How To Extend The Lifespan Of Neon Tetra

How to Extend the Lifespan of the Neon Tetra.

How To Extend The Lifespan Of Neon Tetra7 mins read

Fact checked by
Tal Halperin
Reading Time: 9 minutes
How to Extend the Lifespan of the Neon Tetra.
Image from Flickr

The lifespan of neon tetra can vary quite a lot. Did you know fish lifespan can often depend on how big they are?

Neon Tetras are small schooling fish. And like many small schooling fish, they don’t have particularly long lifespans. Most Tetras live only from 2-5 years. This is a big difference from species like the Pleco and other neon tetra tankmates that can live up to 15 years.

However, you inevitably want all your fish to live as long as possible. Happily, when you keep them in good condition, there’s no reason why these little Tetras won’t live their full lifespans. Read on to find out what factors affect this, the best neon tetra tank mates, how to spot neon tetra disease, and what you can do.

How To Extend The Lifespan Of Neon Tetra

How to extend the lifespan of neon tetra
Feed once a day and only feed what your fish can eat in 5 minutes. It’s also best to remove all uneaten food afterward.

1. Good Diet

A healthy and varied diet is crucial for promoting a long life span of neon tetra. Neon Tetras are omnivores. They can eat fish flakes, but they will also enjoy fresh or frozen protein.

However, always make sure your neon tetra food comes from a reputable source. Commercial fresh or frozen protein at your local aquatics store is generally subject to strict sanitation controls. On the other hand, protein from unprofessional sources can introduce parasites to your fish tank.

Never overfeed or underfeed your fish! If you underfeed, your fish won’t have enough energy and will be more susceptible to disease. Overfeeding, on the other hand, can cause a whole host of digestive issues. These in turn can lead to neon tetra disease and premature death.

Feed once a day and only feed what your fish can eat in 5 minutes. It’s also best to remove all uneaten food afterward.

What Is The Best Neon Tetra Food For Optimum Health

Due to their small mouth size, a Neon Tetra is best suited to a flake food, as opposed to sinking pellets. They spend most of their time midwater and enjoy coming up to the surface of the water to feed. Thus, flakes they can eat from the surface are best.

However, as mentioned enough, a varied diet is the best for any fish. However, if you choose to feed protein, do so only once or twice a week.

2. Appropriate Environment

How Neon Tetra Tankmates Help Reduce Stress

Neon Tetras are schooling fish, so they really cannot be alone. Don’t be tempted to include a Neon Tetra in a random group of other small fish. They are not interchangeable, and as a result, all your fish will only get stressed.

A group of five to six of their own kind makes the best neon tetra tankmates. As schooling serves as a defense from predation in the wild, they need this safety in numbers to avoid stress.

However, choosing the right tankmates of a different species can also help avoid stress. Any fin-nipping or aggressive fish can potentially compete with your Tetras. Furthermore, larger fish will appear as a threat – see predation section.

Why A Planted Tank Is Better

If you’re operating on a budget, it may be tempting to buy a small tank and put some Tetras in it. However, in their natural habitat, these fish swim amongst plants and between rocks and driftwood. In short, to truly maximize neon tetra lifespan you must mimic this complex and natural environment.

Don’t be fooled by the fact your fish are potentially bred in captivity. Exchanging this for a bare tank environment means your fish do not have an outlet to express these natural behaviors. This can cause aggression or other forms of stress, and increase neon tetra disease susceptibility. In fact, life span of neon tetra depends heavily on their environment.

Author’s Note: Plants also help maintain a tank ecosystem, filtering nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia from the water, providing places for pregnant fish to lay their eggs, shy neon tetra tank mates to hide, and much more. Scientists have found that plants help fish live longer, have better quality of life, and can even have a calming effect on humans, too!

3. Catching Disease Early

Treating neon tetra disease can be a delicate process. As a result, it’s recommended all beginner fishkeepers have a spare tank on hand.

This will allow you to easily quarantine and isolate a fish if anything goes wrong. Fish diseases do happen occasionally. Luckily, they are generally treatable if you know what to look for, so read on for some common causes of illness. Remember, poor quality neon tetra food can also cause disease, so look at your fish’s diet in tandem with the below symptoms.

Common Types Of Neon Tetra Disease and Parasites

Common types of neon tetra disease and parasites
Fin rot is a bacterial infection that manifests as ragged and sore patches on your neon tetra’s fins. Pictured is a healthy Tetra.
  • Fin Rot

Fin rot is a bacterial infection that manifests as ragged and sore patches on your fish’s fins. It is not always as noticeable in neon Tetras as it is in fish with longer fins like the betta fish. However, diseases like this can seriously affect the life span of neon tetra.

However, it is a sure sign that your water is dirty and can be very painful for the fish. As a bacterial infection, it’s best to treat it with antibacterial medication in a separate tank. This is so you do not inadvertently give the rest of your fish medicine they don’t need.

  • Dropsy

Of each neon tetra disease listed here, this is the only one that generally spells a death sentence for fish. This is a serious infection of the kidneys that causes your fish’s body to swell with water and its scales to stick out like a pinecone. Generally, there is no cure, so make sure you keep your water as clear as possible to prevent this.

  • Ich

Ich is a parasitic infection and thus you need different treatment. This is generally with a saltwater bath in a quarantine tank to kill the parasite. Fortunately, it is easy to spot on your colorful Neon Tetras, as it manifests as small white spots on your fish’s body. It’s good to catch early, as it can often spread to your neon tetra tank mates, too.

  • Gold Dust

Similar to ich, gold dust is a parasitic infection that looks like flecks of gold on your fish’s body. You may mistake it for a beautiful part of your fish’s natural coloring showing through. Unfortunately however, it’s a sign your fish is sick.

You may also hear gold dust called ‘velvet disease’. Either way, you can treat it in the same way as ich, quarantining the fish in a saltwater bath.

4. Avoid Overcrowding

Avoid Overcrowding in Neon Tetra tank
For a school of 5-6 Neon Tetras, a tank of minimum 10 gallons or 38 liters is recommended but your fish will fare even better with a 20-gallon/76-liter or 30-gallon/ 114-liter aquarium.

As Neon Tetras are small, it can be easy to assume their needs are simple. However, in truth, they need more than the bare minimum recommended tank size and and overcrowded tank can be disastrous for the life span of neon tetra. With all fish, if they have plenty of space they will be less stressed and you are less likely to see aggression and disease.

For a school of 5-6 Neon Tetras, a tank of minimum 10 gallons or 38 liters is recommended but your fish will fare even better with a 20-gallon/76-liter or 30-gallon/ 114-liter aquarium. This gives them more space to swim and explore. It also minimizes the chance of fights, and helps prevent pollutant build-up from fish waste.

5. Prevent Unnecessary Causes Of Death

Last but not least, as outlined in our ‘tankmates’ section, it’s best to prevent any unnecessary fish deaths. Especially avoidable ones such as those caused by predation or tank accidents.

Generally, understanding your species means taking the time to set up your fish tank properly. This is the best way to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.

Myths and Misconceptions About Schooling Fish

Myth: Small fish don’t need a properly set up tank.

Reality: Small fish need plants and a proper tank environment. If they don’t get this, it can really negatively impact the life span of neon tetra. This also means correct filtration, lighting, and appropriate tankmates!

Myth: Small Tetras can survive in an unfiltered tank.

Reality: A filtered tank is ALWAYS better for ANY fish. In an unfiltered tank, even one with plenty of plants, dangerous levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites can build up. In addition, this can decrease the level of oxygen in the water and it can become stagnant. Always use a filter – it can help prevent most neon tetra disease, and your fish will thank you for it!

Myth: All small schooling fish are the same.

Reality: Each species is unique and may have different requirements in terms of water pH, tankmates, temperature, lighting, and so on. For example, the Cardinal Tetra, which looks very similar to the Neon Tetra. However, it actually has relatively different needs, as it is generally wild-caught and is much less hardy. Bear this in mind when choosing neon tetra tank mates – some other tetras may seem similar, but won’t work well.

Why Might Your Neon Tetras Die Earlier?

If you are a beginner aquarist, unfortunately, some fish might die occasionally. However, every fishkeeper wants to ensure their fish live their maximum lifespan. Thus, it can be helpful to examine why Neon Tetras may occasionally die within the first or second year of you keeping them.

Here is a summary, therefore, of the MAIN reasons fish die early:

  • Disease

Disease is a leading cause of fish death and neon tetra disease can be hard to spot for beginners. If left too long, diseases like swim bladder disease, fin rot, and dropsy can take a toll on your fish’s health. Fish disease does not have to be a death sentence and can be easily treated.

Author’s Note: longer you leave a sick fish without treatment, the more likely it is it will die of what might have been an otherwise preventable disease. Therefore, it’s best to learn how to spot these symptoms and stop them early.

  • Aggression from other tankmates

Neon Tetras are generally placid and hardy fish but aggression can and does happen. This can especially be from other tankmates that can be fin nippers. Therefore, neon tetra tankmates should be non-aggressive. Stress can also reduce the life span of neon tetra, so it’s best to ensure your tank is harmonious.

Some fish species can live together but this is dependent on them having enough space and the correct conditions. A good example is the betta fish. This can peacefully coexist with many species if they have separate territories but turns aggressive if it feels threatened.

Understanding the behavior of the neon tetra tank mates in your tank can prevent this. Aggression can take the form of fin-nipping, chasing, and out-competing your Tetras for food. In turn, this can cause premature fish death from stress.

Further more, stress can increase disease susceptibility, or in serious cases, stress from wounds and infections.

  • Tank accidents

If your tank is not properly set up, tank accidents can often befall fish, especially smaller fish like Neon Tetras. Other at-risk species are fish that have delicate fins or are slow swimmers (such as some varieties of fancy goldfish).

A common incident is a fish getting sucked into the filter or stuck somewhere in the tank. This generally happens if your filter strength is inappropriate for the species.

Neon Tetras are strong swimmers, but they are small. Therefore a good filter flow rate tends to average around 4x the tank capacity per hour. They do not need a strong current, unlike some pleco and hillstream loach species.

However, they can do reasonably well in tanks with strong currents. That is, provided there is enough space for them to escape the filter input and outflow.

  • Poor conditions

Poor conditions generally increase the amount of bad bacteria in the water and this can reduce the life span of neon tetra. This can cause diseases like fin rot and generally lower your fish’s immune system.

However poor tank conditions can also cause other issues like nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia poisoning. Ammonia poisoning can cause serious burns, manifesting as dark patches, on your fish’s body. Your fish turning black can happen to any species, and is best to keep an eye out for.

Author’s Note: Fish can tolerate barely any levels of ammonia at all. For a healthy tank, levels should always be at zero, so this is one of the most important parameters to regularly test for if you see back patches appear on any of your fish.

  • Predation

Similar to fish aggression, predation happens when you choose tankmates poorly and you have larger, aggressive fish with small Neon Tetras. Generally, once you’ve learned about which fish get on with each other this is easy to avoid.

Neon Tetras can work with angelfish and discus fish as well as small Amazonian cichlids. However, even in a very large community tank, larger cichlids like the Oscar and Jack Dempsey will prey on your tetras.

The same applies with many African species of cichlid. Any fish that eats smaller fish in the wild is not a good fish to mix with Neon Tetras.

What Is The Average Lifespan Of Neon Tetra Fish?

The average life span of neon tetra fish is anywhere from 2-5 years. This is quite a large range and honestly really depends on how well you take care of your fish. Factors like tank size, water clarity, and stress from tankmates can all affect your lifespan. So, if you want to ensure your Neon Tetras lifespan hits the 4-year mark, read on to find out what measures you can take and how they work.

Bottom Line

Prevent Neon Tetra Disease
Image from Flickr

To sum up, basic Neon Tetra care is similar to any other small schooling fish. However, this species and other similar ones definitely have a few misconceptions about them. It’s easy to think of small schooling fish as only having basic needs, however, this could not be further from the truth!

This guide should be a start as to how understanding Neon Tetra needs, or the ideal neon tetra tank mates, can help extend their lifespan – and give you a beautiful tank full of healthy and interactive fish.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does The Lifespan of Neon Tetra Compare To Other Small Schooling Fish?
Neon Tetra lifespan is relatively similar to that of other small schooling fish. There are some small fish, such as the Cardinal Tetra, that are reported to be annual species in the wild, meaning they live only for one year, after which point they mate, lay eggs, and die. Compared to these, the neon Tetra lives longer (although Cardinal Tetras can live an equal lifespan in captivity) however, in general, most small schooling aquarium fish live anywhere from around 2-5 years with others that are not strictly schooling such as platies, mollies, and guppies living a similar amount.
What Can I Do To Prevent Neon Tetra Disease?
By far and away, the easiest and most important way to ensure your Neon Tetra school stays healthy is to keep your water crystal clear. It sounds simple, and you will notice there are many chemical products for improving water quality, lengthening fish lifespan, and helping maintain tank conditions on sale in your local aquatics store. However, it goes without saying that this is mostly down to you and keeping up a regular aquarium maintenance schedule that.
How Does Neon Tetra Lifespan Compare To Common Tankmates?
Common tankmates that live longer than Tetras include Angelfish and Discus fish, which live up to 10 years and pleco fish, which also come from a similar Amazonian habitat to neon Tetras and which can live anywhere from 10-15 years, eating algae off your tank’s bottom and walls.
View sources

Sydney Perry

Sydney Perry has loved fish since she was a child and has enjoyed keeping many varieties over the years, ranging from black moors and shubunkins to betta fish. As a lover of nature and of Japanese culture, her dream tank is an Iwagumi aquascape, combining fish with carefully crafted aquatic landscapes in miniature.