Cardinal Tetra Vs Neon Tetra: A Comparative Analysis

With the increasing popularity of fish keeping, it is not uncommon to see aquarium owners keeping different fishes together. Among the wide range of fishes to maintain, the Cardinal tetra and Neon tetra are two of the most popular freshwater fish globally. So, it is interesting to see them together. But they both have their pros and cons.

Cardinal tetra has a deep red coloration on its body with blue stripes, while Neon tetra has more of an electric blue coloration. When we talk about lifespan, Cardinal tetras live longer. Neon tetras have an average life expectancy of 2-3 years in captivity, but Cardinal tetras will live for around 4-5 years.

Besides this, Cardinal tetras also require less care because they can survive in water temperatures up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 72 degrees Fahrenheit for neon tetras.

Apart from these, there are a lot more striking differences that you can pinpoint. Therefore, we will compare these two beautiful species to help make your decision a little easier in this article.

Cardinal Tetra And Neon Tetra:

The Cardinal tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi) and Neon Tetras are small species of freshwater fish that belong to the Characidae family. They both are beautiful fish. But there are notable differences between these two species.

Usually, when you compare the appearance of Cardinal Tetras and Neon tetras, you will find out that they look like each other. It might be because they both have similar body shapes and the exact size of up to three inches in length.

However, Cardinal Tetra is smaller with its slender blue line along their lateral line makes them easily identifiable from Neon Tetra.

Similarities Between Cardinal Tetra And Neon Tetra:

Cardinal Tetras and Neon Tetras are popular freshwater fish that have been a part of the aquarium industry for decades. Cardinal Tetras are very small in size and can adapt to a wide range of water conditions. Neon tetra derives their name from the bright coloration on their body which gives them an appealing look.

Apart from their differences, there are quite a few similarities between Cardinal tetra and neon tetra, such as:

Cardinal Tetra And Neon Tetra Are Schooling Fish:

Cardinal Tetras and Neon Tetras are schooling fish that prefer to stay in groups. So you can ideally keep Cardinal tetras in schools of six or more. But neon tetras can also live alone as long as they have enough hiding places for them to feel comfortable.

Cardinal Tetras And Neon Tetras Are Peaceful Fish:

Cardinal Tetras and Neon Tetras are peaceful fish that rarely show any aggression to other tank mates. So, you can keep them with small-sized fishes, large cichlids as well as medium-sized predators without the risk of attack.

Cardinal Tetras And Neon Tetras Are Easy To Maintain:

Cardinal tetras and neon tetras are easy-to-maintain fish that do not require much maintenance. You can ideally keep neon tetras in a densely planted aquarium with live plants. And, cardinal tetra can thrive well in any water condition without the need for extensive tank maintenance.

Differences Between Cardinal Tetra And Neon Tetra:

Now, as you are aware of some similarities between these two fishes. It’s time to point out the differences between them. Although both these fishes are look-alike, Cardinal Tetra and Neon Tetra have some distinctive features.

Some of the differences that separate these two fishes are:

Cardinal Tetra Needs Lesser Care Than Neon Tetra:

Cardinal Tetra is hardier than Neon Tetra. Moreover, cardinal tetras don’t need an expert to care for them as they can adapt to most water conditions.

Cardinal Tetras are easy to feed. In addition, these fish show more schooling, so you need to keep more than one Cardinal tetra in your tank. On the other hand, Neon tetras need proper care as they are sensitive to water changes.

Neon Tetra Is Larger Than Cardinal Tetra:

Neon Tetra is a little bit larger than Cardinal tetras. Cardinal Tetra usually measures up to two centimeters in its full adult size. But Neon tetra has an average length of about three to four centimeters.

Cardinal Tetra Live Longer Than Neon Tetra:

Neon tetras have a shorter life expectancy than Cardinal tetras. Cardinal Tetra can survive for more than four years, while neon tetras rarely exceed the age of two to three years.

However, if you take good care of Cardinal tetra, they can live for more than five years.

Cardinal Tetra Is More Colorful Than Neon Tetra:

In terms of color, Cardinal tetras are far more vibrant than neon tetras. Cardinal tetras have a brilliant red body with a blue stripe running from the nose to the tail.

In contrast, Neon Tetra has an iridescent blue color blended with a mixture of red and white.

Cardinal Tetras Are Hardier Than Neon Tetras:

Cardinal Tetra is a hardier fish than Neon tetra. Since cardinal Tetras are much more tolerant to water parameters, they can live in acidic and alkaline conditions.

But, neon tetras are also sensitive to water changes. They need clean or brackish water with sufficient sunlight.

Difference In Environment Preference:

Neon tetra prefers to live in clearwater with heavy currents. Therefore, these tetras need a heavily planted tank to live in.

On the other hand, Cardinal Tetra prefers to live in dark water with a moderate current flow. They like subdued lighting and a tank with live plants.

Cardinal Tetras Are Expensive Than Neon Tetras:

Cardinal tetras are slightly expensive than neon tetras. Generally, Cardinal tetras are rarer to find in the market. The reason behind this is the ease of breeding neon tetras.

Typically, you can find Cardinal tetras at a price of around $ 2-4 per fish. In comparison, Neon tetras may cost about $ 1-2 per fish.

Cardinal Tetra Grows Slower Than Neon Tetra:

Cardinal tetras need more than a year to mature. But Neon tetras take only 8-10 months to reach their mature size.

In addition, breeders also complain that it is challenging to breed Cardinal tetra. It is usually because the breeding process of Cardinal tetra is slower and complex.

Difference In Behavior:

Cardinal tetra is a peaceful fish. This tetra is not aggressive and lives well with other friendly fishes.

But Neon tetras can be pretty aggressive sometimes. So, it is best to keep them only with other fast-swimming fishes like guppies or white clouds to avoid stress.

In the wild, Cardinal tetras move around in schools or groups. But Neon tetras like to swim alone or sometimes form groups of their kind only.

Why Choose Cardinal Tetras Over Neon Tetras?

Cardinal tetras are the best fish for beginners as they are easy to care for.

Cardinal tetras have a very peaceful temperament and will not attack other fish in the aquarium. Neon tetra, on the other hand, is quite an active swimmer that loves being among plants.

Cardinal tetras are compatible with most species of fish. But neon tetra is not a good choice for community aquariums.

Besides, if you want to keep one fish, it is better to choose Cardinal tetras as they are smaller than Neon tetras and do not need a large aquarium.

In addition, the breeding process of Cardinal tetras is also slow. So, you do not have to worry about frequent overcrowding of the tank.

In addition to this, Cardinal tetras will be with you for a long time, whereas neon tetras will not.

Why Choose Neon Tetras Over Cardinal Tetras?

If you are looking for a fish that will breed quickly, Cardinal Tetra is not for you. These tetras are notoriously difficult to breed in the home aquarium environment.

Unfortunately, Cardinal Tetra is often too delicate for the planted aquarium, an environment that requires more activity. However, they can eat most of the things that you are looking to grow.

Neon Tetras, on the other hand, are incredibly active swimmers. It doesn’t matter what kind of tank or plants you have in there because neon tetra will fit right into your home aquarium.

Being a cleanliness freak, neon tetra prefers a clean environment. Thus, you will clean your aquarium more often than usual when you have this fish.

Cardinal tetra often swims towards the top of a tank. But Neon tetra prefers to stay near the bottom. Thus, it makes them perfect for a planted aquarium as they don’t disturb their plant life.


Concluding up, choosing Cardinal tetras over Neon is ultimately your choice. It usually depends on what kind of experience you want from your fish.

Cardinal tetra is a perfect choice for those who want to be an active part of their fish’s life. Similarly, Neon tetra will just fit into your tank without disrupting anything. Thus, they are ideal for people with less time on hand.

We hope that this article has helped you decide which fish to choose for your new aquarium.

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