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Do Neon Tetras Need Hiding Places?

Neon tetras are a type of freshwater fish native to both the clear water and black water streams of the Amazon basin in South America. They can easily adapt to a wide variety of water conditions, making them an excellent choice for a planted tropical freshwater aquarium. Right now, you may be asking yourself, ‘do neon tetras need hiding places in a tank’?

Do neon tetras need hiding places? The answer is ‘yes’. Neon tetras need plenty of room in a tank to swim free and to hide, if necessary. Hiding places allow fish to feel safe in their environment, thus encouraging them to swim out in open areas of the tank more frequently. Hiding is natural behaviour for neon tetras. Plants (as well as other decorative items including ornaments, driftwood, rocks, seashells, terracotta flowerpots and PVC piping) provide for this in an aquarium.

Now that you know neon tetra need hiding places in an aquarium, let’s explore this idea further. We will discuss what to put in a tank with tetras, why they feel the need to hide sometimes and why live plants are necessary in an aquarium. So, if you’re ready to learn more about neon tetras and their ‘hiding’ behaviour, then let’s get started!

Why Do My Fish Hide All the Time?

Aquarium fish, including neon tetras, will hide for a number of different reasons. These include the following:

Environmental Changes

Being moved from the wild into captivity (or even from one aquarium to another) will likely cause fish to feel stressed and become skittish, often spooking them into hiding.

Water Parameters

Any change to the water quality including temperature shifts, oxygen amounts and PH levels will often cause stress to fish, thus forcing them the retreat to a ‘safe’ zone such a familiar hiding place.

Physical Trauma

An attack by another fish or disease will increase stress levels in fish making them retreat to areas of safety (or hiding places) in a tank.

Schooling Absence

Schooling fish, like neon tetras, require the presence of other species-related fish in order to feel safe. A neon tetra alone in a tank is likely to feel stressed and will therefore seek the safety of a hiding place.

In general, fish will hide whenever they feel stressed. The above four reasons are all related (in one way or another) to stress which can, over time, affect the health and overall wellness of your tank. Be mindful of them and pay close attention to fish behaviour. Hiding is natural for fish like neon tetras, but they should also spend time swimming freely in the tank as well.

What Can I Put in a Tank with Tetras?

Neon tetras are type of schooling fish, meaning they do well in tanks with at least six in a tank. They also require plenty of room to swim about so a ten (preferably twenty) gallon tank is recommended. They like to hide so they will also require plants or other aquarium decorations in the tank.

Stacking rocks to form caves in the aquarium is a great way to create hiding places for neon tetras. Other good ideas include putting pieces of clay pots and the bottom, adding driftwood with holes including decorations that have cut-outs or arches.

Any of the ideas listed above will give tetras places to hide when need be, thus making them feel safer in their aquarium environment and actually encouraging them to swim out in open water more often. We will discuss some of these in more detail later on in the article so please keep reading…

What are the Best Plants for an Aquarium?

Bare tanks for a short period of time are okay, however, fish exhibit less aggression and stress if they have protected areas to retreat to occasionally. They also become more outgoing and demonstrate more of what can be considered ‘natural behaviour’.

Live plants make excellent hiding places for fish, especially neon tetras. Some of the best plants include java moss or other types of moss, java fern (such as Windelov or needle leaf), Elodea or Anacharis, Hornwort, guppy grass and water sprite.

These plants are fairly hardy and do quite well in low to moderate light. They do not require supplemental carbon dioxide (CO2) and their dense growth provides excellent natural hiding places for all kinds of fish, including neon tetras.

Live plants are essential to aquarium life. They not only provide fish (such as neon tetras) with excellent hiding places for shelter and security, but they also produce oxygen (O2) and absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia. Ammonia is generated naturally in a tank, from fish waste or uneaten food, and is toxic in high amounts.

Live plants also provide a natural food source that replenishes itself. They mimic a natural ecosystem which is vital to keeping fish healthy.

What Decorations Work Well in an Aquarium?

Apart from live plants, other decorative items make great hiding places for fish, including neon tetras. These include the following:

Aquarium Ornaments

Sunken ships, Roman columns, even fake or plastic plants are not only decorative but provide excellent hiding places for fish. Be sure they are sold specifically for aquarium use and do not contain harmful chemicals that could potentially leach into the water and cause harm (or even death) to your fish. As well, be aware of any sharp or pointy edges on the ornaments. These could potentially injure fish that like to dart quickly in and out of the caveats.


Driftwood or bogwood is easily available at local aquarium shops and come in several different varieties. Some require prolonged soaking in order to sink to the bottom of the tank and stay there. Others come cemented to a rock and will sink immediately. They also serve as anchors for plants such as java fern or java moss. Wild driftwood (or driftwood you collect yourself) is not recommended as it could contain pathogens, parasites or predators that may affect the overall health of your tank and its inhabitants.


Rocks purchased at an aquarium shop are generally safe. However, it is recommended that they be rinsed well before placing them into the tank in order to dislodge any fine particles or dirt that may be trapped in the crevices. It is best place rocks on a cushion of substrate, gravel or sand. This helps to distribute the weight of the rock over a wider area, making it safer for the fish while maintaining the structural integrity of the tank.


Seashells have an aesthetic appeal and make for good hiding places in a tank. However, no matter how well you clean them, they could leach minerals into the water, making it harder and affecting its PH level. It is best to choose decorative seashells (as opposed to natural ones) sold at your local aquarium shop to ensure they are safe for the tank. If you have snails in your aquarium, their shells could also act as hiding places for fish.

Terra Cotta Flowerpots

Pieces of pottery (such as terra cotta flowerpots) can provide a place of refuge and safety for fish in a tank. Though they may not look as pleasing as driftwood or rocks, they are still useful and easily available online or at local aquarium shops. They provide cave-like areas for fish to dart in and out of or retreat to when necessary. Be sure the pots do not contain harmful chemical that could affect the water parameters in the tank.

Is PVC Pipe Safe for Fish?

PVC piping if often added to fish tanks to act as a hiding spot for fish, such as neon tetras. It is safe to use in an aquarium as long as you clean it thoroughly beforehand to remove any residues or possible contaminants. Try using some aquarium-safe silicone and adhere a bit of the substrate to the piping so it blends in better with the tank environment.


In conclusion, neon tetras require hiding places in an aquarium as it is natural for them to seek shelter occasionally. This allows the fish to feel safe and even encourages them to swim out in open water more often, knowing they have a spot (such as a plant, rock or decoration) to retreat to, if necessary.

Providing hiding places in an aquarium with neon tetras will not only maintain the wellness of the fish but also increase the overall health of the tank. They are generally an easy fish to care for and will do well if properly maintained. Happy fish keeping, fellow aquarium hobbyists!

For more info on Neon Tetras please check out my Guide to Neon Tetras article.

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