Neon tetra care guide

Neon tetra (lat. Paracheirodon innesi) is a kind of freshwater fish from Characidae family and it is the most popular aquarium species. Except its attractive appearance, the fish is also peaceful and has high adaptivity, i.e. it doesn’t require any specific care.

Habitat in the wild

Neon tetra was discovered in 1934 by French traveler August Rabaut during his expedition around the Amazon jungles. He enjoyed the sparkling fishes he accidentally caught and decided to bring them to Europe for selling.

Europeans became big fans of the fish, but for some period of time it didn’t have any official name. In 1935 some species got to the famous popularizer of aquarium husbandry and also a journal editor William T. Innes, who gave the fishes to his colleague, Dr. George Myer.

As a result the first official article about neon tetrawas published in Biological Society Bulletin in Washington in 1936.

Dr. George Myer, the author of the article named the new fish kind by the surname of his colleague – Hyphessobrycon innesi. Later, the neon tetra kind was renamed into Paracheirodon inessi.

Neon tetra inhabits in South America in the Rio Taquari, Brazilarea ans Paraguay River basins. In the wild prefers to live in slow tributaries of large rivers.

These are rivers with dark water that flow through the thick rain forest, so very small amount of sunlight gets into the water.

The neon tetras lives in schools, inhabits in the middle water layers and feeds on different insects.


This is a small schooling fish that grows to be up to 4 cm (1,57 in) long, lifespan is about 3-4 years. Back is dark, olive drab colored, its abdomen is silvery.

Neon tetra has a opalescent stripe from its eye to its flesh fin and the stripe color varies from turquoise blue to saturated dark blue color. Male has a straight stripe and the female’s tripe is a bit curved in the middle.

There are some species of the fish which have a greenish stripe, not blue and the amateur aqurists name it “green neon fish”.

Difficulties in keeping

Care is rather easy. Even aquarists beginners can keep neon tetras if they have a tank with settled conditions. These fishes are bred for sale in high numbers and, correspondingly, they have become highly adaptive to different tank conditions.

Also is not demanding as for the feed and it’s very good tempered. But, again – all above mentioned is true, if your tank conditions are settled and balanced.

Scientific NameParacheirodon innesi
Common NamesNeon tetra; neon fish; blue neon fish
Range and habitatBrazil, Colombia, Peru
Size4 cm (1.5 in)
Lifespan3-4 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size80 liters (20 gallons) and more
Temperature21–27 °C (70–81 °F)
Water hardness5-10 dGH

Care and keeping in a tank

A new designed aquarium won’t do for tropical fish, since it’s very sensitive to the changes that will occur in this tank later. You should put the neon tetra into a tank only if it has settled conditions and they don’t change any more.

It’s desirable for the water to be soft and acidic with pH about 7.0 and hardness not more than 10 dGH.

However, these are ideal conditions, in reality fish can live even in a very hard water, since as we mentioned above – it adapts well to any conditions.

In the wild inhabits in dark water with lots of fallen leaves and tree roots on the bottom. It’s important: tank to have a lot of shade areas, where the fishes can hide.

Aquarium should be thickly planted, with snags on the bottom, plants on the water surface and some dark corners in it. The tank bottom substrate may be different and with different sized grains, but it’s better for it to be dark colored, because the neon tetra looks better in a tank with such background.

Tank care isn’t difficult. For freshwater fish it’s important that the water is warm 21–27 °C (70–81 °F) and clean. To provide the tetra with these conditions use both internal and external filters and renew 25% of tank water volume every week.


It’s rather easy to feed, since the fish isn’t demanding and it eats all types of feed – live, frozen and artificial. It’s important that the feed has small beadlets, since the neon tetra has a small mouth. Favourite food will be blood worm, tubifex, white worms, brine shrimp.

Tank mates

Neon tetra is a peaceful one. If we don’t take into account the peculiarities of its mating season, in general it’s preferable for the neon tetra to have the same peaceful tank mates. This small tetra is an active schooling fish.

It feels most comfortable in a school of about 6 species and it’s where the most bright colors of the neon tetra can be seen. Naturally, that fish shouldn’t be kept in a tank with very battlesome, aggressive or large species.

Tank mates should be ground species, for example, cory. Each of them will swim in its water layer and they won’t disturb each other. At the same time the feed that fish didn’t eat falls on the bottom where the fish can’t see it.

Neon tetra is also a good tank mate for guppies, glofish, betta, white cloud mountain minnow, harlequin rasbora and other peaceful fishes.

However, cichlid fishes like Jack Dempsey or tiger barbus or other large and aggressive fishes will be rather bad tank mates.

Gender differences: male vs female

Males are smaller and thinner than females and their stripe is straight, without any curves. On the opposite, females are larger than males and they are not that thin with neon stripe curved in the middle of their body.


Breeding neon tetras may be not an easy thing, because special water parameters are required. For successful breeding a separate tank with soft water 1-2 dGH and pH 5.0 – 6.0 is required.

The thing is that if the tank water is more hard eggs don’t get inseminated. The capacity of the tank shouldn’t be large, for one couple 10 liters will be enough, for several couples – 20 liters will do.

Put a sprayer that creates minimal flow in the spawning pond and cover it, since during their spawning period the neon tetras may jump out of the tank.

Cover the tank side walls with paper to lessen the amount of light that gets inside. Water temperature should be 25C. As for the tank plants, it’s better to use moss – female will lay the eggs there.

The tetra couple should be fed with live feed and it’s desirable to keep it separately for a week or two. When the couple is put into the spawning pond there shouldn’t be any light in it at all – this can be done at night, since the spawning begins early in the morning.

Neon tetra male will haunt the female that will lay about 100 eggs on the tank plants.

It’s also possible to use nylon bast wisp instead of the plants. Right after the spawning the couple is removed from the tank, since they may eat the eggs.

The water level in the tank is decreased up to 7-10 cm high and the tank gets shaded completely – you can put it into a closet for example, because larva is very sensitive to light.

The neon tetra larva appear from the eggs in 4-5 days and 3 days later the fry will start to swim.

To grow properly juvenile needs to breathe the air to fill its swim bladder, so make sure that the water surface wouldn’t have any slime on it.

The neon tetra juveniles are fed with very small sized feed – infusorian and egg yolk. Gradually you should add some water into the tank to make the water harder.

It’s important not to have any filters there, since juveniles are very small and they die in them.


The most common disease is Neon Tetra Disease (NTD) or pleistophora disease. This is an infectious disease. Plistiphora hyphessobryconis fungus which infects the muscles is an etiologic agent of this disease.

This infection can get into the tank by different ways: with water, shellfish, instruments and fishes from another tank that has been already infected.

Infected fish has the following symptoms:

  1. – the brightness of its coloring lessens
  2. – the fish tries to stay away from the rest
  3. – they put themselves rudder down at the angle of 60 degrees in the water
  4. – the fish refuses to eat
  5. – the fish makes jumping-like movements
  6. – sometimes the fish abdomen becomes retracted
  7. – the fish fins tissues get damages

Sadly, there is no cure for this disease.

There are some medicines that only slow down the germ number increase, but they don’t eliminate them completely.

The deplorable result is, that if pleistophora disease was found in your tank all fishes must be destroyed, no matter how sorry you feel for them.