What Do Neon Tetras Eat? Neon Tetra Feeding Guide

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A good Neon Tetra diet contains a mix of animal and plant-based foods to mimic their eating habits in the wild and make sure your Neons are getting all the necessary nutrients to live a long and healthy life.

There are some great options for Neon Tetra feeding on the market including flake and freeze-dried foods, and you can even breed your own live foods if you choose!

What do Neon Tetras eat?

Neon Tetras are omnivorous, so they eat a wide variety of animal and plant-based foods. They need a varied diet to survive, so don’t expect to keep them healthy on a restricted diet of a single food source.

So what do you feed Neon Tetras to keep them healthy and happy?

Fish food ingredients are far less regulated than human food so look for high-protein, natural ingredients without any unnecessary additions. Manufacturers often maximize profits by mixing the good stuff with cheap filler ingredients like starches, which fish don’t need or absorb as well as land animals.

Insect-based foods are ideal, such as Fluval Bug Bites which I include in a mix of various foods that I sprinkle into my Neon Tetra tank on a daily basis. This provides the Neons with protein and advertises itself as ‘sustainably harvested, in case you’re environmentally conscious.

What is the best food for Neon Tetras?

Here are some options, including links to buy if you’re in the market:

  • Ocean Nutrition Instant Baby Brine Shrimp – Small enough for tiny Neon mouths and a great source of protein – buy on Amazon
  • Omega One Super Color Flakes – designed to enhance the beautiful colors of your Neon Tetras – buy on Amazon
  • BNYEE Freeze-Dried Bloodworms – no additives or chemicals etc., just bloodworms! Buy on Amazon
  • Fluval Bug Bites – my Neons go crazy for this stuff and it’s advertised as ‘sustainably harvested’, which is a bonus. Buy on Amazon
  • San Francisco Bay Brand Freeze-Dried Mysis Shrimp – another good protein source, harvested from brackish waters – Buy on Amazon
  • Omega One Freeze Dried Tubifex Worms – live Tubifex Worms can carry bacteria and parasites but freeze-dried are much safer – Buy on Amazon
  • Cooked, blended chicken – blending makes sure the chicken is small enough for your Neons to swallow
  • Fruit – e.g grapes, strawberries
  • Vegetables – e.g. chopped cucumber or zucchini

The reason I mix different foods together is because my Neon Tetras are in a community tank with surface feeders like guppies, and bottom-feeders like kuhli loaches, plus shrimps and snails. Neons meanwhile need a varied diet to stay healthy, so this way I can get them all the nutrients they need without changing up their diet all the time.

My mix contains:

  • Freeze-dried bloodworm
  • Insect & salmon-based micro-granules
  • Crushed flake food
  • Crushed algae wafers
  • Shrimp & snail pellets
Food mix for my community tank

Bug Bites and other foods are made with aquatic ingredients like salmon, which adds to the protein content. Fish and other aquatic animals are another good ingredient to look for when buying a good-quality food for Neon Tetras.

One food I add in occasionally is Repashy Community Plus, but while everyone else in the tank seems to love it, the Neons largely ignore it. The cubes I made sink to the bottom and Neons do prefer to feed in the middle of the tank, but I do see them nibbling at the Shrimp pellets on the tank floor so I guess they just don’t like the taste!

My Neons and Cardinals ignore Repashy Community Plus food, but everyone else loves it!

Pro tip: Look out for foods containing Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which your Neons are unable to produce themselves but are essential for their protection against disease, as well as vitamin C which helps hold cells together in the body, strengthening your fish’s antioxidant defense system.

What do Neon Tetras eat in the wild?

Neon Tetras are opportunistic feeders who will eat whatever they find in the rivers of the Amazon basin. This includes fruits that fall from trees above the water, small crustaceans and invertebrates.

For this reason it’s important not to feed your Neons the same food type all the time, but to mix different foods to make sure all their nutritional needs are met.

When to feed Neon Tetras

Ideally, Neon Tetras should be fed a small amount of food twice per day (morning and night) and any food that hasn’t been eaten should be removed to prevent the food decomposing in the water, which can raise ammonia levels and lead to ammonia poisoning.

An alternative approach is to feed a little more food every other day, meaning that on the non-feeding day your Neons and their tankmates will clean up any uneaten food. This works best if you have bottom-feeders like shrimps and snails who will vacuum up anything the fish haven’t eaten.

Either approach will work, but the ‘proper’ method of feeding small amounts twice a day and cleaning out uneaten food after two minutes is the safest way for your fish. Sprinkle in a little food at a time to make sure all your Neons get to eat, and add more as required until two minutes is up and everyone has had their fill.

How much food to give to Neon Tetras

Feed your Neon Tetras just enough for them to eat in two minutes. If you see leftover food in the tank after this time, this is a sign of overfeeding and you should reduce the volume of food until they have just enough. 

If your Neons are eating all the food you give them before the two minutes is up, this means there isn’t enough. As difficult as it is to under-feed Neon Tetras due to their tiny stomachs, add a little more using trial-and-error until feeding time takes about two minutes.

Be sure to remove any uneaten food after feeding time to avoid rotting food affecting your water parameters and making your fish ill.

How long can Neon Tetras live without food?

Neon Tetras can survive for between 1-3 weeks without food depending on whether they have other potential food sources such as plants in the tank to snack on. However, starving your fish is an unnecessarily cruel thing to do, so look into alternatives if you’re going away.

There are vacation feeding blocks on the market but I don’t recommend them, as they’re unpredictable in terms of how quickly they dissolve. Too quickly and your tank parameters could reach unhealthy levels; too slowly and your fish won’t have enough to eat.

Instead, try an automatic fish feeder like the one pictured below, which I used last time I went away for a couple of weeks. It’s easy to set up to four feeding times per day and has an adjustable outlet hole to control how much food is released.

The barrel rotates at the specified time(s) and releases food into the tank, either via a feeding hole in the lid or if your tank doesn’t have one of those, directly into the water while attached to the tank using the clamp system provided.

If this sounds as useful to you as it was to me, you can buy it on Amazon here.

Conclusion:

As mentioned above, Neon Tetras will eat pretty much anything you decide to feed them, but at the same time you need to make sure your Neons have a balanced diet of plant and animal-based foods to keep them healthy. Try some of the foods described above to see what best suits your fish!

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