Why Your Neon Tetras Are Not Schooling!

Neon tetras often reduce their shoaling behavior as they become comfortable in their tank, with factors like perceived safety, stress, illness, tank size, and available hiding spots influencing their schooling tendencies.

Are Neon Tetras Schooling Fish?

Neon Tetras Schooling In My Tank
Neon Tetras Schooling In My Tank

Neon tetras are not actually schooling fish, but they do tend to shoal in tight groups under certain circumstances.

There is a lot of confusion between schooling and shoaling in the fish-keeping community. For the purposes of this article, I will use the term “schooling” to refer to shoaling, as it is more commonly understood.

Neon tetras can school in the traditional sense, where they group up tightly and move in the same direction, turning in unison, but this is rare.

Most of the grouping behavior you see with neon tetras is temporary shoaling, which is most common when they are first added to your tank.

Assuming there are no problems with your tank setup, you should observe a gradual reduction in shoaling behavior over the following weeks as the tetras feel secure enough to explore independently.

Neon Tetras Shoaling In My Tank
Neon Tetras Shoaling In My Tank

Why Your Neon Tetras Are Not Schooling!

Neon Tetras In My Tank
Neon Tetras In My Tank

Here are the most common reasons your neon tetras are not schooling:

  • They Feel Safe
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Inadequate School Size
  • Tank Size
  • Lack of Hiding Spots

While there are some less common causes, most people will find that their neon tetras are not schooling due to one of these reasons.

Here is a quick breakdown of each potential cause to help you determine why your neon tetras are not schooling in your tank.

Your Neon Tetras Feel Safe

Calm And Relaxed Neon Tetras In My Tank
Calm And Relaxed Neon Tetras In My Tank

Neon tetras will rarely school or shoal in tanks where they feel comfortable and safe.

Therefore, the lack of schooling behavior in your neon tetras may actually be a positive sign, indicating that they are happy in their new environment.

Fortunately, this is more common than people realize. Most changes in fish behavior prompt concerns about potential problems, but in this case, it can be a good sign.

If you are confident that none of the other potential causes for your neon tetras not schooling are present in your tank, then their sense of security is likely the reason for the change in behavior.


A Neon Tetra In My Tank
A Neon Tetra In My Tank

Different causes of stress affect neon tetras in various ways, with some types leading them to stop schooling.

This typically happens due to gradual environmental issues, such as poor water parameters, where the fish slowly acclimate to the problem.

The discomfort from these poor conditions can cause neon tetras to stop schooling or grouping and instead move independently.

Conversely, a sudden increase in stress, like the presence of an aggressive tank mate, will usually cause your neon tetras to group up and school for protection.


A Neon Tetras Swimming In My Tank
A Neon Tetras Swimming In My Tank

When neon tetras are sick, they may isolate themselves from the group or be excluded by healthy fish, preventing them from schooling.

Certain fungal, parasitic, and bacterial infections show visible symptoms, helping you identify the problem and begin treatment.

Keep in mind that different infections usually require specific treatments to restore the fish to full health.

It might also be wise to quarantine the sick neon tetra to prevent the illness from spreading to the other fish in the tank.

Neon tetra disease, a condition specific to the species, can also prevent schooling in affected fish, but it is not as common as many believe. Look for signs of more common infections first.

Inadequate School Size

Six Neon Tetras In My Tank
Six Neon Tetras In My Tank

People often recommend keeping a minimum of six neon tetras together because they are social fish, but I highly recommend keeping ten or more if possible.

Unfortunately, some people keep just one or two neon tetras and then wonder why the fish are inactive and hide a lot.

In most cases, you will find that your neon tetras’ activity levels increase as you add more neon tetras to your tank.

Even when my neon tetras are not schooling or shoaling, they are foraging and staying active.

The Tank Is Too Small

Neon Tetras In My Community Tank
Neon Tetras In My Community Tank

A small tank can reduce the activity levels of your neon tetras and prevent them from schooling.

Although it is a controversial topic, many agree that a 10-gallon (38 liters) long tank is the absolute minimum size for neon tetras, and anything smaller should be avoided.

The tank’s footprint is also important, with a long tank design generally being better than a cube or portrait tank.

Keeping your neon tetras in a small aquarium may prevent them from moving around much.

Upgrading to a larger tank will not only provide your neon tetras with more space to school but also allow you to keep more neon tetras, further encouraging schooling behavior.

Not Enough Hiding Spots

My Community Tank
My Community Tank

Neon tetras might not use hiding spots as frequently as some other fish, but they definitely appreciate having them available if needed.

In the video clip above, you can see my community tank, which, even with the plants still growing in, offers plenty of hiding spots for the tetras.

Keep in mind that your fish don’t know they’re safe in your aquarium; they still have thousands of years of evolutionary programming urging them to hide from predators.

Adding hiding places such as plants, caves, rocks, and driftwood can encourage your neon tetras to start schooling, especially if they are new to your tank.

Final Thoughts

Neon tetras typically engage in shoaling, a loose grouping behavior, particularly when they’re first introduced to a tank.

Over time, as they grow accustomed and feel secure in their environment, this behavior may diminish.

If your neon tetras aren’t schooling or shoaling, it could be attributed to several reasons, including the fish feeling safe, stress, illness, tank size, or insufficient hiding spots, among others.

Ensure your tank conditions are optimal to promote the natural behavior and well-being of your neon tetras.