Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) have to be one of the most easily recognisable fish species that inhabit the tropical aquariums, they are cheap to purchase and make a fantastic display in their shoals flashing their colouration as they swim about underneath the aquarium lights, at the right angle their colours seem to bounce out of the glass giving an instant display that is hard to beat.
They have been around for many years but sadly due to their cheap purchase price they are often cared for in the wrong conditions as they are cheap to replace but hopefully this article will give you an insight on how to care for these fish correctly and keep them happy during their lives in your aquarium.
Neon Tetra originate from South America where they inhabit the northern regions in such countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The waters they inhabit tend to be slow moving and covered by dense vegetation, they like like dimmed lighting and blackwater conditions with slightly acid waters where they will thrive.
The Neon Tetra are often compared to the Cardinal Tetra but there are two main differences which are the smaller size of adult Neon Tetra and the red belly bar on the Neon finishes halfway along the body while the Cardinal Tetra display a red bar that runs all the way along the body. Nowadays nearly all Neon tetra available for purchase are tank bred specimens as they are easier to breed than the Cardinal tetra hence the cheaper purchase price and as with most tank bred specimens they tend to be hardier than their wild cousins.
Neon Tetra display a blue stripe that runs the whole length of the body and a silver colouration to their belly region. These colours will dim dramatically during the night hours when the aquarium lights are off, this is nothing to worry about and not a sign of health problems. The colours fade in the wild to make them harder to spot when predators are on the prowl and the colours will return in the daytime when the lights are on.
Their latin name is Paracheirodon innesi and they are classed as part of the characin family. Recently some colour variations have entered the trade such as the green Neon tetra which has been produced by selective breeding but if you wish to purchase true wild specimens they are still available for export from their home countries and they are not on the endangered species list.
Caring for the Neon Tetra
If you are lucky enough to get wild specimens of the Neon tetra they may be a bit more sensitive to water conditions compared to tank bred specimens so always bear this in mind when reading through this section.
As with all fish species even if they are classed as hardy make sure that you’re aquarium is fully cycled before adding them to it and a good tip is to keep the lighting dimmed until they have settled in and explored their new home.
The maximum adult size of the Neon tetra is less than one inch so smaller aquariums are suited for these fish as long as you do not overstock them, a 24 inch aquarium will suffice but remember when planning out the tank that they do require some swimming space so if you are adding plants these are best planted around the sides and back of the aquarium to leave the front open for swimming areas. Set the water temperature in-between a range of 20-26 deg C (68-80 deg F) and the ideal pH should range between 5.0-7.0. They will also appreciate more acidic water so never let your parameters rise above a pH of 7.0 to keep them happy. The lighting should be dimmed, floating plants can help with this as they will diffuse the direct lighting. Many keepers use a dark substrate of either sand or gravel as this tends to bring out the best colouration in the fish but this is a personal choice and will not affect the health of your Neon tetra if you decide to use a lighter substrate to compliment the look of your tank. Perform regular water changes of at least 10% weekly and make sure that the filtration system you use is rated for the water volume contained in your aquarium.
The Neon tetra is classed as a shoaling fish and as such should be kept in small groups of at least 6 specimens, never keep these as a single specimen as they will become reclusive and short lived. They can be housed with other peaceful species but never keep them with aggressive species that could harass them. Definitely do not keep them with species of fish that will look on them as prey as they will become an easy target for a meal.
They do co-exist with other species of Tetras and may shoal with them over time, Rasboras are also a good choice and will display a contrasting colouration to add variation to the aquarium.
Feeding the Neon Tetra
Neon tetra are not difficult to feed but to keep them healthy you should offer a varied diet, offering the same food with every meal can cause boredom with feeds and treats are the key to maintain a healthy appetite. In the wild the Neon tetra are classed as an omnivore and they will feed upon small crustaceans, insects as well as the occasional r vegetation so this can be easily replicated in the aquarium by offering commercial flake food or small pellets, live or frozen foods such as artemia, daphnia or white worms. For vegetable matter small pieces of cucumber or zucchini make a good treat. You must remember that the Neon tetra only have small mouths and stomachs so it is far better to feed them with small meals a couple of times each day rather than feeding them one large meal and this should also prevent feeds being left in the aquarium to decay and lower the water quality.
Breeding the Neon Tetra
To attempt to breed the Neon tetra is not the easiest of tasks yet in the wild they have a high breeding rate forming large colonies in no time at all. You need to provide the best of conditions and there are a couple of tricks to aid the process.
To begin with you will need to set up a separate breeding tank, Neon tetra scatter their eggs and show no signs of parental care. The even see their own eggs as a food source so removing the parents after spawning or laying mesh over the substrate to protect the eggs is a must. Neon tetra can breed from an early age but the egg batches will be small to begin with and grow over time. The parent fish fish will need to be conditioned on plenty of live or frozen foods to build them up and the lighting on the breeding tank will need to be reduced dramatically compared to the main aquarium. The water will need to be acidic and the use of an air driven sponge filter will allow you more control on the water flow, this will need to be turned as low as possible so that the eggs can be fertilised properly.
To induce spawning a large water change with cooler water will replicate rainfall, this is often a trigger for these fish to breed, you will find that most spawnings take place in the early evening or the early hours of the day and completed in quite a small time scale. The spawning process may involve the parent fish leaving the water surface so some form of netting over the breeding tank is a good idea. Once spawning is complete, remove the parent fish and after 24 hours the eggs should show signs of hatching. The fry will feed on their yolk sacs initially but after a few days you will need to supply an external food source by the addition of fry food, infusoria or newly hatched brine shrimp. The fry are very light sensitive so keep the lighting dimmed until they begin to grow in size and gradually the lighting can be heightened but do this gradually. Perform small water changes on a daily basis and make sure that any food that is not eaten is syphoned out of the breeding tank to prevent it from fouling the water.
Neon Tetra Disease
All keepers of Neon tetras will have heard of this, hopefully most keepers will not experience this in their aquariums but it is a disease that does occur and there are a few tell tale symptoms that keepers should always be on the lookout for. Good maintenance of the aquarium should lessen the chances of this disease entering the water column and the introduction of new tank mates should be preceded by adding them to a quarantine tank to make sure that they are not affected will prevent them from passing on any disease to your Neon tetra.
Make sure that any live or frozen foods are of a high quality, some of the cheaper brands could actually introduce this disease into the aquarium.
The correct term for Neon Tetra disease is Pleistophora and it is passed from fish to fish by parasitic spores that will enter the body of the fish resulting in cysts etc. It can be passed through the whole shoal very quickly and difficult to treat causing heartache for many keepers as they watch helpless.
Common symptoms are the fish swimming erratically and following swimming patterns they do not normally follow, lumps appearing on their bodies and eventually the most obvious symptom is curvature of the spine, this last symptom usually occurs just prior to the death of the fish. As the disease takes hold your Neon tetra will have a weakened immune system leaving them targets for other secondary diseases or infections.
There is no available treatment for this disease and if you have unfortunately had this enter your aquarium it is wise to completely sterilise the aquarium and all of the equipment before restocking your tank and starting all over again.
About the Author
Jan Hvizdak owns https://www.aqua-fish.net which is a searchable database of aquarium fish and plants.