how to care for neon tetras - featured image

How To Care For Neon Tetras

If it is your first time handling a Neon Tetra, then I believe you might be nervous and curious as to how to handle these beautiful pets. Well, to be honest with you, Neon Tetras are easy to breed and take care of, but they can easily die off if proper care isn’t taken into consideration. However, with the right information, just like I am going to share with you here, you should be able to successfully handle and breed these wonderful creatures without any problem. This is why in this post, we will take a dive, and walk you through all you need to know about how to care for Neon Tetras.

neon tetra swimming past green moss

Neon Tetra Description:

Originating from the dark waters from the river basins in South America from countries like Colombia, and Peru, Neon Tetras have always been a fan-favorite in the fish-keeping world. Known for their smallish colorful bodies, these fishes have a lifespan of up to 8 years. Neon tetras can be identified by their light blue back, silver abdomen, and red stripe from the center of the abdomen to the tail.

However, they shouldn’t be confused with cardinal tetras. While Cardinal tetras have a blue bright body with a red stripe that runs across the body, Neon tetras have a blue-colored body with a red stripe that starts from the center of their body to the base of their cardinal fin. Another major difference between Neon tetra and Cardinal tetra is the size of their body. Neon tetras are small in size and they can grow up to 1.25 inches, Cardinal tetras, on the other hand, can grow up to 2 inches.

A Cardinal Tetra Like This One Can Easily Be Mistaken For A Neon

How To Prepare Your Aquarium For Neon Tetras:

1.Keep The Aquarium Dark

he first thing to do when you want to keep Neon Tetras in a tank is to make sure that your tank is habitable to these fishes.

As stated earlier, the natural habitat of these fishes in the dark waters of the Amazon, so, you want to mimic their habitat by creating a blackwater aquarium. Blackwater doesn’t necessarily mean your water has to be dark in color, it implies the water should be tea-colored or muddy.

Neon tetras are adaptable to black waters thanks to their colorful body, which enables you to identify them even in such water conditions. While they can grow in clear water, they do best in black waters.

Below are few tips to help set up a blackwater aquarium:

  • Use fine gravel as your substrate.

  • Use a white LED light with medium brightness to make the water clear.

  • A fully submersible heater to help regulate the temperature of the water.

  • Create water movement if your tank is large

  • The water should have a pH between 6.0 to 7.0, and it should be low in hardness ( less than 8 degrees but greater than 2).

  • Using mechanical filters such as filter cartridges and sponges

  • Use driftwoods such as Manzanita.

  • Use rocks that don’t increase the water hardness nor increase the alkalinity.

  • Add leaf litter such as almond leaves is safe and increases tannin.

A full guide to creating black water for your aquarium can be read here.

two neon tetras and black background

2.Keep The Aquarium pH and Temperature Regulated

Neon Tetras, although quite hardy, are sensitive fishes, so you want to make sure that you have your aquarium regulated at a temperate and a pH level that is conducive for them. Generally, you want to keep the water between the temperatures of 20 degrees Celcius to 27 degrees Celcius ( 68 Fahrenheit to 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Keeping the water temperatures above or below the ideal temperature range can be detrimental to the fish. It can lead to issues such as low appetite and low metabolism, this will lead to them being inactive and falling sick. A great way to keep the temperature around these temperature ranges is to use a heater.

Besides temperature, another crucial aquarium parameter to regulate to make your Neon tetras feel good is the pH. When it comes to the pH you want that to mimic the pH of their natural habitat. Neon Tetras thrive in water that is slightly acidic in the wild, so a pH between 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal. Having an ideal pH is important because it helps trigger them to breed.

It is important to note that you use natural pH regulators to lower the water pH instead of chemicals. Because chemical suddenly changes the pH, unlike natural pH regulators which slowly change and maintain the pH. A sudden change in pH can shock the fishes, which can lead to illness. Some natural pH regulators include driftwood, filtering water over peat and almond leaves.

A Heater Allows You To Control The Temperature of Your Tank

3.Purchase A School

You do not want to purchase one, two, or three fishes. Neon tetras are schooling fishes and they are to be purchased in a school of 6 or more fishes. Having one Neon Tetra can lead to the fish being depressed, and this can lead to the fish being susceptible to other infections as well. 6 is the bare minimum, ideally there should be a lot more.

many neon tetras swimming around a green plant against a blue background

4.Tank Specifications

When hosting Neon tetras, the tank must reach certain specifications to ensure that they flourish healthily. Generally, since you will be buying them in a school, the minimum tank size you want to have should be 10 gallons. A tank gallon tank should be able to host 10 to 15 Neon tetras. If you are looking to have other tank mates with your Neon tetras, then you should have a 15-gallon tank at least.

Most people tend to keep their fishes in blue gravelled aquariums and aquariums with fake plants. Well, whilst this is okay, having fake plants and blue gravel doesn’t create a natural environment scenario for the fishes. We recommend you keep them in a tank with live plants, this is because, in their natural habitat, there are lots of plants present in the various water bodies. Besides mimicking their natural environment, having live plants give them a place to hide and serve as snacks. But the most important reason why you want to add live plants is to help boost the overall health of the fish because they help keep out nitrates from your aquarium, and this is something blue gravel or fake plants can’t do.

When it comes to the type of plants to use, you want to use tall plants and floating plants. However, with the floating plants, you want to ensure that they do not cover the entire surface of the tank. Some examples for live plants to use in your aquarium include dwarf water lettuce, water wisteria, water sprite, Vallisneria, Rotala, etc. These plants wouldn’t only decorate and mimic the natural habitat of the fishes, but they will also help them healthwise.

neon tetras and harlequin rasboras in a planted tank

Feeding Neon Tetras:

Another important aspect when it comes to taking care of Neon Tetras has to do with their food and feeding habits. Neon tetras are omnivores, so they can eat a wide variety of foods.

Generally, you want to feed your Neon tetras a varied diet. Well, when you purchase your Neon tetras for the first time, most fish shops are going to offer you some tropical flakes to feed your fish. While there is no problem feeding your fishes with some tropical flakes, you want to give your Neon tetras a varied diet. A varied diet mimics their food in the wild since they do not eat one kind of food.

In addition, feeding your Neon tetras a varied diet makes them healthier and gives them a much brighter color compared to feeding them just tropical flakes. Some other food varieties which you can add to their diet include live food and frozen foods. Some of these foods include cyclops, baby brine shrimp, daphnias, etc, these food are great for both matured and smaller Neon tetras. For matured Neon tetras, you can try foods such as tube effect worms, blood worms, among others. You can get these frozen foods and live foods from your local fish store.

You must make the tropical flakes their main diet, and then you can feed them the frozen food or live food once or twice per week. If you’ve fed them tropical flakes for a while, you can replace them with micro pellets and some plant matter as well.

When it comes to the feeding habits of these fishes, these fishes eat food from the top of the aquarium to the middle section of the aquarium.

tray of frozen brine shrimp
Frozen Brine Shrimp

Neon Tetra Mates:

Besides being a schooling fish, this fish is compatible with other small fishes as well. Neon tetras can have other tankmates such as Pearl Gourami, Cardinal Tetras, Bamboo Shrimp, Swordtails, Platies, Mollies, female Bettas, and other fishes and small invertebrates as well. All you need to ensure is that your tank should be large enough to host all these fishes.

That being said, there are other fishes you might want to keep away from your Neon Tetra. Generally, you want to stay away from fishes that are larger than them. Even in most cases, it isn’t advisable to have them in a tank with male bettas, unless the tank is large enough and has enough space for them to hide from the male bettas. So, you want to keep them away from retail catfish, African cichlids, giant gouramis,

However, let’s take a deep dive into my top 4 must-have fishes with Neon tetras, and why I recommend them.

1. Other Tetras

If you are looking to create some cool displays in your aquarium, then adding other fishes in the Tetra species can be a great idea. Neon tetras are compatible with fishes from their species group. Tetras refer to small tropical characiform fishes. So, you can add Xray tetras, Bloodfin tetras, Cardinal tetras, black Neon tetras, and the list goes on and on. Tetras are colorful and add more tetras to your Neon tetras is going to give your aquarium a colorful look. It is also easy to take care of them together since most tetras have the same care and aquarium requirements.

Black neon tetra close up above white gravel
A Black Neon Tetra

2. Harlequin Rasboras

These fishes are my favorite companions to add to Neon tetras. Harlequin Rasboras are just as tiny as Neon tetras and this makes it easy for you to feed them anything you would feed your Neon tetras because they are of the same size. They have a bright color, and just like the Neon tetras, they have a stripe coming from the middle to the tail, the only difference is that their stripes are dark. Another reason why you would want to add Harlequin rasboras is because of how peaceful they are.

Harlequin Rasboras do not breed easily, so, they wouldn’t saturate your tank.

close up of harlequin rasbora above white gravel
A Harlequin Rasbora

3. Dwarf Neon Rainbow Fish

These fishes are another great companion that can live well with Neon. However, unlike other Neons, this fish has a distinct shape that blends and contrasts the looks of a Neon tetra making them an ideal companion for your Neon Tetras. Dwarf Neon rainbow fish are iridescent as well, and adding them to your aquarium makes it colorful.

close up of dwarf neon rainbow fish
A Dwarf Neon Rainbow

4. Bristlenose Pleco

Beyond being good companions, Bristlenoses are super helpful companions. They might be boring, however, they can help you clean up your aquarium. Bristlenose eats up the algae that form in your aquarium, making your aquarium look fresh always, Algae robs your aquarium of the light and make it nutrient deficient, so adding Bristenose can help curb this situation. While they clean up any algae growth, they tend to produce quite a lot of waste, as a result, you will be required to change the water more often if you have them in your tank.

bristlenose pleco on rock
A Bristlenose Pleco

(For more information on neon tetra tank mates read our article – Best Tank Mates for Neon Tetras)

How To Breed Neon Tetras:

If you are looking to increase the population of the Neon Tetras you have, you must know how to breed them. In this section, we will run you through how to simply breed Neon tetras at home.

Step 1: Identify The Male And Female

The first step when it comes to breeding Neon tetras is to identify the females and the males. Female Neon tetras are classified by their round shape, this makes them have a curved blue strip, whiles the males have a straight blue strip.

Male Neon Tetras Have A Straight Blue Strip

Step 2: Preparing the Infusoria Culture

Once, you identify them, the next step is to start an infusoria culture. To do this, you want to find a different container, and then you fill it up with water from your aquarium and place some java moss and blanched vegetables in the container. Infusoria culture is important because it creates the food the fries will eat when they hatch.

After placing the moss and blanched vegetables in the container, you want to leave the container under direct sunlight for three days. Once the three-day period is up, the water will become cloudy. This is as a result of the micro-organisms( infusoria) which are formed. After the infusoria are formed, they will feed on any bacteria active in the water.

After a couple of days, the water will become clear, and once this occurs, then it means you can begin the breeding process. You want to pick the biggest female Neon tetra with eggs and the best male as well.

Step 3: Preparing the Tetra Pair for Breeding

Once, you identify them, you want to ensure that you feed them with some good food for at least three or four days, and we recommend you feed them with some baby brine shrimps.

When done, you want to pick a watertight tub or use a breeding container, you want to make sure that either the tub or breeding container is sterile. Once you have your breeding container ready, you want to fill it up with water from the tank, and then add some live plants such as java moss.

The next step is to catch your selected neons and place them in the breeding tank. Once you place them inside the tank, you want to close it and then use a blanket to cover the whole tub with the fishes present and let it sit out for the night. The blanket is to perform two purposes, and these are to trigger the fishes to undergo the breeding process, and also keep the water warm. You can also use a heater together with the towel to keep the breeding tank warm. But when doing this, you want to make sure that you always check the temperature to make sure that you do not overheat the water. Ideally, you want the temperature of the water to be around 22 to 24 degrees celsius for them to breed.

When day breaks, you want to open up a small section of the cloth, and then throw some light towards the tank. This is because neon tetras spawn in the morning.

A Female Neon Tetra

Step 4: Egg Hatches

After a few hours, you will notice that tiny eggs are falling and ready to be hatched. Once, the spawning process is over, you want to return the parents to their aquarium because if you do not return them, they will end up feeding on the eggs.

For the eggs to hatch, you will have to ensure that the water, which you are using for the breeding process is soft acidic. So, once this is fulfilled, you want to cover the tank with the cloth again for about 48 hours, and when the time is up, you should see the fry swimming around. When you notice the fry has hatched, you want to leave them for another 48 hour period, doing this is to help them develop their eyes. It is important to note that you do not have to feed them during this period since they will feed off their yolk sac.

Step 5: Caring For The Fry

So, when the 48 hour period has expired, you want to start feeding them with the infusoria. You can do this using a pipette. So, you basically, pipette the infusoria culture from its container and then you release it into the breeding tank containing the fry. Once, they start feeding on the infusoria, you will notice they have developed a dark spot around their tummy.

You must change the water every day to prevent an increase in ammonia concentration and also ensure the fry grows healthily. While changing the water, you want to ensure that you do not remove any fry in the process. Also, ensure that you use water from the aquarium to replace the water in the breeding tank. In the process, do not forget to top up the infusoria tank with freshwater as well to keep the infusoria alive.

After a couple of days, you will notice that the fry swims more actively, and they become larger. And when you notice this, you want to add some floating plants such as java moss or Duckweeds to mimic their natural habitat and help the fry feel more comfortable. These plants also serve as a hiding space and they serve as snacks as well.

As the fries grow, you want to use a much small container to change the water in the breeding tank. This is because using a much smaller container or a cup makes it easy for you to notice a fry should you mistakenly scoop it while trying to change the water, compared to a large tank.

For optimal growth, you want to feed the fry three times daily, and to notice if they are eating, you want to take a look at their stomach. You want to repeat the above process until you see that the fry has well developed into a mature tetra, then you transfer them to your aquarium.

How to Care for Neon Tetras - Some FAQs:

Why Do Neon Tetras Get Sick?

Well, it is simple. Neon tetras are one of the oldest and most common fishes. As a result, most breeders breed them in large quantities, thanks to the fact that everyone wants to purchase one. Neon tetras tend to be fished in farms, and they get sold to a wholesaler who then sells them to these pet shops. And during this purchasing cycle, these fishes are kept in large numbers.

What happens is that most pet shop owners buy more Neon tetras than they can sell, and for each sale they make, they have to replace the sold ones with new ones. Due to this, the old tetras that don’t get sold get mixed with new neon tetras from the wholesalers. As a result of these pet shop owners mingling old Neon tetras with new ones, the chances of these tetras picking up a disease from other tetras is easy.

Another reason why Neon tetras get sick easily is the fact that they are stored in large numbers compared to other fishes. However, most breeders tend to feed them with the same quantity of the food as they will for other fishes. So, assuming a pet shop has 60 Neon tetras in one tank and 10 corydoras in another tank, and the corydoras tank is supplied with 3 cubes of feed, while the Neon tetra tank is supplied with maybe 5 cubes. Well, even though the food given to the Neon tetra might be higher, other Neon tetras that wouldn’t get much food due to their large numbers compared to the corydoras. Due to this, most tetras are left out feeling sluggish and losing weight, and as a result, they fall sick easily.

how many neon tetras in a 30 gallon tank

What Is The Neon Tetra Disease?

Another important aspect of breeding Neon Tetra has to do with understanding the Neon tetra disease. This disease is detrimental and can cause a lot of havoc to the Neon tetras present in your tank due to how contagious it is. Sadly, most people diagnose this disease wrongly, which is mainly due to a lack of experience. It is important to note that just because your Neon tetra is sick doesn’t mean it has Neon tetra disease.

To avoid misdiagnosing your fish, the first thing you want to do when you notice any form of illness is to isolate the fish. Once, you do that, you want to start treating the fish with some medications such as general meds, anti-internal parasites, and antibiotics to help clean the fish, and build the immune system.

When you treat your fish with these medications and the disease persists, then there is a high chance that your fish might be infected with Neon tetra disease.

Below are a few factors that can cause your fish to get infected with Neon tetra disease:

  • If your aquarium water level is warm.

  • Low levels of dissolved oxygen.

  • Low pH levels

These are the three main causatives of the disease, however, some other factors include high levels of fulvic acid, high levels of soluble zinc, and high humic acid.

That being said, here are a few tips to help prevent the chances of a Neon tetra disease outbreak:

close up of neon tetra facing camera but turning to its right
  • Ensure that you constantly change your aquarium water.

  • Avoid stressing the fish. This can be achieved by ensuring the aquarium has the right temperature and pH.

  • Feed them well( twice a day). As stated above, you want to make sure that you provide them with a variety of food as well.

  • Ensure that your tank is large enough to host them. Generally, you want to ensure that each tetra has about one gallon of space. So, if you are looking to host 10 tetras then that means you need a 10-gallon tank.

  • Ensure there is a high amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

Generally, you want to make sure that you buy more expensive Neon tetras and much bigger ones. This is because these tend to be taken care of, as a result, there is a lower chance of them being infected with Neon tetra disease.

What To Look Out For When Purchasing Neon Tetras

Before purchasing these fishes, you must inspect them. Inspecting them can save you the stress of having to deal with Neon Tetra disease. Neon tetra disease is a disease that affects Neon tetras. Symptoms of this disease include a cyst that protrudes on the head and mouth of the Neon tetra.

This disease is contagious, and it spreads rapidly. and sadly it isn’t curable. So, before you purchase a Neon tetra, you want to be on the lookout for that.

Some symptoms of this disease include:

  • Loss of coloration

  • Development of a cyst

  • Difficulty in swimming

  • Fin rot

  • Curved spine

  • Bloated body.

If you notice any of the symptoms in the fish you want to buy, you want to stay away from the fish. Also, if you have already purchased a Neon tetra and you have noticed these symptoms, then you want to isolate the infected fish as soon as possible.

My Neon Tetra Has a Curved Spine, Should I Be Worried?

A curved spine might not necessarily mean the fish has Neon tetra disease. Most tetras with curved spines tend to be a result of bad breed habits by the breeders. When they try to sell these fishes, they fetch them due to their large number, weigh them and sell them without taking any cautions. In addition, they tend to sell these fishes when they are small, and due to this when they have any deformation, most pet store buyers and buyers like you wouldn’t notice any deformation until they are fully matured.

This is why I highly recommend you purchase them when they are matured. So, the stressful cycle they go through from the breeder to the pet store owner, paired with them being sold leads to them having curved spines. So technically a curved spine doesn’t imply the fish has Neon tetra disease. However, if you notice a curved spine with the development of a cyst, then you might want to be on the lookout.

Can I Cycle My Tank With Neon Tetras?

Simply put, no, you do not want to cycle your tank with Neon tetras. We highly recommend you introduce this fish into an established tank and then leave them there. This is because Neon tetras have a hard time acclimating to new environments, so, introducing them to a new tank will stress them out and could potentially kill them. This is why you want to introduce them to established tanks.


Neon Tetras are beautiful fish and hopefully this guide has provided you with what you need to know in order to care for them properly and to breed them if you choose to do so.

Providing that you meet their requirements, the neon tetra can be a hardy little fish and  a well looked after school of them can provide many years of enjoyment to the fishkeeping hobbyist.