How To Care For Neon Tetras – All The Info You Need

Neon tetras are one of the most popular fish to keep in a fish tank. It was my very first type of fish that I put into my fish tank. Even if they are considered easy they need, just like other fishes, to be taken care of the correct way.

How to take care for neon tetras? The tank should at least be 10 gallons (45 liters), temperature should be between 70 F (22 C) and 79 F (26 C). They need to be kept in school and be fed a variety of food.

There are some things to consider, as it is with all fish. There are crucial that you get everything in the fish tank right when keeping neon tetra. In this article, I will go through everything about keeping neon tetra so you can do it the right way.

Difficulty Level

The neon tetra is generally considered an easy fish to take care of. That is probably why it’s one of the most kept fishes in a fish tank all around the world.

The neon tetra is a very sturdy fish beautiful to look at. You don’t need any specific food and the fish is easy to keep with other fish in a community tank.

The neon tetra is also popular in aquascaping where the contrast of the blue color of the neon tetra towards the green color of the plants is generally considered good looking.

Also, the aqua scapers don’t need to put a lot of effort into taking care of the fish and instead focus their care on the plants, which is the most important part of aqua scaping.

Sometimes when you are going to buy or get neon tetras you will instead get cardinal tetras.

They look very similar so it’s easy to confuse them. The cardinal tetra has a red band all the way from the head to the tail while the neon tetra only has a red band from the middle of its stomach to the end of the tail.

Since they look very similar there should be no problem you might think? Well, probably not but you need to be aware that the cardinal tetra is a little bit more fragile than the neon tetra.

All tetras run the risk of getting pleistophora where the cardinal tetra are a little more prone to get it.

Pleistophora is a type of illness caused by bacteria. The bacteria is affecting the fish muscles and are making the fish die within one to three days.

How you see a fish is affected by the bacteria is quite easy. The tetras will lose their color and get a lot of blander in color. If you see your tetra getting bland in color you should immediately remove them to another fish tank.

That’s because the pleistophora will spread quickly in the fish tank. After they starting to lose color they will have a harder time swimming and then dies. There is no cure for pleistophora which makes it the hardest hurdle while keeping neon tetra.

While an illness is the hardest part of keeping neon tetra, everything else is very forgiving. If you take care of your fish tank with regular water changes you lower the risk of them getting ill.

I have written a complete guide on how to change the water in your fish tank if you want to know the best way to change the water.


Neon tetras are characterized by their blue vibrant color and their red stripe on the stomach going from the tail to the middle of the stomach.

Neon tetras will get around 2 inches (5 cm) long.

They live naturally in South America in the waters around Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. It’s very uncommon to have neon tetra that is from the wild in a fish tank. Most neon tetras available in the store are bred.

The neon tetra is an omnivore, eating everything it’s being served.

They are quite easy to get spawn everywhere around plants. But the neon tetra is not very productive. You could say they are lazy. The eggs are hatching after about 24 hours and the fry can swim after 6 days.

It’s best to let them reproduce in a special tank since it takes so long for the fry to be able to swim, they might get eaten in a community tank by the other inhabitants.

It could be quite hard to differentiate the males and females. The males have a blue band on each side that goes in a straight line from the eye to the tail. The males are a little bit thinner and streamlined. The female is the opposite.

They have a blue band at the same spot but not as straight line as it is with the males. The females are a little bit rounder too.

It’s not necessary to get both male and female when buying neon tetras. The chances are that you will get both while buying them since you will have to get a school of them.

The neon tetra needs to be kept in a school of at least ten. Preferably more. They look the best when they swim around in a big school too.

The neon tetra is a friendly fish that will not be a threat to any other inhabitant in your fish tank. That’s also a reason for them to be popular fish in a community tank.

The neon tetra will live about two to three years in a fish tank. In the wild (or if you are lucky) they will live up to ten years!

The neon tetra is a very social type of fish curious about what you do. Most of the time they will swim towards the window of your fish tank as soon as you are closing in on the tank to feed them or just to watch them.

At the same time, they are very cautious of predators. They want to be able to hide when needed. Luckily there are no (or should not be) predators in a fish tank which most of the time makes them very social fish and suitable to keep in a fish tank.

Aquarium Conditions Needed

Neon tetra needs at least a 10 gallon (45 liters) fish tank. The shape of the fish tank should preferably be rectangular. That’s because they are swimmers and swim back and forth.

A round shape of the fish tank is fine too, as long as it’s not a bowl and of the right size. The fish tank should at least be 20 inches (50 cm) wide. The preferred shape of the fish tank is small in height and rectangular.

That’s because the neon tetra naturally lives in rivers and the rivers are characterized by fast-flowing water and low level of water.


The fish tank should be well-planted with lots of plants. That because the neon tetra are small and they need to be able to hide if they feel threatened. The substrate should also be of dark color.

That is also making the tetra feel safer. they will be more vibrant in their color when they feel safe so it’s a win for you too since the tetras will be more beautiful to look at!

To have floating plants is suggested since the plants will lower the light level and provide hiding spots for the fish, which makes them more secure in the tank.

The plants, stones, and wood should be put in with the security and safety of the neon tetra in mind. They need to be able to hide since they are so small.

In the wild, they will be easy bait for bigger fish and they are therefore experts of hiding. I would certainly not play hide-and-seek with a neon tetra.

The lighting should be subdued and are easiest obtained with floating plants. This adds to the safety of the fish. Low light levels make it harder for predators to find them.

You could also get subdued lighting with a lower power lamp for your fish tank.

Since the light should be subdued, it’s a good thing to think of what plants to put in your fish tank. The plants need to be able to grow in low light conditions so plants like Anubias, Java Fern, and cryptocoryne.

These plants are easy to care for and don’t require a lot of light.

As for floating plants, Duckweed and Hornworth are floating plants that are easy to take care of and go well with neon tetras.

Water Conditions Needed

The climate in the water must be matching the climate in their natural environment where they live in the wild. The parameters most important to keep in mind are the temperature, pH, and hardness of the water.

All these parameters are easy to keep track of with tests. On my resource page, you will find every tool that I recommend to measure the condition of the water.


Since the neon tetra is living close to the equator in South America, the temperature must be matching the one in the waters around the equator.

The neon tetra (and other fish) are heat exchangers, meaning that they adjust their temperature depending on the temperature of the water. Around the equator, the temperature is quite stable which means you should have a stable temperature in the fish tank too.

The water temperature could get up to 86 F (30 C) in the water around the equator. But that’s a little too hot for the neon tetra. An optimal temperature for them is between 70 F and 79 F (22-26 C).

Oxygen levels

In nature, the neon tetra is living in clear and well-oxygenated rivers. It’s therefore important to have clean water.

Clean water is achieved by having an effective filter filtrating the water. You should also remove debris from the filter regularly and switch filter media regularly to make sure the water is clean for the neon tetra.

Since they live in rivers you should have a good flow on the surface of the fish tank that will simulate a river. That will also oxygenate the water. Another way to oxygenate the water a little bit is with a bubbler.

But that’s not necessary as long as you move the nozzle from the air pump a little bit more towards the surface.

Salt level

While the ocean has some salt level, on average 35 parts per thousand, the neon tetra is a freshwater fish in a fish tank.

You should never put a tetra in a brackish fish tank or a saltwater fish tank. It will not survive for long in those conditions.

pH and Hardness

The pH of the water is an important measurement. The pH in the oceans is varying depending on where your fish lives. In South America the water a little bit sour to neutral.

pH is measure at a scale ranging from 0 to 14 where 0 is sour, 7 is neutral and 14 is alkaline.

The neon tetra who lives in South America wants the water to be around 7 and a little bit lower since it’s the pH in its natural habitat. The optimal pH for the neon tetra is 5.5 to 7.5.

Be sure the pH is not varying too much, even if its within the range. A lot of varieties is bad for the fish and they will suffer.

You could also hear that you can get fish to get used to other values of pH but that is animal cruelty since the fish will suffer. That is absolutely nothing I support you to do! If you have the wrong pH for neon tetra. Either change the pH if your other fish and plants can handle it (slowly) or put in another fish that can handle your pH.

The stability of pH is tied to the hardness of the water. The water hardness is a measurement of the amount of some salts that are dissolved in the water. It’s measured in GH but it’s better to measure it in carbonate hardness (KH).

The fish doesn’t care about the hardness of the water, but they do care about the pH of the water and with a low KH (1-3) the water is unstable and the pH might fall quickly, which is damaging for the fish.

In nature, the alkaline water (pH over 7) almost always has hard water (KH over 3). In tap water, it could be the opposite. Therefore you should keep an eye out for the hardness.

As it is with neon tetras and other fish that lives in slightly acidic water (pH under 7) the KH should be lower than 3.

Be sure to always use a conditioner while putting in new water in the fish tank. That is helping the neon tetra be healthy and combat pleistophora. Also, it removes heavy metals and chlorine in the water that are damaging the fish.

Diet of Neon Tetras

In nature, the neon tetra is a predator eating small animals and are eating fish eggs. In a fish tank, they don’t. They happily live off of fish food.

With neon tetra, as with other fish, it’s important to give them a variety of food. Neon tetras are omnivores and eat everything. For them to be able to get the right nutrition, vary the food you give them.

If you need help with choosing the right type of food for your fish, I have written a guide for choosing the right food. This guide is applicable for neon tetras and every other fish that you might keep in a fish tank.

For the most part, the normal fish food that you give your fish should be sufficient and is what most people give their fish. Be sure that the food you have is of good quality to lower the risk of the fish getting ill and reducing the risk of bad water quality.

You should vary the food you give them though. With the same food every day it gets boring and you will get problems with malnutrition with your fish.

Vary their food and give them frozen food now and then. You could also give them some peas now and then too as a treat.

Friends To Put Into The Fish Tank

As I stated before, neon tetra is a good fish to keep in a community tank. That’s because they practically fit in a tank with every type of fish. Just be sure that the fish you keep with neon tetras need the same water parameters and are of similar size. Otherwise, the larger fish might eat the neon tetra due to their size.


Guppies are a good tank mate with neon tetra. Guppies are residenting from South America and are living in the same type of water as neon tetra does in its natural habitat.

Guppies require a pH between 6 and 8 which is within the same range as for the neon tetras.

They also need a temperature similar to neon tetras which are logical since they live in the same waters in nature.

Guppies are usually kept in community tanks which neon tetras are too. They even eat the same type of food since guppies also are omnivores. The size of the guppy is similar to the size of the neon tetra. That is good because there will be no problems with bullying which could be the case if the size differs.

There are also risks of bullying if the fish is mean, which guppies are not. The guppy and the neon tetra will leave each other alone.

Another upside with keeping guppies together with neon tetras is its colors. Guppies come in many different colors which make them easy to match the neon tetra blue and red colors. That will make a harmonic fish tank which is nice to look at.


Gourami is residents from Asia and not South America as the neon tetra are.

Even if they are from different parts of the world they suits well together in a fish tank. They require the same pH, where gourami is requiring a pH of 6 to 7.5.

They also match well in their temperature requirement.

Gouramis could get quite big, so do not run the risk of the gourami bullying the neon tetra you should probably go for the smaller dwarf types of the gourami. Go for the honey gourami which is a friendly fish not harming anyone. It is also similar in size to the neon tetra.

The gourami is also thriving in a low fish tank with a lot of plants. Be aware that you don’t block the surface too much with plants or have too much movement at the surface since the gourami needs to get its air from the surface.


Molly is a bit bigger in size than the neon tetra. The size of the molly fish is about 4 inches (10 cm). But in this case, the size doesn’t matter since the molly is a friendly fish.

It’s a little bit harder to keep molly with neon tetras since the criteria of keeping the fish differs a little bit. The pH the molly needs are about 7 to 8. That makes it that you need to have the pH at a stable 7 to be able to keep the two fishes together.

The temperature is also a little bit different for the molly which is living in largely the same types of water in South America as the neon tetra does.

They eat the same type of food as the neon tetra does. The molly also comes in a large variety of shapes and forms which makes them a good complement to the neon tetra to get some variety in the fish tank.

Other tetras

Other types of tetras are also possible to keep in the same fish tank. They are the same size, eat the same type of food, and require mostly the same type of water parameters.

Some might think it would be boring to just have different types of tetras in their fish tank but the truth is that the tetras come in different colors and sizes.

Not all tetras are suitable in a fish tank at all. Do you maybe know the piranha? It is a type of tetra but is not suitable to keep with any fish, or in a fish tank for that matter. You have to read exactly about the specific tetra species if it suits your fish tank.

Be sure not to have too many different species in the fish tank though. It’s better to have a large number of few species, rather than a few individuals of a lot of species.

If you follow that rule you will generally get a nice-looking fish tank. I have seen a lot of fish tanks only containing schools of neon tetras that are very good-looking.

You should avoid putting fish that are threatening the neon tetra in the same fish tank. That is mainly larger species of fish and fish that are from other types of water like Malawi cichlids which require alkaline water.

The larger fish are sometimes eating the neon tetra, thinking they are food.


The neon tetra is one of the most kept fish in not only a community fish tank but also in aquascaping tanks. That’s because they are very resistant to illness and easy to keep.

Also, they are very beautiful to look at. The neon tetra is easily available and cheap to buy which also helps to keep its popularity up.

They thrive in community tanks, just be sure the pH and the temperature are right for them. The biome should be like in South America. Be also sure the fish tank are containing a lot of plants and a lot of hiding spots for the neon tetra to hide when it feels threatened.

Be sure that you don’t put too large of a fish in your fish tank together with neon tetras. The risk is that your tetras will become food to the larger fish.

Related Questions

Do neon tetras die easily? As long as the pH is stable and your fish tank not getting infected the neon tetra are sturdy and won’t die easily.

How can you tell if a neon tetra is stressed? When they swim around without knowing where they are going and if the gills are moving fast is a sign of stress for a neon tetra.


I have been a fish keeper a big part of my life. During the years I have gathered and searched a lot of information about fish keeping and here, on the website, is where I share that information to help you with your fish keeping. I want to provide the information that I didn't get when I had a question about my fish tank.

Recent Posts