Neon Tetra – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Size, Breeding

Neon tetras are small and colorful, and they make excellent pets for beginner aquarists. You can find these tetras in almost all pet stores. Neon tetras may be hardy, but you still need to maintain the right water conditions for them to thrive.

The popularity of the tetra is mostly credited to their lively colors. A bright neon-blue stripe is visible on the top half body. Below its white-silver belly is a bright red stripe that stretches to the tail.

The neon tetra has similar markings to those of the cardinal tetra, but the latter’s red stripe extends across the entire body.

Do not be alarmed when your neon tetra loses its color at night, as it fades when the fish is resting. When buying neon tetras, however, you want to avoid specimens with dull colors as it often indicates poor health.

Neon Tetra Natural Habitat

Neon tetras belong to the Characidae family. They are adapted to clearwater and blackwaters water bodies in the Amazon and Orinoco river systems.

Their populations have been recorded in various South American nations, including Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Neon tetras generally stay clear of the whitewater streams that originate from the Andes.

The waters in their natural habitats are soft and slightly acidic. The water temperature fluctuates between 20-26 °C as the rivers transverse through tropical areas.

Most wild-caught neon tetras are from Rio Solimões, which is the upstream region of the Amazon River.

Less than 5% of the neon tetras in the aquarium trade are caught from the wild. Most neon tetras in pet stores originate from large farms based in Hong-Kong, Singapore, and Thailand.

The fish has adapted to a variety of conditions due to being bred for commercial purposes.

Neon Tetra Fish Tank Requirements

Tank Size

Neon tetras will mostly reach 1-1.5 inches in aquariums. A single neon tetra will require two gallons, but they are schooling fish, and you should keep a small shoal in a minimum of 10 gallons.

A 20-gallon tank is ideal since it gives them room to swim together. It is also easier to maintain water quality in a larger setup.


Neon tetras swim in the middle of your tank, and the substrate choice will be based on preference. With fish as colorful as neon tetras, however, you want a dark bottom that will contrast beautifully with their bodies.

You can use gravel or sand, and you should invest in a plant-based substrate if keeping them in a planted aquarium.

Plants and Decorations

In the wild, neon tetras gravitate towards areas with dense vegetation. They will thrive in a planted setup with floating varieties like water lettuce and red river floaters to diffuse the light.

Choose plants that will survive in low-light and acidic conditions. Specimens to consider include Java moss, waterweed, pennywort, Amazon sword, ludwigia, and Java fern.

Plants will not only mimic the natural habitat of the fish, but they will absorb toxic elements and maintain water quality. The green color of live plants also contrasts well with the bright hues of the neon tetra.

Driftwood is popularly used to add shade in a neon tetra tank, and you can also use rocks and caves. You should ensure that the decorations do not have sharp edges to avoid injuring your fish.


Neon tetras are adapted to low to medium lighting. Provide two watts per gallon of fluorescent light. Floating plants will also dim the lights and create a calm environment for your fish.

Neon Tetra Water Conditions

Neon tetras are susceptible to unstable water parameters, and you should never add them to an immature tank. The fish will only thrive in a mature, stable, and well-cycled tank.

The tetras demand pristine conditions without ammonia or nitrites.

The water should be soft with the PH between 5.5-6.8 and the water hardness below 10 dGH. You can use a peat bag to lower the PH and slightly discolor the water.

Keep in mind that neon tetras are a tropical species, and they require warm water. A reliable heater will maintain the temperature range between 72-76 °F.

You can use a hang-on-back filter or a sponge model for filtration. Use a model that is specified for a larger tank since it is best to over-filter than under-filter.

Although neon tetras have a small bio-load, you still want to perform regular water changes.

Neon Tetra Diet and Feeding

Wild neon tetras sustain themselves on an omnivorous diet. You need high-quality pellets to form the basis of their diet since flakes may be unsuitable for their small mouths.

Neon tetras will also accept live foods in the form of daphnia, tubifex, blood worms, and brine shrimp.

Be careful with live foods as they can introduce the parasites that cause the neon tetra disease. Feed them small pieces of live meals as they can have difficulty swallowing larger ones.

If a neon tetra eats an infected meal, the parasites will begin to eat the muscles from the inside out. The quickest way to tell if a neon tetra is infected is if their colors start to fade.

Other symptoms include a lumpy exterior, restlessness, and difficulty swimming. The best way to avoid the neon tetra disease is to source live foods from trusted sources or to cultivate them yourself.

Neon tetras need to be fed daily as they are quite active. You can feed juveniles three times a day and scale back to twice a day as they grow older.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Neon tetras are a schooling fish, and keeping them singly will stress them. A stressed fish will develop a weak immune system and become susceptible to diseases.

Keep at least five of them or more in the same tank. You can also enjoy their bright colors as the school swims together.

Neon tetras have a peaceful temperament, which is why they are popular in community aquariums. They will generally not hurt any tank mates as they are shy and timid. Couple them with smaller fish that are peaceful as well.

The fish are often kept with other tetra kinds like cardinal tetras, black neons, and black skirt tetras.

You can couple them with the otocinclus catfish and the Corydoras catfish as well as with guppies, platies, clown plecos, and Bristlenose plecos.

If keeping them with gouramis, avoid the pearl, opaline, or giant. Neon tetras will also get along with freshwater snails and shrimp like the ghost shrimp or red cherry shrimp.

Do not keep neon tetras with cichlids, bettas, angelfish, or goldfish as they will be eaten or bullied.

Neon Tetra Breeding

It is tricky to breed neon tetras because they demand specific water conditions to mate. The parents will readily feed on the eggs and fry, which makes breeding even harder.

Sexing neon tetras is hard, although females appear rounder because of the eggs in their bellies. The blue stripe on the females will also appear curved if you look keenly.

Feed them protein-rich meals for about two weeks to condition them before spawning. High-protein will also encourage the females to lay eggs so that they can be easier to sex.

You should set up a separate breeding tank to increase the survival chances of the fry. The tank should be set up as follows:

  • A 10-gallon tank should be enough, and it should have a lid.
  • A sponge filter will provide gentle filtration- The filter should be fitted in the main tank for a few weeks to obtain beneficial bacteria. You can use an air pump or powerhead to boost oxygenation.
  • Tannins- Neon tetras need to feel comfortable for them to breed. Tannins will stain the water and add shade to the breeding tank. You can use leaf litter from oak as they will readily leak the tannins. Organic peat moss can also be used.
  • Spawning matt- You can use java moss to catch the eggs and keep them away from the parents.
  • Heater and thermometer- The temperature should be between 75-76 °F.

You can add a pair of neon tetras or a group of them. Let the tetras stay in the tank for a day or two as they acclimatize to the environment, and keep giving them protein-rich meals.

Perform a 50% water change as well to mimic the rainy conditions when they spawn in the wild.

If the tetras are ready, the females will drop eggs to be fertilized by the male. The eggs are quite tiny, and you want to keep the tank without lights so that it is hard for the parents to see them.

Strong light also kills the fry and eggs, and you can use a flashlight to assess the process quickly.

The female will drop around 100 eggs, and you should remove the parents after fertilization. Neon tetras eggs hatch after 36 hours, and the fry live on the egg sack for two to three days.

You can then start them off with baby brine shrimp and micro worms. You can introduce them to dry pelleted food after a few weeks, and they should color up in a month on a proper diet.


Neon tetras are hardy and adaptable and can be excellent choices for first-time fish keepers looking for a stunning schooling fish.

They seem to thrive in darker conditions, which you can achieve with low-spectrum lights and floating plants.

If you intend to breed neon tetras, you will have to get a separate breeding tank since they eat their young.

Tetra Fish   Updated: June 25, 2020
avatar 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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