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Not only do guppies reproduce easily in the fish aquarium, but they come in a cavalcade of tropical colors.

By David A. Lass

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Breeding Guppies
Guppies are livebearers, which means that every 30 days or so, the female will drop a litter of babies that are fully formed miniatures of their parents. In a community aquarium with other types of fish or in an aquarium with many adult guppies, the babies stand an excellent chance of becoming a snack for the adult fish. If you have a lot of floating plants in the aquarium, some of the babies will probably survive, but if you want to maximize the number of offspring that make it, it's best to give the pregnant female her own small aquarium in which to give birth. A 5- or 10-gallon fish aquarium is fine.

This fish aquarium should be set up with floating spawning mops and more mops on the bottom of the aquarium, and/or some dense aquarium aquatic plants like Java moss, hornwort or water sprite. Use a sponge filter and heater (if needed). The female should be added to the aquarium when she just begins to really show her pregnancy because moving her too close to her due date runs the risk of her dropping her babies before they are fully formed. I prefer not to place guppies (or any livebearers) into those small plastic breeding traps because I believe they can stress out the fish. I think that the "net" breeder setups with aquatic plants or spawning mops are better, and if you cannot set up a dedicated aquarium, net mesh will do in a pinch.

Once they get pregnant, female guppies are almost always pregnant. Even without the presence of males, a female guppy can get pregnant with future litters by storing sperm from a single previous mating to produce a few more batches of babies. This is an attribute known as super-foetation. The "millions fish" (an old common name for guppies) can have huge numbers of offspring in a very short period of time. Consider that a female guppy can get pregnant at 2 to 3 months of age. Each pregnancy can lead to 20 to 50 babies. These babies can themselves throw 20 to 50 more babies within two to three months, and on and on. If you do the math, you can see that pretty soon you get a lot of guppies.

Here's a word of caution about local fish store guppies: It is virtually impossible to guarantee that you will get a pure strain of guppy (ones in which the babies will all look like the parents). The females are usually young breeders that are sold after they've dropped a few batches of young. The males come from everywhere in a hatchery or wholesaler. The fish in your local fish store have all been commingled, and to a guppy it matters not what strain or color they are - any male will mate with any female. After a few generations of random mating, guppies will begin very quickly to revert to the wild-looking fish, and lose much of their beautiful but artificially bred tail size and color. If you want to be sure of a true strain of guppy, you will likely have to get them from breeders who advertise in fish magazines and on the Internet.

Obtaining Healthy Guppy Stock
I believe that local fish stores are the backbone of our hobby, and should be supported and patronized as much as possible. Unfortunately, it's tough to get good guppies from them. This is because most of the guppies sold wholesale to stores come from the Far East, primarily Singapore. These fish have been forced to grow as large as possible within the shortest time. This is done by keeping the fish at high temperatures, feeding them all the time and changing the water constantly.

These fish look spectacular when they first come in from overseas and should be hardy. They fail easily, however, because they are suddenly subjected to the normal conditions of a wholesaler's aquarium, then they're sent to the retail store and eventually to you. They have been subjected to all kinds of water, put into small bags and shipped halfway around the world, and go from being fed all the time to being fed sparingly, if at all. Stress is the biggest problem for all fish, and believe me, imported guppies have been stressed.

In addition to all the above, they are now subjected to forms of bacteria and parasites they never were exposed to before, and they do not have much resistance left. The poor fish are susceptible to a variety of problems, and they simply die "without any reason" you can put your finger on. In order to obtain as healthy fish as possible from your local fish store, make sure the fish you're buying have been in the store's aquariums for a week or so, and have adapted to aquarium (as opposed to hatchery) life.

If possible, you are best off buying guppies from a local fish store that gets them from a local breeder - or possibly try to find a local breeder yourself. Your local aquarium society is the best way to find breeders, or you can find them in the classified ads in the back of this magazine. There's also the Internet. Buying from breeders will usually assure you of healthy stock, although some breeders keep their fish in such sterile conditions that the fish have very little resistance and will fare no better in your aquarium than imports. You should be prepared to spend a lot more on fish from a local breeder or over the Internet than from your local fish store.

"Guppy Disease"
It seems that some types of popular fish are developing their very own diseases. Koi are the most recent example, with a very serious viral infection decimating many of the fish in Japan and other places. Discus and angelfish both have their disease syndromes known as the "plague." Guppies also have one for themselves; there is definitely a constellation of symptoms confined to guppies that pretty much don't affect other types of fish in an aquarium.

This guppy disease usually starts with whitish patches on the body of the fish, primarily on the mouth, and around the dorsal fin and the base of the tail fin. Shortly after the white patches appear, the fish becomes sort of rigid, seems to have trouble swimming normally, and the fins clamp up. Guppies that reach this stage usually perish within a day or so.

I have seen many published accounts of guppy disease and how to treat it, and I've spoken with a number of folks about it. In addition, because I wholesale fish to local fish stores, I have also had this problem with the guppies I bring in from the Far East.

I think that this malady is a combination of a protozoan and a bacterial/fungal infection. I have had excellent results in preventing this disease in guppies I handle by using Quick Cure and triple sulfa. I treat the fish when they first arrive, and then two days later I do a 25-percent water change. I treat with triple sulfa only every other day for three additional times. I would appreciate hearing from any of you who have tried this treatment, or who have any other ideas/experience with the cause and cure of this problem.

Types of Guppies
Many strains or types of guppy fish have been developed over the years. I suggest you obtain the Klee book I cited earlier for a thorough discussion of the history and development of what we now call "fancy" guppies. Most of the fish you will find in your local fish stores are "fantail" or "deltatail" strains of guppies. All have very wide, flowing tails and dorsal fins, usually of the same color or pattern. Among the real guppy specialists - the folks who enter and win shows and who sell their fish through this magazine and on the Internet - you will also find swordtail and lyretail guppies of many variations. These are not usually seen in local fish stores because they are not as flashy and colorful as the guppies with fantails or deltatails.

Fancy guppies come in virtually any color you can think of and in a few albino strains. Blues, greens, reds and yellows are probably the most common colors available, with many variations on each color strain. Males show the most color and have the largest fins, but in the better strains of fish, females also show a fair amount of color in their tails and dorsals. Females of all strains usually have very little color on the body.

In uni-color strains of guppies, the body, tail and dorsal fins are the same color. Tuxedo guppies have a black rear half of the body, and then another color on the tail. Some also have a golden sheen to the front of the body. Snakeskin is a strain of guppy that has wiggly lines all through the body into the tail.

In addition to these sort of "standard" fancy guppies that combine body and tail coloration, there are all kinds of different-looking progeny from crosses of guppies that are never fixed. My favorite one is called "tequila sunrise," in which the males have a yellow body with a red tail edged in yellow (sort of like the cocktail of the same name). These fish come from the Far East, and as with many unique and attractive fish in the hobby, only males are available. This is an attempt by the breeders to ensure the market for this fish is all theirs, and they have succeeded so far.

On the private breeder/club level of guppy breeding, there are strains called Moscows that come in solid colors such as "Moscow greens" or "Moscow purples." These are huge fish, very sturdy, with large flowing fins, and the entire fish is one color. These guppies have yet to make it to the mass market of local fish stores, but they will likely eventually get there.

The guppy is all over the world both in the wild and in the tropical fish hobby. They are easy to keep, beautiful and inexpensive, and they breed - well, like guppies. Back to Page 1>>

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Reader Comments

Carol    Silver Spring, MD

4/11/2012 6:44:38 PM

guppies are great!

Johnny    Hamilton, ON

11/15/2010 3:21:32 PM

Great article!

Grace    falsehood, AK

9/6/2010 8:20:20 AM

really cool article.

Ricky    Ridgewood, NJ

9/4/2010 3:29:27 AM


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