Freshwater fish, Characiformes (Characins), Information, Species, Tetras

Neon Tetra: Complete Species Overview

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by Jason Matthews



Most aquariums across the world have neon tetras. These active, colorful freshwater fish are so popular among aquarists; therefore, if you want to become one, they are an excellent option to start with. They are a peaceful variety, so you shouldn’t have a problem keeping them with other peaceful species.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at neon tetras, their behaviors, appearance, diet and feeding habits, origin, tank requirements, and breeding to help you get started.


Scientific Name: Paracheirodon innesi

Common Names: Neon tetra, neon fish

Life Expectancy: 5 to 10 years

Adult Size: 1.5 inches


Beginner friendlyYes
Water temperature68 – 76F
Water parametersa pH of 6-7, hardness less than 10 GH
Tank preferenceMid-level
Tank sizemin. 10 gallon

Fun Fact

As a popular fish species, neon tetras are in almost every aquarium. The exact number of neon tetras in the world is not known. However, less than 5% of this species is caught in the wild and sold in the U.S. markets. Estimates show that more than 1.5 million neon tetras are imported from the fish farm to America.


Neon tetras are native to South America. In their natural habitat, you’ll find these fish species in the Amazon River basins in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. They live in clear and black water; however, they prefer areas with slow-moving rivers, dense vegetation, and little light.

Captive-bred neon tetras mostly come from Europe. They are quite the hot commodity in most fish stores because of their looks and peaceful demeanor.


[Image credit: Gabriel Douglas, Pixabay]

One of the most distinctive features of this species is its color. They have a bright neon blue stripe on both sides of the body that runs from the nose to the adipose fin. Below this stripe, neon tetras also have another red stripe that runs to the tailfin. 

The lower abdomen part has a shiny silver coloration. Neon tetras are popular for their colors because of this striking red, blue, and white color combination.

The neon tetra is often confused with the cardinal tetra. However, they are distinct because the cardinal tetra has a red stripe extending the entire length of the fish from the snout to the tail. Thanks to captive breeding, neon tetras come in different varieties, including:

  • Albino – These varieties don’t have the signature blue and red color. Instead, they are white and pearly.
  • Longfin – They have long fins, almost like the wild neon tetras
  • Golden – These varieties look like albinos; however, they have most of the colors. They don’t have a light blue color, while some have red and blue stripes.
  • Diamond – They don’t have a bright stripe. Instead, they have a bright blue diamond shape on the heads.


In terms of size, neon tetras are quite small. As adults, they grow to about 1.5 inches in length. Their bodies are narrow, thin, and torpedo-shaped.

Gender Differences

Compared to other fish species, neon tetras don’t have distinct differences between males and females. You might notice that the females have rounded bellies, making the stripe appear slightly curved.

Typical Behavior

Neon tetras are an excellent option if you are looking for peaceful varieties. They are also schooling fish, so they prefer to be kept together with other neon tetras. Therefore, you should keep them in groups of about six. However, if you have a bigger tank, you can get more than eight neon tetras.

They are active fish, so they will spend most of their time swimming in the middle column. Since they swim together, they are fun to watch. However, during the mating season, you need to be more observant because they can become a bit unruly.


Apart from fellow neon tetras, you can keep this fish species with other tankmates as long as they are not aggressive. Neon tetras work well in a community tank with other peaceful species like guppies, platies, dwarf gouramis, Corydoras catfish, rasboras, and small catfish species.

Avoid placing your neon tetras in the same tank as bettas and African Cichlids, which are known to be aggressive. Because of their small size and bright colors, they can be mistaken for food by large, aggressive species.

Tank Size and Requirements

Although they are nano fish, neon tetras need a minimum tank size of 10 gallons. Because they are schooling fish, you’ll need about six of them in one tank with enough space to swim around. Avoid keeping too few or too many of them in one tank; otherwise, they’ll get stressed.

You must also have the right water conditions for your neon tetras to survive. Since they originate from the Amazon River basin, you can set up similar conditions. The ideal water temperature is 68 -76F, and the water hardiness should not exceed 10 dGH. Additionally, ensure that the pH levels are below 7.0.

Include lots of dense vegetation in the tank, driftwood, natural wood, and floating plants to create dark areas for the fish to hide. For the substrate, sand or gravel can work well. In addition, ensure that you have proper filtration to keep the tank clean.

Diet and Feeding

[Image credit: Juan Carlos Palau Díaz, Pixabay]

Since they are omnivores, they will eat almost anything. In their natural habitat, these fish varieties feed on insect larvae, dead vegetation, and crustaceans in the water. Therefore, when you have them in captivity, you can mimic this diet by feeding them micro pellets and quality flake food. You can also include frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp as treats.

Neon tetras are active species, so they have high energy requirements. You can feed them in the morning and the evening. Keep the food pieces small because the fish have small mouths to avoid choking.


When it comes to breeding, neon tetras are challenging. You’ll need to set up a separate breeding tank, cover it and turn off the lights. Before transferring the breeding pair to the tank, you must condition them with live foods. Keep them in the dark on the first day and keep exposing them to light with each passing day to trigger breeding.

Neon Tetras are scatter breeders, laying about 200 eggs at once. Once the eggs have been fertilized, remove the adults from the tank. Maintain the low lighting until the eggs hatch.


Neon tetras are quite popular among hobby aquarists because of their appearance, temperament, and care level. You can’t go wrong with them once you get the breeding and care process correct.

Featured image credit: Leroy Dickson from Pixabay


Jason Matthews

My name is Jason Matthews, and welcome to my website. When other kids were bragging about how their dog could sit and roll over, I was bragging about my latest Betta Fish and the cool sea castle I just added to his aquarium. 

Jason aquariume

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