Neon Tetra Care: Diet, Habitat, Tank Conditions & More

Neon tetra close-up.
Neon tetra. H. Krisp, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Neon tetra is one of the most popular fish in the aquarium hobby. The highly adaptive species makes a beautiful addition to a variety of settings. Most famous for their iridescent blue stripe spread horizontally across their bodies, Neon tetras provides a stunning sight as they school across the aquarium. Fortunately, Neons are highly compatible within a community tank, specifically when they belong in a school of at least 6 other Neons.

Neon tetras are native to the Amazon basin of South America, which spreads across Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia and Ecuador, and Chile.

In captivity, Neon tetras are known to live between 2 to 4 years.


The scientific name of the NeonTetra is Paracheirodon innesi. It is also known as the Hyphessobrycon innesi and Cheirodon innesi. Para in Greek stands for “related to”. Cheirodon (from Greek: cheir = hand + Greek odous = teeth), is a genus native to South America, who have similar characteristics to the Paracheirodon genus. Innesi is named after American author, William T. Innes III, who was an aquarist, photographer, printer, and publisher.


The neon tetras are particularly similar to Cardinal tetras. They have a bright blue and red line across their ventral parts. The blue part is the shiniest and reflects light quite intensely. It can be quite amazing to watch a school of fish swim around the aquarium.

The dorsal, pectoral, pelvic fin, and anal fin of Neons are transparent.

Compared to the Cardinal, the Neon tetra are much smaller and are arguably less colorful. However, larger schools of Neons can also produce quite an interesting aquarium. If you plan on buying Neons, inquire with the seller to make sure these are Neons. Fishkeepers often mistake Neons for Cardinals.

To maintain the beautiful coloration of your Neons, make sure that they feel at ease with the other fish in the aquarium. Studies have shown that Neon tetras suppress the iridescence of their scales to avoid predation.

Neon tetras will show slight sexual dimorphism. This means that males and females will have different characteristics and help the sexing process. Female Neons typically are bigger than males upon sexual maturity.

Neons are a small fish. At maturity, Neons are 2-3 centimeters in size or .80 to 1.20 inches.

Habitat & Tank Condition

Neon tetra aquarium.
Credits: Lisa Brewster, CC BY-SA 2.0, 2008 via Flickr.

Neons in the wild are most oftentimes found in dimly lit blackwater settings.

The neon tetras will prefer slightly acidic water parameters. This can be achieved using blackwater extracts, Indian almond leaves (botanicals), and pH buffers. Generally, a pH within the range of 6.5 and 7.5 is recommended.

Since Neon tetras are tropical fish, native to South America, it is recommended that you equip your aquarium with a heater. This will help you maintain the temperature of your aquarium within the appropriate range of 22 to 26 degrees Celsius (72 to 80 Fahrenheit).

Using a filter is strongly recommended. This will help you maintain the quality of the water and the health of your fish.

To maintain the temperature of your aquarium, you will need a heater. We generally recommend heaters from the following brands, EHEIM, Fluval, and Aqueon.

Neon tetras are schooling fish and should therefore be housed in groups of 6 or more. Tetras are quite active and require a lot of space, considering how small they are.

As a rule of thumb, add 2 gallons for each fish. Therefore, an aquarium that can hold at least 10-12 gallons of water should be adequate.

Neon Tetra Diet

Neon tetras are omnivorous and require a varied diet. By providing different kinds of food, you are ensuring that your fish have access to all the nutrients that they need to be healthy.

Plant-based foods like flakes, granules, pellets, and algae wafers are goods choices.

As for protein-based foods, you can use live foods, frozen or freeze-dried foods. Examples of protein sources include bloodworms, water fleas, brine shrimp, infusoria, tubifex, earthworms, etc.

Since neon tetras are small mouths, you should break up their foods to make sure that they easily eat. This can ensure that your tetras have adequate nutrition and prevent blockage.

Feed your Neons twice a day, without over-feeding. Use the 5-minute rule, which states that you should only provide enough for your fish to eat for 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes your fish did not finish all the food that you provided, consider that you have overfed them.


Neon tetra shoal.
Neon tetra shoal. Credits: Tan Meng Yoe at English Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Neon tetras can be a great addition to a community as they are peaceful fish. As a small schooling fish, they may be able to avoid predation from other more aggressive species such as betta fish. The best way to maintain peace is to make sure that there are enough tetras in the aquarium for them to create a school. The more Neons you add to the aquarium, the less stress they will feel.

Predatory fish, like bettas or other bigger tetras, are unlikely to attack the Neons if they are in a school. We recommend that you always keep a close eye on your community tank, especially when it has new arrivals, and monitor for aggressive behavior.

Breeding Neon Tetras

Breeding Neon tetras can be difficult, but with the right set of parameters, it can be achieved. Note that oftentimes, Neon tetras can be a tad fickle and will not reproduce in optimal settings.

Once you have chosen a breeding pair, set them in a separate aquarium without other fish. This will greatly improve your chances of success, as the parents will find themselves sheltered and at most at ease. Dim lighting is another important throughout the entire breeding process.

The aquarium pH should be set between 5.5 and 6, and water hardness below 1.5.

When you are ready to introduce the fish to the aquarium, close the lights of the aquarium for a day or two. Once this is done, begin to slightly increase the dimness of the light every day. This will encourage the fish to spawn.

Once the fish have spawned, remove them immediately from the aquarium. As parents oftentimes eat their own eggs.

You should expect up to 100 eggs per batch. The eggs are adhesive and will stick to plants, rock and sometimes the glass of the aquarium.

The eggs will hatch between 24 to 36 hours, they will remain near the egg for a few days, after which the fish will begin to swim around the aquarium. At this point, you may begin to feed them small foods like infusoria or prepared fry foods.

Make sure to maintain low lights throughout the entire process, as the eggs and the fry are sensitive to light.

After a few weeks, your fry should be big enough to eat brine shrimp.

References 2020. Paracheirodon Innesi. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 December 2020]. 2020. Paracheirodon Innesi. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 December 2020].

Romero, P., 2002. An etymological dictionary of taxonomy. Madrid, unpublished.

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