Neon Tetra Care and Breeding Guide

The neon tetra has won the hearts of many hobbyists for four major reasons. For a start, it possesses vibrant colors that easily spruce up any freshwater aquarium. Secondly, the fish is among those that are easy to care for. Thirdly, it is peaceful, willingly co-existing with other tank mates. Last but not least, it has very few dietary demands.

Scientifically referred to as a Paracheirodon Innesi, the fish was initially discovered way back in 1934 in the vast Amazon Jungles. It is classified as a fresh water fish, mainly admired for its energetic movements in its environment. It is a community aquatic animal that adores the presence of others in its tank.

Appearance of Neon Tetra

neon tetra

The neon tetra boasts of a sensational coloring. In fact, this is the first noticeable feature in its tank. A silvery blue color stretches from its head down to the adipose fin. A red stripe runs from its mid rib to the caudal fin. The red stripe is unmistakable and distinguishes them from the other tetras.

Apart from the red and blue coloring, the neon tetra is almost transparent, a feature that helps it hide from predators. When the fish feels very threatened, the red and blue markings are skillfully turned off to appear as an iridescent hue. The color change is also imminent when the fish is sick.

They exhibit a spindled body shape. The nose is round and eyes are large, covering a bigger part of the head. When mature, the neon can measure from 1.5 to 2.5 inches. The females are slightly shorter than the males, though a little plump especially during their breeding periods.

They live to around 8 years in their native habitats. In captivity however, they can go for 5 years if offered good care.


The neon tetra is an original inhabitant of South American jungle waters. Countries of origin include Brazil, Peru and Colombia. They are found in their biggest numbers in the Amazon Basin.

In its natural habitat, the neon enjoys swimming in densely populated water areas with dense undergrowth. Being a middle-dwelling water fish, neon stays close to the dense undergrowth where it can hide from predators when they attack. This is one way of staying alive as it easily transforms into meals of other bigger fish owing to its size.

The jungle rivers flow through dense forests with thick undergrowths. The extensive tree branches lock out plenty of sunshine reaching the water. Leaves from these trees drop into the water, leaving behind vivid colors. Perhaps this explains the strange color of fish found in this environment. Wonder of wonders is that in the murky waters, the neon tetras are able to distinguish their own species. For safety and being community animals, they stay close together.


Neon tetra is generally peaceful. As a community fish, it stays in the company of other neons where they swim mid-water. To make its life more exciting in the tank, stock at least six or more of them. With their beautiful array of colors, watching them swim in the tank can be very interesting.

Tank Requirements

The neon is used to the warm waters of the South American seas. The same should be mimicked in its tank. A 20 gallon tank is ideal for neon tetras unless you planning on having a big school of neon tetra. A bigger tank is necessary then. Remember to use mature tanks since recycled ones may not auger well with them. Provide a sandy substrate on a gravel base. Pebbles can be used too. Ensure the substrate is darker as this is what is present in their wild habitats. A good choice would be ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Substrate.

Rooted plants suh as java fern can be added too. Since they love swimming in the middle of the tank, they are unlikely to interfere with plant roots. Also, their size does not allow them the stamina to uproot plants. Keep water temperatures at 70F to 80F and the pH level should be below 7.0 but should not go below 6.0.

Maintain soft water at 10dGH. Subdued lighting is necessary because the fish in its native habitat lives in waters with huge overhanging branches. If possible, for every gallon provide 2 watts. Little filtration is needed as the tetra produces very little bi-products. If anything, a sponge filter can do. Perform weekly water changes. If there is very frequent water change, the neon tetra may become ill.


Neon tetras are omnivores that eat both plants and flesh. Hobbyists will admit that omnivorous animals are easier to feed than the other two (carnivores and herbivores). When plants are lacking, flesh will do splendidly for them. The following foods are recommended for the neon tetra:

  • Micro fish pellets
  • High quality flakes. It should contain at least 40% protein or more
  • Frozen and live feeds
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Dried bloodworms
  • Tubifex
  • Fruit flies (live ones)
  • Lettuce
  • Shredded cabbage

The neon tetras are quite tiny and therefore need smaller pieces of food. Bigger food particles may give them trouble chewing or chock them when they try to swallow.

Juveniles can be fed twice each day. The adults may feed just once a day. As a rule, they eat within three minutes. This applies to both of them (juveniles and adults).


Distinguishing males from females is easy. The males are more slender while females are plumper. The blue line in the males is straighter than it appears on the females.

To breed them, they need a separate tank. The following aquarium conditions should suffice:

  • Very little or no light at all
  • Temperatures to be decreased to around 75F
  • pH levels to be reduced to 5.0-6.0

Once the tank is ready, the female will spray her eggs within the tank, around 100 at a time. Tetras are considered egg scatterers. Once the eggs are laid, they are fertilized by the males.

As soon the egg laying process is complete, remove the adults from the tank. They are cannibals that eat their own fry.

Eggs hatch after 2 to 3 days. They feed off the egg sac for the first few days. When they begin to swim freely, they can be introduced to infusoria. Later, brine shrimp and blood worms cut into tiny pieces can be given to them.


Being peaceful community fish, the neon tetras can be housed with small sized fish. These include medium or small-sized gouramis like the Opaline or Pearl. The giant ones should be avoided. Other tankmates can be Dwarf cichlids, Barbs or medium-sized mudfish like the cory.

Neon Tetra Diseases

This fish suffers from certain fatal infections. The most common ones are “false neon tetra disease” and “neon tetra disease.”

Once a fish is infected, it will have difficulty swimming, lose the cute color, become restless and develop a lumpy exterior. To prevent infection from spreading, isolate any fish that shows the mentioned signs.

All in all, the neon tetras are lovely and can add plenty of life to an aquarium.

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