Neon Tetra Fish – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Neon Tetras

neon tetraQuick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallons (10 Recommended)
Care Level: Easy
Water Conditions: PH 5.5-7.5 and Soft to Medium
Temperature; 68-78F (20-25C)
Maximum Size: 1.5 inches (4 centimeters)

The neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is one of the oldest tropical fish in the hobby, having first been collected and kept as far back as the 1930’s. Despite having been kept by hobbyists for over 80 years now, it still remains one of the most popular and sought after fish. The reasons for that are simple – it’s striking iridescent colors and peaceful temperament, make it a perfect addition to any non-aggressive community tank.

The neon tetra was originally found in South America, inhabiting both clearwater and blackwater streams in Columbia, Peru and Brazil. When found in blackwater streams, the neon tetras remain visible to other members of their species due to their unique and stunning colors.

If it is well taken care of in a home aquarium, it can live up to 10 years, though 5 years is a more common life span. The one thing that most often causes a shortened life span in neon tetras, is the dreaded “neon tetra disease”. It manifests itself as lumps on the body, fading colors and trouble swimming. This disease is usually fatal, and any newly purchased neon tetras should be quarantined before you add them to a tank that has healthy neon tetras.


While many of the early neon tetras found in the hobby were considered to be extremely hardy fish, the ones available now are mainly commercially breed and can be more delicate than the original wild caught neon tetras.

Because of this, it is recommended that they should be housed in at least a 10 gallon aquarium. The larger aquarium ensures that the water quality is more stable, as any major change to the water can prove to be fatal to neon tetras.

Neon tetras are undemanding when it comes to filtration, and thanks to a small bio-load only require a basic HOB (Hang on back) filter or a sponge filter. They should never be added to a tank that hasn’t been properly cycled, and the more mature a tank is, the better.

I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a neon tetra tank. This filter combines excellent filtration with a durable design, and it will keep your tank sparkling clear for years to come. You can also read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Filter Review here.


Neon tetras are omnivores in the wild, and eat algae, small invertebrates and insect larvae. In the aquarium, this diet can be reproduced with a high quality flake food, blanched zucchini medallions and a variety of frozen foods as a treat. When choosing a prepared food, I would recommend New Life Spectrum Small Fish. I have always had success with this food in the past and it is known for its high quality ingredients.

As for frozen foods, neon tetras prefer blood worms, daphnia and brine shrimp. For many of the smaller neons, blood worms can be too large to swallow whole, and you will see them swimming around the aquarium with what look like bloodworm cigars in their mouths. If your local fish store carries live food, then fruit flies and blackworms will also be greedily accepted.

A neon and cardinal tetra.

A neon and cardinal tetra.


Breeding neon tetras can be difficult, and requires very soft water. To begin with, you need to sex the fish to ensure that you place both a male and a female in the breeding tank. The easiest way to sex them is to observe their bellies – the female’s is rounder and will have a slightly bent line on it. The females will also look slightly plumper from above, but this can be a difficult method to accurately sex the fish.

In order to trigger spawning, the fish should be placed in an aquarium with a very short light cycle. While some people claim that they should be kept in darkness, I have found that a short light cycle which is slowly increased also works very well. Another trigger that often works is performing a very large water change (50% or so) which simulates the seasonal rainfall in their natural habitat.

Once the neon tetras have spawned, the adults should be removed from the aquarium, as they will happily eat all of the eggs they have just laid. The eggs will hatch in about 24 hours, and due to their tiny size should be feed infusoria for the first few days. After this, they can be feed baby brine shrimp, or any of the commercial fry products.



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