Neon and ember tetra are some of the most popular small schooling fish for community aquariums, but can they live together? The answer is yes! Neon tetra and ember tetra make great tank mates for one another, and both of these fish are a great choice for beginners.
Let’s take a deeper dive into comparing these two species and finding out what makes them ideal companions for one another. I’ll also give you some hints for finding other peaceful tank mates for these stunning fish. Let’s get started!
|Amazon River, South America
|Araguaia River Basin, Brazil
|0.7 to 0.9 inches
|Blue, Silver, Red
|Bright Orange, Bright Red
|73 to 78°F
|73 to 82°F
|5 – 7
|5.5 to 7
|2 to 12 dGH
|5 to 17 dGH
Introducing the Neon Tetra
Neon tetras are one of the most popular freshwater fish in the world. With their bright red and neon blue colors, they have become an icon of tropical fish keeping.
In their natural habitat, neon tetras inhabit the Amazon river basin where they’re often found in ‘black water’ – water that has been dyed a rich amber color by the presence of tannins in the water. This type of water is soft and acidic, which is why neon tetras need soft, acidic water to thrive in an aquarium, too.
Neon tetras are classic schooling fish that look stunning when they form a tightly packed group that moves around the aquarium together.
Getting to Know the Ember Tetra
Ember tetras are a fairly recent introduction to the aquarium trade – they weren’t even discovered in the wild until 1987! These fish come from the Araguaia River Basin in Brazil – not so far away from their neon cousins.
Since their discovery, they’ve become more and more popular and are now one of the most sought-after tetra species. Their deep orange-red colors look stunning when set against a lush green planted aquarium.
Their tiny size and peaceful nature make them a good choice for beginners looking to set up their first tropical community tank.
Keeping Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Together
Neon tetra and ember tetra are in the same genus, meaning they’re very closely related to one another. But what makes them good tank mates for each other?
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Size
Ember tetras are one of the smallest tropical fish on the market. Usually growing to an adult size of less than an inch, these tiny fish are great for small aquariums, but only when kept with other small fish.
That’s one reason that neon tetras are such great tank mates for them! Growing to only 1.5 inches in captivity, neon tetras are only slightly larger, and will seldom pose any threat to the tiny ember tetra.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Temperament
Ember tetra and neon tetra are both relatively peaceful fish. Ember tetras are as close as you’ll get to the model community tank fish, and will hardly ever show aggression toward other species unless they’re very stressed (see notes on fin nipping later).
Neon tetra can occasionally be feisty with other fish, but usually only during breeding time, or when stressed. On the whole, neon tetras are a peaceful community tank species, too.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Level of Care
Both neon tetra and ember tetra are great fish for beginners. While you need to make sure your water parameters, filtration, and tank environment are set up correctly, these fish are relatively forgiving and tolerate a range of conditions.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Water Parameters
These two species have very similar needs when it comes to water parameters. Both require soft, acidic water with a pH of less than 7, and a GDH of 5-12 will satisfy both species.
If your water is hard or alkaline, you could try softening it by adding materials that contain tannins such as driftwood, peat, and Indian almond leaves.
Since tannins are present in their natural environment, some aquarists believe they are beneficial for the health of these South American fish.
As for water temperature requirements, neon tetras are a little bit fussier than ember tetras and don’t enjoy water temperatures exceeding 78°F. Set your aquarium heater’s thermostat to between 73°F-78°F to keep both species happy.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Feeding
Neon tetras and ember tetras are both omnivorous, opportunistic feeders that are unfussy in their diet and will enjoy a wide range of fish foods.
Because they’re so small, flake foods are the obvious choice, rather than pellets, which can get lodged in the throats and choke small fish.
Live and frozen foods such as bloodworms, tubifex worms, daphnia, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and mysis shrimp are excellent additions to dry food, and, when fed regularly, can make a huge difference to your fish’s health.
A diverse, nutrient-rich diet will even make the colors of these species brighter, so don’t be complacent by only feeding them one thing!
As with all fish, also avoid overfeeding, since it’s one of the greatest causes of fish disease and water quality problems.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Tank Decor
Pet fish are always happiest when you can make your aquarium resemble their natural environment. To set up the perfect tank for these fish, you need to imagine what a South American river looks like.
Can you see the dense plants, twisted roots, and pieces of wood that have fallen in the water from the rainforest above?
As mentioned earlier, pieces of driftwood are especially suitable for these fish because hardwood driftwood releases tannins into the water, making it softer and more acidic, just as it would in their natural environment.
Driftwood also looks stunning when surrounded by live plants (see next section).
Although these fish aren’t great cave dwellers, creating caves from aquarium-safe rocks is essential if you want to keep bottom-dwelling fish in the tank with them.
Good Plants for Neon Tetras and Ember Tetras
Getting some live plants for these colorful fish to swim among will make your tank infinitely more vibrant and exciting than a dull, empty aquarium with a few ornaments.
Live plants also provide an important refuge for tetras to hide among, and can substantially improve the water quality by filtering out carbon dioxide, nitrates, and phosphates that would otherwise cause algal blooms.
Aquatic plants also release dissolved oxygen into the water, which encourages active behavior and makes hypoxia less likely for your fish.
Floating plants such as Amazon frogbit can also create an interesting dappled lighting effect under them but need to be controlled to prevent them from carpeting the entire water’s surface.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Schooling
Like other tetras, both of these species are schooling fish that must be kept in a large enough group to remain healthy and also to look their best.
In the wild, tetras can form enormous schools of hundreds of fish where they can feel safe and secure in the company of their own species.
In an aquarium, both neon tetra and ember tetra need to be kept in groups of at least 6 fish, and preferably more to feel comfortable and happy.
Groups of 10 or more for both species are preferable, and they will exhibit better schooling behavior in larger aquariums – I’ll explain why in a moment!
Will Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra School Together?
While some aquarists have reported neon tetra and ember tetra schooling together, this is usually due to not having enough members of one of the species or both.
For example, if you add 3 ember tetra to a tank with 10 neon tetra, they’ll probably try to join the neon tetra school because there’s not enough of them to form a school of their own.
This is far from ideal, as both species would naturally prefer to only school with their own species, and will be far happier if you keep them in large enough groups to do so.
Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Tank Size
Because they’re a smaller species, a school of ember tetra doesn’t strictly require such a large tank as the same size school of neon tetra. Let’s get more specific using the ‘one inch of fish per one gallon of tank volume’ rule of thumb.
If you wanted to keep a school of 10 ember tetra, you’d need to take their maximum size in inches and multiply it by 10 (0.9 x 10 = 9 inches).
Since the group’s combined length is 9 inches, they’ll need 9 gallons of tank size, so they could, in theory, squeeze into a 10-gallon tank. I’ll tell you why a 20-gallon tank is much better in a moment!
Can you calculate how many gallons of 10 neon tetra measuring 1.5 inches each would need? 10 x 1.5 inches = 15 inches and therefore 15 gallons of water.
Why 20-gallon Tanks are Much Better for Schooling Fish!
Many beginner aquarists have been disappointed when keeping schooling fish such as tetras in 10-gallon nano tanks.
While in theory, it should work, in reality, the tank is not long enough for the fish to exhibit their natural schooling behavior. Instead, they will scatter out and often ‘hover’ in one spot. This isn’t very good for your fish’s health, neither is it very fun to watch.
A 20-gallon tank is the minimum tank size for schooling fish to group together and swim around in a tightly packed group like they would in the wild. Your fish will be much happier, and so will you, from the pleasure you get watching them!
Why Longer Tanks are Much Better Than Taller Tanks for Schooling Fish
There are a few types of fish that tend to swim vertically rather than horizontally – but not many! Pufferfish and Seahorses are two of only a few species.
Like 99% of fish, tetras swim horizontally, and so need a long tank rather than a tall tank to give them maximum swimming space. To enjoy their schooling behavior, you need to provide them with a tank that’s at least 30 inches long.
Good Tank Mates for Ember Tetras and Neon Tetras
Since they’re both small, neon and ember tetras generally get along well with the same types of tank mates.
Other small, peaceful community tank species make the best choice. Schools of other tetras such as rummy nose tetras, cardinal tetras, and black skirt tetras look particularly stunning next to these fish.
Danios, rasboras, and white cloud mountain minnows could also make good choices.
To create some diversity in the tank, you could also keep some small, peaceful cichlids. Ram cichlids and kribensis are two beautiful, fairly compatible options as long as the tank is large enough to give them their own territories.
Livebearers such as guppies, platies, and swordtails could also be added, although these fish tend to prefer slightly harder, more alkaline water than these tetras.
At the bottom of the tank, you could host a clean-up crew, such as a school of corydoras, catfish, or some kuhli loaches. Plecos or Siamese algae eaters are also a great addition if you’re looking for fish to eat some of the tank’s algae for you.
If you like the idea of keeping invertebrates, you could consider peaceful shrimp species such as cherry shrimp, ghost shrimp, or amano shrimp.
These crustaceans do an excellent job at eating algae and keeping the tank clean, as do nerite snails, mystery snails, and rabbit snails.
Incompatible Tank Mates for Ember Tetras and Neon Tetras
Because both of these tetras are so small, I wouldn’t recommend keeping them with large fish. Even relatively peaceful larger fish such as angel fish, goldfish, or severums can easily gobble up a small tetra when they’re hungry! The tiny ember tetras are especially vulnerable to predation.
I’d also steer clear of medium-sized boisterous tank mates like tiger barbs, cherry barbs, and larger rainbow fish since they could easily bully either species, but especially the rather fragile ember tetras.
Breeding Neon Tetras vs Ember Tetras
If you’re a beginner fish keeper, neon tetra and ember tetra are ideal fish to keep, but more challenging to breed.
Both of these species require special conditions in a designated breeding tank to spawn, but ember tetras are rather easier to breed than neon tetras.
Neon tetras are typically only bred by advanced aquarists. You need to get the water temperature just right and make the water very soft and acidic (<5 degrees dH and between pH 5.0-6.0).
Special spawning mops are placed at the bottom of the tank for the parents to spawn, and the parents need to be removed as soon as they’ve laid their eggs.
Ember tetra will breed under a broader range of water parameters, but will still be encouraged to spawn by warm, acidic water conditions.
As with neon tetra, the parents can prey upon their eggs and young, so they need to be removed as soon as spawning is completed.
The fry of both species can be raised on tiny live foods as well as commercial or homemade infusoria.
If you’re keeping these species in a community tank, it’s not a good idea to induce spawning. The fries are very unlikely to survive, and spawning can also make tetras more aggressive.
Easier Fish to Breed!
If you’re a beginner aquarist who wants to have a go at breeding fish, I’d recommend first trying to breed livebearers such as guppies or platies, and then move on to breeding some easier cichlid species such as kribensis or ram cichlids.
Don’t even try to breed tetras before you’ve got some decent experience with breeding other fish first!
Are Neon Tetra or Ember Tetras Fin Nippers?
Several species of tetras have a reputation for nipping fins, but this is usually a stress-induced behavior in response to the wrong setup.
Incorrect water parameters, poor water quality, overcrowding, small tank size, or not enough hiding spots can all cause these fish to feel stressed, but the most common reason that these fish sometimes nip fins is that their groups aren’t large enough.
Both neon tetras and ember tetras are strictly schooling fish that need to be kept in groups of six or more.
If kept in smaller groups than this, these fish can easily feel intimidated and will either hide away among plants or go on the offensive and nip at the fins of other fish.
While neon tetra may be slightly more likely to nip fins than ember tetra, neither species are the worst fin-nipping tetras!
Blue, White spot, Buenos Aires, Black widow, and especially Serpae tetras are all more inclined to nip fins than these two relatively benign species.
It might be counterintuitive, but keeping tetras in larger groups in a larger tank is usually the best way to curb fin-nipping.
Which Is the Better Community Tank Fish- Neon Tetra or Ember Tetras?
Both ember tetras and neon tetras are some of the best community tank fish you could hope to find – although which one is better depends a bit on your setup.
While ember tetras are slightly more docile and harmless than neon tetras, they are also smaller and more liable to get bullied or eaten by larger fish.
If you have any larger or slightly aggressive fish in the tank, neon tetra would be a better choice.
But for keeping with delicate fish with long fins like guppies and betta fish, ember tetras are slightly less likely to nip fins, especially when kept in a large enough aquarium.
Can Neon Tetra and Ember Tetra Breed Together?
Neon tetra and ember tetra are closely related members of the same genus, so you may be wondering: can they breed together? The answer- it’s incredibly unlikely.
Although prolific breeders such as mollies and guppies can crossbreed together, crossbreeding is almost unheard of in tetras, and these two species may not even be genetically compatible to produce offspring. Just getting them to breed with their own species is hard enough!
Can Ember Tetra be Kept with Cardinal Tetra?
As you may know, cardinal tetras look quite similar to neon tetras but are usually slightly larger. They are also peaceful fish, and make great tank mates for ember tetra, too.
If you are a beginner fishkeeper, however, I’d recommend keeping neon tetras before attempting to keep cardinals. The neon tetra is hardier and less fussy over water conditions than the cardinal tetra.
Neon tetra and ember tetra are ideal tank mates for each other in many ways. They can be kept successfully with several other small, peaceful, community tank fish and invertebrate species, too.
As a closing note, I’d like to emphasize a point I made earlier- although some aquarists have tried keeping either species in 10-gallon tanks, the results are disappointing since they won’t exhibit proper schooling behavior.