Neon Tetra

Paracheirodon innesi

Neon tetras are tiny, brightly colored, tropical fish native to South America. Wild fish are found primarily in blackwater streams of Brazil, Peru, and Columbia. The fishes’ bright coloring may be important for finding mates in murky water. Neon tetras are one of the most popular aquarium fish in the United States. An estimated 20 million fish are imported each year for the U.S. pet trade. Neon tetras are easily bred in captivity and 95% of the individuals available in pet stores are from breeding facilities in southeast Asia. Some wild-caught neon tetras are still imported from South America.

The neon tetra is very similar in appearance to the cardinal tetra (P. axelrodi). Cardinal Tetras are usually wild-caught, and they are more delicate and difficult to keep alive in a home aquarium. The two species can be distinguished by the length of their red body stripes. For neon tetras, the stripe runs only half the length of the body whereas in cardinal tetras, the stripe runs the entire length of the body. This  report applies only to neon tetras.

Did You Know?

An estimated 20 million Neon Tetras are imported each year for the U.S. pet trade.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Wild populations of neon tetras may be declining due to habitat destruction. Neon Tetras in the pet trade are almost exclusively captive-bred, so the pet trade does not appear to significantly threaten native wild populations.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

There are no records of neon tetras successfully establishing wild populations in North America, or evidence that exotic populations would be harmful to native wildlife; fish released into a river in Colorado did not survive. Regardless, neon tetras might be able to survive in warm water and spread disease to native fish, so it is important that they are never released into the wild.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Neon tetras are relatively easy to keep in captivity. However, they are more sensitive to minimal water quality and temperature changes compared to many common pet fish. Extra care should be taken when performing water changes for this reason as fish may become ill or even die if not done properly. Like all fish, tetras require proper set-up and maintenance of an aquarium including appropriate cleaning technique, water quality, pH, and temperature monitoring and maintenance. Neon tetras are most comfortable in schools of five tetras or more. They can live up to 10 years in captivity.  They are, however, subjected to harsh conditions during shipment from breeding facilities in Asia to pet stores in North America. Thousands of fish are typically kept together in small bags of water without filtration or oxygenation for 40 hours or more, in unheated cargo holds. Although new packaging methods designed to better protect fish during shipping are being developed, mortality in neon tetra shipments can be very high (up to 80%).

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a neon tetra, be sure to research its specific care requirements. If possible, purchase a neon tetra that has been domestically bred to reduce the likelihood it has suffered during transport.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Neon tetras are capable of carrying Mycobacteria that can cause disease in fish and skin infections in humans. Neon tetras may be infected by these bacteria even if they appear to be healthy. People with compromised immune systems are susceptible to these skin infections, commonly known as “fish-handler’s disease.”

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Due to the potential for disease transmission to humans and other household pets, always wash your hands after handling a fish or touching the aquarium water. When purchasing a pet fish ask the seller if the fish or group of fish has a history of any health problems and for a list of any medical treatments the animal or tank has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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