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Neon Tetra – Paracheirodon innesi

Neon Tetra

Tetras are amongst the most popular aquarium fishes. There are probably more than 150 distinct species of tetra from which the aquarist may choose and this includes a large number of visually stunning fishes that are bound to enhance any home aquarium.

Is the Neon Tetra a good community fish? The Neon Tetra should be considered to be an excellent community fish because it can live quite happily amongst a wide variety of other species. It is best to avoid keeping Neon Tetras with large, aggressive species which may bully or even eat the Neon Tetra.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Neon Tetra
Scientific nameParacheirodon innesi
Originate fromWestern Brazil, southeastern Columbia and eastern Peru in the western and northern Amazon basin
Care requiredEasy to care for and hugely popular
TemperamentPlacid, shoaling fish
Colour & FormIridescent blue stripe running from nose to between dorsal and adipose fin and red pigmentation beneath from dorsal to caudal fin
LifespanUp to 10 years
Adult size1.2 inches
DietOmnivorous – eat aquatic insect larvae in nature
Aquarium size24 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Adults spawn every two weeks.
Water temp75 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH5.0 to 7.5
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 12 dGH

Origins of the Neon Tetra

Tetras, as a “family” of fishes belonging to the biological family Characidae, are found in nature in Africa, Central America and South America.

The Neon Tetra originates from western Brazil, southeastern Columbia and eastern Peru in the western and northern Amazon basin. As with many tropical fish, the Neon Tetra has also been introduced far and wide into different continents that have an appropriate climate.

The vast majority of Neon Tetras commercially available in the USA and elsewhere are captive bred in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand and it is estimated that fewer than 5% of Neon Tetras purchased for aquaria are bred locally (i.e. outside Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand).

Characteristics of the Neon Tetra

As you can see, the Neon Tetra is a beautiful, little fish which can grow to just over 1 inch in size and live for up to ten years. The Neon Tetra is omnivorous and, as well as consuming small flake food will enjoy brine shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms, daphnia and tubifex worms. In addition, the Neon Tetra will benefit from pellet food, as most of these commercial foods include nutrients designed to enhance the vibrant colours of this spectacular, little fish.

The Neon Tetra is, by nature, a shoaling fish and it is generally recommended to purchase six or more fish, as their nature is to swim together as a shoal and they will tend to thrive much better as a shoal.

Neon Tetras are probably the most popular freshwater tropical fish and it is estimated that around 2 million are imported into the USA every month . They are ideal to be kept in a mixed aquarium (or in a single-species aquarium) as a shoal and are both graceful and beautiful to observe. The smaller Tetras (including the Neon Tetra) are quite timid fish so should not be kept with large, aggressive species which may bully or even eat them.

Neon Tetras mix well with most other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches.

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Neon Tetras should be one of 20 inches in length, which will enable a small shoal to move around freely. The tank should be well-planted, preferably including dense foliage, in order to enable them to find cover.

Neon Tetras prefer acidic water in nature because, in the wild, this is their natural habitat but I am bound to say that I have successfully kept Neon Tetras in water of only slightly acidic nature with a pretty neutral pH (percentage of Hydrogen) value and, of course, the Neon Tetras that you will buy are almost certainly commercially bred and, over many hundreds of generations of commercial breeding may well have adapted to the captive environment.

You can see from the image that the Neon Tetra is brilliantly coloured. The iridescent blue flash is most striking. In nature, it is thought that this bright blue flash is likely to be, believe it or not, a form of camouflage. The Neon Tetra tends to occupy the area from the middle to the top of its environment and the blue is not visible from underneath. However, the blue flash will reflect down from the surface of the water and it is thought that this presents a false target to potential predators, as it is mirrored from the surface and the predator will target the wrong place, enabling the real target to escape.

It is somewhat difficult to determine with certainty the sex of most Tetras but there are clues with the Neon Tetra. The iridescent blue of the male tends to form a straight line whereas in the female, this line may appear curved or bent because her belly tends to be more rounded. If, however, a male has overeaten then he can easily be mistaken for a female.

The general rule for Tetras is that by keeping six or more of the same species in an aquarium they will be fully aware of which is male and which is female and they will act accordingly.

Most (but not all) Tetras have an additional fin which identifies them as being Tetras and the Neon Tetra is no exception. If you look between the dorsal fin and the caudal (tail) fin of the Neon Tetra you will observe a tiny, additional fin, known as the adipose fin. The purpose of this fin is not fully understood but, if it is present then you can be pretty certain that the fish is a Tetra.

Tetra comes from the Greek word “Tetragonopterus” which means square-finned and appears to relate to the four fins on vertical plane the fish (dorsal, adipose, caudal and anal fins) which span the central line of the fish (when viewed from above or below, front or rear) and are not present as a pair (e.g. the pectoral fins).

The iridescence of your Neon Tetras may fade when the tank is dark and this is quite natural but if a Neon Tetra shows poor colouring compared with others then this is a sign that it may be ill so is best removed from the aquarium.

Neon Tetra – Video

How do Neon Tetras breed?

Tetras, in general, will either scatter eggs or attach them to plants or other objects. Once deposited, the parents will simply ignore them thereafter. In a community aquarium, the eggs are likely to be eaten by other fish or, indeed, the parents so if you wish to preserve the eggs then you should move them into a breeding tank or, if you are keeping the parents in a breeding tank, remove them once the eggs are laid.

The most obvious ways to differentiate between the male and female Neon Tetra is that the male has a straight blue iridescent line whereas the female’s is curved or bent.

Adult Neon Tetras will spawn every fortnight or so. 

Breeding tank for Neon Tetras

You should prepare an unlit tank of around 10 to 20 gallons in size with mature water. Ensure that there is plenty of vegetation in the tank. Gradually increase the amount of light in the tank until the Tetras breed.

You may wish to introduce mosquito larvae as an inducement to reproduction.

Another suggestion is to start with a half-filled tank and then to add water which may “fool” the fishes into thinking that they are in their natural habitat and that it is raining. This can be made even more realistic by using some form of spray head, such as that found on a watering can or a showerhead – but ensure that the spray head and every other component is sterile and that the water is at the same temperature and condition as that in the tank, as your Tetras are sensitive to sudden changes in water temperature.

Once the female has laid her eggs and the male has fertilized them then both should be removed carefully from the breeding tank because neither will have anything more to do with the eggs but they may simply eat them.

Turn the lights down or off because the eggs are particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in around 24 hours. 

The newly hatched fry can be fed infusoria (particularly rotifers) and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. After a couple of weeks add baby brine shrimp. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank.

Should your Neon Tetras have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Neon Tetras spawn every two weeks or so and don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fishes into thinking that it is breeding time. 

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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