Neon Tetras: Are They Hardy? (& Best Alternatives)

Neon tetras are great looking fish that shoal well and really improve the look of the aquarium if you have a large group of them.

But are they a hardy fish, or are they prone to disease?

Neon Tetras | Source: Deposit Photos

Are Neon Tetras Hardy?

Neon tetras have a reputation for being hardy fish, but that’s mostly a relic from decades past. They used to be pretty healthy, but poor breeding practices have caused them to have bad immune systems that leave them prone to disease.

If you’re going to get neon tetras, you will want to be careful to get healthy neon tetras and avoid bringing home any that have neon tetra disease.

Neon tetra disease is an incurable and typically fatal disease that can spread to any healthy tetras in a tank – including ones that aren’t neon tetras. Once your tetras have it there is no cure for it, so it’s important you get tetras that are healthy and quarantine them

If you get tetras that are healthy when they go into your tank, they will usually be pretty hardy.

Neon tetras can be sensitive to changes in water conditions, however, so you want to make sure your tank doesn’t experience any rapid swings in temperature or PH. They also are sensitive to ammonia and nitrates in the water, so you want to make sure you’re putting them into a tank that has already been cycled.

What is Neon Tetra Disease?

Neon Tetras are susceptible to a disease called Neon Tetra Disease (NTD). This disease is caused by a type of fungal parasite which becomes ingested by the fish. This disease is degenerative and is fatal in Neon Tetras.

By looking out for any symptoms and keeping your tank clean, you can prevent this disease in your Neon Tetra.

What are the Symptoms of Neon Tetra Disease?

  • An infected Neon Tetra will stray away from the group.
  • The fish will become restless and have erratic swimming patterns.
  • Their color fades and becomes white.
  • There is bloating, lumps under the skin, and cysts on the stomach.
  • Curving of the spine.
  • Infected tail fin.

How Do Neon Tetras Catch NTD?

Neon Tetra Disease is very contagious. The disease is caught by eating the parasite and becoming infected. The parasite can be present in another infected fish, or in certain foods. The tank must be kept clean to ensure that no bacteria and infections get into the tank and cause this disease. Food, fish, and plants can all host bacteria.

How Can You Prevent Neon Tetras Getting Diseases?

Neon tetras are a popular fish species, but like all other fish they can be infected with a number of diseases. Some of the more common diseases that can affect neon tetras are ich, gill disease, and white spot. If you notice any of these problems with your neon tetras, it is important to remove them from the tank immediately and place them into a hospital tank where they can be treated.

Buy your Neon Tetra from a reputable, local breeder rather than a big pet store to make sure they are healthy. See the fish in-person to make sure they are in good condition, and make sure no new fish have been added in the past 2-3 months that might have introduced NTD to the shoal.

When you get your new fish, keep new fish in a separate tank at first to monitor their health before mixing them with the other fish. You should quarantine them for at least 2-4 weeks, but NTD can take up to 2 months to become apparent, so you may need to quarantine for 75 days to be safe.

How Can You Treat Neon Tetra Disease?

Neon tetra disease doesn’t have any known cure. You can try to treat using Protozin and Myxazin, but it’s far from guaranteed to work.

If you’ve introduced Neon Tetra Disease into your display tank, your best bet is to fish out any tetras that look like they are sick or that have stopped swimming with the shoal and move them over to a hospital tank where you can try to treat them.

Which Fish Are Hardier Than Neon Tetras?

If you want a fish that’s hardier than the Neon Tetra, try the Harlequin Rasbora. These fish are easy to care for and are great to add to community tanks with other fish. They do great in tropical tanks but can also tolerate a lower temperature of 20°C. They add vivid colors to the tank and have a signature black triangle.

Zebra danios, platies, and swordtails are also very hardy fish. I’ve owned all three, and they’re very easy to keep healthy.

If you want to have tetras – even knowing that they’re all vulnerable to NTD, I would recommend you stay away from Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras. Good options include ember tetras, glolight tetras, lemon tetras, and (if you have an aquarium with semi-aggressive fish) black skirt tetras.

What Are the Ideal Tank Conditions for Neon Tetras?

Water temperature

Neon Tetras do best in water that is between 70- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit.

Water hardness

Neon Tetras prefer soft water, at less than 10 dGH (degrees of general hardness).

But they can also adjust to medium-hard water.  

pH level

pH level should be between 6 and 7, ideally 6.5 – 7.

Neon Tetras are very sensitive to levels of ammonia and nitrate.

25% – 50% of the tank water should be replaced each week. Avoid changing the water rapidly as sudden changes can stress them and make them sick.

Tank size 

The tank should have at least 10 – 20 gallons of water. Neon Tetras are active swimmers and share tanks with other fish, so need room to swim. If the tank is overcrowded, they will become stressed without enough space.

Tank Mates

Neon Tetras like to be with a school of at least six of their own kind. They should not be kept alone or with very few other fish as they become lonely and stressed.

They are peaceful and not aggressive and are great tank mates with other fish. Choose fish that are also not aggressive and are not a lot larger than the Neon Tetra. These fish might see them as prey and bully them into hiding away.