Last Updated: 2/19/14
Description and Varieties
Setup and Water Preferences
My Neon Tetras
Links and Pictures
For information on my past neon tetras (types, ages, tank setup, etc.), visit my tank page.
Note: I was relatively new to keeping neon tetras (1/29/00) so that this page does not yet contain much information. If you have experience with these fish or a web site about them, please let me know.
I was surprised once I moved my site to fishpondinfo and had a statistics page to find that this page is one of the most popular entry pages! This is one of my worst web pages as far as unique content and quantity of information!
Common names: Neon tetra, neon
Scientific/Latin names: Paracheirodon innesi, formerly Hyphessobrycon innesi for the regular neon tetra and P. simulans for the green neon tetra
Maximum length: 1.5 inches
Colors: Silver, white, red, and blue (orange and green for other varieties)
Temperature preference: 73 to 79 degrees F, can withstand 68 to 85 degrees F
pH preference: 5 to 7
Hardness preference: Soft
Salinity preference: 1 Tablespoon per 2 to 10 gallons (less when not breeding)
Life span: Up to10 years
Ease of keeping: Easy
Ease of breeding: Moderate if eggs separated from fish
Description and Varieties
Neon tetras, or Paracheirodon innesi, are beautiful fish that come from the Peruvian Amazon. They live in large schools in plant-filled waters. Keep at least six to a tank. They like the shade produced by live plants and ornaments. Their tanks should not have strong lighting at the bottom, and the gravel should be dark. Neons grow up to 1.5 inches long but some sources say up to 1.8 inches.
Neons are beautiful fish with an almost fluorescent blue or greenish stripe down their bodies from the mouth to the adipose fin. A wide red band goes from the middle of the body to the beginning of the tail. Cardinal tetras are often confused with neon tetras. In the cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi), the red band begins at the mouth. The rest of the neon tetra is a mix of white and clear or natural colors. If you surprise neons while they are in the dark by turning on the light, they will appear to be glowing in the dark for a while.
There are at least three varieties of neon tetras including the original, the green neon tetra (actually another species, Paracheirodon simulans), and the gold neon tetra (partial albino).
Setup and Water Preferences
Neons come from soft and acidic water. They do best between 73 and 79 degrees F but can live for short periods with temperatures in the 60's or up into the low 90's. Over the long term, 68 to 82 degrees F will do. They prefer a pH of about 6 but can live in a pH from 5 to 7. While neons can adapt to water with a pH greater than 7, they will not breed in such alkaline water. The water should be clear and clean so frequent water changes are needed. The water should be very soft. Neons eat most flake foods and small live, freeze-dried, and frozen foods. Like most small tropical fish, they really enjoy small live (or frozen or freeze dried) animals like brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, blackworms, etc. Most neons swim in the middle and lower portions of the tank.
Neons can get neon tetra disease caused by the sporazoan Plistophora hypessobryconis. Symptoms include losing color, milky coloration, sluggishness, eratic swimming, jerking movements, separating from the rest of the school, restlessness, weight loss, and a pale area beneath the dorsal fin. Neon tetra disease is said to not be treatable; therefore, quarantine is best to prevent spread of the disease. All infected tanks should be disinfected with bleach (soak them in 5% bleach, rinse, and soak in fresh water with dechlorinator before re- using.)
In sexually mature fish, the females are larger, rounder, and fatter. From above, the female appears wider. There is a rule that some people believe is true and other aquarists say no way it is true. Some say that the male neon tetra has a straight stripe while the female has a crooked one. Once my fish mature, I may be able to add my opinion. This may have to do with a female's egg-laden size distorting the "straightness" of the stripe.
One person whose neons spawned said they did so at about 1.25 inches in size, and the females looked like "little whales."
Neon tetras can begin breeding by about nine months of age. Neons will breed in tanks with other fish but due to the likelihood that the eggs will be eaten, they are most often breed in a small tank with a pair or small group of neons. A pH between 5 and 6 as well as very soft water are often necessary for successful breeding. A good breeding temperature is 75 degrees F.
A few breeders suggest adding 2 teaspoons of salt per 2-5 gallons in the breeding tank (each source I have has a different recommended amount from 1 teaspoon per gallon up to one per 10 gallons). Angela said on 1/22/10, "I've been keeping neons and other tetras for over 20 years. Please remove the suggestion you give to add salt to neon tanks. As you mention, they like soft and acid water and are actually a blackwater species that is VERY intolerant of any salt at all. This may very well be the reason yours always died as salt will kill them in time." I highly doubt that salt was the cause of death for my neons but agree that they do not need the salt. The aquarium store I used to work at used a tablespoon per 5 gallons of salt in all their freshwater tanks and said it was good, mostly as a preventative treatment for bacteria, parasites, and funguses. If the neon tetras are healthy, they do not need the salt.
Neons often spawn in the morning. While spawning, neons will chase each other through any plants. While all the neons may spawn in one day, the actual act is done between a pair. The male and female intertwine, and the female may become vertical. Each female produces 60 to 130 eggs all over the plants and ground. The eggs are not sticky. The parents should be removed so they do not eat the eggs. The eggs are light sensitive so keep the developing eggs out of direct light. Eggs are prone to fungus especially in light (for more information on egg fungus, check out my fish health page. The eggs hatch in about a day. After the fry are free-swimming in about four to five days, they can be fed strained egg yolk, infusuria, other microscopic live foods, or Liquifry (which is mostly yolk). Provide subtle lighting over the tank once the fry are swimming so they can see their food. Often, some fry will not survive.
One aquarist whose neon tetras spawned indicated that it may have been triggered by allowing the nitrates to build up in the water and then doing a 50% or so water change. His neons spawned the next day. These neons were fed live brine shrimp too. The pH was about 6.7 and the temperature was about 76 degrees F. Of course, the water was soft (dKH of about 5). Another aquarist says they tried letting the nitrates build up and then did a huge water change, and his neon tetras spawned within a week too.
Also, visit my breeding and fry care page for more information on how to care for fry (tank setup, feeding, cleaning, etc.).
My Neon Tetras
I currently have no neon tetras left. I had gold and green neon tetras in my 20 gallon tank. I also had a gold neon tetra and a green neon tetra that I bought on 1/29/00 and put in a 3 gallon Eclipse tank and then into the 20 gallon tank where they vanished around 8/12/01. They were gorgeous. An additional green neon tetra died on 10/9/00 after lying on the bottom, unable to swim, for over a month. He/she may have had neon tetra disease. Yet another tetra, a gold neon tetra, died on 7/2/01 after being in the 20 gallon tank for nine days. He/she had a dark internal mass for many months. Luckily for the neons (but not the goldfish), my three goldfish in my 50 gallon tank died in spring of 2001. After disinfecting, I moved the 20 gallon fish to the 50 gallon tank. After disinfecting the 20 gallon tank, the fish in the 3 gallon Eclipse tank including the three neons got to move to the 20 gallon tank on 6/23/01. I am sure the neons thought the place was huge! On 7/8/01, four additional small gold neon tetras were bought and added to join the surviving gold neon tetra and green neon tetra for a total of six neons. All but a few of the new gold neons vanished around 8/12/01. By 8/13/01, I can only count a single surviving gold neon tetra. The rest died (most of the bodies were never found). I do not know why (no injuries, no outward signs of parasites or disease, no bloating, no abnormal behavior aside from hiding the last 24 hours before dying). I killed them and will no longer buy neon tetras. Apparently soft water with great water quality is not good enough for them. I should have left the others in the little 3 gallon tank as they lived there for 1.5 years! So, it is not always better to give fish a larger home as it apparently scares them, to death. Neon tetras are the one fish most suited to my water but also the ones that I just cannot seem to keep alive. Certainly, I am no expert!
By 9/9/01, the last neon tetra simply vanished. Bodies were never found.
In 1996, I tried I think four neon tetras in my 10 gallon tank which had a paradise fish and a few other fish in it at the time. The neons all died within a week (no other fish died). I have no idea why. Never before have fish died so quickly and with no apparent reason. My water is very soft. Perhaps one of the other fish stressed them or they came in with a disease that killed them and not the other fish in the tank.
I am usually pretty good with aquarium fish but when I find a species that does not fare well in my tanks like the neon tetra, I do not get more. A few people admonished me for torturing the ones I had. Do not worry, I will never have neon tetras again. The other species of fish I do have now (12/19/03) are thriving, and my rarest fish (glowlight danios) just had fry that are doing well.
Links and Pictures
These links were last checked on 1/22/07. Dead links were removed unless found in the archives.
Neon tetra - breeding and care information; this is an archived version as the site is now gone.
Breeding Neon Tetras
Photo of two of my neons on 4/22/01. A gold neon tetra is on the left, and a green neon tetra is on the right.
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