Witnessing the miracle of life is a fascinating process to observe in the home aquarium. Breeding neon tetras is a difficult task but so worthwhile in the end. There are many steps to raise baby neon tetras successfully, so read on for everything you need to know.
What You Will Need:
- Dedicated breeding tank (10 gallons)
- Air pump with a sponge filter
- Low pH water
- Infusoria culture station
- Baby brine shrimp hatchery
- Fine mesh nets
- Rocky gravel substrate
Overview of Neon Tetra Breeding
Getting neon tetras to breed in the home aquarium is difficult, but not impossible. The key is to emulate the breeding season in their natural environment. In the Amazon, where neon tetras originate, the breeding season coincides with the rainy season, so you must keep these parameters in mind rather than the parameters they usually are happiest in.
To do this, you’ll need to prepare a breeding tank that has some specific tank conditions, things to create, and a few regular maintenance steps. A ten-gallon tank is an optimal size for breeding neon tetras.
pH in the range of 5-6
The best way to achieve such a low pH is to use reverse osmosis water or try one of our guide’s suggestions to naturally lower your aquarium’s pH.
Temperature at a steady 75 degrees Fahrenheit
The average tank temperature for neon tetras is generally slightly higher than this, but temperature levels fall during the rainy season in the Amazon.
Maintain minimum light levels
The breeding grounds for neon tetras are very dark. They choose such dark places to hide their eggs from the many animals who would find them to be a tasty snack. Therefore, keeping the tank as dark as you can will help induce spawning.
Keep water flow to a minimum
Neon tetra eggs and the resulting fry are tiny and hard to see. It is very easy for them to get sucked up into aquarium filters. However, they still need oxygenated water. The safest way to keep water flow to a minimum yet keep the water oxygenated is to use an air stone with a fine mesh or sponge filter.
Things to Create
Next up, you’ll need to put on your DIY hat to create a few things you will need. These need to be done before your neon tetras hatch so you will be ready to spring into action to care for baby finned friends.
Infusoria are tiny organisms that small fish fry use for nutrients when they are too small for other foods. Baby neon tetras are incredibly small, so this is a perfect food for them. There are a lot of ways to create infusoria habitats, but the safest and most straightforward is as follows.
Get a container that holds up to a gallon of water. Fill it with water from an existing aquarium and add some blanched lettuce. If you don’t have existing aquarium water, you can substitute used water from a vase of flowers. Next, simply place the water and lettuce mixture in a sunny window for a few days. Once the water becomes cloudy, the microorganisms have multiplied and are ready to become dinner for your neon fry.
Baby Brine Shrimp Hatchery
Once your baby neon tetras have fed off the infusoria for a few days, they will be big enough to want a more nutritious meal. Baby brine shrimp (commonly referred to as bbs) will be their next source of food.
Creating a bbs hatchery isn’t complicated or expensive, but you will need to gather a few supplies. First, find a plastic bottle, such as a two-liter soda bottle or an empty milk gallon jug. Cut off the bottom, cap the lid, and use the cut off portion to create a stand for the top to go in. Next, fill the container half to three-quarters full of saltwater. Then, add bbs eggs (purchasable online and in most retail pet stores).
Add an airstone to keep the water moving and wait about 24 hours for the bbs to hatch. See this link for a video demonstration of creating a bbs hatchery.
Once hatched, turn off the air stone and shine a light at the bottom of your hatchery. Without water movement, the empty eggshells will float to the top and are easily strained off with a fine net. The bbs will be almost hypnotically drawn to the light at the bottom, which will keep them from being scooped out with the net. Now they’re ready to be your neon fry’s next meal!
What to do after the eggs are laid?
We won’t get too far into how to get neons to spawn, what to watch for, and how to pick a spawning pair. That information and more details about neon tetra breeding can be found in our guide here. Now, we’re concerned with taking care of these minuscule babies, so let us get on with business.
Remove the parents immediately!
Some fish babies need their parents around to help feed them, take care of them, and guard them against predators. This is not the case with newly hatched neon tetras! Keeping the parents in the tank with the babies usually does far more harm than good. Once the female has stopped laying eggs and the male has finished releasing fertilizer, they need to be removed immediately.
Adult neon tetras often eat their own eggs. Even if they manage to keep their appetites checked around their eggs, newly hatched fry are often too great a temptation. To avoid all your hard work disappearing in the parents’ mouths, move them out of the tank.
Care for the eggs and prepare the tank for hatchlings
After removing the parents from the tank, there isn’t much to do while you wait for the eggs to hatch. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait long. Baby neon tetras will start to emerge from their shells in about one to three days after they’ve been fertilized.
While you wait, you can further reduce the flow of water in the breeding tank by adding a layer or two of cheesecloth over the air pump intake. You can also increase the light level slightly so you can better see the newborns.
Once they’ve hatched, you can leave them alone and sit back for a day or two. We know it’s tempting to want to become a surrogate parent to these tiny little babies and spoil them with lots of healthy things to help them grow, but they really don’t need it. As long as they are not getting sucked up into your water pump, they will be just fine for a day or two.
It may sound strange, but the reason they’ll be fine is that newly hatched neon tetras are still attached to the yolk they used for food while still in their shells. They will use up the nutrient-rich yolk in the first 24-72 hours of life. The reason for not adding any other food is to keep the water as pristine as possible. In such a small tank, the water can get fouled swiftly by adding food. Performing water changes to help clear the water of pollutants can result in your new babies being accidentally lost in the water shuffle.
About 48 hours after hatching, you can start adding the water from the infusoria habitat you created a few days earlier. Since fry can use up their yolk sacs at different rates, the 48-hour mark is a good one to shoot for. Use a clean pipette to transfer water from the infusoria to the tank. Be careful not to add too much, though. If the water is visibly cloudy, wait until it has cleared before adding any more.
Switching to Solid Food
After a few days on a diet of yolk sacs and microorganisms (day 3-6 after hatching), they will be wanting a more satisfying meal. Now is the time to start adding the baby brine shrimp you created the hatchery for several days ago. Although your fry in this stage looks to have grown little more than a tiny squiggle dot to a slightly larger squiggle dot, they’ve actually been expending quite a bit of energy.
Baby brine shrimp are the biggest source of protein the young neons can fit in their mouths.
Once your fry have been filling up on a diet of bbs for a little more time, you can try to start switching them over to the commercial flakes that will be a staple of their diet for the rest of their lives. Dung feeding time after the fry have been hatched for one to two weeks sprinkle a tiny amount of finely-crushed dry food to the tank with the bbs. Each day add more crushed flakes to the mixture.
At this stage, you should start trying to acclimate the babies to the tank conditions they will be living in in their adult tank. Gradually introduce more light sources to the environment of the breeding tank. Increase the lighting in small increments each day, starting with a lamp on the opposite side of the room and increasing to low-level hood fluorescents after over one to two months.
Once all your fry are comfortably at a size, you can see them all flitting around the tank, you need to start adapting them to more normal water parameters. Start doing small partial water changes after around six weeks. The lighting in the tank at this point should be sufficient to clearly see what you’re doing while performing the water changes. Use water of the pH and hardness in which they’ll live as adults in incremental changes of about 10%. Increase this amount over the next month to approximately 25%.
You’ll soon find that the babies are big enough that they will mostly ignore the bbs and go after the larger flakes. After all this work, the pH level, water hardness, and lighting of their tank will match the parameters needed for adult neons. When they are between two and three months old, they will be approximately ½ inch in length. At this length, they are ready to be moved out of the nursery tank.
Caring for Juveniles
Caring for young neon tetras (six months old and younger) is much like caring for adults. However, there are a few things that juveniles need that require more attention than adults. This is especially true if you first move them into a community tank. First, they will need to be fed more often.
They are still growing and will need more frequent feedings than adults. This generally doesn’t affect other aquarium fish because, while the feedings are more frequent, the portion size will be reduced. This is therefore leading to the same amount of food you would normally feed your fish. The youngsters can only eat so much at a time, so their meals need to be spread out.
Another thing you should keep an eye on is your neon baby’s tankmates. There are tons of species that fall under the umbrella of ‘peaceful community fish.’ But, because different fish species have different energy levels, some peaceful fish are just too active and outcompete the small neons.
For the first few days, carefully observe the new additions to your tank. If they don’t come out of hiding in your aquarium decorations or aren’t eating, they may be stressed out by the activity level in the tank. Remove the bigger, faster fish into a separate area until your neons are large enough to hang with the big guys.
While hatching and caring for newborn baby tetras is a difficult task, it is far from impossible. Raising young life is a joy, and bringing new neon tetras into the aquarium trade provides a useful service to the environment. Keeping more tank-bred species means there will be less farming of them from natural ecosystems.
Neons are such a high demand fish that you will rarely have trouble finding homes if you have too many. However, don’t be surprised if you want to keep them all for yourself! Neons create a stunning blue and red display in the home aquarium when kept in large schools, and their shimmering movement will be sure to enchant.