Guppy Fish or Neon Tetra – Which is Easier to Keep?

If you’re just getting into the fish-keeping business, there are some dos and don’ts to consider. You should avoid aggressive and territorial fish that are difficult to keep due to their high care requirements.

There are plenty of tank fish species that will make for great options for a novice aquarist. Today, we will discuss 2 of the most popular ones available: guppies and neon tetras.

How do these fare against each other in terms of maintenance, tank and water requirements, dietary preferences, and are they difficult to keep?

Let’s tackle these questions in order:

Tank Size

When you are choosing a fish species, first you need to consider the size of the tank you will need for them.

– Guppies

Guppies will typically grow up to 2.5 inches at most, but 2 inches is more common. The fish requires around 2 gallons of water per individual, which makes guppies fit for smaller tanks than other larger species. And here’s where one major problem is born among novice aquarists.

Because guppies are relatively small and because they don’t need as much space, people often keep them in 5-gallon tanks. This is wrong for several reasons, most important being guppies’ social behavior.

These fish thrive in stable societies of at least 6 individuals. And you can’t have 6 guppies in a 5-gallon tank. I would say that the bare minimum tank size for a group of guppies is 10 gallons, but I would recommend a 20-gallon one if you can afford it.

Guppies can always use more space since it lowers the males’ territorial tendencies and keeps guppies happier and more relaxed in their environment. Plus, the extra space can always prove useful for aquascaping purposes and in case you plan on a community setup.

– Neon Tetra

These fellas are smaller than guppies, only reaching up to 1.5 inches in size. As a result, the neon tetra doesn’t require as much space as guppies. The issue is that, just like guppies, neon tetras are also a shoaling species. They need the company of other tetras to feel comfortable and safe.

The minimum tetra shoal should have at least 6 individuals, preferably 12 if the available space allows it. A group of 6 will do fine in a 10-gallon setup, although I would recommend a larger one if possible. Especially since neon tetras are active, friendly, and peaceful and can easily adapt to community aquariums.

You also need the extra space to provide tetras with plants and various hiding areas, especially if they’re part of a community tank. Tetras are small and pretty much defenseless against larger or more inquisitive fish that could bother them. The extra aquatic elements will provide them with valuable hiding areas.

Water Parameters

The water parameters are the next most important thing to consider after tank size. Keeping a stable water quality and temperature for your fish is crucial in order to keep them healthy and happy.

– Guppies

As tropical fish, guppies require warmer waters in the neighborhood of 68 to 79 °F with a pH between 6.5 and 8.0 max. These are standard requirements for tropical brackish-water fish.

The idea is to mimic the guppy’s natural environment when creating its environment. This approach will keep the fish calmer and healthier in the long run.

– Neon Tetra

Interestingly enough, neon tetras share much of guppies’ water parameter preferences. They, too, prefer temperatures around 68 to 79 F and a similar pH range. And, just like guppies, neon tetras prefer a clean and stable water.

This is one point we need to discuss since skipping tank maintenance day can have dire consequences fast. Especially in a smaller tank. 10-20-gallon tanks will get dirty and produce more ammonia faster than larger tanks. That’s because there’s less space and the decaying matter will have a more stringent impact on the water chemistry.

I advise performing regular maintenance, depending on the tank’s size, how many fish you have, and how dirty the tank gets. You also need to perform partial water changes (up to 20% in one session) at least once per week to prevent ammonia and nitrite buildup.

Feeding and Diet

Both species are omnivorous and will consume pretty much any fish food, whether live, homemade, or commercial. As general rules that apply to both guppies and tetras, remember to:

  • Always ensure food diversity – The fish need a balanced diet, combining multiple nutrient sources. Veggies, plants, spirulina, algae, and live food like brine shrimp, daphnia, or white fish meat are necessary for optimal nutrient intake.
  • Limit animal protein – Although they are omnivorous, these fish need a limited amount of protein. Approximately 40% of their diet should consist of animal protein. Anything more than that could cause digestive problems.
  • The fry need more protein and fatsGuppy and neon tetra fry require around 60% protein in their meals during their first 3-4 weeks of life. This is to support their higher metabolic rates and boost their growth. The protein content should go down gradually as they mature.
  • Consider the food’s size – Fish choking on food is quite common in the aquarium business, believe it or not. This generally happens when the food is larger than what the fish is used to. Combine this with high food competition, rarer meals, and the fish eating in a hurry, and you’ll understand why this problem is so prevalent.
  • Watch the food’s quality – Don’t feed your fish expired food or food with an unusual smell. Your fish will sense something wrong with it and refuse to eat it. Or eat it and get sick, which is even worse.
  • Avoid unverified food – More specifically, live food caught in the wild. Wild-caught worms and insects carry a lot of parasites and deadly pathogens that will infect and kill your fish. Stay clear of that!
  • Prevent overfeeding – Both guppies and neon tetras require around 2-3 meals per day at most. Anything more than that can cause overfeeding. Overfeeding is responsible for digestive issues and more accelerated ammonia buildup in the tank due to excess food waste. Also, only feed your tank fish what they can consume within 2 minutes at most. For the same reasons.

Number of Fish

How many fish should you keep of each species? Guppies and neon tetras are social creatures that like to live in shoals. It results that you should have at least 5-6 members of each species to create a stable and thriving social environment.

Keeping guppies alone or in pairs is bound to affect their mental state in the long run. It turns out that shoaling fish living in larger groups live longer and are healthier and generally more peaceful than shoaling fish forced to live alone. This applies to both guppies and tetras.

As a critical note, limit the number of males. Males are inherently more territorial and competitive in nature, especially when it comes to mating, food, and territory. I recommend having one male for ever 2-3 females. The females’ presence will keep the male level-headed and lower its natural aggressive tendencies.


Guppies will generally live up to 2-3 years in captivity in good conditions. On the other hand, Neon tetras may live up to 5 years, given a similar treatment. Overall, several factors will influence the fish’s lifespan and quality of life:

  • Water parameters – Optimal, stable water parameters. These are essential for keeping your fish healthy in the long run. Manage ammonia and nitrates and keep nitrates within acceptable parameters, and your fish will thrive.
  • An optimized diet – Your fish require a stable diet and a regular feeding routine. Make sure your guppies and tetras have a regular influx of nutrients from various sources. Live food, spirulina, algae, plant matter, and even homegrown veggies are necessary to keep them healthy over the years.
  • A comfy and peaceful environmentFish stress is a real killer. Keep your fish in good company and avoid aggressive, large, or territorial tank mates that could kill, hurt, or bully them.
  • Choose your fish wisely – Oftentimes, the fish’s lifespan is determined genetically. Get your fish from reliable sources that can guarantee for the fish’s health and good genetic background. If your fish is sick, with a compromised immune system, or the result of interbreeding, it may not live long. No matter what you do to change the outcome.

These strategic measures will also keep your fish healthy over time. As a plus, always monitor your fish for signs of disease and ensure fast and optimal treatment. Most fish disorders are deadly in late phases, and many will get to that stage within a couple of days or less.


Some fish won’t breed in aquariums, because they need special conditions and environments in order to reproduce, however, other fish species will breed like there is no tomorrow.

– Guppies

Guppies rank as the top breeders in the tank business. They have adapted to life in captivity perfectly and will breed weekly, provided the water conditions are optimal. However, there are some stipulations to consider if you plan on ensuring the spawning’s success and keeping the fry:

  • Set up a nursing tank – Guppies are known to consume their young upon hatching. Cannibalism is common among these fish since guppies offer no parental care to the fry. To prevent that, prepare a nursing tank with optimal water parameters and move the female there when labor approaches. You can then move the female back into the main tank once the fry have been delivered.
  • Keep the water temperature higher – The fry need temperatures around 80-82 °F to remain comfortable, active and boost their growth.
  • Ensure an optimal diet – Guppy fry have similar food requirements as adults, but with a notable exception: they require more animal protein and fat. The guppy fry’s diet should consist of at least 60% animal protein and 40% veggies.
  • Careful when relocating the fry – Your fry should be ready to move to the main tank at 4 weeks of age. The main tank should have plenty of plants and hiding areas for them to hide from the adults.

Other than that, there’s not much you need to do to increase your guppies’ breeding rates. They will breed monthly, whether you like it or not, and will produce a lot of fry in the process. Not all will survive, but most will with proper care and maintenance.

– Neon Tetra

The breeding story is a bit different with neon tetras. These fish are a bit trickier to breed since they are more demanding in terms of overall water quality. Some parameters to keep in mind include:

  • Water hardness shouldn’t exceed 1 to 2 dGH
  • PH should remain around 5.0 to 6.0
  • Water temperature should stay at 72 to 75 °F
  • Very low lighting, since the tetra eggs and fry are sensitive to it
  • Plenty of plants to mimic the tetras’ natural breeding grounds

Even with all your precautions, only about 30% of the eggs will be successfully fertilized and will hatch. Once they do, whatever applies to the guppy fry applies to the tetras.

Keep the fish fry isolated in a nursing tank, provide them with a clean and healthy setup, and feed them properly to boost their growth. They should be ready to go into the main tank within 4-5 weeks.


Both these fish species have similar water and habitat requirements. They are generally easy to keep and will live for years with proper care.

Keep their water quality in check and feed them a balanced and nutritious diet, and they won’t ask for much else. You can even pair them in a well-devised community tank, and they will prosper with good care and maintenance.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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