As a child, I bought a betta fish and added it to my community tank. To my horror, I saw the betta lunge toward the surface and attack the other fish. From then on, I believed betta fish couldn’t be kept with other species…but I’m no longer convinced that this is necessarily true.
I realize now that bettas can be kept with some topical fish species, but does that include neon tetras? It was a neon tetra that was attacked by the betta fish that I added to my aquarium so many years ago. The answer is yes, but as long as certain conditions are met and the fish are introduced to each other amicably. Here’s everything you need to know so your neon tetras and bettas live in harmony..
Can Neon Tetras and Betta Fish Live Together?
Generally speaking, you can keep neon tetras and betta fish together, given that a few conditions are met. For one, the aquarium should be no less than 20 gallons in size. Also, you should have no fewer than ten neon tetras, as they’re schooling fish.
The tank must provide ample hiding places so that both fish species can feel safe. I recommend using mid-size and floating plants.
Aquarium Selection and Setup
If you plan to keep bettas and neon tetras together, a 20-gallon aquarium is the minimum size tank you should get. To understand why let’s break it down by species:
When visiting pet stores, it’s common to see betta fish being kept in small containers; however, this doesn’t mean it’s the proper way to keep them! Bettas do better when kept in larger spaces, such as aquariums of 5 gallons to 10 gallons.
As for neon tetras, they’re active fish that travel in schools. Because of their social behavior, you should get at least ten of these species. Maintaining a school of neon tetras is important if they share a tank with a betta fish.
Schooling behavior provides a level of protection from predators. Forming schools makes it more difficult for predators to focus on any one fish. For this reason, a 10-gallon aquarium should be the minimum size for neon tetras.
Finally, there’s the rule that when stocking your aquarium, you should provide one gallon of aquarium space for every inch of fish. Neon tetras can reach one and a half inches while bettas can grow up to two and a half inches. If you add up the length of each fish (remember, you will be getting ten neon tetras), you can see why a 20-gallon aquarium is needed.
Having a larger tank will also provide more room for the two species to keep their distance from each other. It’ll also allow you to add a few snails to help keep the aquarium clean.
Further, a larger tank will help avoid ammonia buildup in the aquarium. Besides getting a 20-gallon tank, choose a tank by its length versus height. Neon tetras show less preference for the depth of water than they do for the length that they can travel.
How many neon tetras can I put in a 5-gallon tank with a betta?
We don’t recommend putting neon tetras and bettas together if your tank is 5 gallons in size. This area will be much too small for both species to live together in harmony. The minimum tank size you should opt for when keeping these two fish together is 20 gallons.
Fish Safety: Be Prepared!
Remember: keeping bettas and neon tetras together is not a sure thing. You could follow all our suggestions and still have problems with aggression among your fish.
Also, it’s important to think of disease prevention. For these reasons, I recommend you have two smaller aquariums ready in addition to the 20-gallon aquarium.
You need one smaller tank in case your betta behaves aggressively toward the neon tetras so that you can quickly separate them.
You need a second smaller tank to quarantine newly acquired fish, so they don’t potentially spread diseases to the rest of the population. This is particularly true for neon tetras, which can become stressed when first introduced to a new environment. Being stressed makes them more likely to develop diseases such as ich.
When setting up the quarantine tank, add water from your main aquarium to help acclimatize the neon tetras for when they’re moved over to the main aquarium.
Note: As an alternative to getting a separate aquarium for aggressive fish, you can also purchase tank dividers.
The bettas and neon tetra aquarium needs to be heavily planted to provide plenty of hiding spaces, which is key to preventing conflict. Both species will appreciate the cover and habitat that the plants provide.
While using live plants is preferred, not everyone may be comfortable using them. As an alternative, you can use artificial plants that are wide and thick, like Anacharis. Such plants will provide the needed places for your fish to hide.
Select certain areas of the aquarium that will be heavily planted while leaving other areas for open swimming space. Tetras need a lot of swimming space but also spaces to hide in, while bettas favor hiding spaces over swimming space.
Regarding the required water parameters, there’s a lack of consistency in the data, especially for the neon tetras. While there appears to be an overlap in the water parameters of the two species, the challenge is, how much overlap do you have to work with, given the inconsistent data? Let’s start with water temperature.
The water parameters for these species are all over the place, depending on the source you are referring to. One source says bettas need a water temperature between 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit, while the temperature range for neon tetras is between 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This gives you a narrow gap of 78-80 degrees to accommodate both species. Another source gives the preferred temperature for neon tetras as being between 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit and 75-78 Fahrenheit for bettas. If this data is accurate, there’s even less overlap for the two species (78 degrees).
Those who confidently say that bettas and neon tetras are compatible point to the fact that all you need to do is achieve this temperature range. Those who are less enthusiastic about this idea point out that missing this temperature range can compromise the health of your fish. If you decide to keep these species together, I encourage you to invest in a good aquarium heater and an aquarium heater controller.
As for pH, there’s also conflicting data. It’s commonly reported that bettas need a pH between 6.5-7, while neon tetras need a pH between 6-7. Other sources say that the pH for bettas should be 7, which is neutral, and the minimum pH for neon tetras is 5.5, and the maximum is 6.2. If this data is correct, there’s no overlap between the two species. Given these discrepancies, I recommend a pH range of between 6.5 and 7.5 to accommodate both species.
Choosing a Filtration System
As neon tetras are small fish, I recommend using a sponge filter. Other filters pose a risk of sucking up these fish; however, sponge filters will only be effective if you stick to doing water changes and the tank doesn’t have a large bio-load. Your bio-load should be acceptable if the tank contains ten tetras and one betta.
Tone Down the Lighting
Both species of fish prefer dim lighting. Neon tetras are found in South America, which is highly forested, and the tree canopy provides shade. Further, bettas will feel more secure with this kind of lighting. Given this, if you use live plants in the tank, get plants that do well in low-level light.
Addressing Diet Differences
Another thing that you will need to give careful consideration to is diet. Bettas are carnivorous, while neon tetras are omnivorous. Your betta will want meat, while your neon tetras will want meat and plant matter. So, neon tetras will eat some of the betta’s food, but the betta may not eat the neon tetra’s food.
I recommend you feed your neon tetras a high-quality flake food and your betta a high-quality betta pellet. For both species, I encourage you to feed frozen or live food occasionally, including brine shrimp, daphnia, and brine shrimp.
Introducing Your Fish to Each Other
I strongly recommend that before introducing the two fish species, you first let the neon tetras establish themselves in the tank. There are several reasons for this. First, allowing the neon tetras to establish themselves will give them higher social standing as they will consider the tank their territory.
When you add the betta, it will be the newcomer. If you do this in reverse, the betta will claim the tank as its territory, and the neon tetras will be the newcomers. Just by their size and aggressiveness alone, the betta will be a formable tank mate. Allowing it to claim the tank as its territory will make it more likely to attack the neons.
The other reason you want to add the neon tetras first is that this species takes time to acclimate to a new environment. If they are the newcomer fish, they are less likely to become acclimated, given the potential danger of the betta.
When introducing the betta to the tank, place it in a clear container first. This will give both fish species a chance to get to know each other. You can also watch for any aggressive behaviors by the betta. Keep the betta in the container for one hour before releasing it into the tank.
When the betta is released, monitor the tank for the first day for any signs of aggressive behaviors. Aggressive displays by the betta may include:
- Flaring gills
These displays may be just territorial rather than aggressive. Only through close observation will you be able to tell. If the betta does act aggressively toward the neon tetras, take it out and place it in a separate tank, as described earlier.
Though the betta poses the greatest danger, that does not mean neon tetras are harmless. Neon tetras are known to be fin nippers, and they have been known to bite the fins of bettas. Though the betta is not in danger by such behavior, it may irritate it.
Other Tank Mates to Consider for Your Betta
Neon tetras are not the only fish that you may be able to keep with betta fish. The following is a list of other species:
- Ember Tetras
- Rummy Nose Tetras
- Cardinal Tetras
- Black Neon Tetras
- Black Phantom Tetras
- Bleeding Heart Tetras
- Serpae Tetras
For more information about caring for bettas and neon tetras, check out the following:
- Complete Betta Fish Care Guide for Beginners: Everything You Need
- Neon Tetra Care Guide: Everything You Need to Know
- Top 5 Tetras for Beginners
Can They Live in Peace?
Attempting to keep bettas and neon tetras together is a gamble, as there are too many variables to consider. I encourage you to do as much research as you can. We hope you enjoyed this article and that you share it with others. We would enjoy hearing your comments.