The Neon Tetra belongs to the Characiformes family of fish, commonly defined by their fin composition of a fan supported by several bones. This family also includes Cardinal Tetra and piranhas. Neon tetra fish are often seen in home aquariums and add a lot of colors to any fish tanks without the need to add larger fish that produce more waste.
Brilliant colors and ease of care are two factors that have contributed to the popularity of this stunning little tropical aquarium fish. The Neon tetra is native to the black water of the river Amazon and other streams in South America where they live in large schools and feeds on worms, small insects, crustaceans and plant matter. It is commonly bred in parts of Asia or caught wild. The vast majority of the Neon Tetras we find in our home aquariums are imported; very few are bred outside of Asia.
Neon tetra has a spindle-shaped body and a blunt nose. The back is light-blue back and the abdomen is silver-white. It has an iridescent blue horizontal stripe along each side of the body. The stripes run from its nose to the base of the adipose fin. The Neon tetra is also decorated with a red stripe on each side of the body. The red stripes begin at the middle of the body and extend posteriorly to the base of the caudal fin. The side over the blue stripe is a dark olive green shade and the fins are nearly transparent.
Cardinal Tetra. Image from Wikimedia.org
Often confused with the Cardinal Tetra, the Neon Tetra has a red stripe that goes from the tail to the middle of its body, while the Cardinal has a longer red stripe.
Neon tetra tank
They are active and energetic little swimmers that will dart back and forth almost constantly and require room to move. It is best that Neon Tetras are kept in at least a 10 gallon fish tank although smaller tanks can support this fish providing that they are well filtered.
The ideal aquarium should mimic the natural Neon Tetra habitat. The river Amazon and its tributaries are filled with densely grown plant life and the rivers and streams are shaded by jungle vegetation. Neon Tetras will appreciate a heavy planted tank with plenty of hiding spots and some open area to swim. Floating plants to cut down on the light intensity is recommended.
Very soft and acidic water is preferred, but captive-bred fish will tolerate medium hard and alkaline water with few fluctuations in water parameters. Ideally, a water temperature of 68-77 °F should be maintained and water of middle hardness to soft is recommended.
The tank should be well established as Neon Tetras are very susceptible to water quality changes and ammonia build up. Slow acclimation when adding new Neon Tetras is highly recommended for these sensitive fish. Weekly water changes are also really important as the Neon tetra will not tolerate high nitrate levels.
Neon Tetras like and are most beautiful in a tank with a dark substrate. Many people choose to keep Neon Tetras in a planted aquarium and if you are planning on doing this then you will need to start with some good quality aquarium plant substrate. The substrate bed should be 1 to 2 inches deep and covered with some gravel.
Plants that are commonly used in aquariums such as java moss, java ferns and stem plants such as hygrophila. Adding plants such as these to your tank improves the environment for your neon tetras, Plants also remove nitrates from the water as well as providing a surface for tiny organisms and algae to grow, which many fish enjoy eating.
The Neon Tetra likes soothing lighting. Unless you are growing very advanced plants then a cheap fish tank LED light fixture will suffice. Many aquarium tanks have a light already and a Neon Tetra aquarium with hardy and undemanding plants is very easy to choose a suitable light. Remember to turn it off at night, or put it on a timer plug.
! Interesting notes: When Neons are at rest, their vibrant colors are turned off; they return to their normal colors after the light have been on for awhile. A good way to tell if your Neons are stressed or sick is to note if the colors still stay dim after lighting for awhile. If the colors remain drab, the fish is either stressed or sick!
It is generally necessary to heat your tank and neon tetras prefer water that is between 68 and 77°F (20-25°C). Your heater should match the volume of your tank and should ideally have a thermostat to keep the temperature stable, something which is often more important than the actual temperature itself.
Neon tetras, like all other aquarium fish, require clean water. Harmful ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites must all be removed from the water by a good filter. An internal filter or Hang-On-Back filter is the best option. These filters are fairly inexpensive and operate by pumping the water through filter media.
Temperament and tank mates
They are non-territorial and schooling fish that is why you need to have ten or more individuals in a tank. They are peaceful fish and can be kept in community aquariums, together with other types of Tetras such as Rummy Nose Tetras, Cardinal Tetras, Glowlight Tetras… or different species such as Guppies, Mollies, Swordtails, Corydoras… Neons also do well with some types of loaches such as Yoyo, Zebra, Horseface, or Tiger hillstream loach. Don't add them in aquariums with big or aggressive fish that may see them as food.
Feeding and fish foods
Neon Tetras are omnivores and will do well on worms, small insects, and crustaceans. However, they will eat most types of tropical fish foods such as flakes, freeze-dried, or frozen. A tropical flake diet can be supplemented with brine shrimp, bloodworm or daphnia. It also needs plant matter existent in your aquarium.
You should feed them two times a day. Very small meals for each time are recommended because the Neon's stomach is very small and they can only eat a small amount of food. Don't offer them more than the amount they can consume in 2-3 minutes. Uneaten food will compromise the water quality and negatively affect the health of your fish.
Breeding Neon Tetras
The only difference between the female and the male that you can observe is the fact that the male is a bit slimmer. The female has the body more rounded. They can breed inside the aquarium. The eggs take around a day to hatch and the adults should be removed from the aquarium, as they eat their young and their eggs.
As for breeding, the Neon Tetra is pretty difficult to reproduce, needing some special conditions for such a thing to occur. You will need a breeding tank and one good pair of fish, feed them tubifex a couple of weeks before reproduction takes place.
The water temperature in the breeding tank must have a temperature cooler than 77°F (25°C ), pH no higher than 6.8, and soft water with dH less than 4. The water column of the tank must be around 15 cm, resembling as closely as possible their natural biotope is the key. Some also recommend letting the level of nitrates rise, then doing at least a 50% water change to simulate the fresh rain the Tetras get in their natural habitat in the Amazon.
These fish are egg scatterers and require clean, soft water for breeding. Adequate spawning conditions would be a small tank that is kept in a dark area. The tank bottom should be covered with approximately 2 inches of rocks and live plants.
Spawning and caring for the fry
Spawning usually takes place early in the morning and the clear eggs will be laid inside the plants. The parent fish should be removed from the breeding tank after the spawning process is complete to protect the newly hatched fry.
After spawning the tank must be covered from all sides because the eggs are very sensitive to light, it must stay like this for 5 days and then you will remove each day a covered side. Eggs will hatch within 22 – 26 hours and the fry should be large enough to be visible in 3 or 4 days.
Feeding the fry with infusoria, especially rotifers and egg yolk for one to four weeks, followed by nauplii of brine shrimp, shaved cattle liver, and formulated diets. The fry will resemble their parents in 3 weeks and will develop into adults at 6-7 months of age.