There is this general notion that freshwater fish are not as colorful or interesting as their saltwater counterparts.
That is, however, not true all the time and there are some really stunning and captivating fish in the freshwater hobby as well.
One such fish that can put many saltwater fish to shame is the diminutive Neon Tetra.
Then there is the misconception that fish that are pretty are often quite difficult to care for.
Once again Neon Tetras buck that trend with aplomb. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Neon Tetra is one of the most popular fish in the aquarium hobby.
This fish species is often referred to as one of the cornerstone species of the freshwater world and a fish that every hobbyist must keep at least once in their lifetime.
Here is everything there is to know to keep these beautiful fish successfully.
What’s With All The Color?
Usually, when freshwater fish are this colorful, they tend to either be artificially colored through injecting them with dyes or it is because some genetic tinkering has been done to them.
The Neon Tetra is neither and its looks are a result of the conditions found in their natural habitat.
As we shall find out very soon, these are one of the smallest fishes out there. This makes them a target for pretty much anything with a mouth and their only defense is to school together. That can only be possible if they can see each other quite well.
Unfortunately, they live in murky waters with a lot of tannins in them that keep the visibility to a minimum. Their brilliant coloration helps them to see each other even in these conditions.
They also have the incredible ability to change colors and turn a dull grey or black while resting which renders them almost invisible in their natural habitat.
They can do the same when stressed which can come in handy in an aquarium as it will allow you to spot a problem before it is too late.
Do Neon Tetras Make For Good Aquarium Fish?
Despite their aristocratic looks, the Neon Tetra is one of the easier fish to take care of. That is a trait that is quite common to the Tetra family of fishes.
Having said that, they do require a certain level of care and upkeep to get them to exhibit their best colors and live for a reasonably long time.
The good news is that all these care requirements are well within the ballpark of what most aquarium owners can meet with ease.
What Makes Neon Tetras Special?
Their coloration is obviously the trait that stands out the most but that is not the only trick up this fish’s fins.
It is a schooling fish and they can congregate in the thousands in the wild.
You can create a stunning effect by keeping a relatively large number of these fish in your home aquarium. Watching them swim together and in synchronization with each other is a truly mesmerizing spectacle.
Another reason why they are considered special is that they do not require any advanced care. Anyone with basic knowledge and experience of this hobby can keep them quite successfully.
Tank Size For Neon Tetras
As these fish grow to a maximum length of only 1.5 inches or 4 centimeters, they do not require a lot of space per fish.
However, as mentioned before, these are naturally schooling fish and if they are kept in small numbers, they will get stressed out. This will reduce their life expectancy quite considerably.
So, it is always a great idea to keep as many of them as possible.
The bare minimum is 6 but keeping at least 15-20 of these fish is highly recommended both for their health and to get that stunning schooling behavior.
The minimum tank size is 10 gallons for every six individuals.
These fish come from places with dense vegetation. So, the recommended tank setup is a heavily planted aquarium.
However, if you are not willing to go down that route then you can still keep them in a tank with plenty of artificial decor that will provide the fish with plenty of hiding space.
Lighting should also be muted.
The dark and murky waters of their natural habitat make them nervous and skittish under bright lights. Their brilliant coloration can also get washed out under such lighting conditions.
So, go for a lighting setup keeping that in mind. If it is a planted tank then choose plants that can grow in medium to low lighting.
Their small size might give the appearance that they can be sucked into filtration systems but they are quite good at swimming. Any good filter with a gallons per hour or GPH rating that is four times the volume of water in your aquarium will do just fine.
Neon Tetras do not have any specific substrate requirements either.
While they are hardy fish, it is always a good idea to provide them with a stable environment. The temperature should be maintained at a constant value between 72°-76°F (22.2°-24.4°C).
The water should be slightly on the acidic side with a pH between 6 and 7.
Soft water is preferred.
Another thing to keep in mind is that these fish are very vulnerable to ammonia and nitrites and therefore, they should only be added to tanks that have been properly cycled.
Their ability to lose their coloration when stressed can be a great indicator that something is wrong.
Normally they will do this at night when sleeping but if their color consistently stays dull, then check the water parameters to ensure that everything is in the optimum range and that nothing is stressing them out.
Tankmates and Feeding Neon Tetras
It should be quite obvious that tankmates for the Neon Tetra should be peaceful and on the smaller side themselves. Other peaceful tetras, livebearers, Corydoras and Otoclinus catfish, and freshwater shrimp can all be great options.
Two larger fish that make for great tankmates are Bosemani Rainbowfish and the Discus owing to their docile nature.
Neon Tetras are not at all fussy about what they eat. They will readily accept most commercially available fish food, frozen food, and live food. For optimum health, it is recommended to provide them with a balanced diet consisting of high-quality flake food, and frozen and dried bloodworms, and brine shrimp.
Can You Breed Neon Tetras?
Yes, you can.
In fact, almost all Neon Tetras sold in pet stores are captive bred.
Ideally, you would need a breeding tank with a 1-inch layer of peat as the substrate and either a breeding mat or some Java Moss for the fish to lay their eggs on.
Start feeding the fish protein-rich food. The females will start giving a more rounded appearance. At this time, move a group of them along with a few males to the breeding tank.
The temperature in the breeding tank should be between 75°-76°F (23.9°-24.4°C). The peat will start lowering the pH which will trigger the fish to spawn.
You can also do a 50% water change to simulate rain which will further trigger the spawning process.
Once the eggs are fertilized, remove the adults and let the breeding tank sit in the dark for the next 36 hours. The fry will hatch in about five days and they can be fed infusoria or freshly hatched brine shrimp.
Commercial fry food is also available these days.
Neon Tetra Disease:
This is the dark side of keeping these fish. This disease is caused by a protozoon and if a Neon Tetra gets infected with it, it will in most cases die within a few days.
What is even worse is that this is a highly contagious disease and it can quickly kill all the Neon Tetras in the tank. There is sadly no treatment for this disease either.
If a fish stops schooling and starts swimming haphazardly, immediately remove it from the tank.
Always quarantine new additions for at least two weeks before adding them to your aquarium.
This disease is mainly spread through infected food. So, use food that can be trusted and try avoiding live food as much as possible.
Do Not Confuse Them With Cardinal Tetras
There is another fish species known as the Cardinal Tetra that is very similar to the Neon Tetra with an almost identical coloration of iridescent blue and red.
The distinguishing feature is that the red band runs through the length of the body of the Cardinal Tetra as opposed to just about the halfway point on a Neon Tetra.
There is, however, no harm in keeping them together and they will often even school together.
So, there you have it.
If you want a really peaceful aquarium that can just wash all your stress away then you have to keep Neon Tetras and hopefully, by now, you know how to do it successfully.