Do Neon Tetras Need Oxygen and Air Pump?

Fish obtain their oxygen from water; their gills serve as absorption surfaces, where water is continuously flowing through. This process starts with the fish gulping water via their mouths.

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Most fish breathe exclusively through their gills, although some have lung-like organs that allow them to come up for air.

There needs to be a lot of oxygen dissolved in water for fish to survive, which is not a problem in the wild. In the aquarium, however, aquarists have to encourage aeration in the tank water.

How Oxygen Exchange Works in Water?

Carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged at the water’s surface, where oxygen is absorbed into the water, and the former is released into the air. This gas exchange occurs after the surface tension is broken through surface agitation.

Filters, powerheads, air pumps, spray bars, and aquarium bubblers provide some movement at the water’s surface. Carbon dioxide will consequently escape, which is the desired outcome because it can become toxic if allowed to build up.

Some products work by pumping air into the water to create bubbles. These bubbles float to the surface and burst to break the surface tension.

Do Neon Tetras Need Air Pump?

While air pumps promote aeration, they are not necessary for a neon tetra tank. Air pumps work by creating bubbles in the water to break the surface tension.

They are made from highly-porous materials, and water is forced into one end to be released as air bubbles at the other end. If your tank has an adequate filter, however, the work of an air pump will be redundant.

Some aquarists, however, like the aesthetics of having bubbles in the tank water. An air pump is also recommended for a heavily stocked tank because oxygen levels deplete quickly. You can also use the device in an aquarium with warm water, which holds lesser oxygen than cooler water.

If you are not going to use an air pump, you should ensure that your aquarium has enough oxygen. The first step is getting a wide and shallow neon tetra tank rather than a tall and deep one.

Only the top area will be aerated if you have a deep tank. A shallow and wide set up allows for more water to be in contact with the air.

Other devices that you can use, include:

  • Filter- A filter is your best bet for aeration and oxygenation. Most filters are equipped with outputs that direct water into the tank’s surface to provide water movement. Filters also encourage water circulation so that water from the tank’s bottom is brought to the top to absorb oxygen. For maximum aeration, you want a model that is powerful enough for your aquarium.
  • Powerheads- A powerhead will supplement an aquarium filter. It is placed in the aquarium on the side, and it is connected to an air hose. Electric pump-action powers the powerhead, which siphon the water at the bottom and push it to the top with great force.
  • Spray Bar Aerators- A spray bar is typically attached to the filter outlet, from where it sprays water across the water surface. It is fitted horizontally, and it promotes surface agitation and aeration. Spray bars are especially effective if you have dead spots in your aquarium.

If you find that an air pump is a necessity in your aquarium, you have probably overstocked your tank. Air pumps only add oxygen to the water, but there are more effective ways to provide constant aeration.

Do Neon Tetras Need a Filter?

Neon tetras are quite small, and they don’t produce a lot of waste. You should, however, provide a filter for a neon tetra tank. In addition to filtration, filters also promote aeration by triggering surface agitation.

Neon tetras need a lot of oxygen, and they will suffocate in a tank without enough aeration. Filters also present a surface area for beneficial bacteria to thrive.

Neon tetras can live without a filter in a well-planned planted fish tank. This practice should be left for experienced fish keepers as they understand how heavily their aquariums need to be to deal with the waste from neon tetras.

You can use a sponge or hang-on-back filter for a neon tetra fish tank. If the fish are in a community tank with larger tankmates, you may need to invest in a canister filter.

The best filters perform biological, mechanical, and chemic filtration in addition to providing surface movement. You can also select a drip filter, which creates a waterfall effect in the tank to boost oxygenation.

Cover the filter intake as neon tetras are small and delicate, and they can easily get sucked in.

Using Live Plants to Produce Oxygen

Neon tetras thrive in a planted tank thanks to the endless benefits that live plants provide. Plants will absorb the CO2 in the setup and release oxygen via the photosynthesis process. You can be sure that your tetras are getting enough oxygen if you have lots of plants.

Live plants also make the aquarium more hospitable by absorbing toxic elements like ammonia and nitrates. There will be fewer nutrients present for algae, and live plants are often used to discourage algal growth.

You still need to perform water changes regardless of how heavily planted your tank is. Invest in a reliable filtration system that will inhibit the buildup of elements like nitrates and ammonia.

Neon tetras respond to filtered light, and you can use floating varieties like water lettuce and frogbit. Most floating plants are quick growers, and they can entirely cover the water surface if you are not careful. You want to keep pruning these plants to let some light through to the tank’s bottom.

Plant cover will also calm neon tetras when they feel scared. Tall varieties like Vallisneria and Brazilian pennywort will provide hiding spaces for the fish.


Neon tetras, like any other fish, require sufficient oxygen to live. While filters primarily get rid of toxic substances in an aquarium, they also promote aeration by stirring the water.

As long as your aquarium is fitted with an adequate filter, you don’t have to use other aeration devices like air pumps.

Some aquarists, however, like having bubbles in the water, and air pumps will easily create the look.

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