Which of these tetras is the easiest to keep?
Please could you give me some advice on whether to buy Neon or Cardinal tetras for a 120 l/27 gal aquarium? I have only been keeping fish for four months and this will be my second tank.
I was going to get Neons, but my local shop said Cardinals were easier. However, I’ve looked online and a lot of forums disagree. I do prefer the Cardinals as they have more red in them, which I think makes them stand out even more than the Neons, but I don’t want to get something that’s too hard for me.
My ph is around 7.0. I would only want to keep a few corys and Cherry shrimp with them in the tank. LYNN BERRY, EMAIL
NEALE SAYS: Although Cardinals and Neons look similar, and are often treated as substitutes for one another, in truth they are quite different in terms of environmental requirements.
If you were starting from scratch, my recommendation would always be to go for Cardinals. While they’re a bit more expensive – and are certainly fussier about water chemistry – they have the crucial advantage of not being as disease-prone as today’s farmed Neons.
Whatever the situation with regard to disease, Neon and Cardinal tetras should also be differentiated when it comes to maintenance.
For sure, they have some similarities. Both are peaceful, shoaling fish that should be kept in large groups. I’d suggest at least 10 specimens, and the more the merrier. Shy at the best of times, neither handles larger or more aggressive tankmates well, but they do work nicely with docile catfish like Corydoras species, albeit with some consideration of their different temperature requirements.
Neither tetra presents any real problems at feeding time, with dried flake foods and micropellets being readily accepted, alongside tiny live foods such as Daphnia and brineshrimp nauplii. They can co-exist with algae-eating shrimps, but will probably eat any juvenile shrimps they come across, so don’t assume a population of Cherry shrimps will be self-sustaining.
So, what are the key differences between them? First, Neons prefer soft water, but will handle moderately hard water reasonably well. I wouldn’t recommend much above 15˚H, ph 7.5, and certainly water with a hardness around 10˚H, ph 7.0 should be absolutely fine for them.
Cardinals, by contrast, are a bit more sensitive, and while they can be kept in moderately hard water, you’ll find them healthier and more colourful in water that’s soft and slightly acidic. I’d suggest something in the range of 1-12˚H, ph 6.0–7.0. Since Corydoras
also enjoy soft water, this difference shouldn’t cause any major problems for you, but shrimps tend to be happier in water that is neutral rather than acidic.
For me though, the really important difference between them is water temperature. Cardinals are hothouse flowers. rather like Discus and Corydoras sterbai, they’re going to do best when kept around 28˚C, and in cooler water conditions are going to be more disease-prone than normal.
neons, by contrast, dislike high temperatures, and this may well be one of the reasons why the species has acquired this reputation for being sickly. They are much more like the majority of Corydoras species in preferring a temperature range of 22–25°C, with at least a few months at the lower end of that being useful for replicating seasonal variation in their natural habitat.
red cherry shrimps and almost all Corydoras share the same preference for low-end tropical conditions, which makes neons the most obvious choice for life alongside them. But i do agree with your retailer on Cardinals being less bother, especially if you can provide them with the right water chemistry.
Cardinals definitely want more warmth than most Corydoras though, but if things like Corydoras sterbai and Brochis splendens appeal to you, then that restriction won’t be too difficult to work around.
Cardinals are hothouse flowers. Neons, by contrast, dislike high temperatures
Cardinal tetra – note the red markings running the whole length of the body.