Cardinal Tetra vs Neon Tetra: What’s the Difference?

Cardinal Tetra

The most popular of the Tetra are only two. They are the highest in demand too. They are the Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) and Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innuesi). Sparkling, colorful and Adorable fishes! Now, have you been trapped between having to choose one of them as my clients?

What exactly is the difference between Cardinal Tetra and Neon Tetra?

Even though they have a lot of similar characteristics, the difference between Cardinal and Neon Tetra are so vast that after you realize them all, you can easily differentiate them. Even at sight. They don’t differ in shape. But, it looks and environmental conditions, that means the type of water they live in, they are remarkably different.

When they are wild and natural too, they prefer different water conditions and feed on different items. We will detail this later.

In truth, Tetra is fantastic fish pets among other Characidae, they can brighten your tank the same way stars and fireworks brightens the night sky and the morning sun brightens the day.

Have you got a tank already and you just wanna add one but you don’t know the befitting one? Are you just getting a tank and you want to know what you would prepare to breed one of this tetra?

Well, it all just got solved, because now I am going to tell you every single thing you need to know ‘bout them, and after this piece, I bet you will decide the Tetra you’re going for at the next shopping!

I bet you wanna ask me a bunch of questions too, don’t worry, my clients already asked them all;

Do they have the same origin?

Yes, you can say that. The two fishes could be found in South America, they also can both be found in Brazil. Cardinal in the north and Neon in the other parts.

Cardinals are particularly found in the Orino and some parts of Columbia.  Neon is found in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and like I said, Brazil.

So, if you are going that way soon, you should remember to ask the locals about them. But the two breeds of tetra are never found together, so it is accurate to say they are both from South America, but they do not inhabit the same territories, so, different origins.

Can Cardinal Tetra live with Neon Tetra?

I particularly pick interest in this question. Because after I have explained the differences between the two tetras to my client, you’d still hear them asking; ‘can a Cardinal tetra live with a Neon Tetra’. Interestingly, yes. They aren’t enemies, so they can live together. But remember I added, the chances are slim, very very actually. Because of some factors, I will tell you later.

Cardinal Tetra

Will Cardinal Tetra school with Neon Tetra?

Well, schooling in fishery refers to relating together as a family. Tetra fishes are mostly schooling fishes. They appreciate having a good number of others like them around.

Actually, they ‘follow the crowd’. If one turns right, the others immediately turn that way and you will find them moving that way. They move together and share confidence in one another.

That’s why if you have only one member of a Tetra family in your aquarium, it won’t last than a few days. Now, will a cardinal tetra school with a Neon or vice versa since they are both Tetra? It’s similar to expecting a dog and a rat to get married because they are mammals, make sense? Hell no, Cardinal and Neon Tetra can’t.

Can all Tetra fishes together?

Aww, good question. But complicated. Bringing a group of animals together since they belong to the same family isn’t a bad idea. But while some tetra prefers 70 degrees’ temperature at the highest, some can go as high as 82.

Neon Tetras, for instance, prefer a low light environment with overgrown plants, driftwoods, and rocks where they can hide about.

Cardinals instead prefer plants that are not overgrown, and mostly floating plants. Some prefer 6.0 -6.5 pH and some prefer much lesser pH. Now, when you build your tank, how do you balance this varying need? So, I’d tell you not to try mixing them. More reasons below.

More: How Many Tetras in a 5 Gallon Tank?

Cardinal Tetra Vs Neon Tetra Size

My clients are not always concerned about the size, but it is actually the easiest sign to differentiate them from afar. Really? trust me, I’ll talk about that too soon.

Neon Tetra Vs Cardinal Tetra Care

This is important! You need to know how much you might be spending on each of them in terms of finance and stress before you finally decide. Beginning with cost, Cardinals are costlier, although more reliable too. Trust me, I will show you a bit by bit analysis of the costs.

There, I have answered all the questions you could ask about Cardinal Tetra and Neon Tetras. And now, I am gonna give you some analysis that would guide you to picking the most suitable for your tank. You will be able to tell their similarities and differentiate them like a Pro and yes, you can then choose the best for you!

Differences Between Neon Tetra and Cardinal Tetra

First, the two fishes have similar characteristics, that is exactly why aquarium lovers always have problems recognizing or even choosing between them. That’s why you can’t seem to differentiate them from afar.

Here are the similarities between Neon and Cardinal Tetra;

  • They are both Tetra families from South America.
  • They are both wild animals that could be found wildly in their favorite rivers or lake like a lion in wildlife.
  • They both can be found in captivity too, like a caged elephant though, Neon is mostly found in captivity.
  • In captivity, you can feed them both the same thing.
  • Even their colors and outer appearance are similar.
  • They both enjoy acidic water, though to different degrees.
  • They are both pet fishes that enjoy schooling, this means if you want one to stay alive, then you’ve got to keep five others at least. They both require a minimum of five ‘school mates’. Same goes for both Tetra.

But it is simple, you only need to notice the colors on the tetra. You can distinguish them from afar actually. For cardinals, they have red stripes towards a part of their lower body that runs from their eye to their tails.

Neon Tetra

It’s very large and noticeable. For Neon, however, the red does not run to the head of the fish from the tail, it stops halfway from the tail.

The remaining part is covered with blue. The cluster of colors is less appealing than that in the cardinal, at least to most people.

So, if you find the two breeds in a tank, you can easily differentiate them. Even when it’s just only one breed, remember the difference and you can easily recognize it.

Length is another trait you can use to differentiate them from afar. Once you calculate that the Tetra in observation is more than an inch long, forget it, it’s no Neon.

No matter how much a Neon grows old, it cannot possibly grow longer than 1.2 inches. But when you notice the fish in observation is about 1.5 to 2 inches long, you can easily answer, “is it a Neon?” Impossible. if it isn’t, then it is?

The problem is: when a Cardinal Tetra is developing too, it may be the same as long as the Neon. But not to worry, you can always depend on other characteristics to differentiate them.

What do they know?

One another difference between them is the type of food they eat. Since Cardinal tetra is mostly free and found in areas where slow and very tiny objects live.

This is because they prefer this type of objects like food. Like I told you, they are mostly wild and they feed on tiny worms, crustaceans, detritus, algae.

Neon Tetras instead prefer to live on bigger objects. Here, we talking about worms, bugs and some variety of plants. Interestingly, the bigger tetra feeds on the smaller animal.

But that’s all the wildlife. If you got any or both of them in your Tank and you need to feed them, you can feed them both on shrimp, daphnia and flakes will do.

They may not be used to it at first, but of course, they follow the crowd. All they need is watch one of them pick it accidentally, and they would all be feeding on it. You could feed them on tubifex worms and brine too.

Can you rear the two Tetras together?

Their environment is the cause of most controversies and debates among clients. They always wonder if there’s a way they can rear the two breeds together.

Even from their nature, Cardinals prefer to live in streams, dumped, deserted and nonflowing water bodies. Neon Tetras prefer the bigger water bodies say lake, pond and all that.

So you will agree, there’s a difference in what the fishes prefer and what they enjoy. Neon Tetras enjoy fairly acidic water a lot, acidic to a point near neutrality, say 6.0 pH to 6.8 pH.

Don’t prepare that for Cardinal Tetras if you want them to be happily alive. They need around 4.5 to 6.2 pH. They prefer a lot more acidic water.

But they both could survive in about 5.8 pH to 6.2 pH. I told you.  It’s a 50-50 chance. They may both find it uncomfortable. Too small for Neon Tetras and too high for Cardinals.

The maximum water level hardness any aquarist would ever want to use for Cardinals is 5 while Neon Tetras use more. Neon Tetra would rather inhabit cool water when Cardinal Tetras stay in warmer ones.

Whichever way, you may keep the two breeds and be lucky enough to have them both alive. So. Before you order your Tetra, the pH of your tank is something you must give maximum consideration.

The ability of these breeds to withstand health is the most controversial of all arguments on them. Probably because most people love Cardinal Tetras naturally, you’d hear them say “it’s stronger, it’s healthier!”. While I don’t wanna disagree, there still is no scientific documentation on the stronger in health.

But there’s been reports of some sorts. For instance, Bernadette and Co. discovered in 2002 that Columnaris Bacteria affected a bunch of Neon Tetras farmed in France. Aquarists also say Neon Tetras die too easily. No such report was ever given on Cardinals.

More: Best Fish for 5 Gallon Tank

Probably because they are so wild almost nobody rears them, so we couldn’t even notice what affected them or don’t. But Cardinals haven’t been cleared either, aquarist has noticed over time that unlike their cousins, they find it really difficult to adjust to water reactions and are very sensitive to changes. you really should remember that when you are choosing a Tetra.

The care of the Tetras

This is the part I bet you will take your decision. What do you need to maintain the Neon Tetras? Most Neon Tetras love dark spots, so I’d really say you get yourself enough driftwoods that have Tannins.

Remember Tannins are some stuff released by driftwoods into water that turns the water black but has no harm to the fish. If you don’t want a dark aquarium, then I won’t recommend Neon Tetras ’cause they really love it.

But if you do, they should be your first choice. They love having a giant bush around too. So, you’d better get ample water plants and build an underwater forest. They kinda like to hide too.

So, they could use the plant roots and the branches of the driftwood, I’d say you check out chola wood. I told you what they eat. Remember?  Just scroll up there, you’d find it.

Cardinals? Those exciting gangsters. All they want is non-moving water, with fewer plants and ample space for them to spread out and swim or play all their life. You should let them have fun with driftwood too, not much. They don’t like excess light too, but they prefer clearer water.

Now that you know the differences and similarities between a Cardinal Tetra and Neon Tetra, and you have the most valid records on their health and needs. Can you choose what you’re going for among them? Tell me below.

Saurabh Kumar

I am a passionate fish keeper, with years of experience in my hobby. You will find some really useful tips and information that I have learned along the way.

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