Types of Neon Tetra

Tetras are small, colorful, social fish native to the tropical fresh waters of South America and Central America. The neon tetra, one of the world's most popular fish for the home aquarium, is a brightly-colored characin that thrives in community tanks. Only one species, Paracheirodon innesi, is correctly known as the neon tetra. However, other iridescent species share a similar name.


The types of neon tetra that dominate the aquarium hobby share a remarkable trait. Each species has contrasting stripes of bright color on each side of its body. This remarkably attractive adaptation enables tetras to find one another in the "tea-stained" blackwater regions of the Amazon river system.
The following species and varieties of fish are commonly identified as neon tetras:


True Neon Tetra
Paracheirodon innesi (wild type)
The "true" neon tetra has an electric-blue back and a silver-white abdomen. A bright-red stripe extends from its tail fin to its anal fin. Captive neon tetras are widely bred for the home aquarium market, and most of the captive strains resemble their wild ancestors.
However, several ornamental strains of true neon tetra exist, and all of them will interbreed and shoal with one another. Captive-bred strains of true neon tetra include the following:


Longfin Neon Tetra
Paracheirodon innesi (captive variety)
This captive-bred strain of neon tetra closely resembles its wild counterpart, but its colors are more subdued and its fins are significantly longer. The elongated fins tend to hinder the fish's natural schooling behavior.


Diamond Head Neon Tetra
Paracheirodon innesi (captive variety)
The diamond-head neon tetra looks very similar to the wild type of the species, but it has a bright, metallic diamond-shape between its head and dorsal fin.


Albino Neon Tetra Paracheirodon innesi (captive variety)
This golden-white mutation has been selectively bred in recent years. Albino neon tetras do not have blue or white stripes like the wild-type of the species. Instead, they have a yellowish, pearlescent hue.
Other species may also be called "neon tetras", including the following:


Red Neon Tetra
Paracheirodon axelrodi
The red neon tetra, also known as the cardinal tetra, is very similar to the true neon tetra, but it comprises a separate species. In fact, red neon tetras are the only other species that will eagerly school with P. innensi. Its red stripe extends all the way to its head, instead of stopping at the anal fin. Conscientious fishkeepers may prefer this species because it helps to save the rainforest by providing sustainable income to the people in its native range.


Green Neon Tetra
Paracheirodon simulans
This type of neon tetra is closely related to P. innesi and P. axelrodi, but it is far less popular than the other species. The green neon tetra has a red patch like the true neon tetra, but the patch is smaller and less pronounced. The iridescent stripe on its back is a flashy blue-green. Green neon tetras are slightly smaller than similar species.


Gold Neon Tetra
Hemigrammus erythrozonus
Because it breeds readily in captive environments, the gold neon tetra (or glowlight tetra) is extremely popular in home aquariums. This small, social fish is similar in size and appearance to the true neon tetra, but its stripe is iridescent gold instead of red or blue. It will not generally school with other species, but it can accentuate the colors of other types of neon tetra. This name may also refer to a selectively bred albino strain of P. innesi.


Black Neon Tetra
Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi
As its name suggests, the black neon tetra has a deep, black stripe across its side. Unlike other types of neon tetra, it lacks any bright or iridescent colors. Instead, this species' "neon" name refers to a band of shiny silver-white that contrasts sharply with its dark stripe. The black neon tetra bears little resemblance to P. innesi, and the two species are only distantly related.

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