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Family: Characidae, Hemigrammus clade

Common Name: Neon Tetra

Origin and Habitat: Blackwater or clearwater streams of the upper Amazon basin in Peru, sections of the Rio Ucayali, and elsewhere. Most commercially available fish are tank raised.

Compatibility/Temperament: Very peaceful, well suited to a community tank of non-aggressive fish such as other characins, rasbora, danios, small catfish and loaches. Not compatible with angels or discus.

Neon Tetra Diet

Carnivorous by nature, it will accept most prepared foods. Frozen bloodworms, daphnia, and live food if available.


Grows to 1.5 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length

Water parameters for Neon Tetra

Soft (less than 4 dGH) and slightly acidic (pH less than 7.0), temperature 20-25C/68-78F.


A shoaling fish, they must be kept in groups of minimum six but preferably more. Well suited to a planted aquarium containing similar non-aggressive fish including other characins, rasbora, danios, smaller catfish and loaches and some of the dwarf cichlids. Not suitable with angels who see them as food. Neons come from cooler waters and do best with lower to normal community temperatures (maximum 78F) and are thus not suitable with fish that require warmer temperatures such as some dwarf cichlids (including the common ram) and discus.

Breeding is not easy. Males are slimmer than females, but there are no external sex differences.

Neon tetras have been mass produced in captivity so this appears to negate the effect of population decline in the wild, and thus they do not appear to be endangered. Most neons available are commercially raised; wild caught fish are rare. However, these fish have become less hardy due to the fact that they were inbred and produced in vast numbers without their quality placed as one of the top priorities. They are quite vulnerable to Neon Tetra Disease(NTD) caused by Pleistophora. NTD does not have a cure unfortunately. There are several claims for their remedy but it has yet to be proven quite effective enough to battle NTD. All you can do is strengthen their immune system by varying the food diet and do regular tank maintenance. On the side note, not only the neon tetras are said to be afflicted by the NTD but other fish particularly tetras and the danios as well.

The iridescent blue/green line contains pigment cells known as iridophores (or sometimes guanophores); these reflect light using plates of crystalline chemochromes made from guanine. In light, these generate iridescent colours due to the diffraction of light within the stacked plates.

The neon tetra resembles the cardinal tetra and the green or false neon tetra but those two species are more closely related to each other than to the true neon tetra. Externally on the subject species, the "neon" lateral line extends from the eye to a point along the dorsal ridge (back) anterior to the adipose fin. The lower half of the body below the neon line is silver on the front half of the fish and red on the back half extending onto the caudal peduncle (base of the tail).

This species was described by Dr. George S. Meyers in 1936 and named Hyphessobrycon innesi. The species name honours the American aquarist William T. Innes, who, among many other things, authored and published the book Exotic Aquarium Fishes which appeared in 1935 and has gone through 19 editions [to date].

In 1960, Dr. Jacques Gery erected the genus Paracheirodon for the type species P. innesi (Neon Tetra) and the Cardinal (P. axelrodi) was also moved into the new genus. The name Paracheirodon derives from the Greek; the older genus name Cheirodon derives from cheir [= hand] and odon [= teeth], and the prefix para means "beside" to distinguish Paracheirodon from Cheirodon.

Paracheirodon was formerly considered within the subfamily Tetragonopterinae, but this classification has for some time been deemed incertae sedis [Latin for "of uncertain placement"]. Javonillo, et al. (2010) determined that the subfamily Tetragonopterinae should only be used for species within the genus Tetragonopterus. Also, J. Marcos Mirande (2009) proposed several revisions to the family Characidae based upon phylogenetic diagnosis. Some genera have been moved to a new subfamily, while others are now (temporarily) assigned to a specific clade within the family pending further study.

The presence of the "neon" blue/green lateral stripe readily identifies the neon tetra [P. innesi], cardinal tetra [P. axelrodi] and false or green neon tetra [P. simulans], all of which are available in the hobby. A fourth "neon" species was discovered by Heiko Bleher in 2006 and has yet to be described and named. According to preliminary DNA studies, this new species is very close to the true Neon Tetra, whereas the Cardinal Tetra is genetically closer to the Green/False Neon Tetra.


Javonillo, Robert, Luiz R. Malabarba, Stanley H. Weitzman and John R. Burns (2010), "Relationships among major lineages of characid fishes (Teleostei: Ostariophysi: Characiformes), based on molecular sequence data," Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Vol. 54, No. 2 (February 2010).

Mirande, J. Marcos (2009), "Weighted parsimony phylogeny of the family Characidae (Teleostei: Characiformes)," Cladistics, Vol. 25, No. 6 (July 2009).

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron, CaliforniaFishkeeper


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