Neon Tetra Care Guide: Tank Setup, Feeding, Breeding & More

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Neon tetras are pretty common in home aquariums, mainly because they are easy to care for and extremely beautiful. They also get along pretty well with other fish.

But how do you actually care for them? What is the right way to feed them? What should be in their tank? And what if they catch a disease?

In this article, I will walk you through all of these questions and much more. Let’s dive right into it.

Neon Tetra: Quick Overview

Neon Tetras are vibrant freshwater fish from South America, known for their lively nature and stunning appearance.

They grow to around 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) and exhibit iridescent blue and red stripes that enhance their visual appeal.

With their striking colors, peaceful temperament, and captivating schooling behavior, neon tetras are highly popular in the aquarium hobby, especially in planted tanks.

These small fish thrive with a balanced diet, stable water conditions, and ample hiding spots. With proper care, they can live for 5-10 years, adding joy and beauty to any aquarium.

Also Read: 15 Things You Should Know About Neon Tetras

How To Care For Neon Tetras

Here is a complete roundup of how to care for neon tetras, starting with their tank setup:

Neon Tetra Tank Setup

Let’s start by setting up your neon tetras tank correctly:

Tank Size

A neon tetra should ideally be housed in an aquarium that’s at least 20 gallons in size.

Neon tetras are schooling fish and to mimic their natural behavior, a group of at least 15-20 neon tetras is recommended, and a 20-gallon tank provides the needed space.

Smaller tanks often result in stress and aggressive behavior among neon tetras due to inadequate swimming space.

Some key points to consider regarding the tank size for neon tetras:

  • Room to School: Neon tetras display their natural behavior when given ample room to school together. Without enough space, neon tetras may experience stress and their overall health may suffer.
  • Water Quality: Larger tanks can dilute waste and toxins better than smaller tanks, helping maintain optimal water quality that is essential for the well-being of neon tetras.
  • Exploration and Exercise: Neon tetras are active swimmers, so having a larger tank encourages more exploration and exercise, which is crucial for their health and happiness.


Neon tetras are tropical fish and prefer a steady temperature between 70-81°F (21-27°C).

A good quality aquarium heater with an adjustable thermostat will help maintain this temperature.

Large and sudden temperature changes can cause stress in neon tetras and potentially lead to diseases.

When determining the temperature for neon tetras, it is important to consider several key points:

  • Tropical Environment: Maintaining a temperature in the mentioned range is essential because it mimics the tropical environment where neon tetras naturally live.
  • Metabolic Functions: The proper temperature is crucial for the smooth functioning of the metabolic processes of neon tetras, affecting their feeding and growth.
  • Disease Prevention: Consistent water temperature prevents stress-related diseases and strengthens the immune system of neon tetras.

Water Acidity

The water’s pH level for neon tetras should ideally be slightly acidic, between 5.0 and 7.0. This is similar to their natural Amazonian water habitat, promoting their health and vitality. 

Using a reliable pH test kit like the API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST (link to Amazon) ensures the water parameters are kept in check.

There are a few important factors to keep in mind when deciding on the pH for neon tetras:

  • Natural Habitat Replication: A slightly acidic pH mirrors the conditions of the Amazon River, which is the natural habitat of neon tetras.
  • Health Factors: The right pH range helps in maintaining the mucous membrane of neon tetras, which protects them from infections and diseases.
  • Vibrancy of Color: The correct pH level aids in keeping the colors of neon tetras vibrant, which is a sign of good health.

Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate

In a well-cycled aquarium for neon tetras, the levels of ammonia and nitrite should be zero, while nitrate levels should be kept below 20 ppm.

High levels of these substances can be toxic to neon tetras.

Regular water changes and using a good quality filter can ensure the maintenance of these parameters.

When it comes to toxins like ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, there are a few key points to consider:

  • Toxicity Prevention: Neon tetras are sensitive to ammonia and nitrite; maintaining zero levels prevents toxic conditions that could lead to their death.
  • Nitrogen Cycle Stability: The nitrogen cycle, facilitated by beneficial bacteria in the filter, converts harmful ammonia and nitrites to less toxic nitrates; this cycle is essential for a healthy neon tetra aquarium.
  • Water Quality: Regular water changes and the use of quality filtration help to control nitrate levels, ensuring high water quality for neon tetras.


An adjustable aquarium heater is a must-have for a neon tetra tank to maintain the required warm temperatures.

A heater like the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater (link to Amazon) that allows for precise temperature control is recommended.

It ensures the health and comfort of your neon tetras by preventing temperature fluctuations:

  • Temperature Stability: A heater maintains the ideal temperature range for neon tetras, mimicking their tropical environment.
  • Adjustability for Precision: Heaters with adjustable thermostats allow accurate control over the water temperature, ensuring a comfortable habitat for neon tetras.
  • Disease Prevention: By avoiding temperature fluctuations, a heater can prevent various stress-induced diseases in neon tetras.

Air Pump, Bubbler

While not strictly necessary, air pumps and bubblers can be beneficial in a neon tetra tank to encourage gas exchange and maintain high oxygen levels.

However, equipment such as the Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump (link to Amazon) should be adjusted to ensure it does not create a strong current, as neon tetras prefer calm waters.

When caring for neon tetras, it is crucial to consider specific key aspects regarding air pumps and air bubblers and how they contribute to oxygenation:

  • Oxygenation: Air pumps and bubblers increase the oxygenation of the water, promoting the health and well-being of neon tetras.
  • Gas Exchange: These devices also facilitate better gas exchange, preventing the buildup of harmful gases in the neon tetra aquarium.
  • Water Current: While beneficial, care should be taken to ensure the water current caused by air pumps or bubblers is not too strong for the small neon tetras.


Filters are essential for any aquarium, including those housing neon tetras, for maintaining water quality.

High-quality filters like the AquaClear Power Filter (link to Amazon) can effectively manage the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, thereby helping to ensure the health of the neon tetras.

They do this by providing a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow, which convert these harmful substances into less toxic forms.

Consider this:

  • Water Quality: A good filter helps maintain optimal water quality by removing waste products and excess food, crucial for the well-being of neon tetras.
  • Biological Filtration: The filter media support the growth of beneficial bacteria, which are key players in the aquarium nitrogen cycle, converting harmful waste into safer compounds for neon tetras.
  • Prevent Toxicity: By filtering out harmful toxins and maintaining the chemical balance in the water, filters can prevent the occurrence of various diseases in neon tetras.


Live plants, such as Java moss or Anubias, are beneficial in a neon tetra tank as they replicate the tetra’s natural environment and provide hiding places.

Additionally, plants absorb harmful substances like nitrates, thereby improving water quality. They can also contribute to a balanced aquarium by producing oxygen during the day.

This is what you should know:

  • Natural Habitat: Live plants replicate the dense vegetation of the Amazon River, providing neon tetras with hiding spots and a more natural, comforting environment.
  • Water Quality: Plants play an important role in maintaining water quality by absorbing harmful substances, and can reduce stress and promote healthier neon tetras.
  • Oxygen Production: During photosynthesis, plants produce oxygen, enhancing the oxygen level in the water which is beneficial for neon tetras.


Neon tetras, being native to shaded streams and rivers, do not require intense lighting in the aquarium.

Moderate lighting, such as provided by a NICREW ClassicLED Aquarium Light (link to Amazon), can show off the neon tetra’s vibrant colors without causing them stress.

It’s important to maintain a regular light-dark cycle to replicate their natural environment and promote their overall health.

Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Visibility of Colors: Moderate lighting in the tank can enhance the beautiful, vibrant colors of neon tetras, making them more visually striking.
  • Mimics Natural Habitat: Neon tetras are accustomed to living in shaded environments; hence, too much intense light can stress them out. A balance of light and dark periods mimics their natural habitat.
  • Promotes Health: A regular light-dark cycle is crucial for the overall health of neon tetras, impacting their sleep, feeding patterns, and stress levels.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Tank Setup

How To Feed Neon Tetras

When considering how to feed neon tetras, there are three main things to consider: what do they eat, how much, and how often to feed them:

What Do Neon Tetras Eat?

Neon tetras are omnivores and thrive on a varied diet.

Their meals can include high-quality flake food like API TROPICAL PELLETS (link to Amazon), micro pellets, and freeze-dried or live foods like brine shrimp and daphnia.

Additionally, offering occasional vegetable matter like blanched peas can provide beneficial nutrients.

This is what you should know:

  • Balanced Diet: The diverse diet of neon tetras helps ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients to maintain their health and vibrant colors.
  • Mimic Natural Diet: In their natural habitat, neon tetras consume a mix of small invertebrates and plant matter. Replicating this in their diet helps support their overall well-being.
  • Feeding Variety: Different types of foods not only meet nutritional needs but also provide variety, keeping meal times interesting for neon tetras.

How Much Do Neon Tetras Eat?

The amount of food neon tetras need varies with their size, but generally, they should be fed an amount they can consume in around 2 minutes.

Overfeeding can lead to water quality issues and health problems for the fish. Careful observation of their feeding habits will allow you to adjust the amount of food as necessary.

These are the main key points to consider:

  • Prevents Overfeeding: Feeding neon tetras only as much as they can eat within 2 minutes helps prevent overfeeding, which can lead to obesity and other health issues.
  • Maintains Water Quality: Uneaten food quickly decomposes and contributes to poor water quality, which can harm neon tetras. Hence, proper portioning is essential.
  • Adjusted According to Needs: Observing the neon tetras’ feeding habits allows adjustments to their feed quantity as needed, promoting their health and growth.

How Often Do Neon Tetras Eat?

Neon tetras should ideally be fed small amounts 2-3 times per day.

This feeding schedule mimics their natural eating habits in the wild, keeps their metabolism active, and reduces the risk of overfeeding.

This is what you should know:

  • Natural Eating Habits: In the wild, neon tetras eat frequently throughout the day. Feeding them 2-3 times per day replicates this natural behavior.
  • Metabolic Health: Regular, small meals keep the metabolism of neon tetras active and healthy, contributing to their overall well-being.
  • Overfeeding Prevention: Multiple small feedings instead of a single large meal can help avoid overfeeding, which can lead to poor water quality and health problems for neon tetras.

Also Read: How To Feed Neon Tetras

How To Pick Tank Mates For Neon Tetras

Neon tetras are peaceful fish and do well with other non-aggressive species of similar size. 

Suitable tank mates for neon tetras include other types of small tetras like cardinal tetras, peaceful bottom-dwelling fish like corydoras catfish, and gentle creatures like guppies.

Avoid housing them with large, aggressive fish that could view the small neon tetras as prey.

These are the main things to consider when picking tank mates for your neon tetras:

  • Peaceful Co-existence: Neon tetras thrive in a peaceful environment, so choosing non-aggressive tank mates ensures their well-being and reduces stress.
  • Size Compatibility: Tank mates of similar size are less likely to intimidate or harm neon tetras, allowing them to live comfortably without fear of being bullied or eaten.
  • Behavioral Compatibility: Fish that have similar water parameters and behaviors, such as schooling or bottom-dwelling habits, can make great companions for neon tetras, promoting a harmonious tank environment.

For example, I would stick to peaceful species like:

  • Corydoras catfish (Corydoras spp.)
  • Harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
  • Cherry barb (Puntius titteya)
  • Ember tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)
  • Honey gourami (Trichogaster chuna)
  • Celestial pearl danio (Danio margaritatus)
  • Otocinclus catfish (Otocinclus spp.)
  • Black neon tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi)
  • Guppy (Poecilia reticulata)
  • Molly (Poecilia sphenops)

On the other hand, avoid aggressive and dominant fish like:

  • Betta fish (Betta splendens)
  • Tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona)
  • Red-tailed black shark (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor)
  • Jack Dempsey cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)
  • Green terror cichlid (Andinoacara rivulatus)
  • Convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
  • African cichlids (Various species from the Cichlidae family)
  • Red devil cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)
  • Oscar fish (Astronotus ocellatus)
  • Giant gourami (Osphronemus goramy)

Also Read: 19 Great Neon Tetra Tank Mates

Neon tetras swimming with guppy fish in my aquarium

How To Breed Neon Tetras

Breeding neon tetras can be quite a rewarding endeavor, but it also involves a careful and meticulous approach.

Neon tetras are egg scatterers and do not provide parental care, meaning the process must be carefully orchestrated by the aquarist:

  • Set Up a Breeding Tank: First, prepare a breeding tank (10 to 20 gallons) with soft, acidic water (pH 5.0-6.0), using peat moss or blackwater extract. Keep the temperature around 77°F.
  • Prepare a Spawn Site: Include fine-leaved plants or a spawning mop in the tank. These will provide a location for the neon tetras to deposit their eggs.
  • Select Breeding Pair: Choose a healthy, mature pair (6-12 months old) displaying bright colors, where the female should have a rounded belly, indicating readiness to spawn.
  • Diet and Conditioning: For 1-2 weeks before breeding, feed the neon tetras a high-quality diet, including live or frozen brine shrimp and daphnia. This will condition them for spawning.
  • Introduction to Breeding Tank: Once conditioned, introduce the neon tetra pair into the breeding tank. Maintain low light conditions as neon tetras prefer to spawn in the dark.
  • Observe Spawning Behaviour: The male will chase the female around the tank. Spawning typically occurs in the early morning, with the female scattering up to 100 eggs around the tank.
  • Remove Adult Fish: Immediately after spawning, remove the adult neon tetras to prevent them from eating the eggs.
  • Maintain Optimal Conditions: Keep the tank dark, as the eggs and fry are sensitive to light. Maintain the water temperature around 77°F.

Also Read: How To Breed Neon Tetras

How To Care For Neon Tetras Eggs

Caring for neon tetras eggs is a delicate process and requires attentiveness. Here are some tips:

  • Protect from Light: Neon tetra eggs are sensitive to light, so keep the breeding tank in a dark or dimly lit location to protect them.
  • Water Parameter Maintenance: Ensure the water quality in the tank remains optimal by paying attention to key factors:  pH of 5.0-6.0 and temperature at 77°F (25°C).
  • Remove Adult Neon Tetras: Immediately after spawning, remove the adult neon tetras from the tank. They might eat the eggs if left in the tank.
  • Provide Cover: Make sure you provide plenty of plants or a spawning mop. The neon tetra eggs will stick to these surfaces and it provides some protection.
  • Monitor for Fungus: Keep a close eye on the eggs for any sign of fungus, which appears as a white cottony growth. Fungal spores can rapidly spread and kill all the eggs.
  • Treat Infected Eggs: If you notice any fungal infection, remove the affected eggs immediately to prevent it from spreading.
  • Feeding Not Required: Currently, there is no need to provide food for the eggs. However, once they hatch (usually within 24 hours), the larvae will sustain themselves by consuming their yolk sacs.
  • Regular Water Changes: Conduct small, regular water changes (about 10% daily) to maintain high water quality, but be careful not to disturb the eggs.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Eggs 101

How To Tell The Difference Between Male And Female Neon Tetra

Sexing neon tetras can be quite challenging due to their small size and relatively similar physical characteristics between sexes.

However, there are a few signs you can look for to determine their gender:

  • Size: Generally, adult female neon tetras are slightly larger than males: 1.4 and 1.2 inches respectively.
  • Body Shape: Look at the overall body shape of the neon tetra. Females generally exhibit a rounder and fuller body shape, especially when observed from the top or side. This is especially noticeable when they are carrying eggs. In contrast, males possess a sleeker and more slender body shape.
  • Coloration and Stripe: Both males and females have a characteristic neon blue stripe. However, in males, this stripe is usually straighter and more linear. Females, due to their rounded bellies, often have a stripe that appears slightly bent or curved.
  • Behavior: Male neon tetras can be more active and may display more assertive behavior, especially during the breeding period. They may chase females around the tank, which can be an indication of their sex.

Treating Common Diseases In Neon Tetras

Like any other fish, neon tetras may suffer from various diseases. Here, I’ll discuss some of the most common ones:

Neon Tetra Disease (NTD)

This is a progressive disease caused by a microsporidian parasite, Pleistophora hyphessobryconis, affecting primarily neon tetras.

Infected fish typically display symptoms such as lumps or cysts, fading coloration, restlessness, and difficulty swimming.

As the disease progresses, the fish might also become less social, refusing food, and eventually succumb to the illness.

What to do:

  • Early Isolation: Immediately separate infected neon tetras to prevent the disease from spreading. The parasite can be transmitted through cannibalism, where healthy fish eat the dead infected ones.
  • Maintain Water Quality: Keeping high water quality is crucial. Regularly change 10-20% of the tank water, and ensure that the water parameters are optimal for neon tetras: pH 6.0-7.0, temperature 72-80°F (22-26°C).
  • No Known Cure: Unfortunately, there is no known cure for NTD once the symptoms have manifested. The best approach is prevention through quarantine of new fish and maintenance of good water quality.
  • Euthanize If Necessary: If a neon tetra is severely suffering and showing advanced symptoms, humane euthanasia might be the kindest option.

Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis)

Also known as white spot disease, Ich is caused by a parasitic protozoan.

Infected neon tetras will show small white spots on their bodies and gills, might have clamped fins, and show signs of discomfort such as rubbing their bodies against objects.


  • Raise Water Temperature: Gradually increase the temperature of the tank water to 86°F (30°C) over a period of 24 hours. Ich cannot survive in higher temperatures.
  • Medication: Treat the tank with an ich-specific medication, such as malachite green or methylene blue. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Regular Water Changes: Perform frequent water changes (15-20%) during the treatment process to eliminate free-swimming ich parasites and improve the overall water quality.
  • Salt Treatment: For less severe cases, a salt treatment can be used. Add non-iodized salt (1-2 teaspoons per gallon) to the tank.

Fin Rot

Caused by bacterial or fungal infections, fin rot often occurs when neon tetras live in poor water conditions.

It presents as fraying or discoloration at the edges of the fins. As the disease advances, the fins will gradually shorten.


  • Improve Water Quality: Regular water changes, along with adequate filtration, can prevent and help cure fin rot. Ideal conditions for neon tetras should be maintained.
  • Antibacterial Medication: Treat the aquarium with an over-the-counter antibacterial medication suitable for treating fin rot. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Isolation: Consider isolating the infected neon tetra to prevent the spread of the disease and to make treatment more effective.


Also known as cotton-mouth disease, columnaris is a bacterial infection caused by Flavobacterium columnare.

It appears as white or grayish spots or patches on the skin, fins, and gills. Neon tetras may show signs of respiratory distress, lethargy, loss of appetite, and may have frayed fins.


  • Isolate Infected Fish: Once diagnosed, it’s best to isolate the infected neon tetras to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Antibacterial Treatment: Use an antibiotic that specifically targets gram-negative bacteria, like kanamycin or tetracycline, to provide treatment.
  • Maintain Optimal Conditions: Keep water parameters at optimal levels for neon tetras, as stress from inadequate conditions can exacerbate the disease.

Swim Bladder Disease

This condition often affects neon tetras when their swim bladder, a gas-filled organ used for buoyancy, gets impaired.

Fish with this disease have trouble swimming, often floating upside-down, sinking to the bottom, or swimming at odd angles. Overfeeding or poor diet often cause this disease.


  • Fasting: If overfeeding is suspected, stop feeding the neon tetras for 24-48 hours to allow the swim bladder to heal.
  • Peas as a Remedy: After fasting, feed them cooked, shelled peas. Peas act as a natural laxative and can help if the issue is due to constipation.
  • Monitor Diet: Ensure neon tetras are getting a balanced diet. Over-reliance on dry foods can lead to swim bladder issues.
  • Water Quality: Maintain optimal water quality. Stressful conditions can cause swim bladder issues.

Also Read: 17 Neon Tetra Diseases

Identifying And Treating Stressed Neon Tetras

Identifying signs of stress in neon tetras is crucial to ensure their wellbeing. Signs can include:

  • Gasping: If a neon tetra is frequently surfacing and seems to be gasping for air, this could be a sign of stress or poor water quality.
  • Hiding: Neon tetras are generally active and social. If they’re spending more time hiding than usual, this could indicate stress.
  • Lack of Appetite: If your neon tetra is refusing food or eating less than usual, this could be a sign of stress.
  • Loss of Color: Neon tetras are known for their bright coloration. If their colors become dull or they lose their characteristic neon stripe, it could be a symptom of stress.
  • Erratic Swimming: If you notice your neon tetras swimming erratically or darting around the tank, this could be a sign of stress.
Stressed neon tetra losing its color

Here’s how you can treat a stressed neon tetra:

  • Check Water Parameters: Regularly test your water for pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. These should be within suitable ranges for neon tetras: pH 6.0-7.0, ammonia 0, nitrite 0, and nitrate below 20 ppm.
  • Maintain Proper Temperature: Ensure the temperature is stable and within the range neon tetras thrive in (between 70-81°F, or 21-27°C). Temperature fluctuations can stress your fish.
  • Proper Nutrition: Feed neon tetras a varied and balanced diet. Overfeeding can cause water quality issues and underfeeding can lead to malnutrition – both causing stress.
  • Provide Adequate Hiding Places: Add more plants or decorations to the aquarium. This gives the neon tetras places to hide, reducing stress by providing them a sense of safety.
  • Reduce Loud Noises and Vibrations: Keep the aquarium in a quiet location, as neon tetras can be sensitive to loud sounds and vibrations.
  • Separate Aggressive Tank Mates: If a neon tetra is being harassed or bullied by more aggressive fish, it may be necessary to remove the aggressor.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Neon tetras need space to swim freely. As a general rule, provide at least 1 gallon of water for every inch of neon tetra, but consider larger tanks for better comfort and health.

Also Read: Stress In Neon Tetras


Caring for neon tetras is pretty straightforward. Basically, even if you don’t have much experience, you’ll be fine. 

However, there are some tips you can implement to prolong their lifespan and ensure their well-being, especially when they show signs of distress.

Remember, prevention is always better than treatment, and it all starts with proper water quality and feeding.