Do Neon Tetras Need a Filter?

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Whenever setting up a home for your new fish pet, it is preferable getting it right from the very beginning. Indeed, some modifications are much more complicated to perform at a later stage, so planning is always your ally.

If you are getting yourself some amazing neon tetras, you are certainly wondering whether neon tetras do need a filter, among other things.

Neon tetras are extremely sensitive fish, and they can react negatively to any oscillation in the water parameters. Therefore, a filter is highly recommended for maintaining water parameters stable.

Tank Setup Without Filter

However, if you are not willing to invest in one, your fish can survive even without filtration, as long as you pay extra attention to other important factors.

– Tank Size is Key

An appropriate tank size is essential in keeping water stable and clean. Indeed, the bigger your tank is, the easier will it be to keep it healthy.

We recommend choosing a size of at least 10 gallons, although 20-gallon aquariums are much better when there is no filtration system.

This will also make it easier for you to plant more greenery for your pets, as well as allow them to have more swimming space.

Furthermore, a larger tank will make partial water changes less stressful for your delicate neon tetras.

Indeed, there is a huge difference between changing 15% from a total of 5 gallons of water or changing 15% out of a total of 20 gallons. And your pets will certainly feel the difference.

– Cycle the Tank First

A full tank cycle is vitally important for all aquariums, so please make sure to never disregard its function. Before bringing your pets home, allow the tank to perform a nitrogen cycle.

Simply place some fish pellets or flakes inside the tank (each day), as if you were feeding your fish, and wait for the bacteria do its own thing. Once the beneficial bacteria grow to healthy enough levels and the ammonia and nitrites are at zero, your tank is ready to house some fish.

This process may sometimes take up to even 4 weeks, so please try planning ahead.

Some owners like performing the first nitrogen cycle with their fish being present in the tank. However, we highly suggest not doing so with neon tetras.

Their tiny bodies are simply too fragile for being able of surviving such extreme conditions. Always place your neons in their permanent home once it is fully ready to house them.

– Thick Substrate

If you set around 3 or 4 inches of substrate around your tank, chances are this will help with water cleaning.

Indeed, healthy bacteria will colonize the substrate, and this will increase their capability of breaking ammonia and nitrites down once your fish start producing waste. Sand substrate seems to be the most appropriate solution.

Alternatively, java moss may be another helpful option. Beneficial bacteria will still stick there clearing the water conditions out, but it can also act as a carpet for eggs during breeding.

– Lots of Live Plants

Plants are always a wonderful idea. They offer great hiding spots for your neon tetras, but they are also amazing helpers in maintaining the water stable and clean.

Indeed, plants will help to convert ammonia and nitrite particles into healthier nitrates. On top of that, plants can also increase the oxygenation levels across the tank.

– Regular Water Changes

Partial water changes are essential to any tank, both those with and without filters. For neon tetras, especially when there is no filter, a weekly change is highly recommended, and it should not be skipped.

You can change anywhere from 15- to 25% of the tank water, depending on the size of the tank and the number of fish inside it.

How Many Neon Tetras per Gallon?

A general thumb rule is allowing 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish. This can usually be interpreted more freely for tanks with high-quality filtration systems, but it should be followed strictly when there is no filter around.

Therefore, in a 10-gallon tank you should keep up to 8 neon tetras. Always allow a couple of gallons of water to be taken by the thicker substrate and all the decorations. 

It is especially important to follow such guidance and not overstocking your tank with neon tetras. As already mentioned, neons are overly sensitive creatures and can suffer from serious consequences if their tank is overcrowded.

This can not only lead to spikes in ammonia and nitrite particles, but it can also trigger aggressive behavior among your pets. Indeed, if they bump into each while schooling, they can suddenly become territorial and attack their tank mates.

Is an Air Pump Necessary?

An air pump is no replacement for a filter. Its only purpose is circulating the water and increasing consequentially the oxygenation levels along with it.

However, for those tanks which do not have a filter at all, it would be a good idea to set an air pump. This will not clean the water, but it will at least improve its flow and oxygen levels.

Wrapping Up

Neon tetras are one of the most amazing little aquatic pets nowadays. They are quite hardy and do not require lots of attention from their humans. And yes, they are extremely delicate and sensitive to water requirements, but that does necessarily have to mean that they seek for extra care.

Actually, with being so small and not producing lots of waste, they are able of living perfectly happily in tanks with no filtration system.

As long as you are really attentive of other important factors, you should be able to compensate for the lack of filtration with no trouble. Just to be sure, here are the key guidance notes once again:

  • Choose larger tanks of at least 10 or 20 gallons and never overstock them with fish.
  • Perform a full fishless nitrogen cycle before bringing your neon tetras home.
  • Choose thicker substrate to allow healthy bacteria growth.
  • Heavily plant your tank.
  • Perform the needed partial water changes on a regular basis.
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