On Breeding Guppies
If you are reading this, you obviously have an interest in either broadening your knowledge as an avid aquarist, or you may have an interest in actually breeding Guppies. Be that as it may, this is NOT a complete guide caring for and the breeding of Show/Fancy Guppies. It is only intended to give you SOME idea on what is involved. If you have any questions or need help, or if you need information, please feel free to ask.
IN THE BEGINNING
Before starting off in the EXCITING world of breeding Fancy Guppies, one would need to thoroughly research the WIDE variety of colour strains that are available and contact a reputable breeder for breeding stock. But do not make the mistake that the majority of beginners make by going to a breeder and seeing many beautiful strains you’d like to keep – as explained later, the number of strains you can keep is limited by available tank space so only get the number of strains you can handle. The best would be to get ONE strain you REALLY LIKE, gain some experience and the expand if you wish. Proper preparation for the arrival of your fish is VITAL. Get everything in place and in GOOD running order before getting your first fish to avoid disappointment.
In the next few paragraphs, I will discuss equipment and setup.
“Beginners in this hobby are many times discouraged when they hear about breeders with very elaborate fish rooms, with numbers approaching 200 tanks.”
No elaborate setup is required to raise GOOD Show Guppies. Bare 40L tanks are very practical, but you can also use 20L or 80L tanks – depending on the availability of SPACE. I use 20L tanks for breeding trios (and rest tanks for females after mating and birthing – more later), 40L tanks to birth and grow fry in, and 80L tanks to keep my SHOW fish.
To be successful in raising GOOD Fancy/Show Guppies, one needs 8 to 10 tanks per strain and you’d have to do some serious culling to achieve this…
Remember that each female will drop 30 – 50 fry every 28 – 30 days… if you do not cull you’d grow out of tank space in no time and also you’d end up keeping deformed and undesirable guppies (like some LFS’s sell). I keep a Beautiful community tank and an Angel Species tank, so I release any deformed fry into those tanks, as I’d rather they get eaten by other fish (as they would in the wild) than have to kill them.
Use filters that are inexpensive and easy to clean and maintain – box filters and sponge filters are popular amongst breeders. Box filters are better mechanical filters and should be filled with floss/aquarium wool and weighed down with dolomite and/or marbles. Sponge filters, however, are a favourite with breeders – a simple filter made of sponge with an air lift tube – and is easy to clean. Just squeeze the sponge in warm water once a week – preferably in the tank water during a water change, as the sponge holds bacterial organisms that aid in cleaning and purifying the water.
Remember to clean your filter at LEAST once a fortnight.
The amount of air you need will depend on the number of tanks in your set-up. A good vibrator pump will handle 10 to 15 tanks with no problem. The most efficient way to supply air to your tanks is to run PVC piping with branches off to each tank through flexible airline tubing. This type of system is easy to install and you can probably use a smaller pump than if you run all of your air through flexible tubing.
If you have a lot of tanks, it’s best to use four foot fluorescent ceiling lights, rather than trying to light each tank individually with more expensive hoods. The lights should be kept on for 10-14 hours per day. Lights should be set to go on one hour before the first feeding and off one hour after the past feeding.
“Good, clean water is the most important element for growing large guppies with long, flowing fins.” Remember to first treat your water before adding it to your tank – I use Tetra AquaSafe to break down chemicals used to purify our water. Hardness and pH are not critical as long as they do not suddenly vary over a wide range. Guppies seem to do better if the water is on the hard side. With regard to pH, guppies can handle anything from 6.8 – 7.8 (7.0 is ideal).
Ammonia is the number one fish killer, and is caused by overcrowding, overfeeding, poor water conditions or lack of oxygen in the water. It is especially important to monitor the ammonia level in new setups. The “good” (nitrifying) bacteria that will eliminate ammonia, will take from 2 to 3 weeks to develop – I treat my tanks with SERA NITRIVEC BIO CULTURES for a week to help remove pollutants while maturing my filters BEFORE I add fish to my new tanks. If you find ammonia present, do 20-30% water changes with your teated water as required or run a box filter with ammo-chips in the affected tank. Remember, avoid sudden changes in pH and hardness. Guppies can acclimate to a wide variety of changes, if they are done slowly. It is very important to acclimate the fish slowly to your water to avoid shock. If you don’t, death or disease will follow.
Water changes make or break good show fish and removal of uneaten food and fish waste is an important aspect in the growth cycle by siphoning with any half inch tubing that is about 1m in length. Success in raising show fish is achieved by changing 30-40% of the tank water weekly. I do daily water changes of 10% to reduce stress on the fish. This way the fry grow faster and bigger. Daily water changes also tend to level off the ammonia and pH readings avoiding DIPS and SPIKES.
Guppies like their tank water to be between 25.5-27.8 degrees C, with 26 degrees an ideal temperature. These temperatures can be maintained with individual tank heaters or by using a room heater – depending on the number of tanks number of tanks that you have.
“The first thing to do is to place your newly acquired breeding stock in a clean bowl or specimen tank using the water in which they were shipped. Then every 20-30 minutes add a little water from the aged breeding tank that you previously set up. When the container is 3/4 full, remove about 1/2 the water and replace it with water from the seasoned tank. Do this 2 to 3 times over the period of about an hour. At this point, you can release your guppies into their new permanent breeding tank. Do not be alarmed if your fish hide or act frightened. If the fish seem to be panicky, do not feed them for 24 – 48 hours. If the fish do not seem to be eating, don’t keep adding food. This will quickly foul the water. This is normal and can take up to a week before they are swimming and acting as guppies should. Just remember to have patience . . . the first 3-4 days are critical in getting your new stock established in your tanks.”
THE FIRST BATCH
Within 4-6 females should be ready to drop fry. It is better to remove the pregnant female to a smaller tank of her own. You can add spawning grass (Najas Guadalupensis is a great option), or new unrolled plastic pot scrubbers to the tank to give the newly born fry a safe place to hide from the mother. Another method commonly used is to place the female in a large breeder trap (I hate this as it stresses the female and seems a bit unnatural) in a 40 litre tank to give the fry more room to grow. Many breeders keep their fry in small tanks for the first few weeks. The theory is that when you feed these young fish they are surrounded by food instead of having to go searching for it. Remember to keep the expectant female well fed – I feed mine brine shrimp and some blood worm – during this period. This will reduce the chance of cannibalism. After the fry are born, remove the female and place her back with the male – but I prefer to let her rest in a tank with only females for a couple of days, as the male will immediately start chasing her to mate. This prevents further undue stress.
FEEDING YOUR GUPPIES
Birth- 6 Weeks: Guppy fry should receive a steady diet of newly hatched brine. It is also a good idea to put a tablespoon of aquarium salt in the tank, 1T / 20L. This acts as a tonic for the fish and will also keep the brine shrimp alive longer. After the first two days you can begin adding some dry food to their diet. Any good quality flake food is acceptable, but I prefer to use DARO Baby Fish Food for livebearers – remember to surround the fry with a “cloud” of food, smaller amounts more frequently and siphon any uneaten food regularly.
6 Weeks- Adult: Feeding properly with a balanced diet is very important to raising good fish. A balanced diet must be offered in order to meet all the nutritional needs of the fish. As the first 3 months are the most important time in a Fancy Guppy’s life, failing to provide good nutrition will result in disappointment. Feed small amounts regularly – up to 6 or 8 times a day. Vary dry and live/frozen foods in order to provide nutritional balance. “Meat, fish, vegetables and cereal provide vitamins, minerals and high amounts of protein that are needed in a complete and balanced diet.” It is important to supply good quality foods and not try to save money on cheap meals – as we say in Afrikaans – “Goed koop is duur koop”. Feed only the best foods containing shrimp, fish and meat meal as good protein sources AND Spirulina, algae or spinach for the vegetable protein they need – and the results will be the reward. Baby brine shrimp and micro worms are excellent foods for Guppies. Try Baby brine shrimp as a first meal (remember – an hour AFTER lights ON), a variety of dry/flake foods during the day and Baby Brine shrimp or micro worms at night (remember – an hour before lights OUT).
“Hatching brine shrimp eggs can be accomplished in several ways. You can use gallon jars or inverted two liter plastic soda bottles with the bottom cut out. Both work just fine. . .your choice will depend on the number of fish you have to feed. Or there are several small manufactured hatchers available. As for hatching the eggs, follow the label instructions for each brand, experimenting with different amounts of salt and eggs. One method that works is to use a teaspoon (or amount required) of eggs in a solution of two tablespoons of kosher salt in two liters of water. Keep the hatching solution at 80 degrees with strong aeration, and in 24-36 hours you should have a hatch. Don’t use an air stone because the tiny bubbles will throw the eggs out of the water only to dry on the sides of the bottle. At this point, shut off the air and wait about 15 minutes. This causes the empty shells to float to the top of the container, while the live shrimp collects hear the bottom. Placing a light near the bottom will assure that all shrimp collect there. Use a length of rigid plastic tubing attached to air-line tubing to reach down to the bottom of the container where the shrimps collect. From this point you siphon the shrimp through a brine shrimp net, rinse with fresh water and feed to your fish. If you are feeding a number of tanks, put the shrimp into a container of fresh water. You can now feed with an oven baster, ear syringe or spoon.”
REMEMBER – a couple (6 – 8) of small meals a day of which meals 2 should be live or frozen foods. Don’t overfeed siphon the tank bottom to clear uneaten foods. I also keep Pakistani Loaches and Kuhli Loaches in my adult tanks to clean up uneaten food. Your reward will be in YOUR RESULTS.
BREEDERS AND SHOW FISH
“When you buy a trio of two females and one male, you can establish two parallel lines. Keep the young from each female separated. These young are half brothers and sisters. After a few generations, there will be sufficient difference between the two lines so that you can cross the two lines to keep your strain strong. Every guppy breeder needs to learn how to pick fish in order to breed and raise good fish. Leaving all the fish together to breed causes rapid deterioration of the strain. The smaller, more active males impregnate the females first. At about three to six weeks, the time has come to separate males from the females. At this age you can recognize the females by the appearance of the gravid spot. Males will not show any darkness in the gravid area. If not already done, cull all deformed and weak fish too. Furthermore, do not keep more than 10-20 young in a 40 litre tank. At two months, the tank should contain no more than one fish per 4L to get maximum growth. Maximum growth also requires you to maintain a proper feeding schedule, and whatever tank maintenance that is necessary. The age for picking breeders or show guppies will depend on the rate of maturity of the particular strain you are working with. Some strains grow quicker than others. For example, reds, greens and blues grow rapidly and can be selected at 3 months. On the other hand, albinos, yellows and pastel colored guppies will require that you wait for 4 to 5 months, since they mature very slowly.”
Once you “know your strain” it is easy to make your selection.
4 STEPS TO SELECTING YOUR MALES:
1) The largest males with the THICKEST caudal peduncles (to support large tails) should be chosen.
2) Choose a wide, triangular caudal shape. Dorsal Fins should be elongated like smooth edged parallelogram.
3) Choose fish with matching caudal and dorsal fins.
4) Any fish with crooked backs, flat heads or poor colour intensity should be eliminated.
By using these steps, you’ll be guaranteed the BEST breeding stock. Remember – Don’t overcrowd your tanks – only 1 fish per 4L.
Select and breed with females at 2 to 4 months of age.
3 STEPS TO CHOOSE FEMALES:
1) To ensure females that throw best SHOW MALES, pick the babes with best booties – the largest females with the thickest caudals.
2) Select the females with the largest and widest caudals with matcing dorsal fins.
3) Choose females that show the best or desired colour.
Place your best male and best 2 females in a 20L tank – a smaller tank allows the male to catch the females easily. Some breeders prefer several males to several females, but if you use ONE male it is easier to monitor the desired characteristics. If the females do not become pregnant in two months, replace the male with another male (brother).
BREEDING A PURE STRAIN
Your best bet would be to buy a good strain from a reputable breeder. Avoid pet shop guppies. They’re a waste of time and money… Buy a trio – one male and two females.
3 techniques used in Guppy Breeding:
INBREEDING: Mating close relatives such as brother to sister, mother to son, father to daughter, etc. I prefer not to use this method.
LINE BREEDING: Breeding two separate lines branching from the original trio with eventual backcrossing or the breeding of distant relatives such as half siblings, cousins to cousins, etc.
OUT CROSSING: Mating two different pure strains which are compatible. This could mean fish of the same color that are obtained from two different breeders.
“KEEPING BREEDING RECORDS
One of the most important disciplines needed when working with any livestock is to keep good records. You should be able to tell where the fish came from and what they produced several generations back. Keeping records now will be useful in future generations. Record keeping is simple and helps to keep track of the progress of a particular strain. For each drop you should keep track of the number of young, the number of males/females, how may culls, etc. This way, you will know which fish throws the show guppies that you want. Accurate records will allow you to trace back through generations to see what steps you took to achieve your ultimate goal.”
If you keep your water clean and do not overcrowd your fish, disease will not be a problem.
As mentioned in part one, this is NOT intended to be a COMPLETE GUIDE in breeding Fancy/Show Guppies, but rather intended to give you an idea on what is involved in this very rewarding hobby. These are general guidelines that could set one off in the right direction if inclined to get started in Breeding Fancy Guppies – or to just give the general pubic an idea of what is involved – and hopefully create an awareness on the intricate needs for Keeping and Caring for these little pleasures. A good Fancy Guppy is truly a pleasure to behold and breeding them is a hobby with RESULT-AS-REWARD.
Should anybody need to know more, please feel free to contact me.
ALSO: feedback is always appreciated. So tell me what you think of this article. I’d like to hear from you.
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