Bettas and Neon Tetras are two of the most popular freshwater species available – but can they live together?
Can Bettas live with Neon Tetras?
The good news is that Neon Tetras and Bettas can live together, with a few caveats. There are a few similarities and differences between the two you’ll need to be aware of to keep them both healthy and happy in the same tank.
Both Bettas and Neon Tetras thrive in tropical tanks with a temperature in the mid-70s (Fahrenheit – or around 24 degrees Celsius if you prefer), with a similar pH preference of between 6.5 and 8.
Any lower and the more alkaline water will lead to sickness in both species.
If you’re planning on keeping Neon Tetra and Betta fish together, there are 3 things you need to consider:
- Space and tank setup
- How and when to introduce them
- Your backup plan in case they don’t get along!
How many Neon Tetras can you have with a betta?
There’s no maximum number of Neon Tetras that can be kept in the same tank as a Betta but there is a minimum number of Neons that are recommended to be kept in a group. I always recommend at least 10 Neon Tetras to be kept together.
Bettas chill out at the top of the tank, bottom-dwelling Neon Tetras school across the lower and middle areas so they shouldn’t be competing for space. Of course, this is only true if your tank is big enough – here’s an in-depth guide to Neon Tetra tank size.
If you’re keeping a group of 10 Neon Tetras, then using the rule of one gallon per inch of fish you’ll need a 15-gallon tank (Neons grow to around 1.5 inches). Then considering that a Betta ideally needs a minimum 3–4-gallon tank, we’re already pushing 20 gallons before we consider leaving room for everything else that needs to be in the tank.
Specifically, live plants are an amazing addition to any tank as they keep the water clean and provide shade and a handy hiding place. If your fish are tired or sick, they’ll appreciate having leaves and stems to provide some cover for a while.
Bigger plants like the Amazon Sword are ideal for this as their broad leaves not only give your Betta somewhere to rest, but as they grow, they provide shade from your tank’s lighting setup.
This helps mimic the darker waters of the Amazon, where Neon Tetras are naturally found, and the murkier waters of the rice paddies in Southeast Asia, the natural habitat of the Betta.
You can also add caves, rocks, and other decorations to make the tank more attractive and also to provide shade and cover, as well as keeping the fish out of each other’s eyelines.
The main point here is that everything you add to your tank takes up space, so make sure you consider this and add a few gallons onto your tank size calculations to allow for these additions.
Finally, give yourself an extra couple of gallons just to be on the safe side. As I’ll explain below, you never know when you might want (or even need) to add more fish.
How many Neon Tetras can I put in a 5-gallon tank with a Betta?
You can’t safely add Neon Tetras to a 5-gallon tank – this is too small for a species that needs to be in a group of six as a minimum (ideally no fewer than 10). A Betta alone needs 3-4 gallons, so you can’t add Neons without over-stocking your tank.
I only included this question as I’ve seen it asked online but adding even the minimum of six Neon Tetras will result in them invading the Betta’s territory. This makes it more likely that the Betta will behave aggressively towards them (especially a male).
Trying to get around this by adding less than six won’t help either, as even one Neon Tetra will push a 5-gallon tank to the limit, and that’s without any decorations, plants or rocks taking up space.
Over-stocking a tank leads to issues with water quality, poor health, and early death.
Meanwhile, having too few Neons will result in stress, as they’re naturally a schooling species that are calmer when kept in larger groups.
Stressed Neons are more likely to start nipping the fins of your Betta, who may in turn bite back. Having fish attacking and injuring each other is the last thing a fishkeeper wants.
For a community of Neon Tetra and Betta, 5-gallon tanks are a no-go.
How do I introduce my Betta to Neon Tetras?
In an ideal world, you’d only ever add Bettas to a Neon Tetra tank, rather than the other way around. If it’s a new setup, adding both species to the tank at the same time is fine, but the Betta is an aggressive and territorial fish so you’re more likely to have trouble if Neons are added to a Betta’s tank.
This is also more of a concern with male Bettas. The chances of female Bettas taking issue with your Neon Tetras is much lower due to their more passive nature, so your Tetras are far more likely to be welcomed into a female Betta’s tank.
When adding both to the tank at the same time, keep as many objects between them as possible to avoid a staring contest before they’re released.
Otherwise, you risk the first instincts being to rush towards one another, either to attack or just out of curiosity, which could be mistaken for aggression anyway.
Diet: What to feed to Neon Tetras and Betta Fish
One of the reasons Bettas and Neon Tetras work well as a pairing is diet. Bettas are carnivorous and Neon Tetras are omnivores, which means that as the Betta feeds at the surface, they’ll happily devour food that floats down to their usual spot in the middle of the tank.
Bettas love pellets, flakes, freeze-dried, live, and frozen foods which are protein-rich. Your Neon Tetras will happily help out at mealtimes if you have the right food for both.
With a solitary Betta the best advice is to avoid over-feeding by only using as much food as they can eat in two minutes, but with a school of greedy Neons around this isn’t going to be an issue. Ideally, you’d also keep shrimp and snails to clean up the leftovers at the bottom of the tank for the perfect feeding hierarchy!
- Best Betta Food – The Ultimate Guide to Feeding Your Betta
- What do Neon Tetras Eat? Neon Tetra Feeding Guide
Why is my Betta fish chasing my Tetras?
Bettas as a species can be aggressive – there’s a reason they’re commonly known as Siamese Fighting Fish. They’re often territorial and although they can often live happily with Neon Tetras, it’s difficult to know in advance whether they’ll get along.
As above, if all your fish are added to the tank together it’s less likely there will be any dispute over territory.
A betta who has been in a tank for a significant amount of time is naturally more likely to object to a school of Neons moving in, so try to add them in at the same time or add a betta to a Neon Tetra tank.
If your Betta does act aggressively towards your Neons, there’s not much need to worry in the short term.
There’s very little chance of the less agile Betta catching the nimble Neon Tetra, so they’ll probably get bored of trying. Long term however, it’s better to separate them if the Betta’s behavior doesn’t settle within a few days.
This can be done by simply setting up another tank, or by adding a tank divider like this one.
If you’re adding Neon Tetras to a tank that already belongs to a Betta, make sure they’re not too young (or more accurately, too small).
Juveniles are far more likely to be seen as a snack for the carnivorous Betta, but then they never grow big enough to intimidate the sometimes-hostile Betta.
Of course, even though they’re a very docile and peaceful species, there’s always the possibility that it may be the Neons that cause trouble… see below!
How do I stop my Neon Tetras fin nipping my Betta?
Fin nipping is a sign of stress, and Neon Tetras tend to be happier in larger schools. If your Neons are nipping at the magnificent fins of your Betta, you can add more to the group to stop this behavior.
However, this isn’t a reason to overload your tank, so only introduce more Neons if you have the space to accommodate them.
Read more: How do you treat clamped fins on a Betta?
This is the reason I recommended a bigger tank than the minimum required for the number of fish you have because you don’t want to overload the tank if you need to add more.
As above, the golden rule is one gallon per inch of fish, and an adult Neon Tetra will grow to around 1.5 inches.
If this isn’t an option, my advice is to rehouse the Betta.
Moving a single Betta to a smaller tank is easier than moving a school of ten or more speedy Neon Tetras. Also, as the Betta requires less space anyway, it makes sense to set up a smaller tank which will be less costly and take up less room in your home.
If this is your plan, remember to always cycle your tank properly before you move your Betta. As tempting as it might be to take them out of the firing line, it’s kinder to your fish to wait a few weeks than move them into a tank before it’s ready.
There are of course ways to speed up the cycling process and FishLab have an excellent article here to explain the ins and outs.
Although regarded as an aggressive species, Betta fish can live with Neon Tetras if the two are introduced to a tank at the same time, or if the Betta is added to an established Neon Tetra tank. If done the other way round, the Betta may become territorial and attack the Neons, so this is best avoided.
- Betta and Angelfish Compatibility Guide – Can They Live Together?
- Ember Tetras and Betta Fish Compatibility Guide
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