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Neon Tetra Care: Everything You Need To Know

Neon Tetra Care: Everything You Need To Know

Neon Tetras will make a striking addition to your tank. These hardy little guys are active, vibrantly colored, and great for beginners, so they’re very popular. Caring for them is easy as long as you know what to do.

Neon Tetras are tropical freshwater fish that are very popular as pets. They’re best known for their small, vibrantly colored bodies and peaceful nature. With their playful antics, they really are a lot of fun to watch as they zip around the tank.

If you use everything you learn in this guide, your Neon Tetra will surely thrive. I made sure to cover water parameters, common health issues, and more. Here’s what you need to know!

Neon Tetra Overview and Natural Habitat

  • Common name: Neon Tetra
  • Scientific name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • Care level: Easy
  • Size: 1.5 inches (3.8 cm)
  • Lifespan: Two to three years
  • Temperament: Calm
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group size: 6 to 12
  • Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
  • Tank level: Middle dweller
  • Water temperature: 75-80°F (24-27°C)
  • Water pH levels: 6.8 to 7.8
  • Water hardness: 2 to 10 dGH; 1 to 2 dKH

Neon Tetras are tropical freshwater schooling fish, so you’ll want to keep them in a large group. The typical Neon Tetra is calm and peaceful, making them great for community tanks. They’re known for being vibrantly colored and active swimmers. Since these tetras are also easy to care for, they’re popular with beginners.

In the wild, Neon Tetras are found in the Amazon basins in South America, usually in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. They are brightly colored to be visible to each other in blackwaters, which are slow-moving rivers passing through forested areas that are usually dark. However, you can also find these tetras in some clear-water rivers.

George S. Myers, a famous ichthyologist, imported the first Neon Tetras from South America in 1936. Today most Neon Tetras are brighter and smaller than their wild counterparts due to breeding under controlled conditions.

Neon Tetra Appearance and Size

Neon Tetras are very easy to identify. They have small torpedo-shaped bodies and vivid blue and red stripes on their bodies. The top of their body is usually dark, and they have a white or silver belly.

Neon Tetras are commonly confused with Cardinal Tetras. The two are similar in size and color, although the Neon Tetra’s red stripe starts about halfway through the length of its body and ends at the tail. Cardinal Tetras’ red streak is along their entire body.

These tiny fish are among the most popular pet fish today, so you’ve likely seen them before. Most adult Neon Tetras are between 1.2 to 1.5 inches (about 3 to 3.8 cm) long, and it only takes a few months for them to reach that size.

Difference Between Males and Females

It can be challenging to differentiate between males and females due to their small size. However, there are a few characteristics you can look for that make it easier:

  • Females are rounder, and males are straight and slender. 
  • Females have a slightly curved blue stripe, while males have a straight streak.
  • Males usually have brighter lines than females.
  • Males have longer dorsal (the fin on top) and anal (the fin underneath close to the tail fin) fins than females.

It’s almost impossible to identify the sex of Neon Tetras before they reach sexual maturity, which takes about five months. You’ll start noticing more and more of the above differences as the fish grow up.

Male and female tetras are also very close in size, although the females can be slightly larger. For most hobbyists, the easiest way to tell them apart is by the shape of their bodies— the stripes on the females tend to curve due to their rounder bellies.

Since Neon Tetras are non-aggressive schooling fish, you can safely keep males together without worry. 

Neon Tetra Personality and Behavior

Neon Tetras are small, peaceful fish that can be very active. They travel in schools and zip around the tank. You can tell if your tetras are healthy and happy because they’ll be very energetic.

These fish aren’t territorial, so you don’t need to worry about them fighting each other. They may occasionally show aggression when mating or feeding, but that’s it. They’re primarily calm fish and get along well with other species that are similar in size, making them excellent tank mates.

Neon Tetras can become very stressed though when in small schools. They may lash out at other fish, hide, and stop eating. You can prevent this by ensuring you have at least six tetras in your tank, but the more you can add, the better.

They are much more active during the day. This behavior makes them more appealing to many people because they can watch their tetras when they’re the most energetic.

They’ll also be much more vibrant during the day since they can dull their colors when they want to sleep. You’ll notice your Neon Tetras sleeping huddled at the bottom of their tank with their eyes open during the night. They need between 12 and 14 hours of light to keep a steady wake-and-sleep pattern, which you can provide with an aquarium light.

Neon Tetras are not foraging fish and like to spend most of their waking hours in the middle section of their tank. If you notice them searching the substrate, they’re likely hungry, and you should feed them.

Neon Tetra Expected Lifespan

Neon Tetras live about two to three years in most aquariums. In saying that, if you care for them well, they can live between five and eight years, a big difference. You’d need to ensure they’re never stressed and always have their preferred water conditions.

This species actually lives a lot longer in the wild than they do as pets. Generally, they can live up to 10 years in their natural habitat, almost twice their lifespan in an aquarium. So, the more consistent you keep their water conditions, the longer they’ll live.

Overall, these tetras are pretty hardy fish. They can resist many diseases and are adaptable to changes in water conditions, allowing them to live long lives in the right setting.

Neon Tetra Care and Tank Set Up

Neon Tetras are excellent fish for beginners. Once you know how to care for them and set up their tank, it’s an easy, fun process. Taking the time to choose the food they like and creating the best environment for them will keep them happy and healthy.

Tank Size

The minimum tank size for Neons is 10 gallons. However, you’ll need a 20-gallon for them for a larger school.

Since they’re so small, many people new to keeping fish as pets think a 5-gallon tank will be enough for a Neon Tetra. But that’s not true because you must fit a school of them in your aquarium.

Leaving a single tetra in a small tank would cause it much stress. It would probably hide most of the time and wouldn’t live long.

If you try to put the smallest recommended school size of Neon Tetras in a 5-gallon tank, it will be too overcrowded. This can cause several issues, including severe stress and aggression in your fish. The water can also become toxic and not have enough oxygen for your fish, which is very dangerous for them.

So, you’ll want to choose a tank that’s at least 10 gallons. You can always go bigger if you plan on keeping larger schools of tetras.

How Many Neon Tetras Are Suitable for a 10-Gallon Tank?

It’s suitable to keep six or seven Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon tank. Generally, an inch (2.54 cm) of fish needs a gallon of water to live comfortably. Since Neons are about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm), you can safely keep six in 10 gallons of water.

So, if you want to keep a school larger than that, you’ll want to upgrade to a 20-gallon tank. Using the same rule, 20-gallon tanks are suitable for housing around 13 Neon Tetras, and 15-gallon tanks can have 10.

You must ensure your fish have enough room to swim, so it’s usually better to round down than up when determining your school size.

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 75-80°F (24-27°C)
  • Water pH levels: 6.8 to 7.8
  • Water hardness: 2 to 10 dGH; 1 to 2 dKH

Once you have your tank, you’ll need to fill it with water following the parameters for Neon Tetras. You’ll need to manage the conditions of water temperature, pH, and hardness. If you do that, your fish will be healthier and more active.

These are the specific water parameters for Neon Tetras:

Water Temperature

These tetras like their water between 75-80°F (24-27°C). You may not need a tank heater if your home is warm enough consistently. However, you’ll want one if you keep it under 75°F (24°C).

An excellent option for a tank heater is the Tetra Submersible Aquarium Heater from It keeps the water at 78°F (25.5°C), which is fine for tetras. The heater uses 50W, is suitable for 10-gallon tanks, and turns off when it reaches the set temperature.

Since these fish are tropical, they like warmer water. You still must be careful not to go too high above 78°F (25.5°C) because that can hurt your fish.

Water pH Level

The optimal water pH for a Neon Tetra is 6.5, although they do well when the water is between 6.0 and 7.0. On the pH scale, 7.0 is neutral, so these tetras like their water just barely acidic. 

Keeping the pH consistent is essential when raising fish. Any sudden spikes or drops in pH can harm your fish and is often fatal for them.

It’s best to set up your tank before adding the fish. You can adjust the water parameters until it’s more suitable for the tetras. Adding chemicals to the water can change its pH quickly, but there are slower, more natural ways to do this too.

For example, leaving the water in an open container for several days causes it to aerate and lowers the pH some. Alternatively, you can raise the pH by adding peat moss to the water.

No matter what, you need to test the water’s pH before adding your fish to the aquarium. So, having a pH test kit on-hand is a good idea. Many of these kits can test nitrites and nitrates as well.

Water Hardness

Neon Tetras need to be in soft water. Ideally, their water should be kept between 1 to 2 dKH and 2 to 10 dGH.

dKH refers to the carbonate hardness, or alkalinity, of the water. While dGH refers to general hardness, which comes from the levels of magnesium and calcium in the water.

You can lower the general hardness by wrapping peat moss in mesh and putting it in your filter. The moss slowly absorbs some of the minerals, and you can easily remove it later. It shouldn’t change the water enough to shock your fish, either.

Performing water changes, adding chemicals or baking soda to the water can also lower the alkalinity. 

Keeping the water hardness at the correct level for Neon Tetras is essential to their health. They can become stressed and sick if it’s wrong for too long.

Water Current

Some tetra species like having water flow in their tank because they naturally come from moving bodies of water. However, Neon Tetras don’t like being in currents much.

They prefer to have light water flow in some areas of the tank but need areas with still water to rest. Since they’re tiny, they don’t like strong currents. You can easily tell if the water flow is too strong because your tetras will huddle in one area of the tank.

Lastly, Neon Tetras are playful and zoom around in light currents for fun. So, you should try to include slow-flowing water if you can, but you need to check that you don’t make it too powerful.

What To Put in the Tank

Next, you’ll need to know what to put in the tank. Neon Tetras like having many plants to hide in because they’re prey fish. You can help them feel more at home by including them.

You’ll also want to add substrate, decorations, and lighting to build a comfortable tank for your fish.


You can usually get away with using most substrates in a Neon Tetra tank because these fish won’t forage on the bottom. However, using a substrate that isn’t small enough for them to swallow is still a good idea.

Rocks, pebbles, and gravel are acceptable for these tetras. You could use sand, too, since they shouldn’t dig in it much. And if they do, the sand is small enough that it won’t harm them.

You will want to choose a dark substrate, however. Neon Tetras naturally live in dark waters, so they feel more comfortable with dark substrates than light ones. Dark materials will make the fish stand out more and appear more vibrant.


Tetras like to have lots of hiding places in their environment. You’ll need to offer them plenty of caves to escape to. Small terracotta pots and store-bought caves from pet shops are perfect. 

That said, you can always build DIY caves for your fish. Set a pipe on the substrate and cover it with decorative stone and plants to blend it with your tank.

Driftwood is another great decoration for Neons because it can darken and soften the water while providing hiding spots. It also looks great and makes a tank appear more natural.

Of course, if you don’t want a natural tank, you can add castles, pirate ships, and other fun decorations to your aquarium. You just need to make sure your Neon Tetras have options regarding hiding.

Ideal Plants

Plants that filter light will make your Neon Tetras feel more at home in your aquarium. Plus, they can provide more hiding spaces, and you can build a gorgeous tank using them. 

Water lettuce is one of the best options. It thrives in similar water conditions to what tetras like and floats on the water’s surface. The leaves filter some light, and Neon Tetras love swimming through the stems.

You will need to avoid letting the water lettuce overgrow, though. If that happens, it can block too much light, leaving your tetras in the dark 24/7. Simply cut them back with clean pruning shears when they spread too much.

Brazilian pennywort is another excellent choice since it’s straightforward to care for and floats. It prefers the same water parameters as tetras and helps filter light.

Lastly, add Ludwigia repens to the tank for more color contrast. This red plant is easy to care for, provides a lot of oxygen, and makes many hiding places for your fish. However, you will need to avoid putting it in sand substrate since it can damage the roots.


You will need to control the lighting in the tank for your Neon Tetras. I recommend blacking out the sides and back of the tank to help prevent some light from your room from shining in. Then, set an aquarium light on a timer for 12 hours during the day and off for 12 hours at night.

Doing so will get your tetras on a routine and keep their circadian rhythm healthy.

Neon Tetras also prefer filtered light, so you’ll want some floating plants in the tank to prevent them from becoming stressed.


You may not need a heater, depending on where you live and how warm it is in your home. However, you must add one if you can’t keep the tank above 75°F (24°C).

Water heaters for small tanks like the ones you’d use for your tetras are easy to set up. You must ensure it’s facing the right way and not touching any plants for decorations in the aquarium. 


Sponge filters are best for Neon Tetras in smaller tanks since they don’t create a powerful current.

While these fish are small and have a minimal bioload impact, you still want a filter for removing uneaten food and other waste from the tank. Tetras don’t eat much at once, so overfeeding them is easy. Plus, having a filter provides a space for good bacteria to grow and help your tank.

You’ll want to consider a hang-on back filter if you have a larger fish tank. However, you’ll need to ensure it has a filter guard in place and won’t create too strong of a current for your fish first.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

The best Neon Tetra tank mates are other small, peaceful fish. Neons are very tiny, causing them to be targets of larger fish. Big fish can even eat them, so never put any larger than four inches (10.16 cm) in the tank.

The best tank mates are other tetras, but you will want enough of each species to form their own schools.

You can also try Zebra Danios, Harlequin Rasboras, and Guppies. All of these fish are peaceful and get along well. Cherry Shrimp are another fantastic tank mate, and they’ll even clean up after your Neon Tetras.

Tank Mates To Avoid

Never put large or aggressive fish in with your Neons. Cichlids are too aggressive and will lash out quickly.

Betta fish can also be too aggressive unless you have a large enough school of tetras. Bettas can become stressed from how active the Neons are too.

Neon Tetras are also fin nippers, meaning they chase and bite at other fish with long, flowing tails, so you’ll want to avoid those species as well.

Neon Tetra Food and Diet

Neon Tetras are omnivores, so they have a diverse diet. You can feed them fish flakes, shrimp pellets, and dried bloodworms. 

It’s essential to feed them only small amounts of food. Only give them enough to eat within a few minutes to reduce waste. Then, feed them multiple times during the day. 

Most aquarists recommend feeding them three or four times daily due to their high metabolism.

Breeding Neon Tetras

To breed your Neons, you must first set up a separate tank. Make sure to add some live plants. You’ll also want to change the water parameters slightly from the conditions of their regular aquarium. 

It’s also essential that the tank comes with a top because the fish tend to jump when breeding.

Then, you should alter the water parameters to have a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. The water hardness can stay the same at 1 to 2 dGH.

Before adding your tetras to the breeding tank, you should condition them by giving them higher-quality food. Live food is best if you want them to breed soon.

Neon Tetra Common Health Issues

There are some health issues that Neon Tetras can get that you’ll need to be aware of. While it’s best to prevent them, you can always provide treatment if you know what to do.


Ich is one of the most common diseases of any pet fish. It’s a parasitic infection that can happen in freshwater fish. When Neon Tetras are stressed, they are much more likely to get ich since their immune system is lower.

Ich Symptoms

If your Neon Tetras have ich, you’ll notice themselves rubbing on objects in their aquarium. A few days later, the fish will have a rash and white patches along their body. 

They will also have less energy, no appetite, and may appear to struggle to breathe.

Ich is serious and can kill schools of fish in short amounts of time. Early treatment is the best method to prevent it from spreading.

Ich Treatment

Ich spreads quickly, so you’ll need to treat the entire tank. Some recommend using heat treatments, but you shouldn’t for tetras. It would require you to heat the tank up to 86°F(30°C) for at least two weeks, which is too hot for Neons.

Instead, you’ll want to find ich medication. There are many different options, and they’re very effective; just follow the instructions on the container. When using the medicine, you often want to raise the temperature of the water by two degrees to destroy the parasite faster.

Neon Tetra Disease (NTD)

This sickness is common in Neon Tetras, giving it the name. Neon Tetra Disease, or NTD, is a degenerative condition resulting from parasites. It can become fatal very quickly.

NTD Symptoms

As the parasite grows, it usually causes the same symptoms in this order:

  1. The tetra becomes restless at night.
  2. The tetra stops schooling.
  3. The tetra starts losing its color in certain sections of its body.
  4. The tetra forms cysts.
  5. The tetra starts swimming in unusual or erratic patterns.
  6. The spine can become curved and deformed.

NTD Treatment

Sadly, you can’t treat NTD. It is very contagious, so you’ll need to quickly quarantine any sick fish in a separate tank.

Since you can treat NTD, your only option is prevention.

NTD Prevention

You’ll want to buy your fish from reputable sellers and inspect their Neon tanks whenever you can. Don’t buy fish from tanks with dead tetras and ones separate from the school.

Once you have your new fish, quarantine them in a different tank for at least two weeks before adding them to an existing tank. Doing so allows you to check for any NTD symptoms.

If a fish dies in your tank, you must remove it immediately. NTD spreads when fish start to pick at the body.

Finally, try to buy high-quality food to avoid it being contaminated.

Are Neon Tetras Right For You?

Neon Tetras are perfect for most people. They’re effortless to care for and are ideal for beginners. Although, many experienced fishkeepers raise them too. 

These fish are also a lot of fun to observe. They’re active, playful, and brightly colored but still have a calm temperament.

Overall, Neon Tetras are versatile fish and great for anyone! You’re sure to love them.

Neon Tetra FAQs

What Do Neon Tetras Need in Their Tank?

Neon Tetras need places to hide in their tank, or they can become stressed. They also need some open areas so they can swim freely. Including some planted areas and decorations can help.

Tetras need the standard filter and heater setup that most other fish need. Having them will keep the tank clean and warm for them.

How Do I Know if My Neon Tetra Is Happy?

You’ll know that your Neon Tetra is happy if they swim energetically through the water during the day. They’re likely stressed or sick if they spend all their time hiding or in one spot at the bottom of the tank.

Healthy, happy Neons are also much more brightly colored than stressed or sick ones.

How Often Should I Feed Neon Tetras?

You should feed your Neon Tetras two to four times daily during their waking hours. You’ll want to feed them only a minimal amount when you do. It’s also best to try spacing their meals out as evenly as possible.

Be careful, as overfeeding can cause health issues and dirty your water. So, feeding them enough that all the food is gone in about two minutes is best.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Neon Tetras are easy to care for, especially when you know all the steps. These fish are so much fun to have and make excellent tank mates for various other fish, making them one of the most popular species to have as pets.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...