Are Neon Tetras Livebearers Or Egg Layers?

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Breeding neon tetras can be a challenging task that often raises questions. When I first started this hobby, I wondered if neon tetras were livebearers.

Coming from a background with guppies and mollies, I assumed neon tetras also give birth to live fry. However, I soon discovered that I was mistaken.

In this article, I will guide you through the entire spawning process of neon tetras, explain how to distinguish between fertilized and unfertilized eggs, and provide guidance on what to do once the eggs are laid.

Let’s dive right in.

Do Neon Tetras Lay Eggs Or Give Live Birth?

Firstly, it’s essential to note that neon tetras don’t get pregnant. They are not livebearers and don’t give birth to live young. Instead, they are an egg-scattering species.

1. Identifying Male And Female Neon Tetras

Start by knowing how to differentiate male from female neon tetras:

  • Physical Differences: Male neon tetras tend to be slimmer and more streamlined, with a straighter line along their bodies. Females, on the other hand, usually appear plumper, especially when carrying eggs. The line along their bodies is often curved.
  • Blue Stripe Distinction: The blue stripe on males often extends further back on their bodies than in females.
  • Similar Appearance Challenges: Overall, it can be quite challenging to differentiate males from females due to their similar appearance, particularly when not in breeding condition.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Eggs 101

2. Identifying If Your Neon Tetra Is Carrying Eggs

Next, see if the female is actually carrying eggs:

  • Body Shape Change: A female neon tetra carrying eggs will appear noticeably more rounded or “plump” in the belly area than usual.
  • Abdominal Bulge: The female’s abdomen might also have a slight bulge or roundedness compared to the male’s which is more streamlined.
  • Gravid Spot Alteration: The gravid spot, an area near the rear of the fish, may darken as eggs mature. However, this can be difficult to notice in neon tetras due to their vibrant coloring.

3. Mating Behavior

Ultimately, decide if your neon tetras are showing any sign of mating behavior:

  • Increased Activity: During the breeding period, both male and female neon tetras may display increased activity and energy levels.
  • Chasing Behavior: Males often chase females around the tank, a sign of courting behavior.
  • Spawning Rituals: The pair of neon tetras will engage in a “dance” where the male wraps around the female to encourage her to release her eggs. After the eggs are released, the male fertilizes them.
  • Egg Dispersal: Neon tetras scatter their eggs rather than laying them in a nest. The eggs will stick to plants or other surfaces in the tank.

Feeding Your Egg-Laden Neon Tetra

If your neon tetra is carrying eggs, it’s essential to feed her properly:

  • Provide a Balanced Diet: To ensure your neon tetras are healthy and in prime condition for breeding, they should be fed a varied diet. This could include flake food, brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms.
  • Feed High-Protein Foods: When preparing for breeding, feeding your neon tetras a diet high in protein can help stimulate egg production. Live or frozen foods like brine shrimp and bloodworms are excellent options.
  • Small, Frequent Feedings: Rather than one large feeding, give your fish small amounts of food multiple times a day. Neon tetras have small stomachs, and frequent feedings will ensure they get the nutrients they need without overeating.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: Overfeeding can lead to severe water and health issues. Any food not eaten within five minutes should be considered excessive and removed to maintain the cleanliness of the tank.
  • Use Vitamin-Enriched Foods: Foods enriched with vitamins can help boost the overall health and immunity of your neon tetras, preparing them better for breeding.
  • Clean the Tank Regularly: Regular cleaning of the tank is crucial, particularly in the breeding period. A clean environment will support the health of your egg-laden tetras and ensure a safer habitat for the eggs and the subsequent fry.

The Spawning Process

  • Courtship Rituals: During courtship, males may chase the females around the tank. This is often followed by a “dance” where the male wraps around the female.
  • Egg Laying and Fertilization: The female releases her eggs, scattering them in the water, and the male fertilizes these eggs externally. Neon tetras do not lay eggs in a nest; they scatter them around the tank.
  • Post-Spawning: After the spawning process, it is best to remove the adult fish to another tank as they may eat the eggs.
  • Egg Incubation: The eggs are left to incubate, typically hatching within 24 hours in a warm, well-conditioned aquarium.

The Hatching Phase

  • Egg Hatching: When the eggs hatch, the neon tetra fry will initially be almost transparent and barely mobile. They’ll remain attached to their hatching surface for some time as they absorb the remainder of their yolk sac.
  • Fry Feeding: Once the fry begin to swim freely (usually after about 3 to 4 days), they can be fed with infusoria or other specially-formulated fry food. Fry are too small to eat regular fish food.
  • Fry Care: During this phase, it’s important to maintain clean water in the tank to prevent diseases. Small, frequent water changes can be beneficial. It’s also important to avoid any sudden changes in water temperature or parameters, as the fry are quite delicate at this stage.
  • Transition to Adulthood: Over the following weeks, the fry will start showing color. It may take a couple of months for them to fully resemble mini versions of their parents and be ready to join a community tank, assuming the other fish are not large enough to eat them.

Feeding Baby Neon Tetras

After the eggs hatch, it’s your turn to step in and feed the fry, as the parents won’t take care of them. This is what you should know:

  • Initial Nutrient Source: For the first few days post-hatching, neon tetra fry survive by absorbing their yolk sac. They do not need additional food during this period.
  • Infusoria Feeding: Once the yolk sac is fully absorbed and the fry begin to swim around (generally around 3 to 4 days post-hatching), they can be fed infusoria – a mixture of microscopic organisms. These can either be cultivated at home or purchased from pet stores.
  • Small, Frequent Meals: Baby neon tetras should be fed small amounts of food several times a day rather than a large quantity at once. Overfeeding can lead to poor water quality and health issues.
  • Gradual Introduction of Larger Foods: As the fry grow, they can gradually be introduced to larger foods. Start with newly hatched brine shrimp, micro worms, or finely crushed flake food. Always ensure the food size is appropriate for the fry to prevent choking.
  • Clean the Tank Regularly: Regular cleaning is crucial to remove any uneaten food and prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria or toxins. However, make sure to avoid sudden changes in water conditions, as baby neon tetras are sensitive to such changes.

Breeding Tank Setup

To ensure the best chance of survival for your neon tetra eggs, allocate a 10 to 20-gallon tank for their development and hatching.

As for the breeding tank setup, this is what you should know:

1. Water Conditions

  • Temperature: The water temperature in a neon tetra breeding tank should be slightly warmer than in a regular tank, typically around 75-80°F (24-27°C). Higher temperatures can stimulate spawning.
  • pH Level: Neon tetras prefer slightly acidic water for breeding. Aim for a pH of around 5.5 to 6.5.
  • Water Hardness: Soft water is ideal for neon tetra breeding. You can use a water conditioner to achieve the desired hardness if your tap water is naturally hard.
  • Water Cleanliness: The breeding tank should be pristine clean to avoid any potential health issues that might affect the spawning process or the survival of the eggs and fry.

2. Equipment

  • Tank Size: A smaller tank, often around 10 gallons, is typically suitable for breeding neon tetras. It should be large enough for the fish to swim comfortably but small enough to facilitate easy egg spotting and fry care.
  • Filter: Use a gentle sponge filter in the breeding tank to maintain clean water without creating strong currents that might stress the fish or harm the eggs and fry.
  • Heater: A reliable heater is necessary to maintain the slightly warmer temperature in the breeding tank. An adjustable heater will allow you to increase the temperature as needed to stimulate spawning.
  • Lighting: Neon tetras prefer subdued lighting for breeding. Dimmable lights or indirect natural light can work well. Covering part of the tank with a dark cloth can also help control the light levels.
  • Thermometer: To ensure that you’re maintaining the correct temperature, use an accurate aquarium thermometer. Regularly monitor the water temperature and adjust the heater settings as necessary.

What Do Neon Tetra Eggs Look Like?

  • Fertilized Neon Tetra Eggs: Fertilized neon tetra eggs are tiny, round, and clear or slightly amber in color. You might see a small black dot at the center of the egg, which is the developing embryo.
  • Unfertilized Neon Tetra Eggs: Unfertilized eggs, on the other hand, will often appear white or opaque and might not adhere to surfaces in the tank as fertilized eggs do. Over time, these eggs may develop fungal growth.

Also Read: Fertilized vs. Unfertilized Neon Tetra Eggs

What Do I Do If My Neon Tetra Lays Eggs?

Here is a brief summary of what you should do if your neon tetras have just laid eggs:

  • Remove the Adult Fish: Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, remove the adult fish to another tank as neon tetras may eat their eggs.
  • Maintain Optimal Conditions: Keep the tank clean, maintain the temperature, pH, and hardness of the water in the breeding range, and ensure the lighting is subdued.
  • Feed the Fry: Once the fry have hatched and started swimming freely (typically after about 3 to 4 days), they can be fed with infusoria or specially formulated fry food.
  • Change Water Regularly: Perform small, regular water changes to maintain water quality. However, avoid sudden changes in water conditions that could harm the delicate fry.
  • Provide Suitable Food: As the fry grow, gradually introduce larger foods like newly hatched brine shrimp or finely crushed flake food.

How Many Offspring Do Neon Tetras Produce?

A female neon tetra can lay 60 to 130 eggs per spawning, but not all of them will hatch.

The number of surviving fry depends on factors like water conditions, parent health, and care provided.

With ideal conditions and care, many eggs can develop into healthy neon tetra fry.

Do Neon Tetras Eat Their Babies?

Yes, neon tetras are known to eat their own eggs and fry.

To ensure the survival of the young, it is advisable to separate the adult fish from the offspring promptly after spawning.


If you are in a rush, here is a quick summary of what I discussed earlier:

  • Neon tetras are not livebearers and do not give birth to live young. Instead, they are an egg-scattering species.
  • Differentiating between male and female neon tetras can be challenging due to their similar appearance, but physical differences and the extension of the blue stripe can help distinguish them.
  • A female neon tetra’s rounded or plump belly and the darkening of the gravid spot can indicate that she is carrying eggs.
  • Mating behavior in neon tetras involves increased activity, chasing behavior, and a spawning dance where the male fertilizes the eggs scattered in the water.
  • Separating adult fish from the eggs immediately after spawning is recommended to ensure the survival of the young, as neon tetras have a tendency to eat their own eggs and fry.