Neon Tetra vs. Cardinal Tetra: What Is the Difference?

Lauren Kiekbusch
Neon Tetra vs Cardinal Tetra

The majority of people, especially those living in America, have a great interest in keeping fish, primarily ornamental fish. The ornamental fish offer many advantages: they are not noisy, hence simple to keep and maintain.

Despite the many fish, the tetras are the best and most readily available in the market than other types. There are two common types of tetras which are; neon tetras and cardinal tetras.  The tetras are the best for your home tanks or equilibriums.

Therefore, it is advisable to understand the common differences between neon and cardinal tetras to choose the best for your home. Luckily, the article below shows the different features of the two tetras and the best tetra for your home.

Also worth reading;

  1. Neon Tetra – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Size, Breeding
  2. Do Neon Tetras Need Oxygen and Air Pump?
  3. Neon Tetra Disease: A Complete Guide

Neon Tetra Vs. Cardinal Tetra


Neon tetra

Cardinal tetra

Size Smaller Larger with 1.25 inches
Water pH the pH of 6.2 to 6.8 the pH of 6.0 to 6.8
Water temperature 76 to 85 degrees 75 to 86 degrees
Color in the upper body Luminous blue in the upper region Vibrant blue in the upper area.
Color in the lower body

Less red


Differences Between Neon Tetra And Cardinal Tetra

Here is the difference between neon tetra and cardinal tetra;

1. Size

    Cardinal tetras are slightly larger than neon tetras due to their ability to grow to a total length of 1.25 inches.

    2. Water Condition

    Although both cardinal and neon tetras thrive in acidic water, they have different tank water requirements. A pH of 6.2 to 6.8 is ideal for neon tetras, whereas a 6.0 to 6.8 is ideal for cardinal tetras. Additionally, cardinal tetras like water temperatures of 75° to 85°, while neon tetras prefer water temperatures of 76° to 85°.

    3. Color

    The upper regions of neon tetras’ bodies have a dazzling blue coloration, whereas the upper portions of cardinal tetras’ bodies are vibrant blue. Cardinal tetras also have a darker red coloration around their lower bodies than neon tetras.

    About Cardinal Tetra

    Cardinal tetras love to live in shaded locations with evident standing or slow-moving water.

    As a result, they prefer to live in streams surrounded by lush rainforests that allow a small amount of light to flow through in the wild. The cardinal tetra is popular because breeding this kind of fish in captivity has been difficult until recently.

    1. Physical Appearance

        A vibrant blue stripe runs from the tail to the tip of the nose. A commanding red strip runs beneath the brilliant blue strip. The underside of other cardinal tetra fins is likewise transparent, with a soft white color.

        A critical distinction between the cardinal and neon tetras in terms of coloration is that the former’s red stripe runs the length of its body, while the latter’s only goes from mid-body to tail.

        2. Behavior

        Cardinal tetras prefer to spend their time in huge schools, which can number in the hundreds. They reside in shoals and primarily in the tank’s mid-level waters. Cardinal tetras are likewise friendly fish that get along with other peaceful fish species.

        While they prefer huge schools, you can maintain them in small groups of at least five fish. However, this raises the likelihood of your tetras becoming stressed and dying. A huge school will help your fish feel more at ease and secure. To improve their color, try to keep at least ten neon tetras together.

        3. Breeding

        Breeding cardinal tetras in home aquariums is, without question, difficult. It’s important to remember that you’ll need a separate breeding tank with consistent water chemistry. Furthermore, because cardinal tetras distribute their eggs on the surrounding vegetation, you should equip the breeding tank with fine-leaved plants.

        Most female cardinal tetras spawn in the evenings and can deposit anywhere from 130 to 500 eggs. It takes roughly twenty-four hours for these eggs to hatch. The young of the cardinal tetras live on yolk sacs for around four or five days after hatching.

        When the fry is big enough to swim freely after that time, you can start feeding them things like egg yolk, rotifers, infusoria, or even commercially prepared fry food. It’s crucial to remember that cardinal tetra fry is exceptionally photosensitive, keeping the tank illumination low.

        5. Tank Mates

          Other tranquil and little fish, such as Cardinal Tetras, will get along swimmingly with Cardinal Tetras. Other small tetras Loricaiids, small Rasboras, dwarf cichlids

          6. Tank Requirements

            Cardinal tetras do not perform well in highly brightly lighted tanks because they are blackwater fish. Installing a low lighting system as well as dark-colored substrates like tangled roots or driftwood is therefore essential.

            You may also add dried leaves to the water to give it a natural color. Similarly, make sure the tank is mature, with soft acidic water and consistent water chemistry.

            7. Diet

              Like the neon tetra, the cardinal tetra is an omnivorous species that eat a variety of foods. Cardinal tetras also demand high-vitamin diets; therefore, it’s critical to feed them high-quality flakes. These fish also enjoy frozen and live foods, but they will reject other foods in the future if they consume too much of them.

              8. Sex

                There are a few distinct distinctions between the females and males of this species. Females have a rounder tummy and a deeper body. Males, on the other hand, are slender and have a hook protruding from the anal fin.

                About Neon Tetra

                This fish is a member of the Characidae family, and it’s a great communal fish.

                1. Appearance

                  The unique coloration of neon tetras is the first thing that attracts most people to them. Their eyes have a turquoise blue line that runs from their adipose fins (the little rounded fin between the dorsal fin and the tail) to their adipose fins.

                  They have a red stripe extending from their caudal fins to the middle of their bodies, in addition to their distinctive blue coloration. Neon tetras, interestingly, can also take on a transparent look, which helps them avoid predators.

                  When they are unwell or resting, their red and iridescent blue tint disappears as well. Apart from their vibrant colors, neon tetras feature a rounded nose and a spindle-like body. Their enormous eyes dominate their heads. A neon tetra fish can also reach a maximum size of 2.5 inches in length.

                  2. Behavior

                    Neon tetras are placid, non-aggressive fish that prefer to spend their time in groups. They also like to swim in the middle of your aquarium’s water column. Furthermore, they have an average lifespan of eight years in the wild and five years in aquariums.

                    3. Diet

                      Neon tetras in the wild are omnivores, meaning they eat insects, small animals, and plant matter. Most of them aren’t picky eaters and will eat nearly anything as long as it fits in their mouths. They will eat algae, pellets, flakes, blood worms, brine shrimp, and daphnia, but they can also eat pellets, flakes, blood worms, brine shrimp, and daphnia.

                      4. Breeding

                        When it comes to mating, neon tetras require precise water conditions to initiate the process. Because you need somewhat different water than what you use in your main tank, it’s preferable to invest in a separate breeder tank.

                        Tetras are typically egg scatterers, which means that the females lay their eggs first while the males fertilize them afterward.

                        5. Sex

                          Males have a slim bodies, while females have a fuller shape. Because men have a flatter stomach, the blue stripe appears straight on them. The blue strip is somewhat twisted in females due to their round tummies.

                          You might be interested to know about Neon Tetra Disease

                          6. Tankmates

                            It’s crucial to keep neon tetras alongside other fish species that aren’t big enough to consume them. As a result, choose calm bottom dwellers such as; Gouramis, Barbs, Dwarf Cichlid, Small Catfish, and Live-bearers.

                            When looking for neon tetra tank mates, one rule of thumb to follow is to examine if the fish has a large enough mouth to feed on tetras.

                            7. Tank Requirements

                            Neon tetras are native to the rivers where the waters flow through deep trees that block much of the natural light. Because of the abundance of fallen plants, tree roots, and leaves, the seas are also gloomy.

                            As they prefer to live in groups, they have evolved a bright coloration that aids them in spotting their fellow fish in the murky waters. Other requirements for keeping neon tetras in tanks include:

                            • Not a newly cycled tank, but an established, mature tank.
                            • A tank with a capacity of at least 10 gallons is required.
                            • The water temperature should be between 70 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH of no less than 6.0 and no more than 7.0.
                            • Subdued lights at 2 watts per gallon.
                            • A small filtering mechanism.
                            • A 25% water change is necessary.

                            Because they thrive in acidic water and temperature of 6.0 to 6.5pH and 75 to 85, respectively, the neon tetra fish is the most recommended of the two fish.


                            Despite both tetras having the same features, they have some differences in size and water conditions. Also, they have differences in physical appearance, especially their color, as the article above describes.

                            Finally, there are recommendations before keeping tetra fish such as; preventing the parent fishes from feeding on the young ones once the eggs hatch, removing them from the breeder tank, making sure you can meet each species’ unique requirements before purchasing, and finally, ensure the water hardness should not exceed four dGH.

                            Neon Tetra vs Cardinal Tetras and how to keep them long term. We are comparing neon tetras and cardinal tetras in appearance, water parameters, diet, tank mates, and behavior. Then we discuss why many aquarists struggle to keep them healthy and happy over time.

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