Neon And Cardinal Tetra Tank Mates – Compatible Tank Mates

neon and cardinal tetra tank-mates

Tetras are among the most common aquarium fish. I bet every fish keeper has kept at least once in their lifetime. There are so many varieties of tetra that you may find your dream fish to be a tetra. These fish are hardy, peaceful, and can be suitable tank mates for many aquarium fishes. There are probably more species of tetras than you can keep count with the number of species exceeding 1500. Among all the tetras, the neon tetra and the cardinal tetra are the most famous ones and are most widely used in the aquarium. It is essential to know about Neon Tetra And Cardinal Tetra tank mates before you plan on keeping them.

All the tetras like the buddy system, i.e., they prefer living in a school or shoal of their species and sometimes also mixed. Any particular species of tetra goes so well with the other species that the only thing you must keep in mind when mixing them is whether the color combination suits your tank or not.

In this section, I will be targeting two species of tetras, in particular, the neon tetra and the cardinal tetra. After reading this article, you will know about their suitable tank mates and whether you can keep them together or not. These two tetras are the most common tetra used in the home aquarium today and also the most beautiful ones.   

Introduction to Neon Tetra

The neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a freshwater fish that originates from the blackwater and freshwater system of the Amazon Basin. It is the most common tetra fish, and the reason is due to its perfectly mixed color combination on its body and extremely hardy nature.    

The neon tetra is a tiny fish with a maximum length of about 1.5 inches. In very few cases, these fish can exceed their maximum size by a small margin.

In the wild, these fish can live up to 8 years. However, in captivity, there have been cases that report them living for about six years.   

 Introduction To Cardinal Tetra

The cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) is a freshwater fish that is native to Orinoco and Negro rivers in South America. After the neon tetra, it is the most common tetra fish and is widely distributed all over the world. Everything is similar to the neon tetra except for the basic appearance.

An adult cardinal tetra can reach to about 2 inches. There are sporadic cases in which the cardinal tetra exceeds their maximum length.

The lifespan of cardinal tetra is quite the opposite of the other. In nature, these fish have an annual lifespan, whereas, in captivity, they can live from 2 to 5 years.  

Neon Tetra Vs Cardinal Tetra?

Neon tetra and cardinal tetra fishes are quite distinguishable. Although being of the same family, they vary quite drastically. This section discusses how you can differentiate between these two based on various factors. 

Basis Of Appearance

One significant difference between them is the red stripe on their body. In the cardinal tetra, the red horizontal line that appears to be on the lower half of the body extends from the eye to the tail. However, in the neon tetra, this same red stripe starts from the mid-body up to the tail.

Also, the size of them is the major distinguishing feature. A neon tetra is about 1.5 inches long, whereas a cardinal tetra is slightly bigger and about 2-3 inches long.  

Basis Of Behavior

There is no difference at all between both of these fishes based on behavior. Both of them are non-aggressive, non-territorial, and peaceful fish. However, because of their size, they might get treated differently by different fish in a community tank. This might lead to their unusual behavior towards different fishes, i.e., big fish might harass them, and they may get nervous.

You can also check out our article on neon vs. cardinal tetra.

Neon Tetra And Cardinal Tetra Tank Mates

Neon tetras are extremely peaceful fish but can get slightly aggressive during the mating season. The perfect tank Mates for Neon and Cardinal tetra would be any peaceful species of the same size. Since neon tetras are schooling fish, the minimum school size would be 4-5 tetras. This way, you won’t witness any chasing and fighting, and similar food will be good for both.

Like neon tetras, cardinal tetras are also non-territorial and peaceful fish. These fish must only be placed with non-aggressive fish of similar size. These tetras prefer living in a school of at least six fish, and the ideal size for a big community tank would be 10-12 fishes

Aquarists recommend keeping fish like harlequin rasboras, guppies, mollies, and small catfish like cory with neon tetras and cardinal tetras for best results.

Harlequin Rasboras

The rasboras can be a little bigger than the neon tetras, but that will not be an issue. This is because both of them are peaceful fish, and if you have enough members for their respective schools, they will be engaged within themselves. The water condition like pH and temperature for both harlequin rasboras and neon tetras are similar. Similarly, rasboras can adjust peacefully with cardinal tetras because of the same size and similar temperament.


The list of fish that can live with guppies is a never-ending list, and that’s why it has made it to this list too.  It is no surprise that you can place guppies with these tetras. All of them are peaceful fish with similar size and similar water conditions requirements. The ideal tank conditions, food requirement, and the beautiful color on them simply make guppies the top pick for the tank mates for these tetras. Guppies are a lot easier to take care of than neon and cardinal tetras, and breeding them in captivity is also achievable.


The reason why mollies make perfect tank mates for neon and cardinal tetras is the fact that they require very little care. You just add mollies with perfect color to the tank of these tetras and leave them. They will adjust to the diet and water conditions of the tetras and live with them peacefully.

Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras are not only the perfect tank mates for neon and cardinal tetras but can live peacefully with any other aquarium fish of the same size. These catfish are bottom dwellers and help to keep the tank clean by feeding on the remaining food at the bottom. These fish can live up to an outstanding 20 years. 

Dwarf Gourami

The main reason why dwarf gourami must be placed with cardinal tetras is because of the color combination. The alternating blue and red stripes on the gourami look so good with the all-red color of this tetra that you will not want to get another fish. Also, these two species live peacefully with each other as gourami only tends to be aggressive towards fish of the same species.

Giant Danios

Unlike its name, these fish only reach up to about 4 inches in length. The only time giant danios can get aggressive is when you place them in a school of less than 5. Giant danios are very active and peaceful fish. Most of the time, the giant danio minds its own business and adds contrasting colors to your tank when placed with cardinal tetras.


Some of the loaches can grow up to about 12 inches, which may be troublesome, but there are dwarf loaches available that only grow to about 2.4 inches. These loaches will be suitable for both the tetras. Also, loaches can get slightly aggressive if you keep them in a school of less than 6. Loaches are bottom dwellers and feed on the debris between the gravels. This will help to keep your tank clean.    

Fish with long fins and those who are slow swimmers should not be kept with neon and cardinal tetras. Such fish include bettas and angelfish. People have succeeded in maintaining neon tetras with angelfish and betta, but for this, you must have a minimum school size, i.e., about 5. This way, tetras get so involved among themselves that they won’t even notice the bettas and angelfish.

Cichlids can also be a significant threat to tetras because cichlids will simply swallow them without a second thought. A basic rule of thumb to follow while choosing tank mates is not getting any fish whose mouth is big enough to fit a tetra.   

Want to know more about different tank mates for various tetras? Check it out here: Tetra Fish Tank Mates.

Will Neon Tetra And Cardinal Tetra Live Together?

Neon tetra and Cardinal tetra is probably the best tetra combination ever. These fish will not only live together but if the cardinal tetras are small, then they will form school with neon tetras. For a 10-gallon tank, three neon tetras and three cardinal tetras are a perfect combination. Hence, we can say that neon and cardinal tetra can be great tank mates for each other. 

A tank with temperature 75-80 F, pH of 6.0 to 7 is perfect for a community tank. Since both of these fish prefer slightly acidic water, there won’t be any problem while mixing them. Also, both of them prefer somewhat warmer water when they are breeding. Also, you must conduct the spawning process in a separate tank because both of them are egg-eaters and irresponsible parents.

The community tank containing neon and cardinal tetra must be densely planted with lots of swimming space. A similar omnivorous diet can be given to both of the fish. Occasional treats can be thrown at them in the form of shrimps and bloodworms.


To sum up, cardinal and neon tetra go quite well with almost any peaceful fish that aren’t too big. These fish also live peacefully with each other and even form schools. Guppies and mollies are common tank mates for these two and build an entire community altogether.    

Reaching this point, I am sure you have read everything and now know more about the tank mates of neon and cardinal tetra. Before purchasing a neon or cardinal tetra, you need to know what they are compatible with.

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