Neon Tetra Tank Mates – What You Should Know - "Clown Loach and Neon Tetras" by brcake is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Neon Tetra Tank Mates – What You Should Know - "Clown Loach and Neon Tetras" by brcake is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


Creating a vibrant and harmonious aquatic environment in your aquarium starts with selecting the right community of fish. Neon tetras, with their striking colors and peaceful nature, are a popular choice for many aquarists. However, the key to a thriving aquarium lies in choosing the right neon tetra tank mates. Selecting compatible neon tetra tank mates ensures not only the well-being of these delicate fish but also enhances the overall beauty and balance of your aquarium. In this guide, we’ll explore how to create an ideal setup for neon tetras and their tank mates, ensuring a healthy and visually appealing environment for all your aquatic pets.

Appearance and Behavior

Neon tetras, known scientifically as Paracheirodon innesi, are small, brightly colored freshwater fish that are popular in the aquarium hobby for their vibrant colors and dynamic schooling behavior. They originate from clear water and blackwater streams in parts of South America, including the Amazon basin in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.


Neon tetras are small, slender fish, typically reaching about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length. They have a distinctive, iridescent blue horizontal stripe that runs from their nose to the adipose fin, and a complementary red stripe that starts from the middle of their body and extends to the base of the caudal fin. This striking coloration makes them highly visible and attractive in aquariums. Their bodies are semi-transparent, which can make them appear almost ethereal in certain lighting conditions. The bright coloration of neon tetras is a form of warning coloration that signifies their toxicity to potential predators, a characteristic derived from the chemicals in their natural habitat.


Neon tetras are known for their peaceful temperament and schooling behavior. They are highly social fish and thrive in groups of six or more. Schooling provides them with a sense of security and is also a magnificent sight in aquariums, as they move in synchrony, reflecting light off their iridescent bodies. They are active swimmers and prefer the middle to upper levels of the water column.

In the wild, neon tetras are omnivores, feeding on small invertebrates, plant matter, and plankton. In aquariums, they are not picky eaters and will readily accept a variety of foods, including flake, frozen, and live foods.

Neon tetras are relatively hardy and adaptable to a range of water conditions, but they thrive best in soft, slightly acidic water that mimics their natural Amazonian habitat. They are sensitive to drastic changes in water conditions, so maintaining a stable environment is crucial for their health and well-being.

Their vibrant colors and dynamic schooling make neon tetras a favorite among aquarists, adding a splash of color and movement to any freshwater aquarium. Their peaceful nature also makes them excellent community fish, able to coexist with many other species of similar size and temperament.

Tank Mates Considerations

When selecting tank mates for neon tetras, it’s important to consider several factors to ensure a harmonious aquarium environment. Neon tetras are peaceful, schooling fish that do well in community tanks, but their small size and specific needs mean that not all fish make suitable companions. Here are key considerations:


Choose neon tetra tank mates that have a peaceful temperament to avoid aggression towards the neon tetras. Aggressive or territorial fish can stress or harm neon tetras, leading to health issues or even mortality.

Size and Predatory Behavior

Select fish that are similar in size to neon tetras. Larger fish might see neon tetras as prey, especially if the fish have a mouth large enough to swallow the tetras. Avoid large or predatory fish to prevent neon tetras from being eaten or bullied.

Water Parameters

Ensure that the chosen tank mates require similar water conditions as neon tetras. Neon tetras thrive in soft, slightly acidic water (pH 6.0-7.0) and temperatures between 72°F and 76°F (22°C to 24°C). Fish that require drastically different water conditions might not be compatible, as it’s crucial to maintain an environment that meets the needs of all species in the tank.

Activity Level

Consider the activity level and swimming region of potential tank mates. Neon tetras are mid-water swimmers and enjoy the company of fish that do not overly dominate the middle area of the aquarium, allowing them space to swim freely. Overly active or boisterous fish might stress the more serene neon tetras.

Feeding Requirements

Choose tank mates with similar feeding requirements to ensure all fish get the necessary nutrition without competition. Neon tetras are not aggressive eaters, so tank mates that rapidly consume all the food can leave neon tetras underfed.

Suitable and Not Suitable Neon Tetra Tannk Mates

For a harmonious community aquarium with neon tetras, selecting suitable tank mates is crucial to prevent stress, aggression, and potential harm. Here’s a breakdown of suitable and unsuitable tank mates for neon tetras:

Suitable Tank Mates

  • Small Tetras: Other peaceful tetras, such as cardinal tetras, ember tetras, and rummynose tetras, share similar water parameter requirements and have a calm demeanor.
  • Rasboras: Small rasboras, like harlequin rasboras and galaxy rasboras, are peaceful and share similar environmental needs, making them excellent companions.
  • Dwarf Gouramis: These are peaceful and add a splash of color to the tank without being aggressive towards smaller fish like neon tetras.
  • Corydoras Catfish: Bottom dwellers like Corydoras are peaceful, and their scavenging nature helps keep the tank clean without disturbing other fish.
  • Small Plecos: Species such as the bristlenose pleco are suitable for community tanks as they primarily focus on algae eating and stay relatively small.
  • Otocinclus Catfish: Known for their gentle nature and algae-eating habits, they make excellent companions for neon tetras.
  • Shrimp and Snails: Invertebrates like cherry shrimp, amano shrimp, and various snails can coexist with neon tetras and contribute to a balanced ecosystem by cleaning up algae and detritus.

Unsuitable Tank Mates

  • Large or Aggressive Cichlids: A lot of larger cichlids are too aggressive or large to be housed safely with neon tetras. They can be territorial and may harm or eat smaller fish.
  • Large Catfish: Some species of catfish can grow quite large and may see neon tetras as food due to their small size.
  • Aggressive Barbs: Tiger barbs and other large or fin-nipping barbs can stress or injure neon tetras with their boisterous behavior.
  • Bettas: While some bettas can live peacefully in a community tank, their tendency to be aggressive towards fish with bright colors or flowing fins makes them a risky choice for tank mates with neon tetras.
  • Large Predatory Fish: Any large fish that has a mouth big enough to fit a neon tetra is a risk.

When creating a community aquarium, it’s essential to consider not just aggression but also the environmental needs of each species, including water temperature, pH, and hardness, to ensure all inhabitants can thrive. Introducing fish that share similar requirements and peaceful dispositions will help maintain a healthy, stress-free environment for your neon tetras and their tank mates.

Neon Tetra Tank Mates – What You Should Know - "Clown Loach and Neon Tetras" by brcake is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Neon Tetra Tank Mates – What You Should Know – “Clown Loach and Neon Tetras” by brcake is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Aquarium Setup

Setting up an aquarium for neon tetras and their tank mates involves creating a stable, well-balanced environment that meets their specific needs. Neon tetras thrive in conditions that mimic their natural Amazonian habitat, so it’s essential to replicate this as closely as possible. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up an ideal aquarium:

  • Choose the Right Size Aquarium: Start with at least a 10-gallon tank (40 liters) for a small school of neon tetras. Larger tanks (20 gallons/80 liters or more) are better for a community tank setup as they provide more space for additional fish and more stable water conditions.
  • Efficient Filtration: Use a high-quality filter. Neon tetras require clean water with low levels of nitrates and ammonia. A filter with adjustable flow is ideal since strong currents can stress them.
  • Temperature: Maintain a temperature range between 72°F and 76°F (22°C to 24°C).
  • pH Level: Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.0).
  • Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water is preferred.
  • Regular Water Changes: Perform 10-20% water changes weekly to keep the water quality high.
  • Substrate: Use fine, dark-colored substrate to mimic the natural riverbed and to highlight the neon tetras’ colors.
  • Plants: Add live plants like Java fern, Anubias, and Amazon sword to provide hiding spots and mimic their natural habitat. Plants also help maintain water quality.
  • Decor: Include driftwood and rocks to create a natural-looking environment and additional hiding spots. Avoid sharp decorations that could injure the fish.
  • Moderate Lighting: Provide moderate lighting to support plant growth without stressing the fish. Neon tetras enjoy subdued lighting, which can also enhance their vibrant colors.
  • Tank Mates: Introduce suitable tank mates that share similar water parameter requirements and have a peaceful temperament. Ensure the community is balanced in terms of species that occupy different levels of the tank (bottom, mid, and top dwellers).
  • Acclimation: When introducing neon tetras or other fish to the tank, acclimate them slowly to the tank’s water parameters to reduce stress. This can be done by gradually mixing some tank water into the bag over the course of 20 minutes before releasing them into the tank.
  • Monitoring and Maintenance: Maintain the tank by regularly cleaning the substrate, removing algae, and replacing filter media as needed without disturbing the beneficial bacteria.

Setting up an aquarium for neon tetras and their companions requires attention to detail and ongoing care, but the reward is a vibrant, active, and healthy aquatic ecosystem that’s a pleasure to observe.


Successfully maintaining an aquarium that includes neon tetras and their tank mates requires understanding and attention to detail. From choosing the right neon tetra tank mates to setting up and maintaining the aquarium, every step is crucial for creating a harmonious living space. Neon tetra tank mates should be chosen with care, considering factors like temperament, size, and environmental needs to ensure compatibility. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide, you can create a thriving aquatic ecosystem where neon tetras and their tank mates can coexist beautifully, bringing life and color to your home or office.