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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)
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.
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.
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?