You love bettas and you love neon tetras— so can you keep them together? Luckily, both of these species are compatible in community aquariums. However, there are some tank requirements you’ll need to meet before they can peacefully coexist.
Tank size and water parameters are the two most important aspects.
In this article, we’ll cover what requirements bettas and neon tetras have, and what an acceptable community aquarium would look like. Steps to introduce these two beautiful species, warning signs to look out for, and other compatible tank mates will also be covered.
Betta Temperament And Tank Requirements
Betta fish are also known as Siamese Fighting Fish. This nickname has some truth to it, but can also be misleading.
Betta are territorial in small spaces, but in larger tanks there are several companions that they get along with well. They are also curious, intelligent, and can even be trained to do simple tricks.
A common misconception about bettas is that all they need is a fishbowl. In reality, this is untrue. Bettas have specific care and tank requirements just like other fish, which are outlined below.
- Gallon size: Bettas need a five-gallon tank at a minimum. But when it comes to fish, bigger is always better.
- Temperature: Since these fish are tropical, they need a temperate range of 76 – 81°F. A heater will easily accomplish this.
- pH and dGH: A neutral pH around 7.0 and a dGH between 5 – 20 are the best water conditions for betta.
Even though they have a labyrinth organ, bettas also need a filter that’s appropriate for their tank. Pro tip: you can never have too much filtration.
As long as you make sure the filter flow isn’t too strong, your betta will appreciate the clean water.
Personally, I’ve kept bettas in 5 gallon, 10 gallon, and 15 gallon tanks. The 10 and 15 gallon tanks are much easier to cycle and maintain stable water parameters.
You also have more room to add décor and plants (either live or fake), which all fish love!
Neon Tetra Temperament And Tank Requirements
Neon tetras are energetic and peaceful fish that are a common staple for community aquariums. They need at least six fish to form a school but are comfortable in larger groups of a dozen or more.
Their coloring and behavior creates striking displays that are mesmerizing to watch.
- Gallon size: Because they’re schooling fish, neon tetras need a 20-gallon tank at a minimum. But they always appreciate larger tanks.
- Temperature: These fish are also tropical and like warmer temperatures between 70 – 80°F.
- pH and dH: Neon tetras like soft water that verges on neutral, from 6.0 – 7.0, and soft water under 10 dGH.
These tetras are hardy, so they can stand some slight variation in water parameters. However, their school and tank size are what’s most important to create a thriving group.
They needs lots of other neon tetras, and lots of room to move around.
They appreciate décor and plants to move around in and explore, especially more complicated structures like driftwood.
Before you introduce your betta and neon tetras, there are a few steps you’ll need to take.
Step #1: Tank Setup
The tank will need to be as perfect as possible before you introduce fish. With just a betta and neon tetras, you’ll need a 30-gallon tank at least that meets the water parameters previously listed.
Depending on the number of tetras you want to get, it may be better to look into a 40-gallon setup.
And no betta-tetra tank will be complete without coverage— lots and lots of coverage. Fake or live plants, décor, driftwood, caves, and rocks are all useful for breaking up sightlines and making sure the fish will have plenty of hiding places.
Such objects are also useful for fish to draw territorial lines. Periodically, it’s good to switch out décor, plants, etc. and introduce new ones for enrichment.
Step #2: Adding Fish
Once the tank is set up correctly, it’s time for the fish! It’s best to add both at the same time so that no one has time to get territorial over certain spaces. Acclimate the fish, preferably using the drip method, and then put them in.
Place the betta and neon tetras at opposite ends of the tank. Make sure they’re not in each other’s direct line of sight, which should be easy with all the rocks and other fun tank additions.
They should have easy access to hiding places.
Step #3: Watch Out
Some initial chasing and fin nipping is to be expected. However, extended aggression is unacceptable. If the fish don’t accept each other, separate them immediately.
If you don’t have a second tank ready, this can be done with a tank divider or mesh container.
Hopefully, the posturing will peter out and your fish will settle into community life well. They should both be active and eating well, two signs of healthy tank inhabitants.
The biggest warning sign that your tetras and betta aren’t getting along is aggression. Chasing and fin nipping are two common expressions of this. Of course, you can’t watch your tank all day long.
So if there is bullying, you may not see it directly. However, there are some other indicators that this is happening:
- Health – Loss of color, torn fins, and lethargy are three examples that your fish’s health may be failing, likely due to stress.
- Hiding – Both bettas and tetras are very active fish that can swim in all levels of the tank. So if they’re hiding at the time, something is wrong.
- Appetite – Like most fish, bettas and tetras have a hearty appetite and will eat as much as you give them. Ignoring food and losing weight are red flags.
And if you see open wounds on the fish, then you should immediately take corrective action. It’s possible that this wasn’t caused by fighting and instead your fish rubbed up against some rough décor, but it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Worst Case Scenario: Fish Medical Treatments
If one of your fish does become hurt, it’s important to quickly remove it to a separate tank. In this “hospital tank” you can administer medications without worrying about how they’ll affect the healthy fish.
It will also have the benefit of keeping them safe from the aggressors in the main aquarium.
Often, the fish will heal naturally once removed to a safe place. But to promote the healing process and potentially speed it up, owners can use products for a healthy slime layer, aquarium salt, or medications specifically for open wounds and ulcers.
You can also feed the fish antibiotic foods. Another option is to look into any new advances in fish care. For example, a newer product still undergoing research are bio-bandages, a topical neomycin-based treatment.
While your fish is healing, they’ll need pristine water conditions. Test the water daily to make sure there’s no ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates present. This will also keep the medications from building up to unhealthy levels.
If you love bettas but think your setup would be better suited for different tank mates, there are plenty of options for you to choose from. These include:
- Other tetra species, such as rummy-nose tetra, ember tetras, and cardinal tetras
- Other schooling fish, such as fire or harlequin rasbora, endlers, guppies, and danios
- Bottom dwelling fish, such as cory and otocinclus catfish, kuhli loaches, and plecos
Snails and shrimp are also usually safe bets. However, if you decide on shrimp, make sure there’s lots of ground cover and décor.
But keep in mind that bettas should only be kept in community aquariums of at least 20 gallons. Even this size may encourage territorial behavior, so it’s best to upsize if at all possible.
The best tank mates for neon tetras are fish that are similar to them: peaceful and small. There’s some wiggle room as far as the size of the other species goes, but neon tetras can’t handle other fish with more aggressive temperaments. Instead, try out these potential companions:
- More schooling fish, like rasboras, danios, mollies, and hatchetfish
- Peaceful fish, like dwarf gouramis, angelfish, and halfbeaks
- Bottom dwellers, like catfish, loaches, and clown and bristlenose plecos
And like bettas, neon tetras will also get along with invertebrates like snails and shrimp. Apple, nerite, and mystery snails are the ones most commonly kept. For shrimp, this honor falls to ghost shrimp. Some tank owners have also reported success with African dwarf frogs.
Tetras are schooling fish, so they already need a sizable tank. But if you want to keep them as part of a community aquarium, they’ll need at least 30 gallons. If you’re unsure about what tank size to get, it’s always better to go with the larger gallon size.
If the aquarium setup is right, bettas and neon tetras can make beautiful additions to a community tank. As long as they have enough room and the water parameters meet both their needs, they can be happy and healthy.
However, owners should have a backup plan ready. There is still a possibility that they won’t get along, either initially or later on. If this happens, be prepared to remove the aggressor.