In the wild a Neon Tetra can live up to around ten years, and while their lifespan is slightly shorter in an aquarium there are several factors that can cause them to live longer or die sooner.
Neon Tetra disease is one of the main causes of early death, but there are several ways fishkeepers can avoid NTD and keep their Neons alive for longer.
The two main factors in the lifespan of any fish are environment and health – where they live and how well they’re cared for will usually decide how long any pet will live and Tetras are no exception. Read on for a breakdown of both factors!
How long do Neon Tetras live in the wild?
In the wild, a Neon Tetra can live for around ten years if they avoid sickness and evade predators, which are usually just larger fish. Any fish upwards of a few inches in length will eat Neons in their natural habitat in the Amazon basin in South America.
Neon Tetras originate from the blackwater, freshwater and clearwater streams in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. The fact that they can thrive in different types of water makes them adaptable little fish, but to keep them alive in captivity it’s common sense to keep them in water conditions that match those of their native waters.
Millions of years of evolution have led these fish to your tank, so make them feel at home!
How long do Neon Tetras live in an aquarium?
Neon Tetras will live for around six years in an aquarium and their lifespan will be longer the closer the conditions match their natural habitat. The correct temperature, water parameters, aeration and food will all help your Neon live a longer, happier life.
To maximize the lifespan of your Neon Tetras, make sure you’re aware of all the facts, including:
- what to feed them, how much and how often
- how often to change their tank water (and how much to change)
- suitable tankmates
- ideal tank size and the number of Tetras to keep together
- ideal plants, rocks, and tank decorations
- ideal water parameters
- the correct amount, type, and brightness of light vs the appropriate amount of shade
- the impact of aeration of the water, surface movement and flow
It sounds like a lot, but if you research your tank setup before rushing out to buy your fish, you can establish an environment and routine that allows your Neon Tetras to not only survive, but to thrive in their new home.
Read more: How Much Do Neon Tetras Cost?
Then all you need to worry about is Neon Tetra disease…
How long do Neon Tetras live with NTD (Neon Tetra Disease)?
Neon Tetras can live for around six years with Neon Tetra disease, which is their normal life expectancy. As the ailment worsens its symptoms make life uncomfortable for the fish, so it’s often kinder to euthanize, which also stops NTD spreading to other fish in the tank.
The disease doesn’t only affect Tetras, it just happens to be named NTD as it was first discovered in Neons. It’s not uncommon for danios, angelfish, or goldfish to contract the illness, which localizes its attack on specific areas of the fish.
These areas will first lose color, before eventually the muscles start to waste away. This causes the worrying mis-shaped spine seen in fish who have been infected long term, which makes swimming difficult as well as affecting the fish in other ways.
Thankfully I’ve never had a Neon Tetra with NTD, primarily because it’s relatively easy to prevent if you know the right tank conditions to keep your fish healthy. I’m an obsessive researcher and always encourage other fishkeepers to understand as much as they can about things like the ideal temperature, water parameters, tankmates etc. before buying new fish.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out this complete Neon Tetra care guide and use the list below to keep your Tetras happy and healthy for as long as possible:
9 Ways To Help Your Neon Tetras Live Longer
1. Buy the correct sized tank
Neon Tetras are schooling fish who will display beautifully coordinated swimming behavior, so they need a tank that’s wider rather than taller. It needs to be at least ten gallons to accommodate the minimum group size, as Neons thrive in groups of ten or more.
2. Check the tank’s lighting setup
Neon Tetras do really well in blackwater aquariums but in a whitewater tank, they’ll need plants and decorations for shade (more on this below) and softer light. According to Tetra-fish-care.com, 2 to 5 watts per gallon of water in the tank is ideal, and no more than 12 to 14 hours of light per day.
Personally, I keep the full lights on for no more than 8 hours, with some exposure to the softer blue lights in my tank for a short period either side of this. Either way, any longer than 12-14 hours interrupts the circadian rhythm which ensures your fish get enough rest to recover from a hard day’s swim and stay healthy in the long term.
3. Use living plants
As well as providing shade from brighter lights and shelter to help your Neons feel safe and secure, living plants keep your tank water clean by absorbing nitrites, nitrates, ammonia, and carbon dioxide.
Plants use these harmful chemical compounds as food to grow, absorbing them through their roots and leaves and producing oxygen. Plants live in perfect harmony with your fish, using their waste as food and giving back oxygen to help your fish breathe.
4. Make sure there is plenty of swimming space
Another reason to choose a bigger tank is that even with a heavily planted tank, Neon Tetras need space for their favorite hobby – coordinated horizontal swimming.
This beautiful behavior isn’t just for your viewing pleasure; it’s a basic survival tactic. Staying together by schooling provides Neons with safety in numbers when predators are near by making it hard to pick out one fish to attack.
Even in a tank where no predators are around, Neon Tetras are hard-wired by evolution to feel safe when they have space to properly school, reducing stress and increasing their mental and physical well-being – because a happy fish is a healthy fish!
5. Make sure your tank is properly cycled before introducing your fish
This is basic advice but holding off on adding your fish until you know your tank’s nitrogen cycle has been established is essential for any species.
New tanks need time for bacteria to develop – harmful ammonia is turned into nitrites by these bacteria, and in turn this is turned into nitrates.
Fish are going to produce ammonia when introduced to a tank, and unless these bacteria are present, that ammonia won’t become nitrite and eventually nitrate. This can lead to ammonia poisoning, which can easily kill your fish.
It’s always tempting to stock your beautiful new tank with your favorite fish but adding livestock before your tank is cycled is one of the most irresponsible things a fishkeeper can do.
To check the parameters in your tank, use a reliable water testing kit like this one for freshwater fish, which I use weekly but should be used daily to check fluctuations in water conditions during the cycling process.
6. Make sure your tank is within the ideal temperature range for Neon Tetras
Every article differs slightly in the exact temperature range, with the lower end of the discussion online being around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), all the way up to 81 degrees Fahrenheit at the top end (around 27 Celsius).
If your water stays around the mid-70s, your Tetras will be living in water closest to that of the natural habitats in which they originally thrived.
Tank thermometers are notoriously unreliable, so invest in one you can trust. I went for a cheap one but when I put two of the same model in the tank next to each other, the readings differed by around 8 degrees! These days I use this one which seems more accurate and has an alarm that alerts you if the temperature moves above or below your desired levels.
7. Make sure you use the correct fish food
Neon Tetras are omnivorous, meaning they need a variety of foods of both plant and animal origin. Unlike herbivorous fish, their digestive system can process the meat of other fish and invertebrates, while also taking valuable nutrients from algae and plant matter.
This means you may see your Neons nibbling at any dead fish in your tank and then snacking on the kind of algae that is currently running wild in my community tank!
When it comes to buying food for them, I like to mix different foods together in a batch to give the variety they need. This includes a good quality flake food, as well as freeze-dried or frozen foods like Daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms and zooplankton. Tetras also love live foods and insect larvae.
Read more: Neon Tetra feeding guide
8. Ensure any tankmates are suitable to live with Tetras
Any fish of a similar size are great tankmates for Neon Tetras if they’re friendly. Bigger, more aggressive fish often see Neons as lunch, so don’t be surprised if species like Goldfish and large Gouramis decide to take a bite.
Instead, choose other types of Tetras (like Cardinals or Black Neons), Mollies and Corydoras.
Personally, I have a community tank where my Neon and Cardinal Tetras get on swimmingly (pun intended) with Guppies and Platys.
Aside from other fish, Tetras can share a tank with snails like Nerites and Mystery Snails, and don’t bother shrimp (Amano Shrimp are great cleaners and algae eaters, while Red Cherry Shrimp offer a pop of color to any tank).
9. Maintain the tank properly and regularly
It goes without saying to most fish owners, but a proper maintenance routine is essential to the long-term health and happiness of your livestock.
Regular water changes are essential to avoid buildup of harmful chemicals in the water, including the nitrate that is present due to the cycling process mentioned above – even in a healthy tank, those chemicals need to be removed regularly.
Bear in mind that ordinary tap water is likely to be harmful to your fish and needs to be treated before being added to your tank. Tap water contains chemicals such as chlorine and chloramine, which are added to our water to kill bacteria. Unfortunately, it also damages the gills of your fish and can cause high levels of stress.
There are a lot of water treatments on the market, but I use Seachem Prime to remove chlorine and chloramine from the water, which also detoxifies ammonia. Add 5ml for every 50 US gallons of new water, which is a tiny dose so a bottle will last for months, if not years depending on your tank size.
You should be performing a 10-20% water change weekly as a minimum, but more frequent small water changes are better than bigger water changes over longer periods, as this is less disruptive to the natural balance of water parameters (fish are sensitive to changes in their environment and even small fluctuations in parameters and temperature can cause them stress).
The above acts as a solid guide to extending the life of your Neon Tetras to around and even beyond the six-year average. If the environment in your tank is optimal, you’ll enjoy these beautiful fish year after year.
If you’re interested in learning more about Neon Tetras, check out our Ultimate Guide to Neon Tetra Care.