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How Long Do Neon Tetras Live: Their Food Habit: Disease and Solution

There is nothing as appealing as a tetra fish aquarium gracing your living room. They are among the most popular fish collected by hobbyists. But why are the tetras so popular? Well, apart from the fact that they are attractive, tetra fish are quite easy to maintain.

In the following paragraphs, we provide a bit of information regarding this favorite fish. For example, how long do neon tetras live? What are their food habits and which diseases affect them?

The tetras’ place of origin is Central America, South America, and Africa – at least according to the available records.

The Characteristics of Neon Tetras

The Paracheirodon innesi – their scientific name – are similar in terms of characteristics to the other tetra family fishes. The neon tetras boast a distinctive olive green, silver, vivid red and blue body color – they are quite attractive, don’t you agree? But that’s not all; the tetras also feature a transparent tail and fin presentation.

In fact, the neon tetras are among the most popular in their tetra family. They are a favorite among most people based on their ability to adapt to their environment quickly.

Their red and blue colors do not actually extend the length of the body. The blue starts at the end of their eyes and ends at the top half of their body.

The red then begins where the blue terminates and goes all the way to caudal fin – they are thus not that hard to identify.

An adult neon tetra is not more than 1.5 inches – quite the dwarfs, aren’t they? So what other characteristics set these types of fishes apart? Well, there’s the blunt nose and the spindle-shaped body.

How Long Do Neon Tetras Live?

The tetras have a unique shape of teeth – this is where they get their name, ‘tetra.’ They respond quite well to a clean environment and proper nutrition and can live between five and ten years – it all depends on how much care you give them.

Another factor that seems to determine their lifespan is their size. The smaller they are, the shorter their lifespan – quite strange but that’s nature. Another quite interesting fact is that the fish laying tetras tend to live longer than their counterparts that do not – I guess nature wants a good supply of the beautiful creatures.

Their Food Habits

Unlike some problematic fish, the neon tetras are not choosy and will consume anything that is available for them. However, they may sometimes fail to eat it, and it sinks to the bottom of the tank, adding to the bioload. Together with the fish excreta, the food may eventually prove significant biomass.

The fish like small bits of food and are likely to choke on bigger ones – make sure it is as tiny as it can get.

Their favorite, however, includes insects and small worms – remember they have teeth. You can welcome them to the new tank with spirulina flakes.

After a few days, you can add live food. Some foods like Daphnia Purex and Drosophila fruit fries keep them happy – they are among their favorite.

Shredded brine fish and white worm are another of their favorite. There are also tetra color bits with balanced nutrition. The commercial food sinks slowly, so the tetras have a good chance of getting it in excellent condition.

The wafers, pellets, and flakes fall into the prepared foods category. Even though there are both meaty and vegetable flakes, always go with the meaty varieties to mimic their natural environment – they are meat lovers.

For the freeze-dried foods like the mosquito larvae and bloodworms, first, expose them to the room temperature before feeding them to the fish.

But for a healthy and colorful school, feed the neon tetras with a blend of live, frozen and packed foods. A decent variation of fine granules and flakes give the tetras the beautiful colors that we love them so much for.

Proper Feeding

Typically, tetras spend most of the time at the center of the tank and will rarely swim at the bottom or top. They are, therefore, likely to ignore any food that goes at the bottom. In ideal situations, feed the fish with the food they are likely to eat within the shortest time – something small in size and quantity – and regularly.

Feeding them large quantities is a big NO as the tetras may not have the capacity to finish it within the shortest period. Apart from becoming a choking risk, the big sizes settle at the bottom, adding to the tank’s biomass. This is not ideal as it may lead to diseases.


In the wild, tetras prefer the rainy season for breeding. However, under the controlled environment of an aquarium, they can actually thrive and multiply within a short period.

Typically, female tetras are ready to breed as early as nine months. Larger species take longer – in the region of one and a half to two years.

Successful breeding entails separating the male and female tetras using a partition within the same tank. This allows them to grow accustomed to having them around for future mating.

So how do you differentiate between the male and female?

Well, their physical appearance will tell whether what you have in the tank is a male or a female. In most cases, the male is more colorful and have a slender body. On the other hand, the females are rounder and plumper – makes sense, if you get the point. The female body adopts this shape as a result of eggs build-up within their body.


When the time for spawning comes, choose another tank with peat filter, live plants, and clean-and-aged water. Place the female on this new tank, ideally during the night and add the male moments later.

Carefully watch the behavior of the male and if they show any aggression towards the female, remove them. Next time they may learn to behave better. But you can also have several females to divert the attention from a single female.

Soon after fertilizing the eggs, remove the male to prevent aggression toward the female and eggs.

It only takes 24 hours for the tetra eggs to hatch. The hatched tetras are very tiny, and you should feed them with something simple to ingest without any challenges. You can give them infusoria in the first few days.

You can then later feed them baby brine shrimp or some commercial fry products.

Neon Tetra Care

It is your role to ensure there is a good quality filter for a hygienic and healthy environment for the tetras – they are pretty like the majority of us that love a clean environment.

We can say that the tetras are some of the most eco-friendly fish to grace your tank but why do we say so? Has it got to do with the greenhouse gases and the like? Not even close!

Neon tetras have less biomass in comparison to other pet fish. This means that a simple sponge filter or a hang on back filter is sufficient to keep the tank clean and the fish happy.

But how do the tetras cope with other fish – tank mates?

Basically, neon tetras are some of the friendliest fish you will find anywhere. They will not show any aggression, whatsoever – they are peace lovers.

For any hobbyist, the tetras are easy to look after, and you only need to ensure a clean environment and practice good feeding habits, apparently.

How else do you ensure the neon tetras are happy and healthy?

In their natural habitat, the neon tetras love being in a school. Therefore, ensure they are in a group of their own kind – and others. And if you want to add other varieties as tank mates, choose the non-aggressive varieties – there is no need to disturb the neon tetra’s peace.

Don’t keep neon tetras alone as they are likely to develop stress and die of loneliness – it would be quite tragic.

Their ideal tank temperature is in the region of 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are in a chilly environment, install a safe water heater to ensure the fish don’t freeze to death. Ideally, a 20-gallon tank should hold about 48 of them.

As a rule of the thumb, ensure there is a 6-inch space for each tetra fish. There should also be some vegetation and other suitable tank mates to make it an ideal environment for them.

The perfect water PH for the tetras is a bit acidic at around 6.8. Make sure to change the water regularly to ensure they live in a clean environment.

Neon Tetra Diseases and Management

The primary source of diseases for the tetras includes an unhygienic environment as a result of a poorly-maintained aquarium. Another risk factor consists of a higher water PH – the neons are likely to catch some disease in higher PH water. In simpler terms, these glamorous fish are more likely to die as a result of adverse changes in the water chemistry, stress, and temperature.

Some of the most common neon tetra diseases include fin rot and ick.

But how do you know the tetras are sick?

Some of the symptoms to look out for include restlessness and lack of stability, a lumpy body characterized by cysts, skin discoloration and bloating. You may also notice irregular swimming of the fish.

The majority of the above symptoms belong to neon tetra disease, and there’s usually nothing you can do about in terms of cure – it is a protozoan infection. But you should quarantine the affected to prevent spreading.

To get rid of the mild infections, you can always add a small amount of iodized salt – but not too much of it or it may affect their health, altogether. Salting also helps manage the spreading of diseases.


There are other simple interventions you can utilize to ensure the full restoration of health. For example, if a few of the tetras died soon after introduction to the tank, then the water quality is below par – not matured. But what does that mean?

Well, the water does not yet have a decent level of friendly bacteria, and so harmful toxins are more than likely to populate the water. The friendly bacteria help break down waste product to a friendly level. But there are things you can do to remedy the situation like purchasing products like Stress-Zyme to help the water mature.

And if there still a few of the tetras remaining in the tank, it would be a good idea to move them to a separate container – quarantine. This is especially critical if you have other fish swimming around the tank. The quarantine will help prevent disease spread to them.

If you notice that the tetras are restless and are sitting at the bottom, they are not admiring the stones or searching for something they lost, but instead, they may be experiencing tank shock. It means that they have not yet been successful at adapting to the water in the new tank – they sense some difference and are already homesick.

There is a simple solution to this but what is it? Holding a face to face discussion about the new adopted owners or tank? Far from it!

The solution is acclimatization. The process involves allowing the tetras to float in a bag of aquarium water. You then slowly add the new water into the bag at the space of five minutes and this should go on for about an hour.

You can then transfer the neons after this hour-long acclimatization process, and they will no longer have the adaptation problems – new places are sometimes just hard to take and get used to, don’t you agree?


Neon tetras are among the most appealing and most natural to look after. Therefore, such questions as ‘how long do neon tetras live?’ are quite common. But with proper hygiene and feeding practices, they can live as long as ten years.

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