How To Breed Neon Tetras: A Step-By-Step Guide

Disclosure: When you purchase something through my affiliate links, I earn a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Neon tetras are one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish, and for good reason. They are incredibly beautiful, peaceful, and bring life to fish tanks.

But when it comes to reproduction, they often raise many questions. How do you actually encourage them to breed? Do they breed easily? And how often do they reproduce?

In this article, I will address all of these questions in detail, taking you step-by-step through the breeding process of these fascinating creatures.

Let’s dive right in.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Care Guide

How To Breed Neon Tetras

Follow these steps to successfully breed neon tetras on your own:

Step 1: Set Up A Separate Breeding Tank

The first step in breeding neon tetras is to set up a dedicated breeding tank.

This is crucial to provide a controlled environment that will promote successful breeding and provide protection for the eggs and fry:

  • Choosing the Tank: A tank size of 10-20 gallons is ideal for breeding neon tetras. The tank shouldn’t be too deep – around 10 inches of water is suitable.
  • Setting Conditions: Maintain the temperature between 72-82°F, with a pH of 5.0-7.0, and a water hardness level of 1-2 dGH, which simulates the natural Amazonian environment of neon tetras.
  • Filter Installation: Install a sponge filter for gentle filtration that won’t harm the eggs or fry. My recommendation: Hygger Aquarium Double Sponge Filter (link to Amazon).
  • Adding Decorations: Incorporate non-toxic live plants, like Java moss, for the female neon tetras to deposit their eggs.
  • Cycling the Tank: Before introducing the fish, allow the tank to cycle for 2-3 weeks to ensure the water parameters are stable.

Step 2: Select A Healthy Breeding Pair

The next step is to select a healthy pair of neon tetras. Males are slimmer with a straight blue line, while females are rounder, especially when full of eggs:

  • Visual Identification: Look for bright colors and clear eyes to ensure the selected neon tetras are healthy.
  • Age Factor: Neon tetras are generally ready to breed around six months old.
  • Group Breeding: Although a pair can breed, neon tetras typically spawn more successfully in groups.
  • Observation: Observe the chosen fish for a few days in their current environment to make sure they are free from disease and are behaving normally.

Step 3: Condition The Breeding Pair

Conditioning the neon tetras is an important step to ensure they are ready to breed. Typically, this means giving them a diet that is rich in high-quality proteins:

  • Quality Diet: Feed the neon tetras live or frozen food, such as brine shrimp or bloodworms.
  • Multiple Feedings: Condition the fish by feeding them multiple small meals throughout the day, instead of one big meal.
  • Conditioning Time: Allow at least 1-2 weeks for the fish to become properly conditioned.
  • Female’s Appearance: A successful conditioning phase will result in the female becoming noticeably plumper, indicating she is full of eggs.

Step 4: Introduce The Pair To The Breeding Tank

Once the breeding pair has been conditioned, they should be gently transferred to the breeding tank:

  • Stress-free Transfer: Gently capture the neon tetras with a soft mesh net to minimize stress during the transfer.
  • Night Transfer: It’s preferable to transfer the fish to the breeding tank in the evening, as they usually spawn in the early morning.
  • Acclimation Process: Gradually mix the water from the main tank into the breeding tank to let the neon tetras adjust to the new water parameters.

Step 5: Spawning

Neon tetras tend to spawn in the early morning.

Mimic natural sunrise by gradually increasing light in the tank. Watch for spawning behavior, which includes a courtship dance and egg scattering:

  • Lighting Control: Begin with a dark tank and then gradually increase the light to induce spawning.
  • Spawning Signs: Observe the fish for “dancing” or “chasing” behavior, which indicates they are ready to spawn.
  • Egg Distribution: Neon tetras scatter their eggs, which will adhere to the plants or drop to the bottom of the tank.
  • Parental Separation: Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, separate the parents to safeguard the eggs from potential predation.

Step 6: Incubate The Eggs

The fertilized eggs will need to be carefully incubated. They’ll hatch in about 24 hours at the right temperature:

  • Dim Lighting: Maintain dim lighting conditions in the tank to prevent the growth of harmful fungi on the eggs.
  • Fungus Prevention: If needed, the water can be supplemented with an anti-fungal substance to safeguard the eggs from fungal growth.
  • Observation: Watch for the eggs to become transparent or for small black spots to appear, both signs of healthy, developing embryos.
  • Temperature Maintenance: Keep the water temperature consistent, within the range of 72-82°F to promote successful hatching.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Eggs 101

Step 7: Rearing The Fry

After hatching, the fry will gain the ability to swim freely within a few days.

They will need to be fed appropriately and cared for until they are mature enough to be introduced to the main tank:

  • Feeding the Fry: Initially, feed the fry infusoria or liquid fry food until they are big enough to eat brine shrimp nauplii.
  • Water Changes: Do small, frequent water changes to keep the water quality high but avoid sudden changes in temperature or water chemistry.
  • Observing Development: Look for the development of the neon stripe, a sign of maturing fry, usually seen within a month.
  • Tank Transfer: Once the fry are large enough – typically around 1 inch long – and show the characteristic neon tetra coloration, they can be slowly introduced to the main tank.

Timeline For Breeding Neon Tetras

Breeding neon tetras may take a while. Here is a table describing the general timeline:

Breeding StageDuration
Set Up a Separate Breeding Tank2-3 weeks
Select a Healthy Breeding PairA few days
Condition the Breeding Pair1-2 weeks
Introduce the Pair to the Breeding TankA few hours
SpawningUsually the next morning
Incubate the Eggs24-36 hours
Rearing the FrySeveral weeks (up to a month)

How To Create The Ideal pH For Neon Tetras In The Breeding Tank

Creating the required pH for neon tetras in the breeding tank involves closely monitoring and adjusting the water chemistry.

As I mentioned earlier, neon tetras thrive in slightly acidic water, with a pH range of about 5.0 to 7.0.

This pH can be achieved using various methods such as incorporating peat moss, using pH adjusters, or adding reverse osmosis water:

  • Peat Moss: Peat moss can be placed in the filter or boiled and the water added to the tank to naturally lower the pH. However, it can also tint the water brown, simulating the neon tetra’s natural environment.
  • pH Adjusters: Commercially available pH adjusters can be used to raise or lower the pH as needed. They should be used cautiously according to the package instructions. My recommendation: API PROPER pH 6.5 (link to Amazon).
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water: Mixing RO water with tap water can lower the pH. RO water is virtually pure, with a neutral pH and no hardness, which can help achieve the desired pH level.
  • Routine Monitoring: Regularly test the water pH using a reliable test kit to ensure it remains within the optimal range for neon tetras. I personally use the API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST (link to Amazon).

Do Neon Tetras Breed Easily?

Neon tetras can be somewhat challenging to breed, primarily because they require specific water conditions to spawn successfully.

They need soft, acidic water, and the breeding tank environment must be carefully controlled.

Also, neon tetras prefer to spawn in dim light, so the right lighting conditions are crucial for breeding success:

  • Water Conditions: Neon tetras originate from soft, acidic waters in the wild, and replicating these conditions can encourage spawning.
  • Controlled Environment: A separate breeding tank allows for precise control over water parameters and light conditions.
  • Lighting Preferences: Neon tetras prefer to spawn at dawn, so mimicking a gradual sunrise can help induce breeding behavior.
  • Selective Breeding: It’s crucial to select healthy, mature individuals for breeding to increase chances of success.

Will Neon Tetras Breed In A Community Tank?

Neon tetras are unlikely to breed successfully in a community tank. They require very specific water conditions to breed, which can be difficult to achieve in a community tank. 

Furthermore, eggs or fry in a community tank are highly likely to be eaten by other fish:

  • Specific Requirements: Neon tetras need soft, acidic water and a quiet, dimly lit environment to breed, conditions often unsuitable for a community tank.
  • Egg and Fry Predation: In a community tank, eggs and fry are likely to be consumed by other fish.
  • Stress Levels: The hustle and bustle of a community tank can create stress for neon tetras, which can inhibit their spawning behavior.
  • Space Constraints: Neon tetras need ample space for their courtship “dance” during spawning, which may not be possible in a crowded community tank.

Also Read: 19 Great Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Neon tetras and guppies in my home aquarium

How Often Do Neon Tetra Spawn?

In ideal circumstances, neon tetras can spawn as frequently as every two weeks. However, it’s important to note that their spawning rhythm is influenced by several crucial factors:

  • Fish Health: Neon tetras need to be in good health and well-nourished to have regular spawning. Maintaining their overall health is key to ensuring consistent spawning.
  • Living Conditions: The water parameters are crucial for successful spawning. It is essential to maintain the right temperature, pH level, and water hardness to create an environment that is conducive to spawning.
  • Food: The diet of neon tetras also plays a significant role in their spawning behavior. A high-quality diet rich in protein can stimulate their reproductive instincts and increase the frequency of spawning.
  • Stress Management: Stress can negatively impact the spawning process. To promote regular spawning, it is important to create a peaceful and stress-free environment for the neon tetras. A high-stress environment can discourage them from spawning.

How Old Do Neon Tetras Have To Be To Breed?

Neon tetras are usually ready to breed when they are about six months old.

It’s important that the fish are mature and healthy before they are introduced to the breeding process to ensure successful spawning:

  • Age Factor: At six months old, neon tetras have usually reached sexual maturity and are physically capable of reproducing.
  • Size and Shape: Mature females will have a fuller body shape, especially when filled with eggs, and males will display a straighter blue stripe.
  • Health Indications: Mature and healthy neon tetras display vibrant colors and active behavior, indicating their readiness for breeding.
  • Breeding Readiness: It’s crucial to ensure neon tetras are ready to breed to prevent potential health complications and increase the chances of successful spawning.

How Long Is A Neon Tetra Pregnant For?

Neon tetras don’t actually get “pregnant” in the way that live-bearing fish do, as they are egg layers.

In contrast, the female neon tetra releases eggs into the water, where they are fertilized by the male. Rather than internal fertilization, this external process takes place.

The timing for a female to become ready to lay her eggs can vary, but under optimal conditions, she is usually prepared to spawn every one to two weeks:

  • Egg Production: Female neon tetras produce eggs within their bodies. Under favorable conditions, the eggs within the female’s abdomen become noticeable, forming a visible bulge.
  • External Fertilization: Unlike mammals, neon tetras don’t conceive through internal fertilization. Instead, the male fertilizes the eggs once the female has expelled them into the water.
  • Spawning Frequency: Under optimal conditions, a healthy female neon tetra can be ready to spawn every one to two weeks.
  • Condition Dependency: The readiness for spawning depends largely on the environmental conditions and the health of the neon tetra. Good nutrition and the right water parameters can induce regular spawning.


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

  • Breeding neon tetras requires specific steps and conditions to be successful, such as setting up a separate breeding tank with controlled parameters.
  • Selecting a healthy breeding pair and properly conditioning them through a protein-rich diet are essential for successful breeding.
  • Breeding neon tetras involves moving the pair to the dedicated breeding tank, stimulating spawning, incubating the eggs, and providing care to the fry until they are mature enough to join the main tank.
  • Factors such as water parameters, diet, health, and age influence the frequency of neon tetra spawning, with females typically being ready to lay eggs every one to two weeks under optimal conditions.