Neon Tetra – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Size, Breeding

The Neon Tetra, also known as Paracheirrodon innesi, is a native of Amazon jungles where it was first discovered in 1934. It’s a member of the Characidae family and it’s a freshwater fish. Neon Tetra’s energetic temperament and dazzling colors have made it a community tank stable; each month, 2 million Tetras are sold in the US.

Neon Tetras are non-aggressive and excellent community fish, but for them to thrive, you should keep them in a school of no less than 15 members. When kept in a smaller school, they feel threatened and this causes stress.

In nature, Neon Tetras live for up to 8 years; conversely, they live for about five years in aquariums. In a nutshell, they are non-aggressive and peaceful fish which makes them a great fit for community tanks.


Neon Tetras have a slender torpedo-shaped body that’s on average one and a half inches long. Their big eyes cover most of their head.

The most striking quality of Neon Tetras is their spectacular coloring. A turquoise blue line runs from their eyes to down to their adipose fin. Besides, a red stripe bisects half of their body, from their middle part to their caudal fin. Their gleaming colors help them locate each other in the dark environment that they inhabit.

Fascinatingly, other than their red/blue hues, they are transparent; this camouflages them from the predators in the wild. What’s even more interesting is that, when they feel threatened, at night, or when ill, they can ‘turn off’ their iridescent blue/red coloring.

The Neon Tetras’ gorgeous blue/red hue has made them one of the most popular fish amongst hobbyists. It’s only rivaled by its ‘look alike’, the Cardinal Tetra.

The two are often confused, but if you look keenly, you’ll see that the red horizontal line bisects the Cardinal Tetras’ entire bodies whereas it only covers the center-to-tail end of the Neon Tetras’ bodies.


Neon Tetras are native to South America’s warm rivers; the largest population lives in the Amazon River basin. These rivers typically meander through thick forests with impenetrable canopies blocking most of the sunlight. The river’s dark waters are crammed with tree roots, vegetation, and fallen leaves.

So how can you replicate this natural habitat in your aquarium? Have lots of floating plants in your tank, in addition to hiding places like driftwood and rocks. Driftwood serves two functions; they darken and soften the water as well as provide hiding places.

You should also add dark substrate (small pebbles and rocks) to your tank mimic the natural habitation that Neon Tetras thrive in. You can also set up a dark backdrop across the three sides of your tank to create the desired low-light effect.


While in their natural habitat, Neon Tetras are omnivorous; they eat plant matter and meat – larva from insects, algae, and other tiny invertebrates. Neon Tetras are not picky eaters, though; they enjoy eating a wide variety of food including flakes, pellets, frozen, and live.

You should make quality flake/pellet a key part of their diet. You can complement the pellet with frozen/live food like Blood Worm, Brine Shrimp, Tubifex, and Daphnia.

As a rule, only feed your Neon Tetras extremely tiny pieces. When it comes to the frequency of feeding them, feed the young adults twice a day – let them continually for three minutes. Once they mature, you should start feeding them once a day, for three minutes.

Water & Tank Requirements

Tetras are super-sensitive to shifts in water conditions. This means you shouldn’t put them in newly cycled tanks – the instability in water chemistry during this period will harm them. You should only place Neon Tetras in a matured tank.

The water temperature in the tank should range between 70 °F and 81 °F. The PH level should hover from 6.0 to 7.0. Also, the water should be soft (<10 dGH). Besides, you should use subdued lighting; low-watt fluorescent lighting will work great.

Neon Tetras generate a tiny bioload, so their filtering needs are quite small. A standard sponge filter will work great. Finally, you should at least have a weekly 25% water change. Ensure you don’t exceed this recommendation – excessive water change can be devastating for Neons.


Neon Tetras thrive in a community provided that tank mates are not aggressive or large.  Small peaceful fish like the small tetras, rasboras, dwarf gouramis and small catfish like corys are suitable companions. The fundamental rule is, if a fish’s mouth is large enough to gulp down a Neon fish, it’ll soon turn your Neon Tetra to dinner.


Breeding Neon Tetras is a herculean task; they require precise water parameters to spur the mating season. This makes them less than ideal for novices who’re experimenting with breeding in a home tank. However, if you’re unrelenting, it’s doable.

First, you should determine the gender of Neon Tetras: Males are slimmer and their stomachs have straight blue stripes. Females are rounder which makes their blue stripes look bent.

Once you have identified the male and the female, place them in a separate breeding tank. The water conditions in your breeder tank should be a bit different. The PH level should range from 5.0 to 6.0; the temperature should be 75°F.

Tetras scatter their eggs. The female lays about 100 eggs and then the male fertilizes them. Once the eggs are fertilized, remove the parents. Tetras don’t care for their fry and they even eat them. Once the eggs hatch, the fry will devour their eggs sacks for about 3 days.  After this period, you should start feeding them very tiny pieces of food.


Neon Tetras are super popular; 2 million of them are sold, each month, in the US. They are easy to feed, easy to maintain all of which make them perfect for beginner fish keepers.

You should, however, always bear in mind their strict water parameters. Always keep your water a bit too warm rather than a bit too cold. Cold water leads to issues like fin rot. All things considered, this dazzling tiny fish is an excellent addition to any community tank.

Updated: March 7, 2020

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