Neon Tetra

Paracheirodon innesi

"Best Choice" Pet Best Choice

Neon Tetras are tiny, brightly colored, tropical fish native to South America. Wild fish are found primarily in blackwater streams of Brazil, Peru, and Columbia. The fishes’ bright coloring may be important for finding mates in murky water. Neon Tetras are one of the most popular aquarium fish in the United States. An estimated 20 million fish are imported each year for the U.S. pet trade. Neon Tetras are easily bred in captivity and 95% of the individuals available in pet stores are from breeding facilities in southeast Asia. Some wild-caught Neon Tetras are still imported from South America.

The Neon Tetra is very similar in appearance to the Cardinal Tetra (P. axelrodi), another South American fish that is not considered by PetWatch to be a Best Choice Pet. Cardinal Tetras are usually wild-caught, and they are more delicate and difficult to keep alive in a home aquarium. The two species can be distinguished by the length of their red body stripes. For Neon Tetras, the stripe runs only half the length of the body whereas in Cardinal Tetras, the stripe runs the entire length of the body. This rest of this report applies only to Neon Tetras.

Did You Know?

An estimated 20 million Neon Tetras are imported each year for the U.S. pet trade.

Source Sustainability Best Choice

Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Wild populations of Neon Tetras may be declining due to habitat destruction. Neon Tetras in the pet trade are almost exclusively captive-bred, so the pet trade does not appear to significantly threaten native wild populations.

PetWatch Recommendation:

Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable, USDA-licensed breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat Best Choice

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

There are no records of Neon Tetras successfully establishing wild populations in North America, or evidence that exotic populations would be harmful to native wildlife; fish released into a river in Colorado did not survive. Regardless, Neon Tetras might be able to survive in warm water and spread disease to native fish, so it is important that they are never released into the wild.

PetWatch Recommendation:

Always keep your Neon Tetra inside a safe and secure aquarium. Never release a pet into the wild.

Animal Welfare Fair Choice

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Neon Tetras are relatively easy to keep in captivity. They are, however, subjected to harsh conditions during shipment from breeding facilities in Asia to pet stores in North America. Thousands of fish are typically kept together in small bags of water without filtration or oxygenation for 40 hours or more, in unheated cargo holds. Although new packaging methods designed to better protect fish during shipping are being developed, mortality in Neon Tetra shipments can be very high (up to 80%).

PetWatch Recommendation:

Before acquiring a Neon Tetra, be sure to research its specific care requirements. If possible, purchase a Neon Tetra that has been domestically bred to reduce the likelihood it has suffered during transport.

Health Threat Fair Choice

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Neon Tetras are known to carry Mycobacteria that can cause disease in fish and skin infections in humans. Neon Tetras may be infected by these bacteria even if they appear to be healthy. People with compromised immune systems are susceptible to these skin infections, commonly known as “fish-handler’s disease.”

PetWatch Recommendation:

Due to the potential for disease transmission, always wash your hands after handling a fish or touching the aquarium water. Ask for proof of a clean bill of health and obtain a list of any medical treatments the fish has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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