Neon tetras are among the most popular pet fish species today. Moreover, they present the breed which is being reproduced in captivity more than any other breed.

They are small, adorable and easy to care about, and they certainly make one of the first choices among many first-time keepers.

But how did they manage to become so wanted among many aquarium enthusiasts? And where do neon tetras come from in the first place?

Neon Tetra Natural Habitat

These amazingly colored fish are descendants from the streams across the Amazon basin of South America. Nowadays, they can still be found in Colombia, Peru and Brazil. They were first discovered back in 1936 when they were brought to South America by George S. Myers, a well-known ichthyologist.

This peculiar species enjoys spending its life among the streams of blackwater, although it can often be seen in clearwater as well. Therefore, these fish have a natural preference for acidic water and warm temperatures.

Furthermore, such streams usually flow among dense forests and rich vegetation, often blocking the sunshine and offering a mostly dark environment.

As a consequence, they have evolved in such way to feature super-bright coloration over their iridescent bodies, with the main purpose of being able to recognize their own kind among the lush vegetation.

That is why neon tetras love having plenty of live plants across their captivity aquariums, too. Moreover, they are not big fans of direct sunlight, which can cause temperature shocks and deprive them of ideal health conditions.

Wild Neon Tetra Diet

These tiny fish are omnivorous creatures, meaning that they can feed both on greens and meat. In the wild, they will happily nip on various algae which they find across the blackwater streams, but they also are on the look for tiny invertebrates and insects, as well as their larvae.

Such meals can be re-created in captivity by providing them high-quality pellets or flakes as their core diet.

Additionally, they will accept any tasty treat which gets offered to them, including brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms, cucumber, peas, zucchini, and many other. They can eat both frozen and live snacks.

Neon Tetra Tank Size

Luckily, these amazing little creatures do not require lots of space in captivity. Indeed, a general thumb rule to apply successfully implies that 1 inch of neon tetra fish should have 1 gallon of water at disposal.

And since these pets are mostly around 1 inch in length, the math is pretty easy. If you have a school of 6 to 10 fish, a 10-gallon tank will do simply fine.

An important factor to consider when adopting neons is that they are schooling fish. This means that placing less than 6 specimens inside a tank will not lead to a functional community, and they can quickly become either aggressive towards others or fall into severe depression.

Therefore, please always consider allowing enough tank space for an entire school of neon tetras to live happily in there.

Some owners like to keep smaller groups in 5-gallon tanks, which is fine when it comes to the size, but it makes really difficult to maintain stable water parameters.

Spikes or any larger oscillations can seriously disrupt the wellbeing of these fish, so it is vitally important to avoid such situations whenever possible.

Neon Tetra vs Cardinal Tetra

Although belonging to the same family and being confused quite frequently, neon tetras are a bit different from cardinal tetras.

The most visible appearance difference between the two stands in the length of the red-colored stripe.

While neon tetras feature horizontal stripes which begin at the mid-body length and end at the tail, cardinal tetras have visibly longer red stripes which extend all the way from their eyes to their tails.

Adding to that, cardinals are slightly larger than neons, usually managing to grow about half-inch longer. And they also seem to be slightly more expensive in the aquarist industry.

Also, even if both breeds are extremely sensitive to any water parameter modifications, cardinal tetras tend to be even more delicate and demand therefore a bit of extra attention from their humans.

Wild Caught Neon Tetras

So, can you actually purchase wild caught neon tetras at pet stores? No, that is not the case. In fact, most of the neon tetras that we are able of adopting into our homes have been bred substantially for generations, and less than 5% of the pet neon tetras around our world have been actually caught from the wild.

Which is a good thing, as wild neons are able that way of staying exactly where they belong: in the wild.

Additionally, captive breeding has certainly led to modern neon tetras being much more resistant to aquarium water conditions. Indeed, placing a wild neon inside a tank that does not offer the perfect requirements would probably bring to its death quickly.

Captive-bred tetras, on the other side, are more adaptable and have much higher chances of survival as pets.

And finally, pet neon tetras are able of living for many happy years with their humans and can often endure up to 5 years. However, wild neons can live up to the surprisingly long 10 years.

Wrapping Up

Neon tetras are one of the best examples of how such tiny and simple creatures can awaken so much attention from human beings.

Indeed, they are today among the most widely spread pet species around the world, and they will most likely never go out of style. In fact, they can only keep entertaining their human owners over the years.

Even if categorized as the same species, captive-bred neon tetras are slightly different from wild ones, and these are excellent news. This only means that the wild fish are still belonging to their natural habitats, where they should be.

On the contrary, those that are bred on purpose will endure better into their captivity tanks. And the best part is, there is no big need to worry about animal endangerment here. A win-win situation for everyone.

Written by Fabian

Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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