Neon Tetras – The Ultimate Care Guide

Neon Tetras, or Paracheirodon innesi, like most of my favorite fish, hail from the Amazon river basin. They come from brackish streams, and they’re known for their distinctive red and blue color scheme.

Neon Tetras come primarily from two sources. They are either caught wild, accounting for roughly 5% of neon tetras, or they are imported from massive fish farms in south-east Asia. However, breeding them, on a hobbyist scale, is becoming more popular.

Caring for Neon Tetras is not difficult. Here, in this ultimate care guide, we provide all the information you can stand about how to successfully care for Neon Tetras.

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Neon Tetra Appearance

The distinctive appearance of Neon Tetras can be seen above. neon Tetras are small fish, never more than an inch or two in length. They have several small fins on the bottom, and then one large fin on top like most fish. They have a pinkish stomach, and a distinct blue top half. They also have a distinctive red stripe starting at the tail and continuing to their middle.

One fish that the neon tetra is often confused with is the cardinal tetra, which as grown in popularity in recent years. The biggest difference in appearance between these two fish is the length of the red stripe, which continues until the gills of the fish for cardinal tetras. Cardinal tetras also tend to be a bit rounder, especially on the bottom.

Neon Tetra Tank Setup

As an aquarist, the most important aspect of fish care to me, is replicating the fish’s natural habitat. Neon Tetra are tropical fish, and need tropical water temperatures. This means you should have a heater for your aquarium, and keep it anywhere from the mid-70s on the lower end, up until the mid-80s. I recommend leaning towards the upper end of that range.

As for your other water parameters, I know it’s generally hard to tightly control your aquarium pH or hardness. However, being from the Amazon means that neon tetras prefer low pH water, in the mid-6s. They also prefer soft water, with a hardness <15 dGH. If your water parameters don’t match this, don’t worry too much, you can still keep neon tetras perfectly healthy.

On top of this, Neon Tetra are schooling fish. That means you’ll want 6-8 as a minimum, with more being better. To keep these fish, you’ll want a minimum of a 10 gallon tank if you only keep 6-8 neon tetras, however, to really let them move, I’d recommend having at least a 20 gallon aquarium.

For the filter, pretty much any filter will work, neon tetras don’t have a heavy bioload. I’d recommend a HOB filter rated for your aquarium size, or a sponge filter if you are planning to try and breed your tetras. I recommend also including some sort of medium in your filter that allows bacteria to easily grow, which will help with cycling your aquarium.

Overall Requirements:

  • 6-8 tetras
  • 20 gallon aquarium
  • temperature 70-82 degrees F
  • size: 1-2″
  • hardness: <15 dGH

Another major aspect of constructing the ideal neon tetra habitat will be replicating the in-tank aspects of the location they come from. Neon Tetras, and the brackish streams they come from, have heavy plant matter, driftwood, and all of the associated natural goodness.

That means that it would be helpful to have a planted tank, with several pieces of large driftwood. Some peat moss can help to naturally lower the pH of your aquarium, while adding to the natural aspect.

To put everything together, I recommend proceeding in this order.

  1. Setup the aquarium on a sturdy table. A 20 gallon aquarium has 170 pounds of water alone.
  2. Attach a filtration system along with your desired substrate and any decorations or driftwood.
  3. Fill up the aquarium with water, and start the process of cycling it.
  4. Once the aquarium has been cycled, you can slowly introduce your neon tetras or other fish.

Neon Tetra Diet

Neon Tetras are omnivores and will eat almost anything that you put into the tank. In nature they’ll eat anything from decaying plant matter to the small larvae of other fish. Still, there’s some specific considerations to take into account here.

Despite not being fussy eaters, Neon Tetras do require high quality food. The core of their diet should be reputable, high quality, tropical fish flakes (or pellets). has some of my favorite high quality, yet inexpensive fish food. I generally buy 3-5 of my favorite food types, and then mix them all together into a large Tupperware that I feed my fish from.

On top of this, you can occasionally treat your neon tetras to some other foods. High quality frozen food or blood worms are some great treats. Neon Tetras will also jump at the opportunity to be fed some home-grown brine shrimp.

In terms of how often to feed your tetras, I recommend feeding them as often as you feed the rest of your tank. This means approximately 2 feeds per day, each roughly the amount that your fish can eat in several minutes.

As a slight add-on, neon tetras being small fish, have small amounts. As a result if you plan to feed your fish pellet food instead of flake food, make sure you get a pellet small enough to fit in the neon tetra’s mouth.

Neon Tetra Tankmates

Neon Tetra are small fish that work well in a community tank, with plenty of other tank mates. To be more specific, neon tetras do fine with any tank mates that aren’t aggressive.

At the same time, Neon Tetras don’t do well with fishes whose mouth they can fit in, for obvious reasons.

Some great fish that pair with Neon Tetras are other tetras, catfish, or other Amazonian fish. For example including them when building a new Discus aquarium can achieve a great look.

For those interested in specifics, here are some of my favorite Neon Tetra tank-mates that also hail from the Amazon region.

  • Discus
  • Angelfish
  • Other Tetras
  • Hatchetfish
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Plecos (some hail from the Amazon such as the Common Pleco – although these can get large)
  • Amazon Dwarf Cichlids

Neon Tetra Common Diseases

One of the major reasons that cardinal tetras have been becoming more popular than neon tetras recently is the prevalence of some diseases among Neon Tetras, such as Neon Tetra disease.

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Neon Tetra disease, is a common disease, caused by a parasite commonly found in most aquariums. It can affect other fish, especially in the tetra family, however, it does not affect Cardinal Tetras.

Neon Tetra disease enters your fish through other infected fish, or other infected food. It can also be transmitted through the bodies of dead fish. Upon seeing Neon Tetra disease, it’s important to quickly remove the infected fish, the disease spreads quickly.

Neon Tetra disease starts out with your fish having pale color and some restlessness. It then consistently progresses, as a degenerative disease, until cysts develop, your fish has trouble swimming, and perhaps even spine curvature.

More so, Neon Tetra disease leaves your fish more susceptible to other opportunistic diseases. That means if you accidentally have another disease, such as ich or fin rot in your tank, your fish can also get that disease.

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Unfortunately, Neon Tetra disease has no cure, and spreads quickly As a result, should your fish get it, you should immediately remove the fish to a separate tank, and let it live there, or euthanize it. Euthanizing a pet is always sad, however, sometimes its necessary to prevent your fish from suffering.

To stop your tank from getting Neon Tetra disease in the first place, I recommend taking precautions not to introduce it into your tank, and prevent it from spreading. This means anytime you get a new fish, keep them separately in a quarantine aquarium for two weeks.

On top of this, make sure you always use high quality fish food, especially if you’re feeding your fish live food. When you’re buying your Neon Tetras make sure you buy them from a reputable company, and don’t buy them from any tank with sick or dying fish.

Overall, Neon Tetra disease can be a concern, however, you should stay safe from it if you take the correct precautionary measures.

Another common disease that Neon Tetras face is Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis), characterized by the distinctive white spots in the fish’s body. Fortunately, unlike Neon Tetra disease, this disease is curable.

However, it’s still difficult to treat, and as a result precautionary measures such as a quarantine tank are still recommended when introducing new fish.

The best way to treat Neon Tetras depends on the fish that you have in your tank. Ich infections are incredibly common, and can easily be triggered by introducing a new fish with it into your aquarium, or having stressed fish.

To treat Ich, it’s important to understand the life cycle of the parasite.

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The Ich parasite goes through 3 stages. The first involves the parasite living on the surface of the fish, the characteristic white spots of the disease. These white spots on the surface of the skin are called “trophonts”. This first stage takes roughly 4 days.

The burst of these white spots involves the release of tomites. These tomites develop, a roughly two day process, until they burst, releasing thousands of trophonts, in a single day process. Treating Ich involves trying to remove the parasites from the aquarium when they are off the fish, along with trying to make it harder for the parasites to otherwise survive.

To start with treatment, raise the temperature in your aquarium to the low-80s, and add some salt to the water, roughly 1 tablespoon per 5-10 gallons. Keep in mind that some aquarium pets, such as loaches or freshwater snails are susceptible to salt, so if you have these species in your aquarium, don’t add salt.

Keep this going, while doing a water change, the size of your normal water change, every day, or every other day. Feel free to look at using some commercial Ich medication here. Continuing this process for a week or two should result in your fish being successfully cured of Ich.

Neon Tetra Breeding

Neon Tetra breeding can seem like a daunting task, however, it can be incredibly rewarding and exciting. They are difficult fish to breed, so if you’re interested in doing this, make sure you’re prepared for a good chunk of work.

If you’re interested in undertaking this, I’ve written a specific guide that talks all about breeding Neon Tetras. Check it out here.

Neon Tetra Lifespan

Neon Tetra have a fairly wide range for their lifespan depending on their care conditions.

In the wild, Neon Tetras can live up to approximately 10 years, however, in home aquariums they are much more likely to live 5-8 years. When you receive Neon Tetras from the store, they are often very young. Fish farms often export and sell them, as soon as they’re young enough to sell.

Therefore, in a nice aquarium, you’re likely to be able to have your tetras for approximately 5 years. One other thing to take into account here is there has some been some interesting research released recently that shows a correlation between aquarium size, temperature, and the lifespan of your fish.

These studies show that cooler aquariums and larger aquariums tend to let your fish live longer. This might be something work looking into, I plan to investigate it in more detail later.


Neon Tetras are an incredibly popular aquarium fish, with many aquarium owners caring for them at some point. For those of you who are interested, hopefully this care guide can help provide the necessary introduction to taking care of these fish.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

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