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The Neon Tetra

The Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)

Order Characiformes , Family Characidae

Common names
Neon tetra

Hyphessobrycon innesi

The neon tetra is one of the most striking aquarium fish, with a gleaming blue line along the side which gives it it’s common name; they do indeed gleam in the aquarium as though lit from within. Below this line the back half of the fish is a rich red, which distinguishes it easily from its cousin the cardinal tetra; in the cardinal the red colouring extends the whole length of the body. At only one and a half inches, these fish are ideal for both large and small aquariums and are guaranteed to provide a stunning display.

Neons are shoaling fish, and are seen that their best in a group. In a large aquarium a shoal of twenty or so will be able to exhibit real shoaling behaviour, swimming in close proximity. In a small tank a group of five or six may not always appear to be in one another’s company, but will still be aware of one another and stressed if kept in isolation. These are not only beautiful but peaceful fishes, and are suitable for quiet aquaria with tankmates of an equally placid temperament.

Aquarium requirements
Naturally shy fish, they are seen at their best if kept in a dark aquarium, without bright lighting and with a dark substrate. Many fishes might ‘disappear’ in such a setup, but the iridescent neons will not only be happier, but will gleam out to provide a brilliant display. Although neons are fast and able to keep out of trouble when alert, even fish need to sleep, and if kept with large tankmates are likely to provide a tasty snack. Although they come from naturally soft acidic waters in South America, in the aquarium the neon is an adaptable fish that can acclimatise to a pH as high as 8. In this respect it is much more suitable for most aquaria than the cardinal, which is much more sensitive to hard water.

Neons are not fussy feeders, and enjoy most forms of fish food. Flakes and small pellets are suitable as a staple diet, but the fish will relish treats of any live foods that will fit in their mouths.

Although the neon tetra is adaptable to a range of conditions, for breeding the aquarist needs to be much more particular. The water needs to be adjusted to a pH of between 5 and 6, with as low a hardness as can be achieved. The spawning tank should be kept dark, as the eggs and fry are both sensitive to light. Males and females can easily be differentiated by the blue line; in the fatter females the line is bent, whereas the slim males sport a straight line. Once the pair have spawned, the adults should be removed and the fry left to hatch, which will happen after twenty-four hours. Being such tiny fish, they will require equally tiny foods to grow to adulthood, such as infusoria. Their insistence on such soft water and darkness does not make these the easiest fish for the beginner to attempt to spawn.

Diseases and disorders
Neon tetras have given their name to the infamous neon tetra disease. Although it has been known to attack other related fish, neons are particularly prone, and any specimens in shops that seem sluggish or abnormally pale should be avoided. This parasitic infection can also, unfortunately, be present in a mild form in healthy-seeming fish, which can then be passed to others, although good water conditions may play a part in preventing the disease from taking a hold. Once fish are known to be infected, there is no effective cure. However, sometimes similar symptoms can be displayed by fish with bacterial infections (sometimes called false neon disease) which may respond to antibacterial treatments. If this does not prove effective, you should sterilise the tank and décor before reintroducing fish.

The beautiful neon is one of the most striking fish available to the hobbyist, and few of those suitable for beginners even approach its beauty. Whether in a large shoal or just a small group, these quiet and unassuming fish will enrich any quiet aquarium. Although not quite as tough as some other common fish, the neon will repay good water quality and food by shining in the aquarium for up to ten years.

This article has been kindly provided by Kathy Jinkings and cannot be reproduced without her permission

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