Neon Tetras are one of the most popular tetras in the home aquarium and are one of the hardest fish for home aquarists to breed. Despite that, this can be an incredibly rewarding challenge, allowing you to do something few aquarists have done.
In the wild, Neon Tetras are a freshwater fish native to the Amazon region. The fish is found in both clearwater and blackwater streams throughout the Amazon region, particularly in western Peru, south-eastern Colombia, and western Brazil. The map below shows the rivers where Neon Tetras are commonly found.
Neon Tetra Collection In The Wild
Due to the simplicity of the task, Neon Tetras are often manually collected from the wild and shipped to excited aquarium owners in the United States or other countries. Unfortunately, however, due to the collection methods used, the removal of Neon Tetras from the Amazon every year has an enormous impact on the local ecosystem and the other fish that live in the region.
To make collecting the fish easier, they are often stunned first with a poison to stop them from moving. Such poisons will successfully stun the fish but will also kill some of the Neon Tetras and kill fish from other species never intended to be captured in the first place. As a result, teaching aquarists to breed Neon Tetras could help alleviate the impact this wild fish collection has on the Amazon ecosystem.
Neon Tetra Breeding Aquarium Overview
The first step to breeding Neon Tetras is to set up a dedicated breeding aquarium for your tetras. The primary goal of the breeding aquarium is to replicate where Neon Tetras breed in the wild. However, at the same time, you will need to protect the Neon Tetra babies from their parents and provide the proper conditions for raising the fry.
To accomplish this, I recommend purchasing a dedicated ten gallon aquarium for the purpose of breeding your Neon Tetras. Any general ten gallon aquarium will work, you can probably easily find one at your location fish store for less than $20.
Breeding Aquarium Water Quality
Two important components of water quality in a breeding aquarium are both the filtration and the pH. For filtration, purchase an air pump and hook it up to a sponge filter. Using a power filter would be dangerous to the newborn Neon Tetras as they would be drawn into the intake and injured.
For your water quality, it is important to regulate both the hardness and the pH of your water. Neon Tetras prefer a pH of around 6-6.5 for their water, the same pH of the water in the Amazon where they come from. The best way to achieve water with this pH is to use RO/DI water which can be purchased from your LFS for roughly $1 per gallon or produced with an RO/DI water filter which can be purchased online for roughly $150.
Once you have the breeding aquarium filled with RO/DI water, which by definition has a pH of 7.0, you need to lower the pH of the water some. The best way to do this is with peat moss which can be purchased online and placed in a nylon filter bag. Take this bag and place it in your filter to lower your pH, and then regularly use pH testing strips to verify you have reached the correct pH.
Don’t be surprised if the peat moss in your filter darkens your water. As we will discuss later on, this is actually an advantage.
Breeding Aquarium Lighting
Another thing to keep in mind when setting up your aquarium is that the Neon Tetra eggs and fry are both very sensitive to light.
To start, that means place your breeding aquarium away from windows, lamps, or anything else that would provide direct light shining into the aquarium. Once you have placed your aquarium in a suitable location, you will want to take several pieces of black paper and cover the sides of the aquarium. Make sure to tape on the pieces of black paper as you will remove them later when the neon tetra fry begin to grow up.
You do not have to light the aquarium from above, however, you can choose to add a flew plants from above to provide the fry with some comfort and safety. You can then add some light fluorescent lighting to help the plants grow. Having some plants in the aquarium will also help better replicate the natural environment of the Neon Tetra increasing the chances of the Neon Tetra laying eggs.
Neon Tetra Environment Temperature
Lastly, pay attention to the temperature you set the aquarium too. Neon Tetra are a tropical fish, meaning that they need a temperature above what you likely get from the tap, or a water temperature from 76-82 degrees.
To breed Neon Tetras, I recommend setting the temperature to the colder side of this, in the range of 75-77 degrees. My experience has been that a slightly lower temperature tends to have better results.
Neon Tetra Pair Selection
Before you begin to breed your Neon Tetra, you should first have a school of Neon Tetras in your main aquarium. Neon Tetras have to be at least 5-6 months old in order to breed them. However, since the process of breeding Neon Tetras is so difficult, and Neon Tetras are capable of breeding for several years after they first become eligible, I recommend having had the school of Neon Tetras in your aquarium for at least 4 months.
Now that you have the school of Neon Tetras, it is now time to pick out a male and female to breed. Neon Tetra are a relatively difficult fish to sex, however, there are two clear distinctions that separates both male and female Neon Tetras.
The simplest distinction is that female Neon Tetras tend to be slightly longer and wider than male Neon Tetras. This is normally a difficult distinction to identify because oftentimes this wideness is attributable to the female Neon Tetra carrying eggs which means it is a much harder distinction to see if the female does not have eggs. The length difference can also oftentimes be attributable to a difference in age or genetics so it can be easier to wait until your Neon Tetras are fully grown.
The second distinction and the one that is easier to figure out is the coloring on the Neon Tetra body. As can clearly be seen, Neon Tetras have a red stripe that runs roughly halfway up their body from their tail. On the male Neon Tetra, that stripe runs straight up the body of the Neon Tetra. For the female Neon Tetra, that stripe tends to be bent towards the bottom of the body rather than running straight.
If you look at the picture above, you can see the distinction between a male and female Neon Tetra. The red and blue stripes are both straight for the male Neon Tetra, however, for the female Neon Tetra, you can see the red stripe curve down slightly and the blue stripe curve up slightly. In the above picture, you can also see how the center of the female looks slightly wider than the center of the male.
Neon Tetra Pair Spawning
Once you identify a pair of Neon Tetras, it is now time to move them both into your breeding aquarium setup to try and get them to breed and lay eggs. An important thing to keep in mind is that a Neon Tetra pair will lay eggs once a month and the first few times they do so they will likely lay noticeably fewer eggs.
Once the Neon Tetra pair has been introduced to the aquarium, they should spawn within 1-3 days. While this should happen by itself, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to get them to spawn earlier.
The first thing that you can do is attempt to simulate the seasonal rainfall that the Neon Tetras receive in their Amazon habitat. The way that you replicate this is by doing a massive change on your breeding tank, a change of at least 50%.
Assuming you have easy access to water with the same parameters as the breeding tank water, I recommend removing water from the aquarium until just a few inches remain. At that point keep the aquarium that way for a few hours and then refill it to the top. This will simulate the aquarium’s seasonal rainfall.
The other way you can try and introduce the parents to breed is by providing them with live food. Live food such as mosquito larvae can be obtained from either a local retailer, though they rarely carry it, or it can be collected from your backyard assuming you live somewhere that has mosquitos. Mosquito larvae as live food can provide your Neon Tetra with a nutritious food source and introduce them to breed.
Neon Tetra Eggs
While your breeding aquarium should be covered with black paper to protect the mosquito eggs and the fry. However, you should regularly peek in to see if you notice any tetra eggs. Should you notice any Neon Tetra eggs, you should immediately remove the parents from the aquarium as Neon Tetra parents will eat their eggs. Once you have eggs, it is now time to move on to preparing to raise some Neon Tetra babies!
Once you have Neon Tetra eggs in the aquarium, keep in mind they will take twenty-four hours to hatch. During this time, you should prepare the hatching food for your Neon Tetras.
Neon Tetra Initial Food
Immediately after birth, I recommend feeding your Neon Tetra infusoria. Infusoria is a collective term for a number of different aquatic creatures that tend to be single celled. They are extremely small and will serve as great food for your Neon Tetra babies when they are first born. In order to get infusoria, you will have to grow them yourself.
To start, take several old water bottles and cut off the tops. Then fill them halfway up with aquarium water, that is tap water treated with chlorine and chloramine remover or pure RO/DI water. Once you have water in the bottle, place one lettuce leaf and one algae wafer in each bottle. Let these bottles sit in a place that receives heavy sunlight.
After keeping the bottles in bright sunlight for about a week, the bottles should begin to become cloudy with bacteria. Soon after, the water should become either clearish or pinkish. The reason for this coloring is because the water will begin to grow infusoria which will eat up the bacteria produced in the aquarium water. The disappearance of this bacteria will remove the cloudiness of the water in the bottles.
Once you have the culture with the infusoria, you can use a pipette to feed it to your Neon Tetra fry. Since cleaning your tank without removing babies will be difficult at this time, it is best to wait until the babies are slightly larger before cleaning the aquarium. As a result, you will want to keep the aquarium from becoming contaminated when the fry are first growing. For this reason, I recommend feeding the fry just a few drops at a time, though ideally feeding them these few drops four or more times a day.
Neon Tetra Fry Growth
Over the first few days, as the Neon Tetra fry begin to grow, you will want to begin introducing the aquarium to additional light. How fast you can do this depends on how dark the aquarium water is from the peat moss in the aquarium filter. However, after two to three days you can start removing one piece of black paper from the aquarium every few days.
By the time the fry get to be about one and a half to two weeks old, you can remove all of the pieces of black paper from the aquarium sides and see your fry clearly. At two weeks old you can also use an overhead light you have on the aquarium if that’s what you choose to do. However, for at least a month or so after the fry are born be careful to keep the fry out of direct sunlight.
After the fry are a few days old, you can now stop feeding the fry infusoria and switch them over to baby brine shrimp. To do this, take another several water bottles with the top cut off and fill them up with saltwater. This can best be done by going to your local fish store and purchasing a gallon of saltwater for a few dollars and placing it within these water bottles.
At this point, you should place an airstone in the bottle to provide the brine shrimp with oxygen. You should also use a small aquarium heater in each bottle to heat the water to at least 80 – 82 degrees fahrenheit (26 – 28 degrees celsius). Now that you have the setup you should purchase some baby brine shrimp eggs to place them in the bottle. The brine shrimp eggs will take anywhere from 18 – 36 hours to hatch.
Once the eggs hatch, turn off the aeration source. The empty shells should float to the surface and the newborn brine shrimp should sink to the bottom. At this point, you can use a siphon (like the pipette you used for infusoria) to take the baby from the bottom of the bottle. You should take the brine shrimp and rinse them in a ultra-fine mesh sieve (so that the brine shrimp cannot fall through) with freshwater before feeding them to the fish.
After a while, the Neon Tetra fry should grow to a point where they no longer have to be fed live baby brine shrimp and can instead be fed with much cheaper fry food. My favorite is Hikari First Bites, a package of which can often be purchased for just a few dollars and will be more than enough to feed your fish. Remember to be careful in overfeeding your fish as you do not want to over contaminate the aquarium. Water changes should be done carefully with a cover on the intake to prevent the fry from being dragged in.
Neon Tetra are considered a relatively difficult fish to breed, especially compared to many other common aquarium fish such as guppies or swordtails. However, breeding Neon Tetras can be an incredibly rewarding experience and introducing newborn Neon Tetras can help prevent them from being forcefully removed from their habitat in the Amazon.
I look forward to reading any problems or suggestions you guys have in the comments below!