For many aspiring aquarium enthusiasts, it’s hard to choose which fish to pair up to make the prettiest, most peaceful, and easiest to care for your aquarium environment. However, in many cases, people get their hearts set on certain fish. The neon tetra is a common fish people love to have in their aquarium for instance.
This is all well and good, but there are some things you need to know. Your tank should be set up optimally for the neon tetra with proper water temperature, hardness, tank size, environment, and many other factors. Possibly the most important of these factors are the other fish you put in the tank with your neon tetra. Read on to find out the best neon tetra tank mates!
Neon Tetra Tank Mates
Here is a quick list of the best neon tetra tank mates. We will go into more detail on each of these fish below. For now, take a look at these fish and see which ones you are interested in!
- Harlequin Rasboras
- Zebra Danios
- Cory Catfish
- Fancy Guppy
- Dwarf Gourami
- Kuhli Loach
- Clown Pleco
- Nerite Snail
- Cardinal Tetras
- Rummy Nose Tetras
- Cherry Shrimp
- African Dwarf Frog
Do Neon Tetras Need Tank Mates?
So, we know the best neon tetra tank mates. However, are they completely necessary? Do neon tetras need other fish in the tank to survive and thrive?
Yes! Even if your neon tetra’s “tank mates” are just other neon tetras, it is crucial that your neon tetra is not alone in the tank. This is because neon tetras get stressed and lonely, and will eventually die if they do not have other fish to swim along with. This is obviously an outcome we want to avoid!
The neon tetra is a social schooling fish, so getting some other tetras for it to school with, as well as having an active and vibrant community in your tank is extremely important for the health of your neon tetra.
How to Set Up a Neon Tetra Tank
As with any other kind of fish, it is important to design your tank to the specifications of the main fish you want to put in there. In your case, if you’re reading this article, that probably means it’s neon tetras. So how do you set up a tank to the neon tetras specifications?
A more inexperienced aquarium owner might say that since neon tetras are such small fish, that means you can put them in smaller 5 or 10 gallon sized tanks. However, this would be incorrect. After all, neon tetras are schooling fish, meaning they need room to swim around in rather large groups.
15 gallons should be the minimum size you are aiming for as the size of your neon tetra fish tank. However, a size like 20 gallons is probably better for the amount of fish you are looking for. This is due to the fact that yes, you want your 10-15 neon tetras, but tank mates as well! Make sure there is room for everyone.
If you’re willing to spend, bigger is better. Make sure there is enough room for everyone! You don’t want your fish bumping fins too much.
The neon tetra prefers water that is between temperatures of 68 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they come from the rivers of Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, they are most certainly considered tropical fish. Make sure their water is heated to the proper level so that it matches their natural habitat! This will keep the neon tetras and their tank mates happy and healthy.
In the wild, neon tetras inhabit extremely acidic and soft waters. Since this is difficult to replicate in an aquarium, especially with tank mates involved, try to keep the water between a pH of 6.0 and 8.0, trending towards the lower end (between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal).
This will give the neon tetras their familiar acidity without being harmful to the other fish in your tank.
The river water in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and other tropical regions that neon tetras are mostly found in blackwater rivers. This means that the water is stained a darker brownish color.
You might think this is due to dirt or pollution, but you’d be wrong! It’s actually because of the release of tannins from decaying plant matter and wood that is in the water, and is crucial for the health of your neon tetras!
You see, tannins reduce light penetration, making it more difficult for light to reach into the tank and bother your fish. As a low-light fish, neon tetras certainly prefer blackwater, as it keeps light away from them.
Tannins also make the water a bit more acidic, and provide natural antibiotics to any fish that may be sick! What a great bonus!
For these reasons, it is recommended that you use a blackwater tank when you are housing neon tetras. There are a few ways to achieve this effect!
- Add plant matter and wood! Things like driftwood, seed pods, and Indian almond leaves are perfect. These will decay in the water and naturally produce the tannins needed to create a blackwater tank.
- You may also speed up this process by boiling the wood and leaves you’ve chosen, sticking them in the fridge for a bit to chill, and adding them to the tank after it is set up.
- For ease of use, you can also purchase commercial blackwater extract.
Just make sure you don’t change your tank too fast! A sudden change in conditions can shock a fish, which is not good for the neon tetra’s overall health.
A blackwater tank isn’t required, but it is helpful. Clearwater tanks can be used as well, as long as the light is not too powerful and there is a ton of proper cover.
Other Tank Setup
There are other things you’ll need to do to build the perfect neon tetra tank. Firstly, make sure you have a ton of cover. Things like plant matter and driftwood work perfectly since they are in the neon tetras’ natural habitat, they decay and release tannins, and they provide much-needed shade for low-light fish.
Neon tetras are perfectly fine with slow or medium water flow, making shopping for filters a breeze. Any standard filter for your tank size should be fine for neon tetras.
Cover is not always enough, so make sure that the lights above and around your aquarium are low to simulate the environment that your neon tetras (and most likely, their tank mates) live in naturally.
Finally, your neon tetra will prefer a water hardness of between 2 and 10 degrees dH. This will properly simulate the soft, acidic waters it comes from in South America.
Will Neon Tetra Attack Their Tank Mates?
The neon tetra is not an aggressive species, so they should be fine with most kinds of tank mates. This means that you can keep most any kind of fish in the tank, provided they do not see the neon tetra as food, and they will be healthy in the neon tetras water conditions.
However, be careful. Neon tetras are an omnivorous species, meaning that they aren’t picky about what they eat! If they are underfed, or things get feisty due to territory disputes within the tank, don’t be surprised if the neon tetras get a little aggressive with your other fish!
This can be avoided with proper care, but it should be noted that it is possible. A large enough tank with proper conditions should solve most of these problems, and a proper feeding schedule and good tank mates will take care of the rest, leaving you with a beautiful, peaceful fish community in your aquarium.
What are the Best Tank Mates For Neon Tetras?
So, now we know how to set up a neon tetra tank, which conditions work best for neon tetras, and which fish to stick in there with them! Now let’s get into the specifics. Which fish are best for your specific tank, and your specific preference? Read on to find out all you need to know about the best neon tetra tank mates!
Harlequin Rasboras are one of the prettiest fish you can put into your aquarium. Sporting scales of a dull orange-pink hue with streaking brown patches on the sides, this uniquely colored fish will stand out in any aquarium!
Harlequin Rasboras are non-aggressive fish and love to school as well. This makes them a great match for your neon tetras! They mostly swim around near the top of the tank. Since this is away from many other fish, they are a good fish to fill out that top layer of your tank, and are also great if you’re worried about avoiding confrontation!
- Care Level: Harlequin Rasboras are considered quite easy to care for.
- pH: Harlequin Rasboras prefer a pH of 6.0-7.5 in their water
- Temperature: This fish lives in water that is between 73-82 degrees Fahrenheit
- Size: A standard length for an adult Harlequin Rasboras is 2 inches
- Tank Size: A minimum tank size of 10 gallons is required for Harlequin Rasboras, as they are shoaling fish that likes to swim around with a good amount of free space.
(Find out about 10 great rasboras you can add to your aquarium!)
A skinny, silver-gold fish with a similar body shape and size to neon tetras, they can be identified by blue strips that streak from their nose to their tail. They don’t just look like neon tetras either. Much like tetras, they love to swim in large schools, and keeping at least 10 of these in a tank is preferred.
Zebra danios are a peaceful schooling fish, and won’t bother other tank mates, making them an excellent match for your neon tetras.
- Care Level: Zebra danios are considered quite easy to care for, as long as your tank is large enough to have a solid-sized school. They usually don’t school with other fish, so having space for a good amount of zebra danios is a good idea.
- pH: This fish likes slightly acidic water, with a preferred pH range of 6.5 – 7.2. This is a great match with your neon tetras!
- Temperature: Zebra danios prefer water that is between 64-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Another fantastic match with neon tetras, making them a great tank mate.
- Size: Adult zebra danios grow to around 2 inches in length, at least in aquariums. If kept in an outdoor pond, they can grow larger than this!
- Tank Size: The minimum aquarium size for zebra danios is 10 gallons.
(Find out about 7 more great danios.)
Corydoras Catfish, also known as cory catfish or cories, are a fantastic addition to an aquarium built for neon tetras for a number of reasons.
Most importantly of these is that they are a great cleanup crew. Cories swim near the bottom of your tank (away from the schooling fish in the middle and top of the tank), eating up decaying plant matter, uneaten fishfood, and other debris. This will keep your tank clean and healthy!
They come in a variety of colors, all of which are beautiful in their own right.
- Care Level: Cory Catfishes’ peaceful temperament and ability to feed on debris and leftover food make them very easy to care for.
- pH: Cories like their water a bit basic, which is unfortunate for pairing them with neon tetras. However, with a preferred range of 7.0-8.0, they have some overlapping pH levels with tropical fish.
- Temperature: Temperatures between 74 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for Cories.
- Size: Adult cories vary in size, ranging between one inch and four.
- Tank Size: Cories like a tank that’s a bit larger, since they’re larger fish. A minimum tank size of 30 gallons should work.
(Want to know about 13 great corydoras to add to your tank?)
Angelfish come in many different varieties, and each of them will look fantastic in your aquarium. They are very unique looking fish, with long trailing fins that stream behind them as they swim. They are easy to see as well due to their size.
Angelfish are relatively peaceful, but they have been known to eat very small fish. Do not place them in a tank with fish that are less than one inch or babies.
Angelfish also like tall tanks, and they swim on every level, this can mean they run into other fish a lot. A big tank will help avoid this though.
- Care Level: Angelfish are considered of medium difficulty to care for
- pH: Angelfish prefer their water to be between 6.8 – 7.8 pH. This is a solid range, as it ranges from slightly acidic to slightly basic, and is flexible in many different tanks.
- Temperature: Angelfish swim in water that is between 78 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Angelfish can grow up to six inches! This means they can take up a lot of space in your tank, so be careful when purchasing them that you don’t get too many!
- Tank Size: Being the large fish that they are, angelfish need a tank size that is a minimum of 55 gallons.
The fancy guppy is a quick, active, and small fish that love to dart around the tank. Although they don’t seem like it due to their over-active nature, guppies are quite peaceful. The only thing to worry about with guppies is competition for mating partners amongst themselves. Try to have 2 female guppies for every male guppy in your tank.
Guppies can add a splash of quick, active color to a beginner tank, or one that is maintained by an aquarium expert!
- Care Level: All types of guppies, including fancy guppies, are extremely easy to care for. Just keep the tank clean and give them food, they’ll do the rest!
- pH: This fish prefers a pH of 7.0 or greater. This means they like their water slightly basic, but do fine in neutral water as well.
- Temperature: Fancy guppies love to swim in water that is between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Males grow to between 1/2 an inch to 1.5 inches, while females are a bit larger, growing to 1.2-2.4 inches in adulthood.
- Tank Size: Guppies reproduce quickly, so although they are small, a 10 or even 20 gallon tank is a good idea. Consider 10 gallons to be a good minimum if you have more than 3 guppies.
This strange-looking fish is a fun and unique twist in any aquarium! They are extremely flat and wide, so they look thin when viewed from in front. However, from the side, you can see them in all of their silver beauty; their bright color and interesting shape is easy to spot even among the most crowded tanks.
Hatchetfish have a peaceful temperament and are schooling fish. As long as there are a few hatchetfish to keep the others company, they should be no trouble to add to your tank!
- Care Level: Hatchetfish are considered easy to care for by most aquarium enthusiasts
- pH: Hatchetfish like fairly acidic water, preferring a pH between 6.0-6.8
- Temperature: These fish like to swim in quite warm water. 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit is preferred.
- Size: Hatchetfish grow to about 2 inches, sometimes reaching around 2 1/4 inches.
- Tank Size: A 20 gallon tank is a good minimum size for hatchetfish, as they are a schooling fish and you’ll need a few to keep them happy and healthy.
Much like the hatchetfish, dwarf gourami are flat and wide fish. That unique shape, paired with their flashy colors (such as powder blue, or flame) makes them an attractive option for your tank, at least visually.
Despite being so pretty, dwarf gourami are actually quite shy. They love to retreat to cover such as plants, driftwood, or anything else placed in your tank to give fish a place to hide.
Males are extremely territorial. Only keep one male in a tank, or they will fight to the death. Multiple females can be kept though.
- Care Level: Dwarf gourami are of medium difficulty to care for, as they often hide, and can be aggressive, especially with other dwarf gouramis.
- pH: These fish like their water on the acidic side, between 6.0 and 7.5 pH level.
- Temperature: Much like many of the other fish on this list, dwarf gourami like very warm water. Between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit will do.
- Size: Dwarf gourami are of moderately large size, growing to approximately 3.5 inches when fully grown.
- Tank Size: 20 gallons is a good minimum size to consider for dwarf gourami. Remember, you’re not buying that many of them, so even though they’re pretty big, 20 gallons should be enough.
Another uniquely shaped fish, the kuhli loach is almost eel-like in shape. Its long, snakelike body is a beautiful dull gold color, with long black or brown streaks along its body.
This fish will not only add a unique shape and beautiful color to your tank but will add a much-needed night presence to your aquarium. During the day, they stay hidden, but once the lights go down they are out and about, meaning that when your other fish hide at night, your aquarium will still look great!
They are very social and love to search in groups for food at the bottom of your tank.
- Care Level: Kuhli loaches, like other bottom feeders, are easy to care for.
- pH: Kuhli loaches like very acidic water, between 5.5 and 6.5 pH. However, they are flexible and can tolerate up to a pH level of 7.0.
- Temperature: Kuhli loaches prefer their water between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Kuhli loaches usually grow to around 4 inches.
- Tank Size: A 20 gallon tank should be fine for 5 or so loaches. However, more loaches is better, as they love schooling. The bigger the better for these social fish!
Most Pleco fish become massive and take up a ton of your space. However, the clown pleco only grows to medium size, making it the perfect pleco for a community tank! Known for their irregular and interesting patterns, clown plecos vary in how they look greatly, giving a unique twist to your tank!
Clown plecos are quite shy, and mostly like to come out at night. They are extremely peaceful and go out of their way to avoid interacting with the other fish in your tank.
- Care Level: Clown Plecos are very easy to care for, mostly feeding on algae at the bottom of the tank, and avoiding other fish (and therefore confrontation).
- pH: Clown plecos like a pH of 6.6-7.8, making them quite versatile as far as pH levels go.
- Temperature: Like other tropical fish, clown plecos swim in warm water. 75 to 82 degrees is their preferred range.
- Size: Adult clown plecos average out at about 3.5 inches.
- Tank Size: Clown plecos are quite shy, and need a lot of space to hide in. A minimum tank size of 30 gallons should be fine for your clown plecos.
(Find out whether the 15 most common plecos are right for your tank!)
Our first non-fish on the list, nerite snails will make for a great change of pace in the bottom of your tank! These colorful little guys will peacefully glide along the bottom of your tank, as well as on the glass, eating up algae and decaying plant matter as they go.
- Care Level: Nerite snails are exceptionally easy to care for. They are non-aggressive to a fault and are able to find their own food easily.
- pH: Nerite snails like to live in basic water, with a pH between 8.1 and 8.4
- Temperature: These snails prefer to be in warm water, between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: 1 inch in diameter is the average size of a nerite snail.
- Tank Size: Nerite snails need very little space. A 10-gallon tank should do.
(Find out about 10 more great aquarium snails for your fish tank!)
Mollies are an exceptionally popular fish, especially in community tanks. They come in many different varieties, such as black mollies and lyretail mollies, among others. They are very active swimmers and will make your tank a much more lively place. Despite this, they are peaceful, and will not harass your neon tetras or your other peaceful fish.
Like some other fish on this list, a 1:2 ratio of male to female is preferred to keep competition low.
- Care Level: Mollies, much like tetras, are quite easy to care for as long as they can be social and have the proper amount of food. The only thing to watch out for is competition among the males for mates.
- pH: Molly fish are versatile and can live in water between 6.7 and 8.5 pH level.
- Temperature: As a tropical fish, mollies swim in water between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Molly fish grow to around 3 inches, on average.
- Tank Size: Molly fish can actually be fine in smaller tanks. Consider a 10 gallon tank to be the minimum size for mollies.
Nothing matches up with tetras like more tetras! Cardinal tetras are especially great for your tank because they’ll school with your neons. Talk about a bonus! Their distinctive red coloring and beautiful stripes will go great with the color of your neon tetras as well.
Cardinal tetras have some behavioral differences from neon tetras, however. Their small size means they can be prey for larger fish, so be careful choosing tank mates. They do not like a ton of plant life in their tank, so try to keep them separate from fish who need plant life to survive and thrive.
- Care Level: Cardinal tetras are considered between easy and medium-difficult to care for.
- pH: Extremely versatile, cardinal tetras can survive in water of pH levels between 5.3 and 7.8.
- Temperature: This fish likes water between 79 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Cardinal tetras grow to 2 inches in adulthood.
- Tank Size: 20 gallons is a good size for a minimum for cardinal tetras.
Rummy Nose Tetras
Again, you can’t go wrong with more tetras! Many different kinds of tetras could hypothetically be good tank mates for your neon tetras, but I’ve chosen what I believe to be the two best ones.
The reason rummy nose tetras are great as an addition to your neon tetra tank is just like your neon tetra, they are a peaceful schooling fish, and will create a tranquil environment for your other fish to live in. They won’t school with your neons like the cardinal tetras will, but this doesn’t make them not a good tank mate!
- Care Level: Like most tetras, rummy-nose tetras are easy to care for.
- pH: A pH between 6.4 and 7.0 is best for this fish.
- Temperature: A tropical fish, rummy-nose tetras like water between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Size: Rummy-nose tetras grow to about 2-2.5 inches.
- Tank Size: Rummy-nose tetras do best in a tank that is 20 gallons minimum.
Another non-fish addition, cherry shrimp are tiny red shrimp that are a great extra decoration for your tank. Constantly moving around the tank to scoop up and eat extra algae, fish poop (yuck!), decaying plant matter, and uneaten food, cherry shrimp don’t just look pretty. This extra cleanup can go a long way in keeping your fish healthy.
Be careful, however, as they can get eaten by larger fish.
- Care Level: Easy. Pretty much a set and forget!
- pH: 6.5 to 8.0 is a good pH range for cherry shrimp.
- Temperature: Cherry shrimp do just fine in a huge range of temperatures, from 57 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. They are most comfortable in the mid-70s, though.
- Size: Cherry shrimp grow to roughly 1.5 inches.
- Tank Size: Cherry shrimp can thrive in any size tank. Even 5 gallons would be fine.
African Dwarf Frog
Last but not least, we have a third non-fish addition to the tank! I love non-fish in aquariums, as they add a great uniqueness that is missing from a lot of tanks.
The African dwarf frog is a fully aquatic frog. They have lungs but can get all the air they need from the top of your tank.
These frogs love to jump on large-leafed plants, exploring all parts of the aquarium. This little explorer will poke its head everywhere around your tank, so make sure to give it a bunch of different surfaces to jump off of.
- Care Level: Easy to medium. You need a good filter since these frogs make a lot of waste (again, yuck!) Also, they are extremely sensitive to soaps and detergents, so do not use these anywhere in or around your tank.
- pH: These frogs like a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5.
- Temperature: 68 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit is a great temperature range for African dwarf frogs.
- Size: African dwarf frogs vary in size, growing to between 1 and 3 inches.
- Tank Size: A 20-gallon tank is a great minimum size for African dwarf frogs.
Tank Mates to Avoid
Just like there are good tank mates, there are bad ones too. Here’s a quick few popular fish that are bad matches for your neon tetras!
Barbs tend to gang up on other fish, especially fish with ornate designs, such as colorful tetras and angelfish. It’s best to keep them out of an aquarium with so many colorful fish, such as the neon tetras and their tank mates.
Cichlids are known to be quite aggressive, so, like betta fish, it is best to avoid pairing them with neon tetras. Since neon tetras are small and timid, aggressive fish will fight or eat them quite easily, and your neon tetras will either die, or spend all day hiding. Not a good pair!
In general, avoid fish that are large enough to eat your tetras, or are known to be aggressive. These kinds of fish are not a good match for such a tranquil tank.
(Not sure what cichlid to choose? Check out the 10 different types.)
There are tons of great tank mates for neon tetras, and many more beyond just the ones listed here. Still, this list is a great start, and if you’re looking to pair your neon tetras with tank mates, I encourage you to choose a few from the list above!
Overall, you’re looking for peaceful fish that will play to the tetra’s strengths. Pretty and colorful schooling fish are great.
It is important also, for the health of your tank, to make sure that you have fish that swim and live in every level of your tank. This will give your fish some room to spread their fins, and also create a more functional ecosystem.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t let your neon tetras swim all alone! Get some tank mates and build yourself that dream aquarium today.