Neon Tetra Tank Setup – How To Do It - "Neon Tetras - The little blue beauties" by Vee-vee is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Neon Tetra Tank Setup – How To Do It - "Neon Tetras - The little blue beauties" by Vee-vee is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.


Creating a neon tetra tank setup involves more than just filling a tank with water and adding fish; it’s about replicating a natural ecosystem that supports the health and happiness of neon tetras. A well-planned neon tetra tank setup can transform an ordinary aquarium into a vibrant, living piece of art, teeming with activity and color. This guide will walk you through the essential steps and considerations for setting up an aquarium specifically designed for neon tetras, ensuring they thrive in a habitat that mirrors their natural environment.

About Neon Tetras

Neon tetras are small, brightly colored tropical freshwater fish that are popular in the aquarium hobby. Their scientific name is Paracheirodon innesi. Neon tetras have a slender, torpedo-shaped body that typically grows up to 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length. They are known for their striking coloration, which includes a vibrant blue horizontal stripe that runs along the length of their body, from the nose to the adipose fin, and a contrasting red stripe that starts mid-body and extends to the tail. The rest of their body is translucent, allowing their internal organs to be somewhat visible, which adds to their unique appearance.

Neon tetras are schooling fish, which means they prefer to live in groups. In the wild, they are found in large schools, and in aquariums, it is recommended to keep them in groups of at least six or more individuals. This schooling behavior is not only natural but also helps reduce stress among the fish, leading to better health and more vibrant colors. Neon tetras are peaceful and non-aggressive, making them excellent candidates for community tanks where they can coexist with other small, peaceful fish species.

Behaviorally, neon tetras are quite active and can often be seen swimming in the middle to upper levels of the aquarium. They are omnivorous and will accept a wide variety of foods, including flakes, pellets, and small live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or daphnia. Neon tetras are known for their hardiness, but they thrive in well-maintained aquariums with stable water conditions. 

Their vibrant colors and dynamic schooling behavior make neon tetras a favorite among aquarists, adding a splash of color and movement to any freshwater aquarium.

Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for neon tetras, it’s crucial to consider several factors to ensure a harmonious aquarium environment. Neon tetras are peaceful, small fish that do best with other species that share their calm demeanor and similar size. Here are key considerations for choosing compatible tank mates for neon tetras:

  • Temperament: Choose other peaceful fish that are unlikely to bully or harass neon tetras. Aggressive or very territorial fish can stress or harm neon tetras, leading to health issues or even mortality.
  • Size: Opt for fish that are similar in size to neon tetras. Larger fish might see neon tetras as food, while neon tetras are unlikely to compete effectively for food with much larger tank mates.
  • Water Conditions: Select species that thrive in similar water conditions to those preferred by neon tetras, including a temperature range of 72°F to 76°F (22°C to 24°C), a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, and soft to moderately hard water. This ensures all inhabitants are comfortable and healthy in the same environment.
  • Activity Level: Fish with a similar activity level are preferable. Neon tetras are active swimmers but not overly boisterous. Extremely active or fast-swimming fish might outcompete them for food or stress them with constant movement.
  • Feeding Habits: Ensure the dietary needs of all fish in the tank are compatible. Neon tetras are omnivores and can live on a varied diet of flake, pellet, and live or frozen foods. Tank mates with drastically different dietary requirements might complicate feeding routines.
  • Schooling Behavior: Since neon tetras are schooling fish, they do well with other schooling species that also prefer the safety and social structure of a group. Keeping them in groups helps reduce stress and promotes natural behavior.

Suitable Tank Mates for Neon Tetras

  • Other small tetras (such as cardinal tetras, ember tetras, and rummynose tetras)
  • Small rasboras (like harlequin rasboras)
  • Dwarf gouramis
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Small plecos
  • Otocinclus catfish
  • Shrimp and snails (as part of a community tank cleanup crew)

Tank Mates to Avoid

  • Large, aggressive cichlids
  • Large predatory fish (such as arowanas or oscars)
  • Very large or aggressive barbs
  • Territorial bottom dwellers that might compete aggressively with other fish for space

Creating a balanced community tank requires careful consideration of the needs and behaviors of all inhabitants. By selecting compatible tank mates for neon tetras, you can foster a peaceful, visually appealing, and healthy aquarium environment.

Neon Tetra Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for neon tetras involves creating an environment that closely mimics their natural habitat in the Amazon Basin. This includes considerations for water conditions, tank size, filtration, lighting, and decorations. Here is a comprehensive guide on neon tetra tank setup:

  • Tank Size: Start with at least a 10-gallon (40 liters) tank for a small school of neon tetras (6-10 fish). This provides enough space for swimming and helps maintain stable water conditions. Larger tanks are recommended if you plan to keep a bigger school or include other species.
  • Temperature: Maintain a water temperature between 72°F and 76°F (22°C to 24°C). Use an aquarium heater to keep the temperature stable.
  • pH Level: Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Test the water regularly and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water is ideal.
  • Water Quality: Use a reliable filtration system to keep the water clean and well-oxygenated. Regular partial water changes (10-20% weekly) are crucial to remove toxins and maintain water quality.
  • Filtration: Choose a filter that provides adequate filtration without creating too strong of a current, as neon tetras prefer calmer waters. Sponge filters or hang-on-back filters with adjustable flow rates are good choices.
  • Lighting: Neon tetras do not require intense lighting; moderate lighting is sufficient to simulate their natural environment and highlight their vibrant colors. Avoid overly bright lights, which can stress the fish.
  • Substrate: Use dark-colored gravel or sand to replicate the dark riverbeds of their natural habitat, which also helps to make their colors stand out.
  • Plants: Include live plants such as java fern, anubias, and amazon swords to provide hiding spots and mimic natural cover. Plants also help improve water quality.
  • Decorations: Add driftwood, rocks, and caves to create a natural-looking environment with plenty of hiding places. This setup not only provides shelter but also reduces stress among the fish.
  • Schooling: Neon tetras are schooling fish, so they should be kept in groups of at least 6 or more to promote natural behavior and reduce stress. A larger school is often more visually striking and allows the fish to feel more secure.
  • Acclimation: When introducing neon tetras to their new tank, it’s essential to acclimate them slowly to avoid shock from sudden changes in water parameters. Float the bag in the tank for about 15 minutes, then gradually add small amounts of tank water to the bag over the next 30 minutes before releasing them into the tank.
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance, including monitoring water parameters, cleaning the substrate, and pruning plants, is crucial to keep the tank healthy and ensure the well-being of your neon tetras.

By following these guidelines for neon tetra tank setup, you can create a thriving and visually appealing aquarium that closely mirrors the natural conditions neon tetras would experience in the wild, promoting their health and longevity.

Neon Tetra Tank Setup – How To Do It - "Neon Tetras - The little blue beauties" by Vee-vee is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Neon Tetra Tank Setup – How To Do It – “Neon Tetras – The little blue beauties” by Vee-vee is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Aquascaping Ideas

Aquascaping, the art of arranging aquatic plants, rocks, stones, cavework, or driftwood, within an aquarium in an aesthetically pleasing manner, offers numerous possibilities to create a captivating underwater landscape. Here are some aquascaping ideas tailored to enhance the beauty and health of an aquarium, especially for inhabitants like neon tetras:

Nature Aquarium

  • Concept: Inspired by natural landscapes, this style focuses on recreating various terrestrial scenes underwater, such as mountains, forests, valleys, and even underwater scenes.
  • Elements: Use a variety of live plants, including foreground carpet plants, mid-ground plants like Java Fern, and background plants like Amazon Sword. Add rocks or driftwood to mimic natural terrain.
  • For Neon Tetras: The dense plant life offers numerous hiding spots, which can help these fish feel secure and display more natural behaviors.


  • Concept: A minimalist style that emphasizes simplicity and open space, originating from Japanese gardening. It typically features a small number of plant species and strategically placed rocks as the focal point.
  • Elements: Select an odd number of rocks (usually three to five) of varying sizes but similar texture and color. Plant low-growing plants around the rocks, maintaining open swimming areas.
  • For Neon Tetras: The open swimming space allows for easy viewing of the fish, while the rocks and plants create a serene environment.

Dutch Aquarium

  • Concept: This style focuses on the arrangement and diversity of aquatic plants, often without the inclusion of rocks or driftwood.
  • Elements: Use a wide variety of plants with different textures, colors, and heights to create a lush, densely planted environment. Arrange plants in groups to emphasize contrast and depth.
  • For Neon Tetras: The dense plantings provide ample hiding and resting spaces, encouraging natural schooling behavior and reducing stress.

Jungle Style

  • Concept: Mimics a wild jungle with dense vegetation and a somewhat untamed appearance. It’s less structured than other styles, allowing for a more organic growth pattern.
  • Elements: Incorporate a mix of tall, leafy plants like Water Wisteria or Vallisneria, along with floating plants and broad-leaved species. Driftwood and rocks can be added to enhance the jungle feel.
  • For Neon Tetras: The varied plant life and subdued lighting (due to floating plants) create an environment similar to their natural habitat, promoting vibrant colors and activity.

Biotope Aquarium

  • Concept: Aims to replicate a specific natural environment as closely as possible, including water parameters, flora, and fauna from that habitat.
  • Elements: For a South American river biotope suitable for neon tetras, use soft, acidic water, sand or fine gravel substrate, driftwood, leaf litter, and plants like Amazon Sword and Anubias (although Anubias is not from South America, so consider this).
  • For Neon Tetras: This setup provides an environment that closely mimics their natural habitat, supporting their health and natural behaviors.

General Tips for Aquascaping

  • Research: Understand the needs of the plants and fish you intend to keep. Ensure the layout and plant choices support the well-being of the aquarium’s inhabitants.
  • Lighting: Optimize lighting for the plants’ needs while not overwhelming the fish. Neon tetras, for example, prefer subdued lighting.
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance, including trimming plants, cleaning the substrate, and monitoring water parameters, is crucial for the health of the aquascape and its inhabitants.

Aquascaping is not just about creating a visually appealing underwater landscape; it’s also about creating a healthy and stimulating neon tetra tank setup for the inhabitants. By considering the needs and natural behaviors of fish like neon tetras, you can design an aquascape that is both beautiful and beneficial.


A neon tetra tank setup is not just an aesthetic addition to your home or office but a commitment to recreating a slice of the Amazon Basin for these vibrant fish. Through careful planning and attention to detail, your neon tetra tank setup can become a thriving ecosystem that promotes the well-being of your neon tetras. By considering factors like tank size, water conditions, companions, and aquascaping, you can create a harmonious environment that is both a joy to behold and a sanctuary for your fish. Remember, the key to a successful neon tetra aquarium lies in understanding and catering to the specific needs of these beautiful creatures, ensuring they live a healthy and stress-free life in their aquatic home.