Betta Trading

Neon Tetra

The Neon Tetra, Paracheirodon innesi, is one of the most popular aquarium fish. Its maximum length is a little over 3cm. The Neon Tetra is closely related to the Cardinal Tetra Paracheirodon axelrodi and the Green Neon Tetra Paracheirodon simulans. It is less closely related to the hundreds of other tetra species.  The Neon (innesi) was named after William T. Innis, the great fish expert.


Neon Tetras are a good fish for a community aquarium of small fish. Some other fish they can be kept with them are small Rasboras, small tetras and live bearers like platies, swordtails and guppies. Peppered and Bronze catfish are suitable scavengers for a tank of Neons.

I do not recommend putting Neons with large fish like Black Sharks, Gold Gouramis and Tin Foil Barbs. In the wild, Neon Tetra sized fish are a natural food for Angel Fish.

Origin and Temperature

The Neon Tetra is native to the upper reaches of the Amazon River, which are sometimes referred to as the Solimões River. This area includes parts of Brazil, Peru and Colombia.It is found in both clear water streams and ones stained almost black by a high level of dissolve tannin.

It has been successfully introduced to Singapore, Fiji and possibly the Philippines. Introductions have also been attempted into Canada, Spain and the United States of America.

It comes from a tropical area and the Neon Tetra is a tropical fish.  Neons should have heated water, unless they can be kept in a room that never gets cold.  I suggest an aquarium heater with the thermostat to about 23 or 24 degrees C.  Neons do not like very warm water; temperatures over 30 degrees should be avoided and sustained temperatures above about 26 degrees C are bad for them.

The upper reaches of the Amazon are sometimes fed by melted snow from the Andes and some temperature drop occurs from time to time; Neons have a bit more tolerance of short term temperature drops than many tropical fish.

Water Conditions

Neons come from water that is almost incredibly soft and moderately acidic. They can be kept successfully in water with Ph ranging from 5.5 to 7.4. They can live in reasonably hard water, but if you want to breed them, considerable care will be necessary to recreate the water conditions of the wild neon. For a community aquarium, I suggest a neutral Ph.

A community aquarium should have plants or other cover. This both looks good to humans, and provides some security to the fish. With plants, the fish actually show themselves more.

The Neon is a schooling fish; I recommend a school of four or more. A school of Neons in an aquarium is a very beautiful sight. The Neon loses its colours in the dark, but regains them quickly when it gets light again.


Neon Tetras will eat all common aquarium foods including flakes. Dry fry food is also good for them. It is not only a suitable size,  but is also is higher in protein and other nutrients than most fish food. Live food is good for Neons, as it is for other fish. Frozen blood worms are readily available, and Neons love them.

Neons like the Betta food sold by Aqua one and it is a useful supplement to a good quality flake food.  This Betta food is smaller than is ideal for a fighting fish, but is an excellent size for Neons.


For many years, the most expensive purchase in the history of the aquarium industry was for the second shipment of Neon Tetras brought into the United States from South America. The first shipment was much smaller, but these ‘new’ and surpassingly beautiful, fish sold very quickly. The second shipment was much larger and sold for a very high price.

For some years, the only commercial source of Neons was wild caught. They got the reputation of being extremely difficult to breed. German aquarists succeeded, and some odd stories were told of their methods. Eventually it was realised that the ‘secret’ was extremely soft water.

Early on, the one of the names of the White Cloud Mountain Minnow was the ‘Poor Man’s Neon’ because they had some of the colours and brightness of the Neon Tetra, but were cheaper.
Now both types of fish are cheap, and often the White Clouds are a little more expensive than Neons.

Neon Tetras at Betta Trading are $1 each or 10 for $9; they have been this price since the 3rd of July 1990.


Male Neons tend to be slimmer than females, this is most obvious when they are in breeding condition and the females are loaded with eggs. The males are also a little smaller than the females when both are mature. Also, in males the line along the fish’s body is straighter in males than in the females. It is possible, but difficult, to sex them from above, with the females being the plumper fish.

Eggs and newly hatched Neon fry. Picture from Aqua Empire.


The first requirement for successful breeding is extremely soft water, with less than 10 parts per million of hardness, and, if possible, with below two parts per million. The water should be moderately acidic, with a ph of between 5 and 6.5.

Some people spawn their Neons in either darkness, or dim light, but others report more success in stimulating spawning with short and gradually increasing hours of light.

The eggs and young fry are sensitive to light and need to be protected from bright lights, either by keeping the tank in darkness or dim light, or by things in the water. Some people use water stained to the intensity of strong black tea by tannin from leaves or peat. This in itself provides some protection from light for the eggs and babies.

Neon eggs hatch in about 24 hours. Under good conditions the babies will reach breeding size twelve weeks after being laid. This is also the usual size of most of the Neons available in shops.

Semi-Natural Breeding

In the wild, Neon eggs are laid frequently and the great majority of the eggs, or young babies, are eaten by fish, including their own parents, as well as other creatures like snails and predatory insects. The ones that survive will be both lucky and good at surviving.

If a small school of Neons is put into a large aquarium with plenty of plants and the bottom covered by a layer of leaves, with the tank water around 24 or 25 degrees C, and the right sort of water in, the fish are likely to spawn regularly. Quite likely a few eggs will be laid each day, and the aquarium should have enough microscopic organisms for the young babies to eat.

In a set up like this, you will only get a few babies, but they will tend to be the strongest ones.

Of course, if you removed all the parent fish, any eggs and babies that happen to be in the tank have a greatly improved chance of survival.


Commercial Breeding

Commercially, most of the Neons available in shops around the world are grown in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, which have a suitable climate as well as copious water of suitable quality. The commercial fish breeders in these places have honed their skills over many years, and are adept at producing millions of fish at low prices. They also are frequently successful business people who know how to breed fish profitably.

Neons are also bred commercially in a number of other countries including the state of Queensland in Australia. A successful breeding operation there was breeding Neon Tetras with main food being Moina, which is a crustacean similar to Daphnia, but smaller. This was badly disrupted by a tropical cyclone.

Breeding Set Up

To get a reasonable number of baby Neons at home, a special breeding tank needs to be set up. The water must be soft with a total hardness less than 5; as low as possible. Ideally the water should be slightly acidic with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. If any filter is put in it should be an air operated sponge filter.

The tank needs to be set up to protect the eggs from their parents. This can be done by adding a spawning mop, or a plant like Java Moss. Alternatively, a grid can be put on the bottom of the tank fine enough to prevent the parents going through, but with holes big enough to allow the eggs to fall through.

Neons can be spawned either in a small group of up to perhaps six of each sex, or as a pair.

The temperature should be between 24 and 28 degrees C. A small increase in temperature may help to stimulate spawning. A partial change of water may also help.

The parents should be removed as soon as possible after spawning, which often occurs in the early morning.

Raising the Babies

Neon eggs hatch in 16 to 36 hours and the babies are free swimming 2-3 days later. They are tiny and should be fed infusoria (protozoans) for several days until they are big enough to eat bigger live food. Live food is best at all stages of growth, but it can be supplemented with commercial fry food of the right size. Because of their sensitivity to light, the eggs and young fry should be kept in near darkness in the early stages.

Like many fish, neon fry grow at greatly varying rates.

For the first eight weeks, the babies need to be kept in the very soft and slightly acidic water they were hatched in. After that they can be very slowly acclimatised to the type of water they will be kept in as adults.


The IUCN has not evaluated this species, but commercial and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is still widespread and abundant in places.


The accepted scientific name of the Neon Tetra is  Paracheirodon innesi (Myers, 1936). Hyphessobrycon innesi (Myers, 1936) is a synonym.

In English, its common name is Neon Tetra; Piaba has occasionally been used for this fish, as well as several other things.
It is called Harilik neoonkala in Estonian and Neontetra in Finnish.

In German this fish is Diamantkopf-Neontetra, Neonfisch, Neonsalmler, Neontetra or Schleier-Neontetra.

In Mandarin Chinese, Paracheirodon innesi is called      紅綠魮脂鯉 , 红绿魮脂鲤 , 霓虹脂鯉 or 霓虹脂 .

Neon innesa a. bystrzyk neonowy is its name in Polish.

In Portuguese, it is Bandeirinha, Cardinal or Tetra neon.

Néon is its name in Russian.

It is called Mojarita in Spanish..

The Swedish name for this beautiful fish is Neontetra.

Pest Fish

I find it difficult to envisage this fish as an ecological vandal but care should be exercised to prevent the release of any pet into the wild.

Sources and Picture Credits

Fishbase. IUCN. Seriously Fish. Practical Fish Keeping. Aqua Empire.

Steve Challis

Stamps featuring the Neon Tetra have been issued in Brazil, Hungary, Poland and Cambodia.