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Care Guide for Black Neon Tetras — Our Fav Underrated Schooling Fish

One of the unsung heroes of the freshwater aquarium hobby is the humble black neon tetra. It often gets overlooked and outshone by its more popular cousins, the regular neon tetra and cardinal tetra. Yet they are one of our favorite fish to work with at the Aquarium Co-Op retail store. Because of their strong constitution and robust health, we often recommend them to anyone looking to start a new tank. Their nano size makes them accessible to people with smaller aquariums, while their cheap price is appealing to aquarists wanting to fill up a large tank with tons of schooling fish.

What are Black Neon Tetras?

Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi may look like a neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) because of the two pearly white and black horizontal stripes running down its side, but it is technically in the same genus as ember, serpae, and lemon tetras. This South American fish hails from the Paraguay River basin in Brazil and is a very common find in fish stores because of their hardiness and activity level.

Are black neon tetras bigger than neon tetras? While both fish have similar lengths of 1–1.5 inches (2.5–3.8 cm), the black neon tetra is a bit larger because it has a taller body depth. In general, black neon tetras tend to be bolder and swim in the upper half of the aquarium, while neon tetras can be a little shyer and stay in the lower half.

Freshwater tetra black neon fish in detail

The black neon is known for its striking black and white stripes and red eyes.

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Black Neon Tetras

This beginner-friendly fish tolerates a huge range in water parameters and lives comfortably in 72–80°F (22–27°C). Though they originate from acidic waters, they do well in pH levels anywhere from 5–8, as well as soft to moderately hard water. We find they look best in a planted tank with darker substrate, and their red irises really stand out against the greenery.

How many black neon tetras should be kept together? As is true with most schooling fish, the more the merrier. In our fish store, we get to see their natural behavior when you put a hundred of them together, and their synchronized swimming is truly an amazing sight to behold. At the bare minimum, you could keep six in a 10-gallon tank, but do yourself a favor and get 10–15 of them for a 20-gallon tank or larger.

What fish can live with black neon tetras? Because they are a tad bigger than neon tetras, we have successfully kept ours with medium-sized community fish like angelfish, Geophagus eartheaters, and gouramis. They also get along with smaller, peaceful fish like rasboras, other tetras, and corydoras. Black neon tetras usually leave adult dwarf shrimp alone, but they will opportunistically eat any babies they find.

school of Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi, the black neon

Black neon tetras do well in planted community tanks with other peaceful tank mates.

What do Black Neon Tetras Eat?

In the wild, they enjoy an omnivorous diet of zooplankton, tiny worms, crustaceans, and plant matter. Given their swimming patterns, black neon tetras prefer to feed at the top and middle of the water column, but they are not picky and will eat almost anything you drop into the tank. To keep them healthy, we like to offer a wide variety of smaller foods — like krill flakes, nano pellets, frozen cyclops, daphnia, and baby brine shrimp.

How to Breed Black Neon Tetras

Like most egg layers, these tetras are easy to spawn, but their tiny fry can be harder to raise. Add several catappa leaves to a 10-gallon aquarium that has no other animals. Allow the leaves to decay for several weeks to lower the pH, darken the water, and create mulm and biofilm for the fry to feed on. Also, put a bunch of java moss, Easter basket grass, or spawning mops on the ground, and cover the spawning material entirely with a sheet of craft mesh. The plastic mesh has holes that are large enough for the eggs to fall through but small enough to prevent the adults from predating on them.

Get a group of at least six black neons so you have a better chance of having at least one male and one female. Condition the adults for breeding by feeding them lots of high-quality foods, such as live baby brine shrimp and micro worms. After spawning has occurred, remove the adults. Feed the newborns tiny foods like infusoria, vinegar eels, and powdered fry food. Within a couple of weeks, they should be large enough to switch to live baby brine shrimp, which is the best superfood for fry.

black neon tetra fish in blackwater tank with tannins

Catappa leaves gradually acidify and tint the water, making it more comfortable for the black neons to breed.

While Aquarium Co-Op does not sell fish online, you can check out our preferred online retailers to see the latest species they have in stock. Plus, keep reading to learn about the top 10 tetras that we love to add to our community aquariums.

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