Neon tetra in a tank
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What Do Neon Tetra Eat? A Complete Feeding Guide

Did you know that millions of neon tetras are sold every year?

Neon tetras were first discovered in the 1930s in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia and became an instant hit among aquarists due to their brilliant colors, small size, and simple care requirements. Because of this fish’s popularity in the pet trade, it’s a common view that the neon tetra has simple care requirements, but are we oversimplifying their dietary requirements? Could you be feeding it the wrong foods, leading to dull colors and a sick tetra? Read on to find out the best foods for your neon tetra to keep its vibrant colors sparkling.

What Do Neon Tetras Eat?

Neon tetras are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. In the wild, these fish eat larvae and algae. However, they do sometimes scavenge on the bodies of dead animals.

It’s unfortunate, but in captivity, many fish owners feed their neon tetra exclusively flake food. This isn’t the best way to go—it’s important to provide variety in the neon tetra diet to avoid malnutrition. 

Feed your neon tetras a varied animal and plant matter diet.

You can use high-quality flake food as their main diet, but it should be supplemented with other food types. Doing this will provide a more balanced and varied diet. 

The following is a list of the best foods for neon tetras:

Animal Matter that Neon Tetras Can Eat

  • Brine shrimp
  • Tubifex worms
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Earthworm (chop into tiny pieces)
  • Frozen blood worms
  • Flake food
  • Chicken (chop into tiny pieces)
  • Fish (chop into tiny pieces)
  • Egg Yolk (tiny amounts)
  • Beef (chop into tiny pieces)

Vegetables Neon Tetras Can Eat

Note: All of these need to be chopped into tiny pieces.

  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Live aquatic plants: Java fern and Anubias (don’t need to be chopped up).
  • Algae wafers (don’t need to be chopped up).
  • Broccoli 
  • Carrots
  • Potato 
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Lettuce

Foods to Avoid

  • Oranges
  • Bread

Also, neon tetra can have difficulty ingesting frozen foods. Before serving frozen food to your fish, let the food thaw. You can do this by placing the food in the water. When offering live food, only offer foods that have been store-bought or that you have raised yourself. Offering foods that haven’t been captive-raised may contain parasites or pesticides.

Flake Food for Neon Tetras

If you’re unable to get frozen or live food for your neon tetras, they’ll do well if they have quality commercial flake food, which is widely available. When selecting a commercial diet, choose a quality dry food that combines animal and plant matter. You can use items from the previous lists to supplement your neon tetra’s diet.

When choosing flake food, it’s important to review the ingredients. Avoid products that have terrestrial-based ingredients such as beef or gluten. Instead, choose one that contains primarily aquatic or insect-based ingredients. Feeding “terrestrial” based ingredients can lead to health problems over time.

Also, when looking at the ingredients, look for how items are listed. If a product contains “Whole Shrimp Meal,” this is a good thing as it contains the whole shrimp versus “Shrimp Meal,” which only contains parts of the shrimp. Ingredients such as these are low in nutritional value.

Examples of high-quality flake foods for neon tetras include:

Omega One Color Mini Pellets

This food has been prepared to support your fish’s immune system, and it contains Omega 3 and Omega 6.

Fluval Bug Bites Tropical Fish Food

This diet contains insect-based ingredients. It’s a quality blend of carbohydrates and protein.

New Life Spectrum Grow

This product contains high-quality ingredients such as herring, whole krill, and spirulina. This diet is designed to enhance your fish’s immune system and its colors.

For the best diet, offer more than one flake food so that your fish can get the best of each. For example, alternating between Omega One and New Life Spectrum would give your fish a balanced diet that you wouldn’t need to supplement.

Frozen Food for Neon Tetras

Various freeze-dried and frozen foods for neon tetras are available at tropical fish stores and online. When offering frozen food, soak it first in water for a few minutes before serving them to your fish. Doing so will make the food easier to eat and digest.

Live Food for Neon Tetras

Recommended live food for neon tetras include:

These items can be purchased at your local tropical fish store or online. Also, see the section below on how to raise daphnia so that you can provide your fish with “homegrown” food.

How Much and How Often Should You Feed Neon Tetras?

You should feed your neon tetra twice a day. When feeding neon tetras, only offer what your fish can consume within three minutes.

When you offer food to your fish, take a moment to observe them eating to determine if they’re getting enough food or if you need to make adjustments.

One of the mistakes that many people make with neon tetras is that they overfeed them. Given their small size, neon tetras only need to eat 2% of their body weight daily. Overfeeding can lead to health issues, such as fatty livers

Additionally, overfeeding can create harmful water conditions. Neon tetras normally swim in the middle or the top of the water column. Food that’s missed will sink to the bottom of the tank and may remain uneaten. This can increase ammonia and nitrite levels, which are toxic to fish.

At the same time, neon tetras are schooling fish, and they shouldn’t be kept alone. Because of this, you also need to ensure each fish gets their share.

Other Considerations for Feeding Neon Tetras

How Much Protein Do Neon Tetras Need?

Studies on neon tetras show that the protein levels of their diet were an important factor in their growth. Neon tetras that were fed protein diets had a significant advantage over fish that received a plant-based diet. Neon tetras do best when given a diet that contains 45% crude protein.

On a related subject, bloodworms are a source of protein. However, they can also cause constipation and other health problems for neon tetras. For this reason, they should only be offered sparingly.

How Long Can Neon Tetras Go Without Food

If your neon tetras are in good health and are kept at the correct water parameters, they can go for up to three weeks without feeding. Of course, this isn’t advisable. Try to work it out that they get fed on a regular basis for optimal care. 

Daphnia: A DYI Approach to Feeding Neon Tetras

Daphnia, commonly known as “water fleas,” are extremely nutritious and excellent live food for neon tetras, other fish, and aquatic invertebrates. Obtaining and raising them is very simple!

Preparing a Daphnia Tank

You can raise daphnia in a small aquarium (1-5 gallons) but housing them in larger aquariums will provide a larger surface area for them to grow. Also, the shallower the water depth, the better. Shallow water allows deeper penetration of light, which leads to photosynthesis by microorganisms that can serve as food for daphnia.

Add an air stone that offers light aeration. The air stone should be positioned toward one end at the bottom of the tank. This will allow the daphnia to avoid bubbles by moving toward the other end of the tank.

Note: It’s necessary to do a weekly partial water change in the daphnia tank. When doing the water change, siphon from the bottom of the aquarium.

How to Get Daphnia

You can get daphnia from a tropical fish store or online. They also can be obtained from temporary bodies of water in the environment. However, I recommend purchasing them so that you don’t have to worry about pollutants or diseases that may exist in natural bodies of water.

If you purchase the daphnia, they’ll come in a plastic bag. Place the bag in the daphnia tank and let it float for 20 minutes so that the daphnia can be acclimated.

Feeding Daphnia

You can feed daphnia algae or spirulina powder. You can also use things around the house, such as brewer’s yeast and wheat flower. Add several grams to a liter of warm water and mix thoroughly. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes before adding it to the daphnia tank. 

How To Feed Daphnia to Neon Tetras

Feeding daphnia to neon tetras is simple. Take a fine-meshed aquarium net and skim the surface of the water in the daphnia tank. You can then dip the net into the neon tank for your fish to eat.

Do Well by Your Neon Tetra

We hope that you enjoyed this article. Though neon tetras are very common in the pet trade, it’s uncommon that they’re provided with the nutrition they deserve. Use this article to give your neon tetras the quality diet they deserve. We would enjoy hearing your comments and please share this article on your socials (or with other neon tetra-lovers) if you found it helpful.

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  1. Thanks for all the info. I never realized how to properly feed fish. Although I don’t have any fish yet I would like to get an aquarium setup. I read that neon tetras can live with betta fish if acclimated correctly. What do you think?

    1. Nice to meet a fellow fish enthusiast, Cody! With adequate space and acclimation, Neon tetras and betta fish can become great roommates. We have a piece that explores all the ideal betta tankmates. Check it out here!

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