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Neon Tetra

Updated on July 26, 2009

Neon Tetra

Neon tetras are one of my favorite aquarium dwellers. Playful, active, gorgeous and sturdy fish that deserve to be called the jewels of your aquarium. I'll provide you the information every aquarist must know about their fish. I remember the first time my parents took me to a pet shop. It was a small shop with about 20 freshwater aquariums. I can't recall any more details, but one: there were neon tetras - iridescent blue-red-silvery fish- in a little cubic aquarium that had nothing but water, gray gravel and neon tetras in it. But the shoal of a dozen neon tetras made the whole aquarium a lively, really eye-catching piece of the place. I'm pretty sure most of us aquarists remember the first time when we saw them. There is something in these tropical fish -besides their color- that makes them so characteristic, so memorable. I'm really glad that 18 years after the event mentioned above, I'm here writing an article on keeping these spectacular fish. So, let's start!

Neon tetras in the aquarist culture

These little red-blue tetras are extremely popular, mostly among newbie aquarium owners. More than 18 million of them are imported into the US every year! Breeding the neon tetras can be very difficult for beginners, but there are many professional aquarists who are successful breeders of this species. Most of the specimen sold in the United States are from South-East Asian countries. Importing wild caught neon tetras is still a practice, but I don’t recommend buying these.

The resumé of a Neon tetra

Name: Paracheirodon innesi
Home country: Brazil (mostly)
Maximum size: 1.2" (3 centimeters)

Preferred food: anything you give me
Preferred pH range: 5.5 - 7.0
Preferred KH (dH): 1.0 - 2.0
Preferred water temperature: 68-80 °F (20-26 °C)

About me:
As a beautiful, active, sturdy and inexpensive species, I've become very popular when I was first introduced in the aquarium trade. I live in large shoals, and move a lot during the day, giving a pleasant visual experience for the aquarium enthusiast’s whole family. I am suitable for every size of aquarium: my small size maxes me perfect for even the smallest of aquariums, while a shoal of a hundred neon tetras is an extraordinary sight in a huge water tank.

Where do neon tetras come from?

The Neon tetra can be found originally in the waters of South America, namely the rivers Amazon (Rio Solimoes), Napo and Tiger. These are rivers with acidic, soft water at temperatures of 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit (20-26 degrees Celsius). It likes both clear and somewhat opaque water. Neon tetras have been populated into some waters of Singapore recently.

Neon tetra
Neon tetra
Cardinal tetra
Cardinal tetra

How do neon tetras look?

The neon tetra is a small fish with a maximum length of about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) and the typical tetra body shape. The main characteristics of the fish are an iridescent blue horizontal line from its nose to the base of the adipose fin, and an iridescent red line that goes from the middle of the body to the base of the caudal fin.
The back of the fish is greyish, while the abdominal regions are silvery white.
The fish changes the brightness of its colors according to the time of the day. At night, the colors are usually dimmer. Stress and illness and hunger will also affect the colors.
The fish called „red neon tetra” is actually the cardinal tetra, which is very similar to the neon tetra. Its red and blue stripes are much longer though, covering the whole side of the body from the eyes to the base of the caudal fin.

Neon tetra behavior

Neon tetras are the real pacifists of the aquarium, they almost never fight other fish. You can keep them together with any other peaceful species. Avoid larger fishes, as they will often harass and hunt down the neon tetras. Keep in mind that neon tetras like to live in large schools. Always have at least six of them in the aquarium, or they will feel unsecure and stressed. As for the maximum size of the shoal, it can go up to several hundreds in a huge aquarium. They spend most of the time in the middle levels of the tank, but they are really adventureous explorers, discovering all parts of their habitat. The average lifespan of these fish is 5-6 years, but they can live up to one decade.

What habitat do neon tetras like?

Neon tetras look extremely good in front of bright green plants. Lighting should be of medium brightness and of bluish-white color. They like roots or small branches of trees in the aquarium. They like a wide range of pH, from 5.5 to 7.0. They prefer KH (dH) of 1.0-2.0. Temperature should be between 68-80 degrees (20-26 Celsius).
When buying fish, always ask the seller about the conditions they were kept in, and set up similar conditions in your aquarium.
Unfortunately, some breeders don’t really care about the sturdiness and strength of the fish they sell. As a consequence, many beginner aquarists are complaining about their neon tetras dying very soon after purchase. This is the breeders’ fault in many cases. You should only buy fish from a trusted breeder. Ask your friends, or an online community.

What do neon tetras eat?

Neon tetras eat practically anything they can find in their original habitat. Plant parts, worms, insects and everything that fits in their mouths. In the aquarium, they like almost every type of food, whether it be frozen, dried or flake food. Just as with every fish, you should provide variety to keep your fish strong and healthy.

Neon tetra disease

There is an uncurable disease called the neon tetra disease or Pleistophora. This is caused by parasites that get into your aquarium through live food or newly bought fish. The symptoms are:

  • body becoming colorless, deformed, lumpy
  • spine may become curved
  • uncoordinated swimming.

You can’t cure the diseased fish, so you must avoid infection. Don’t buy live food or fish from an untrusted source.

Neon tetra eggs
Neon tetra eggs

Breeding the neon tetra

The male is slimmer, thinner and its blue stripe is straighter. The body of the female is bigger, "fatter" and thus the blue stripe is a bit curved. Healthy tetras can spawn every two weeks. If you want to breed neon tetras, you have to take a female and a male and put them in a small breeding aquarium. Lights should be turned off for a couple of days, then you should increase the amount of daily light hours gradually. After a few weeks the female will spawn. Feeding your neon tetras with larvae or bloodworms can be a good incentive, just like setting the water hardness to less than 4 degrees. Another recommendation is to let the nitrate levels of the breeding aquarium raise, then imitate the raining by doing a 50% water change. Adults will eat the hatchlings, so they should be removed from the breeding aquarium right after the spawning. The eggs are very light-sensitive, so you should turn off lighting. They will hatch in about a day. The hatchlings should be fed protozoa, algae and egg yolk for up to a month, then brine shrimp and nauplies and tiny cattle liver parts. In one month, coloration will appear on the fries.

Would I like neon tetras?


I know you love me!
I know you love me!

Do you like neon tetras?

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    • profile image

      Spatephethy 4 years ago

      Hey guys just wanted to tell you all about my new blog, its all about how to make money fast, so if you have 2 minuites have a quick read and tell me what you think. best site

    • profile image

      Futamarka 5 years ago

      По всем Соединённым Штатам крупные города сидят без гроша в кармане и быстро деградируют. Они наполнены бедными людьми, которые быстро становятся всё озлобленнее и разочарованнее. В городах просто не хватает рабочих мест для всех. Миллионы простых американцев проводят свои дни в мучительных раздумьях о том, как найти хоть какие-то средства к существованию для себя и своих семей.

    • profile image

      Murlawainia 5 years ago

      My partner and i employed to obtain on top of living however these days I've truly piled up some sort of amount of resistance.

    • profile image

      Bonnie 5 years ago

      I have always loved Neons, as a child we had a five gal. and always had a few Neons. When my Son was little, we had a 10 gal and had Neons. Now with a little Grandson to enjoy, I have a fifteen gal and the second fish I got were Neons, after my favorite fish, Albino Cories. They are lovely, I got ten, but lost one, the rest are doing great after 3 weeks. Thanks for this fun site.

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      lisa mitchem 6 years ago

      hi my name is lisa and i have 6 neon tetras and they are doing good so far i have a 10 gallon tank its my first time with neon tetra i have had betta ithink i spelled that right i need to know if the neon tetra need plants in the tank and how many can i get in a 10 gallon tank

    • arman79 profile image

      arman79 6 years ago from Philippines

      Wow, thanx for this hub, I love neons, they do look great in my planted aquarium. I'm planning of breeding my neons because lately they are hard to find here in our country.

    • profile image

      Andy miller 6 years ago

      i have a school of 7 in my ten gallon tank, along with some other fish. they are very fun to watch cause they always stay in their school and roam around.

    • profile image

      9834 6 years ago

      I would not recommend neon tetras for first time starters!!! They are very frail and fragile fish and are very specific to tank conditions. Most will usually die in a couple of weeks due to neon tetra disease. Some die shortly and some stay alive for a long time. If you are tough go for it!!! =D Just don't be disapointed if they die because it's usually not the owner's fault!! Trust me =O

    • profile image

      cleantooth 6 years ago

      My female black neon tetra is bloated, but it is not that I fed it too much. I think that it may have eggs. I think so because I have a male and a female. I saw a few clumps of something with a few bubbles on my fake plant, I think they are eggs.

      Can anyone tell me as soon as possible?

    • profile image

      cleantooth 6 years ago

      This is for Seanto2288.

      A five gallon tank is way too small for 22 living creatures. You should only have a maximum of 4 fish. Don't consider getting new fish because there are too many. That's why your fish aren't colorful and inactive.

    • profile image

      Kaela 7 years ago

      neon tetras rock

    • profile image

      kryz 7 years ago

      i just got my 10 gallon and got one tetra n now i have one baby is this normal???

    • profile image

      Seanto2288 7 years ago

      I'm thinking about getting other species of tetras.

      What kind should I get?

    • profile image

      Seanto2288 7 years ago

      Weell I basically have a 5 gallon water tank and about 5 shrimps and 17 neon tetras. Some are female some male but I have a question. Some of my fish aren't that colorful, but they aren't swimming weirdly or acting strange so I'm not sure if they have the disease or not

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      Fishy 7 years ago

      I've got three, soon to be seven and I think I'd like to try breeding some neons!

    • profile image

      the fix 7 years ago

      thanks for the advice! I want to start this hobby and was going to start with a small tank and only 3 neons. Now I know I have to get at least 6 for them to be happy!

    • profile image

      dave 7 years ago

      i have 7 in a small community tank and i love em,they know when its feeding time cos they school at the front of the tank eagerly awaiting their food.

      just got my first eggs from them but they are stuck to the front of the tank =( oh well ,ill just have to see if they hatch.

    • profile image

      Alikiya 7 years ago

      Yeah did he mention how quickly they get eaten by everything else. I had 40 neons, then 20, then 8 then none. I love them so I had to get rid of my gouramis, my other fish as they were here in morning gone in the night. They are weak fish I would not say they are sturdy. Today i bought 23 and already i am down to 19 because some die in transport, they limp around the tank and get picked off. But once they get larger they are okay

    • profile image

      chris 7 years ago

      i will try now to breed tetras...i have done betas and gold fish and sucsefuly done gupies and now i wil try tetras

    • profile image

      Sally 7 years ago

      I have 12 of them and they're doing great. The guppies are checking them out. Some guppies peck them occasionally. I think it's fine as long as they don't bite.

      I have loads of plants for them to hide in, so it's all okay if the guppies are chasing them.

      They become adventurous day after day. Exploring the tank has become their hobby ^^

    • profile image

      Rodrigo 7 years ago

      I have 32 neon tetras in my 385 lts /100 Gl tank and I absolutely love them. I only started with aquariums 3 months ago and I have to say that I've been very lucky, no diseases and no dead fish but 3; 1 angel fish, 1 molly pearl, and 1 swordtail. All died from what I can tell it was an adaptation problem, they were introduced 1 species at a time (throughout a few weeks) and they died within a day or 2 of being introduced. I always wanted these little guys and finally was able to buy some 2 days ago. I got 30 and they look amazing (note that the video is a few weeks old, I'll make a new one so you can see)

      Anywho... I'll be trying to breed them as they are not so easy (or cheap) to get where I live. If successful, I'll post a video of how I do.

      Peace on you.

    • profile image

      noah 7 years ago

      neon tetra are pretty cool i have 5 in a 40 litre with 2 zebra danios so there pretty happy. but i was wondering what would be good fish to put with the

    • profile image

      chuck 7 years ago

      how many neon tetras for a 56 litre tank

    • profile image

      mark h 7 years ago

      was a little unsuccessful with my first attempt at keeping neon tetras but with the help of this site and others i have fine tuned my aquarium settings and have hopefully made a suitable enviroment. i have 8 neon tetras at home with 4 glowlights and 4 head and tail lights and they seem to perfectly happy. i have chosen black gravel, live plants and have a blue filter over the light. all seems well and they are wonderful to watch. thanks for the great advice

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      NoOdlez 7 years ago

      I would usually recommend a 10 gallo tank because small tanks may make them kinda sad.Also try and keep them in schools of 6 or more.

    • profile image

      lotus 7 years ago

      i bredd neon tetras.last year o got nearly 1000fyrs.but its a hard job to breed them..same time its easy to rasie frys.they gets parents colour within one month

    • profile image

      Painkiller 7 years ago

      @Gabby - yes by your description this might be the answer. The "fattier" and reportedly curved striped neons are the least this is what the text book says about Neon Tetras' sexual dimorphism.

    • profile image

      Gabby 7 years ago

      My parents bought me 6 neon tetras three days ago along with a bristlenose bottom feeder and the neons are gorgeous!! They're all healthy and swimming well, but i've realised that some are larger as in wider from the bottom of their bodies to the top where their dorsal fins are and are a little larger, are these the females?? Because the others are smaller and seem slimmer.

      Thanks =D

    • profile image

      James 8 years ago

      I have bred neon tetras but the eggs don't want to hatch and I don't know why?

    • profile image

      jeffz 8 years ago

      i wana get 3 neon tetras, is that ok to have, ive only got enough room for 3[i use the 1gallon per inch of fish rule] and even that , im at max capacity, so , is that ok?, ive got planty of room in my 6 gallon tank, and i also have a hollow ock and fake plant

    • profile image

      alex 8 years ago

      i love neon tetras

    • profile image

      john fish 8 years ago

      how many neon tetras would you reckon to a 15 litre baby biorb tank?

    • profile image

      Jay 8 years ago

      My tetras are friendly with my guppies

    • profile image

      Andrew 8 years ago

      I have eight neon tetras n a heavily planted half-filled 35 gallon hexagonal tank (actually a vivarium). There are also five black phantom tetras, three pristella tetras, seven otocinclus affinis, a small pleco and a pair of blue not likely to have any fry grow to adulthood in there! Critters spawn, but only the cichlids have any real chance, I guess. I don't use a filter and use natural daylight suplemented with a 150 metal halide pendant. Funny that I do almost everything that most books/sites say not to do (natural light, high bio load, etc.) and everything has spawned. They do get a lot of natural protein because insects are attracted to the light then fall in the tank when I take the glass off.

    • profile image

      felix 8 years ago

      I am a newby and am making probably all the normal dumb mistakes...I let the PH go too high and I lost 3 guppies.

      There is a suspicion of white spot sop I am treating with Protozin... There is also some fin-rot that is next on the list to treat. But I have just 4 neon tetras and on has got a very noticable lumpy whitish growth around his tail... Any ideas? I am a bit torn between getting him out to protect the other fish, and trying to help him...

      Anyone any clues? thanks Felix

    • mhajnal profile image

      mhajnal 8 years ago


      A ball of pinkish red cells? It sounds more like a tumor :(

      Please put up a picture and post a link to it, maybe that way we can help.

      I hope I'm wrong and it turns out to be a pack of eggs.

    • profile image

      karen2448 8 years ago

      Hi my neon male died a few days ago and the female appears to be 'having ' babies? she has a ball of pinkish red cells coming out is this normal?

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      darren sell 8 years ago

      I love these little fellas i have 14 in my community tank and they are a high light. i have no trouble with breeding they do it all the time in normal tank condictions, but the fry and eggs just become snacks for the other fish have started a breeding tank and hoping to rear some to adulthood.

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      smash2 8 years ago

      i have 19 in a 29 gal with a bunch of plants it awesome

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      Cathy 8 years ago

      I have 10 neons and I am currently trying to get a pair to spawn. This will be my first try! I hope this works because I just love watching a whole school of neons swimming around.

    • profile image

      richard 8 years ago

      I have 13 they are great