Dwarf neon rainbowfish care guide

Dwarf neon rainbowfish (Melanotaenia praecox) is a rather popular aquarium fish kind. It got the name due to the coloring which contains all colors of rainbow in the most unusual and unexpected combinations. Nowadays there are 72 rainbowfish kinds known. All of them inhabit in Australia and neighboring islands.

Habitat in the wild

This group of fishes is relatively new in aquarium husbandry. It has become famous only since 1950s, at that most of the fish kinds have become available on sale only since 80-s.

The Melanotaeniidae is almost not exported from the wild, to a large extent due to successful captive breeding and difficulties when transporting the fish from outlying regions. Besides in many of these regions some of the fish kinds are threaten with extinction.

The family got its name due to the dark stripe (melanos – means black, taenia – stripe), which stretches along the body and it is more or less visible regardless of the kind.

Dwarf neon rainbowfishes habitat includes waters of North Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. These fishes act as a unique visiting card of Australia internal waters and its numerous neighboring islands.

At that about 50% of the family inhabit in the territory of Papua New Guinea, in River Mamberamo and Baliem.

Almost every year you can see new reports about discovering more new kinds of the dwarf neon rainbowfish with unusual coloring. Natural habitats of the new kinds often intersect, however, at that there is no remote hybridization there: apparently, there must be some genetic barrier which prevents it.

Natural biotopes of fishes are quite diversified: these can be both shallow and fast flowing forest, mountain rivers and lakes or bogs, not only freshwater ones, but those with brackish water as well (up to 2-3 permille).

Water temperature in some waters during winter time may decrease up to 5-10 °C, while in summer its value rises up to 35 °C, while water temperature in other basins never gets lower than 22-23 °C. That’s why, it is desirable to be familiar with the conditions in which the fish you bought lives in the wild.

Scientific NameMelanotaenia praecox
Common NamesDwarf neon rainbowfish; dwarf rainbowfish; diamond rainbowfish; neon rainbowfish; Praecox rainbowfish; dwarf neon rainbowfish; peacock rainbowfish
Range and habitatNorth Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia
Sizeup to 8 cm (3.1 in)
Lifespan3-5 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size100 liters (22 gallons) and more
Temperature22-28 °C (71-82 °F)
Water hardness5-12 dGH


All rainbowfishes have elongated body rather flattened from sides and upward-pointing mouth with jaws having small coniform teeth. As the fish grows its body shape changes rather significantly. This is especially true for the male, which become more deep bodied.

A distinctive feature peculiar to all fishes is that they have two dorsal fins very close together. The first fin is smaller, than the second one. The dwarf neon rainbowfish size reaches up to 5 cm (2.0 in) in length, but there are reports of individuals up to 8 cm (3.1 in). Dwarf neon rainbowfish can have a lifespan of about 3 to 5 years when kept in a well maintained aquarium.

Difficulties in keeping

There are fish kinds that are easy to keep as well as rare and demanding ones. As a rule, you can encounter undemanding and adapted species on sale.

Care and keeping in a tank

In the wild the dwarf neon rainbowfish dwells in quite different conditions and requirements to the tank conditions vary significantly for each kind.

It is recommended to buy grown up juveniles and not to look for bright colored adult species, unless it is very important for some reason. Firstly, the juveniles adapt to new conditions easier. Secondly, adult species may bring some infections into your tank together with them.

Although, dwarf neon juveniles have less bright coloring, but it is more predictable. Usually, fishes are not imported, since local breeders provide them for sale. Therefore, the fish you get is not enfeebled by the transportation process and it is also adapted to the water parameters in some specific region.

When putting dwarf neon rainbowfish into your tank you should keep in mind that the fish can jump well. When they play they often jump out of the water, so make sure that you have a proper cover for the tank.

Water parameters

Optimal tank water temperature for dwarf neon rainbowfish is considered to be 22-28 °C (71-82 °F) degrees. The same is about tank water acidity and hardness which diverge greatly in various kinds of natural waters and they vary in the following range: for pH – from 6.0 to 7.0 and from 5 to 12 degrees for total water hardness.

Sometimes water hardness is up to 30 dGH high, which is due to large amount of dissolved salts that ingress into the water from the soil.

To keep and breed dwarf neon rainbowfish in a tank there is no need for special water preparation. The only thing that matters, is the tank water quality in terms of toxic nitrogen compounds content in it. Excessive amount of the latter is not lethal for the fish, but it is highly unwanted.

Optimal tank conditions are the following: clean, transparent tank water with hardness from 7 to 25 dGH, pH 6,8-8,2 and temperature in the range of 22-30 °C (average values are more preferable).

Tank size

Fish would do well in any tank not less than 100 liters (22 gallons) large for a group about 8-10 dwarf neon species. The larger is the tank, the better.

The fish demonstrates maximum of its coloring when it is kept in a spacious, elongated tank, which is thickly planted, but it also has some free space for the fish to swim as well.


Since in the wild fishes prefer fast flowing waters, it will be reasonable to create some imitation of the water flow in a tank by means of a powerful water filter or a circulating pump. As the fish prefers fresh water, it is desirable to renew ¼ of the tank water volume at least once a week (or more often).


You can decorate a tank using snags and long-leaved plants, which will be a shelter and a place to relax for the fish.

Tank mates

Dwarf neon rainbowfishes are rather peaceful ones. They prefer company of their kind and they are good tank mates for most of tank fishes with only one exception, which is presented by slow and long finned. They may nip their fins from time to time.

The more fishes are in the school, the less interest they show towards other kinds. They have enough things to do within the school. The situation is quite the opposite, if there are 2-4 species in a tank.

All rainbowfish kinds are schooling ones by nature and for this reason they prefer a company of their own, since there they feel much more comfortable. Therefore, it is desirable to have not less than 5-6 species in a group.

Since the dwarf neon rainbowfish males are much brighter and slimmer than the females, it is preferable to have more male species in a group. When making efforts to attract female, the males try to show the best of them. Their coloring becomes brighter and more saturated and their movements are fast and graceful.


School prefers to swim in upper water layers, where the fish eagerly feeds on insects that fell into the water, which compose the main part of the diet.

Feeding is not a problem – dwarf neon rainbowfish eat all types of aquarium food, both live and artificial ones. The fish prefers taking food from the water surface or in the depth, it rather seldom feeds from the tank bottom.

It is recommended to add plant food components into the diet, otherwise the dwarf neon rainbowfishes may start to damage new leaves of some tank plants. Hungry fish can nip new soft leaves of aquarium plants, though not all of the kinds do this.

You should keep in mind that rainbowfishes are rather gluttonous, that’s why you have to control the food dosage. Because the fish doesn’t know when to stop and it can easily eat non-stop and fatal outcome is quite possible in this case.

Dwarf neon rainbowfishes grow quite well when being fed with any type of live food. But you shouldn’t include fat food such as tubifex into their diet. Eating such food the fish get fat very fast and they lose their reproductive capacity.

Optimal diet should include both live and artificial food. The diet based only on artificial food has also demonstrated good results.

Gender differences: male vs female

The dwarf neon rainbowfish has rather pronounced dimorphism. The male, as a rule, is larger and has brighter coloring than that of the female; also the body is noticeably higher, especially that of reproductive male species.

When the forepart of the fish dorsal fin is folded, it reaches the beginning of the dorsal end. The edge of dorsal and anal fin ends of the female species is usually more rounded, than that of the male ones.

The color palette of most kinds of females is shifted towards gray-brown colors.

At an early age it is quite challenging to define the gender. To avoid the situation when you have lots of unattractive female species in a tank, instead of bright colored male ones, the best option is to get the juveniles at the stage when their first signs of dimorphism start to show.

If you can’t see these signs, it’s better to get a bit larger number of the fish than it is required. Later you can leave proper number of the fish in a tank depending on their coloring.

Neon dwarf rainbowfish becomes reproductive at the age of 8-12 month old. As for the gender dimorphism, it begins to show from about the age of six month.


For dwarf neon rainbowfish breeding it is enough to have a tank 50-60 cm long. The determinal factor here is only the number of breeders put for spawning into the tank simultaneously.

As for the spawning substrate, you can use several bushes of small leaved aquarium plants (Java moss) and put them along the walls or in the corner of the spawning tank. Tank water parameters don’t have any crucial significance, but it is rather preferable that the water is soft close to the neutral pH value.

The number of dwarf neon rainbowfish male species in the group of fish put for spawning should be slightly bigger, than that of the females.

It’d be rather helpful to keep the breeders separately before spawning, since this shortens the spawning time and allows obtaining the largest possible amount of eggs in 2-3 day period. Diversified diet and high feeding during this period as well as frequent renews of sufficient amount of tank water will also stimulate the spawning process.

Rainbowfishes spawn in portions. Every day during one or two weeks the female lays from 5 to 50 eggs on the plant substrate or capron threads, then there is a break that lasts for couple of weeks.

The breeding group consisting of two females and three male species can lay from 200 to 300 eggs in a week.

Eggs on the plant substrate are rather small at the beginning, but soon they will swell and grow to be up to almost 1.5 mm in diameter. Total number of the eggs is defined by the time during which the breeders stay in the spawning tank (from 2-3 to 7-8 days), their condition and number.

The eggs stick to the substrate by means of filamentary shoots. Since the breeders are capable of eating their eggs, they should be moved together with the substrate into another tank filled with water having the same parameters for further incubation.

The temperature in the incubator should be maintained constant ( ± 1°C), besides moderate aeration is also required. It is possible to add a small amount of some fungicidal agent into the water, for example, methylene blue.

Due to the size and sensitivity its embryos are quite susceptible to many kinds of organic and inorganic compounds dissolved in the water.

That’s why one of the most important conditions of successful breeding is high water quality.

Eggs of the most rainbowfishes don’t develop at daylight. For this reason, lighting in the spawning tank should be dim.

All rainbowfishes have one interesting peculiarity. Unlike other fishes, their larval stage occurs in the eggs. And when juveniles hatch from the eggs, they are already able to feed and swim actively.

Usually about 7-10 days pass from the day of laying eggs till the time when the juveniles hatch. You can keep the adult fishes in the spawning tank till the first juveniles appear. Dwarf neon rainbowfish don’t eat their eggs, but the chances are high that they may start eating the juveniles.

Newborn juveniles gather is large groups near the tank water surface, where the lighting is more intensive.

The juveniles are rather small sized. As a start food for them it’s better to use artificial food for aquarium juveniles, later it can be brine shrimp nauplii.

At that, growing the juveniles by feeding them with artificial food quite often has better results, then in case of natural microplankton diet. The thing is, that at early stages juveniles are more demanding, than grown up juveniles and adult, and they often refuse to eat at all if you give them nauplii of some other kind.

The dwarf rainbowfish neon juveniles grow unevenly, that’s why you should sort them from time to time. Otherwise, larger species may eat their smaller fellows.

For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to keep juveniles of different ages in one tank.