases, many of which can cause problems for most popular aquarium species.
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 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.
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.