Goodeid Fish

male xenotoca eiseni

(A different kind of livebearer)

ameca splendens

What Are Goodied Fish?

The Goodeidae family is an interesting group of fish. Sadly, some of the subspecies are becoming rarer and rarer in the wild and are even thought to be near extinction. The range of their natural habitat is represented by the shallow waters in central Mexico, and they are also present in parts of the Great Basin, of the US. Since this type of fish has no economic importance, efforts to promote conservation has been lacking.
If you decide to keep these fish as pets, you will have to learn a few important things about their particular needs. Unlike other fish, these are livebearers, which means that the female becomes pregnant, in a similar way to mammals. Live-bearing species of fish can be quite different than others, which is why you should pay extra attention to their living conditions and overall care.

About the Goodied fish

La Luz Splitfin goodeid fish
La Luz Splitfin goodeid fish

A large family of fish native to Mexico and the south east part of the USA, the Goodied has 40 species. They are popularly known as splitfins, due to a physical characteristic noticeable in males. They can be as large as 8 inches, but most subspecies are smaller, growing up to 2-3 inches in length.
As live-bearers, the Goodied females support their fry inside their body until giving birth, and there is a connection that allows the feeding of the young, very similar to the umbilical cord in humans. Each fry is fed throughout gestation in this manner. With each pregnancy, one female can produce around 10-15 fry, with smaller numbers in some species and higher numbers in others. There are differences in their behavior towards their young, too. While some species prey on their fry, others do not.

Splitfins do well in milder temperatures, around 70F. They prefer harder, more alkaline water, and, in general, they are not fussy eaters.

Many species of Goodied are threatened with extinction. For instance, the bluetail splitfin, the rainbow characodon, the relict splitfin, the Allotoca diazi and the Manse Spring killifish are endangered, while the butterfly splitfin and the golden skiffia are already extinct in their natural environment.

male ilyodon xantusi
male ilyodon xantusi

The most important sub-families of Goodied are: the Allodontichthys, the Alloophorus, the Allotoca, the Ameca, the Ataeniobius, the Chapalichthys, the Characodon, the Girardinichthys, the Goodea, the Hubbsina, the Ilyodon, the Skiffia, the Xenoophorus, the Xenotaenia, the Xenotoca and the Zoogoneticus.

The Goodied do well in aquariums, and while they demand some care and special attention, they are not extremely difficult to breed and take care of.

Since you may be wondering what kind of Goodied fish you should bring home, I will talk to you mostly about the two most popular types: Ameca Splendens and Xenotoca Eiseni.

Ameca Splendens

Appearance of Ameca Splendens

ameca splendens species aquarium
ameca splendens species aquarium

Better known as the butterfly splitfin, the Ameca Splendens is a beautiful looking fish. You will be able to tell a dominant male from the rest by its over-sized dorsal fin that is streaked with black. A yellow stripe that stretches towards the tail is another characteristic of males that makes them stand apart. The body has an ochre color, with silver shades on the sides, and brown tones on the back. The males tend to look fancier than females with their metallic scales that tend to glitter when there is little light. You will recognize females and the young by their black dots on the fins and the sides. An interesting fact about the male butterfly splitfin is that he can modify his color intensity depending on his mood.

Males can grow up to 3 inches, while females tend to be larger, growing up to 4 inches, when provided with good living conditions.

Aquarium conditions

If you are interested in keeping this species of fish in your tank, consider getting a 30-gallon aquarium. These fish thrive in water conditions that vary between 70-78F, and the desired pH levels should be 7.0-8.0. Water hardness can go towards the extreme high end of the scale, and more than 10.5gpg is recommended.

They love hiding among plants, so a densely populated aquarium is a good choice for the Ameca Splendens. Bare bottomed aquariums are particularly loved by this fish. If you provide moderate lighting you should get an aesthetically pleasing effect, as the beautiful coloring of both males and females will be more striking on a darker substrate. Keep in mind that this type of fish does not tolerate poor water quality, so good filtration is needed. Moderate water flow is your best bet, as far as further conditions are concerned.

What does Ameca Splendens like to eat?

It can be safely said that the butterfly splitfin is quite a greedy eater, which means that it is not fussy about what it is fed. Nonetheless, you should focus on providing a varied enough diet. Algae are most preferred, but spirulina flakes and dried seaweed make for nice treats. Speaking of treats, live food, such as daphnia and brine shrimp, should be included from time to time.

Are they aggressive?

When kept in a community of Ameca Splendens, they are not usually aggressive, but the strongest males and females may tend to bully others from time to time, although without going to extremes. However, you should keep in mind that they tend to be quite competitive when it comes to feeding, so, if you are planning on placing them together with other fish, choose more robust species that are not easily bullied by the boisterous behaviour of the butterfly splitfin.

The strongest alpha male can be noticed by his bright coloring and slightly larger size. While they may establish a pecking order inside a tank, the males do not get particularly aggressive, and serious damage seldom happens. This is a species that does not eat its fry.

Breeding recommendations

You can multiply your beautiful butterfly goodied fish by using just one pair, or more, if you prefer. As live-bearers, they tend to be particular when it comes to their breeding habits. The mating ritual is initiated by females, and males increase their coloring as the courtship begins.

Females are pregnant for 55 to 60 days and they can give birth to between 5 and 30 fry that can be quite large up to 0.75 inches in length. Their large size from birth allows the fry to feed just like adult fish and they are not usually preyed on by the others.

One thing to keep in mind is that you should prepare the tank for the breeding and the pregnancy period in advance. Females are known to be easily disturbed if they get moved while in gestation. The stress of being moved usually causes the female to suffer an abortion and even die. I recommend the use of a large breeder net in the same tank, to avoid upsetting the females.

Xenotoca Eiseni

Appearance

male xenotoca eiseni
male xenotoca eiseni

Going by the name of the redtail splitfin, Xenotoca Eiseni is another beautiful subspecies of the Goodeidae family. You can tell the males apart from the females and the young by the large hump behind their heads. This hump grows with the fish, so older males are easy to notice because of these large humps. Another thing that makes the males recognizable is the blue coloring of the body, and the red or orange coloring of the tail and penduncular area. As is the case with other live-bearing species, the females tend to exhibit less noticeable colors and a larger size.

Males can grow as long as 2.4 inches, while the females can grow up to 2.8 inches, being slightly larger.

Aquarium conditions

male xenotoca eiseni
male xenotoca eiseni

The redtail splitfin is not particularly needy or demanding when it comes to aquarium conditions. It can tolerate colder temperatures, and it does well within the 59-80F range without a problem. Smaller than other species, they do not require a lot of room to swim around, so they will have no issue living in a 10 gallon tank. However, if you are planning on starting a colony, consider getting a larger tank, up to 29 gallons.

The water pH levels this fish can tolerate vary between 6.0 and 8.0. Hard water, more alkaline, is what they prefer, and keep in mind to avoid keeping them in water over 75F. Consider a tank with a dark substrate, to allow the goodeid fish to exhibit their beautiful colors to the full.

What does it like to eat?

It is good to know that this fish is not a picky eater. It is omnivorous and it does well on any kind of diet. Don’t forget that plants must be part of a daily diet, nonetheless.

Are they aggressive?

Although they are so small, compared to other species, they tend to be a bit difficult when placed in a tank with other breeds. In particular, you should know that the redtail splitfin does not get along with catfish, for which manifests a strong aversion. Stripping the fins and attacking other species like Corydoras are not unlikely events, so I recommend considering a species aquarium just for them. They are also known to prey on their fry.

Breeding recommendations

female xenotoca eiseni giving birth
female xenotoca eiseni giving birth

If you are planning on starting a colony, you should keep in mind that this species preys on its young. You can prevent such behavior, by heavily stocking your tank with more plants, so that fry can hide. Also, offer them enough food, so that the most aggressive individuals have less reason to eat the young.

The gestation period for females is 60 days and they can produce 5 to 15 fry in one pregnancy. From the start, the fry can consume the same type of food as their parents. In a well planted aquarium, the redtail splitfin produces more fry than what it can prey on, so over time expect to see their numbers multiply.

You could also remove all the other fish from the females aquarium leaving the lone female to give birth without the risk of the fry being eaten by the other fish. After the female has finished giving birth, you should remove her as well. Then the fry can be raised without any risk of being eaten.

Fancy guppy, platy, molly and swordtail pedigree types

fancy guppy delta tailed guppy

fancy guppy veiltail champion

Fancy guppies, platies, mollies and swordtails

All the four popular livebearers available in your local shop are pedigree varieties or cross breeds. You will not find wild type (fish found in the wild or resemble fish from the wild) livebearers for sale. These fancy livebearer fish have been developed over many years of selective breeding. They are usually mass produced from tropical fish farms from the far east and Florida.

Pedigree in livebearers is measured by how close a particular fish is to an ideal fish in terms of colour, pattern, body shape and fin shape.

The laws of genetics applies to livebearers as it does to all other animals. You would be wise to learn the basics of mendelian genetics. Mendel’s law means that if two parent fish of different colour breed then the young will not be a blend of the two colours. If a pure red guppy breeds with a pure blue guppy then the young will not be

fancy guppy female champion

purple. The young will be either all red or all blue depending on if red or blue is the dominant colour. However the other colour has not disappeared it is still there but hidden behind the dominant colour. His second law means that every gene is inherited from an individuals parents – half from the mother and half from the father. When reproduction takes place then these genes split apart and recombine with genes from the other fish in complicated but predictable ways.

Mendelian_inheritance

Livebearers are ideal fish for selective breeding

Basic livebearer breeding for beginners

More advanced breeding techniques

Of all livebearers the four main livebearers (guppies, platys, mollys and swordtails) and their close relatives are ideal fish for selective breeding because fish such as guppies do not breed true. Every guppy differs from its parents slightly. These slight deviations can be developed over the generations to create new fancy varieties. That is why they have proven so popular with breeders. The other livebearers breed true most of the time so take a lot of work to produce new fancy varieties.

Guppies and mollys are closely related and it is sometimes possible to interbreed them to obtain a feature from one species to the other to create a new variety. Likewise swordtails and platys are also closely related and can interbreed to create new varieties.

male and female fancy guppy mating
male and female fancy guppy mating

If you want to be successful in pedigree breeding always select parent fish that are healthy, are in their breeding prime in terms of age and do not have any genetic defects.

When buying pedigree stock great care must be taken when buying the female in particular. The female’s pedigree is not obvious and just because most females look alike does not mean that they do not carry pedigree genes because they do. Using any old female for breeding is likely to result in a mongrel brood which is pointless.

When breeding for pedigree then you must apply selective breeding techniques.

1. Choose the best male and female that most closely fits the pedigree profile you are after

breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails
breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails

2. Culling. This means you must kill off or dispose of young fish that do not match the pedigree profile.
However you must wait until the young fish are half grown before you can tell whether there is no chance of them becoming good pedigree specimens or not. Remove all fish that do not make the grade. Also it makes good sense to separate young males from young females to prevent unwanted breeding. But beware that some young males develop late and may look like females longer than other males. Keep an eye on this.
This separation of males from females allows you to grow the fish until they hit their prime and then picking the best two without the fear of unwanted pregnancies

Fancy guppy pedigree types

short round tail Moscow guppy
short round tail Moscow guppy

Pedigree guppies have a standard body length that excludes the tail fin of 1 inch which is 26mm. This is because of cross breeding with mollies to obtain black genes then crossing back.

The tail types are divided into short and long tail types.

Pedigree guppy tail fin shapes

Short tail types do occasionally occur naturally in the wild. The short tailed varieties are the round-tail, spear tail and spade tail.

The long tailed varieties do not occur in the wild but are the result of extensive line breeding to lengthen and shape the tail to a defined pedigree standard. The long tailed varieties are flag tail, veil tail, fan tail, delta tail, lyre tail, double sword tail, bottom sword tail, top sword tail and pin tail.

Snakeskin delta tail guppy
Snakeskin delta tail guppy

Pedigree guppy colours

After fin shapes, colour is another important factor in pedigree
Guppies are described with a basic background colour together with an overlay colour called cover. This technically refers to the different layers of pigmentation and other iridophores that refract colours in the guppies skin.

The base colours for guppies are

Grey This is the wild grey/olve green type colour
Albino This is the lack of black pigment cells. There is an albino version called the glass-belly that has no pigment at all and has the pink eyes.

gold coloured guppy
gold coloured guppy

Gold Yellow colour but when black pigmentation is present appears bronze
White This is formed from white pigment cells and the lack of other colour forming cells.
Blond This is a light yellow colour. They have dark eyes.
Silver This is when the shiny iridophores overlay white pigment cells.
Blue Guppies don’t have blue pigment cells. Blue is created by black pigment cells that are refracted through iridophore cells creating an iridescent blue. They lack the red and yellow pigment cells.
Cream
Pink
Lutino
fancy guppy pedigree colours

Cover colours and patterns are a secondary layer of colour that gives the guppy its final colouration. Patterns include leopard skin or snakeskin, while emerald is a cover colour.

black lyretail swordtail
black lyretail swordtail

Fancy swordtail pedigree types

There are 3 basic fin types in sword tails
1) Normal fins – as in the wild type
2) Tall fins – where the dorsal is larger than normal
3) Lyre finned – where the all fins have extended edges in a lyre shape. This sometimes results in a lyre shaped gonopodiumm that is so deformed that such a fish cannot mate.
Sword tails come in several ground colours but not as many as the guppy.

Sword tail ground colours include:

pineapple male swordtail
pineapple male swordtail

green
pink
gold
albino
blond
white
silver
cream
There are so far 3 cover colours in Swordtails: Black, red and orange. The orange covered fish are called pineapples.

The common swordtail varieties are:

berlin cross swordtail female
berlin cross swordtail female

Berlin cross swordtail.
This originated in Berlin. This is a red sword tail with a black spotted body. This variety does not breed true. You have to cross a red sword tail with a red sword tail with black spots. That is why it is called a cross.
Frankfurt cross swordtail.
Originated from Frankfurt. The front half of the fish is red while the rear half of the fish is black. This variety also does not breed true and has to be crossed from a red with a Frankfurt cross.
Hamburg cross swordtail.
Originated from Hamburg. Has yellow fins, black body with blue/green metallic scales on the sides.
Wiesbaden Cross swordtail.
The fish is black with shiny scales. The top of the fish and the bottom of the fish are either red or green.
Green swordtail.
This has a green body with a red zig-zag band on the side.

red lyre tailed sword tail
red lyre tailed sword tail

Red Swordtail.
Both the ground colour and the cover colour is red. This gives the fish a deep red colour. The red albino has no ground colour but does have a red covering colour. The resulting fish is red with red eyes and a red tail. But its colour is not as deep as the normal red sword tail.
Tuxedo sword tail
The body is two thirds matt black covering a red ground colour. The black extends over most but not all of the body. The back is usually red.
Wagtail sword tail
Red bodied fish with all black fins. There are white, orange and yelow bodied varieties but all must have black fins.

Fancy platy pedigree groups

There are two basic species of platy that are closely related and over the years they have been interbred.
The maculatus platy is deeper bodied than the variatus platy. The maculatus platy comes from warmer waters than its close relative. The variatus platy grows more slowly than the maculatus platy. Most varieties have been developed from the maculatus platy with interbreeding to bring the varieties over to the variatus platy.

sunshine platy variatus
sunshine platy variatus

Fancy platy fins.

The point at which the body and tail meet should be a nice gentle curve and angle will be penalised by judges.
Most platys have tall dorsal fins that are square or flag shaped. Some platys have a brush like tail that is similar to the spear point tail in guppies.

The ground colours for platys are green,red and albino

The cover colours for platies are red, blue, marigold and black.

Well known platy varieties are:

comet platy = where the upper and lower edges of the tail fin are black.
2 spot platy = where the base of the tail has two dark spots. One above and one below.

mickey mouse platy
mickey mouse platy

Half moon platy = Where the base of the tail has a black crescent band.
Moon platy – where there is one large rounnd spot at the base of the tail.
Salt and pepper = Where the base colour(white) is dotted over with black dots all over.
Blue mirror platy = This variety has a green/grey base colour overlaid with shiny blue scales on the sides.
Coral platy = This variety is foreshortened so looks chubby. This variety is deep red.
Bleeding heart platy = This variety has a blond ground colour with a red patch on its breast and red bands coming up from the red patch.
Tuxedo platy = The body is two thirds matt black
Wagtail platy = Red bodied fish with all black fins.

Variatus platy colours

The only ground colour is green/grey
Sunset platy = This variety has bluish sides, yellow dorsal and red tail.

Hawaii platy variatus
Hawaii platy variatus

Hawaii platy = Matt black body with a yellow dorsal fin and a red tail fin.
Marigold platy = This variety has a yellow back and yellow dorsal fin. The lower half of the fish is orange as well as the tail being orange.

Fancy molly pedigree types

There are two closely related molly species in the hobby. The normal molly and the sailfin molly. Over the years they have been occasionally interbred in an attempt to create new varieties or improve existing varieties of molly. The normal molly has a small dorsal. Other fin types for the molly include a tall dorsal fin type, a veiltail fin type and a lyretail fin type. Note that some males with fancy fins have difficulty breeding because the gonopodium (being a fin) is also affected. So the male cannot fertilise his female.

female dalmation molly
female dalmation molly

The main colours for mollys are

Black, white, and green

The main molly pedigree types are:

Midnight molly = black body with a red dorsal fin
Albino mollys are common
White molly = silver white body and fins
Piebald molly = white molly with black dots all over
Golden molly = golden yellow molly. Some golden mollys have are overlaid in marbled black.
Liberty molly = blue sides and red edged fins .

Common livebearer illnesses: how to recognise and treat them

pineapple male swordtail

Common livebearer illnesses

livebearers facts and info

How to maintain healthy livebearers

Most tank raised livebearers are quite healthy fish. In other words they hardly ever get sick as long as their aquarum is kept clean and healthy and nothing goes wrong such as a faulty heater.
However, dirty water, overcrowded aquariums, overfeeding or even a poor diet can lead to livebearers getting sick.

Diseases can be avoided and should be avoided rather than relying on medications and treatments to cure sick fish it is better to avoid the conditions that lead to sick fish.

Here are some common sense tips:

  1. Don’t buy sick fish. Even apparently healthy fish should be quarantined for a few weeks in case of hidden illnesses to avoid spreading illness to your existing fish.
  2. Remove dead fish immediately. I dead fish which may have been carrying an illness will release its illness into the water as it decomposes. Also a decomposing fish will rot and pollute the water causing the other fish harm. A partial water change after removing a dead fish is a good idea too.
  3. Check your fish daily for any signs of lack of health such as lethargy, clamped fins, scratching against objects or unusual breathing by the fish.
  4. Treat your fish as soon as a disease is spotted. Some diseases can only be cured if the disease is treated early.
  5. Keep common fish medications at hand. In other words buy them early. Methylene blue, malachite green, white spot medication and an antifungal medication are helpful first aid. Also sea salt is often helpful.

Common illnesses that affect livebearers

1) White spot
The signs of white spot are white dust like spots about the size of a grain of salt sprinkled over the body and fins of affected fish.
Treat fish early. Fish can die from untreated white spot. Raise the temperature to 85F but less for livebearers from cooler waters. Add some salt to the water. 1 teaspoon per 5 litres of water. Treat with the latest white spot medication as well.

2) Mouth fungus (cottonmouth)
Recognised by white fluffy growths around the mouth or occasionally along the fins. Although it looks like fungus, it is not. It is actually caused by a bacterial infection – columnaris.
Treat fish with marycin, salt added to the water and malachite green. Cottonmout has become resistant to some antibiotics so you might have to re-treat with a different antibiotic.

3) Fin Rot
Signs of fin rot are split or frayed edges to the fins with dark or white edging to the fins.
Treat with nitrofurazone or a similar wide spectrum antibiotic. Also add salt and methylene blue to the water.

4) Fish tuberculosis
Symptoms include bloated stomachs, pop-eyes, body abscesses and protruding scales.
This is very difficult to treat because TB forms a protective mass coating that prevents antibiotic penetrating to kill off the bacteria. Very sick fish are best killed.

5) Gill flukes
Symptoms include: fish having laboured breathing with gill covers open. Fish may also start scraping their gill plates against objects.
Treat with praziquantel baths. Alternatively treat with a dylox bath.

6) Intestinal parasites or worms
Symptoms are thin bellied fish, stringy white poop. Fish may go off their food.
Buy anti-parasitic medication that can be mixed into the fish’s food. If the fish are not eating you will have to capture the fish and inject the medication directly into the fish’s mouth.

7) Cloudy Skin
Slimy looking film on the skin or fins is an infection of ciliates or flagellates. This may be cured by raising the temperature slowly over several days until it reaches 85F and treating with methylene blue.

8) Poisoning
The fish will have clamped fins and may dart about the tank and rub against objects. Fish will also breathe heavily.
The main causes of water poisoning are Chlorine from tap water, ammonia from decaying organic matter or a build up of fish urine and poop, chemicals from aerosol sprays, insecticides such as fly killers are pretty bad.

Do an immediate 50% water change with safe water that has been standing for at least 24 hours and is the same temperature as your aquarium. Remove any decaying matter or dirt in the aquarium, remove excess mulm from filters, stop feeding. After 24 hours do another 50% water change.

9) Fungal infections
Symptoms are white or greyish fluffy patches on the body or the fins. This may come about from injury to the body or fin. Dab the affected area with cotton wool dipped in malachite green or set up a malachite green bath dip for the fish. Leave the fish in the bath for 1 hour.

10) Shimmies or livebearer disease
Symptoms are when your fish continually rock from side to side.
This is thought to be because many livebearers prefer hard alkaline water with some salt added. Livebearers kept in soft acidic water will over time develop this disease.
Treat by adding some salt to the aquarium and find ways of adjusting the ph and hardness of the water. Perhaps by the use of crush coral sand or dolomite sand.

 

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

guppies and platies in a community tank

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

Make your own fish food

Raising live food

Feeding livebearers can be easy especially the commonly found livebearers, but to get the best results then care must be taken with their diet. Most livebearers are omnivorous, eating both animal matter and vegetable matter. Other livebearers are mostly vegetarian such as the platy and goodeid livebearer. And the last group of livebearers are carnivores that need live food and even small fish to eat such as pike livebearer, half beaks, four-eyed fish and porthole livebearer.

Dried food forms a livebearers staple diet

Dried foods can be used to feed most livebearers but if you have vegetarian livebearers or carnivorous livebearers then you need to pick a brand that has a high vegetable content or high protein content. Supplement dried foods with live food at least once a week. And for the vegetarian livebearers add some sliced vegetable matter such as a cucumber slice.

The biggest problem with dried food are that they quickly become stale. So it is best to buy only small quantities at a time and when you buy them check the sell by date and whether the carton looks dusty. Do not buy old stock.

Dried foods come in several varieties. Food flakes are the most common and are a good choice for livebearers because the flakes float giving the livebearers a chance to eat from the surface. Most livebearers are surface feeders.

Types of dried foods for livebearers

Food flakes come in different sizes. The sizes are there to allow you to feed fish with small mouths or fish with large mouths. If there are fry in the aquarium the just crumble a few flakes into crumbs for them.

You could also feed fish pellets to your livebearers. Care must be taken to buy a brand that has floating pellets. Livebearers will usually ignore food that has fallen to the floor of the aquarium where it will rot and pollute the aquarium. The advantage of pellets is that they are less processed than flakes and are just compacted bits of dried food.

Food tablets are useful if you will be away for days at a time. They are compressed food tablets that dissolve slowly over sevearl days. The fish will pick off bits at a time and will be kept fed while you are away.

Feed live food to keep your livebearers healthy

All livebearers benefit from the occasional meal of live food. The fresh vitamins, minerals and amino acids available in live food can not be obtained from dried foods. Once or twice a week is sufficient for most species. But for vegetarians you will also need to feed fresh vegetable matter at least once or twice a week.

Live food can also come in the form of frozen live food and freezze dried food. These are not quite as nutritiuos as real live food.

Where can you obtain live food?

  1. You can keep a large 200l litre barrel of water in a sunny spot in the garden. This will attract mosquito larvae and blood worms. But you can also seed the barrel with daphnia. Daphnia needs to be fed daily with green water or yeast powder. This is the safest and best way of collecting live food for your fish.
  2. You can buy live food from the pet store. But care must be taken to examine the bags of live food for freshness. Some bags of live food can be full of dead insects which is a waste of time. Also some pet shops will sell live food which may contain illnesses from their fish or other source, even the best aquarium store may be quilty of this.
  3. You can collect from wild sources. Good sources for daphnia are from water troughs for cattle or horses and are generally safe. Collecting from wild ponds is a danger. Care must be taken not to collect parasites and other nasties alongside your chosen live food. Best to avoid any pond that contains fish.
  4. You could also raise live food such as brine shrimp to adult hood to feed adult fish. Brineshrimp is an excellent choice of live food except for the effort you need to put in to raise the shrimps. You can also raise white worms or fruit flies. All make a nutritious supplement to dried foods.
  5. Another excellent choice is small earthworms. You will need to rinse out any soil from the worms stomach. Chop the worms up with a razor into small pieces to feed your fish.

Best live foods include daphnia, cyclops, mosquito larvae, and even earth worms, white worms and fruit flies. If you can give your fish a variety of live food as well as some vegetable matter then all the better for the health of your livebearers.

Vegetable items to feed livebearers

A slice of cucumber, boiled spinach or lettuce leaves, spirulina and algae are a good source of vegetable matter for livebearers. There are many vegetable items that can be chopped up into small pieces and fed to your fish. Experiment with what your fish will eat. Try ensure that the items float. Tie a cotton thread to the vegetable piece to keep it near the surface. Also after a couple of hours remove any uneaten vegetable item and throw it away.

Variety in feeding keeps your livebearers healthy and breeding

If you bear all this information in mind and feed your fish using this knowledge then your fish should remain healthy, vibrant and active. Remember variety is the spice of life and it goes for the food of livebearers too. They will of course reproduce when fed well which is a sure sign that they are healthy.

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

How to buy livebearers

blue lace leopard skin guppy male

Where and how to buy livebearers

Here are the main sources of livebearers

Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish
Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish

You can of course go to one of the large pet chain stores where you will be able to buy some off the shelf guppies, platies or mollies and sometimes swordtails. However don’t expect any fancy variety or high pedigree fish. If you are a beginner just starting out then this is not a bad place to start out. You will however have to be more careful with the health of the fish you buy here because these are not cared for by experts in fish keeping but by shop staff who may not have experience in looking after fish at all.

There are smaller specialised aquarium shops that will carry a greater variety of livebearer and occasionally will stock the excess brood of a professional breeder. You might be able to pick up some near pedigree stock.

Aquarium clubs are a much better place to buy more specialised forms and rare species of livebearer. You will also be able to buy wild strains of newly imported fish that are not available anywhere else. The American livebearer association or the British livebearer association are the obvious clubs to join. Other local clubs are less likely to have livebearers that you might particularly want.

internet classified adverts is a good source for fish
internet classified adverts is a good source for fish

You can also browse aquarist magazines in the classified section to see if the livebearer you are after has come up for sale.

Before buying your fish, it is best to inspect it first. Be prepared by taking with you several plastic bags and a polystyrene carrier box to take your fish home comfortably without much heat loss. Before you set off to buy you must have your home aquarium all set up.

Now, with the spread of the internet you can also buy fish from an online source. There are several good options available to you. Ebay, craigslist, gumtree, and others have a good fish for sale section. Aquarist classifieds has several specialised fish for sale sections that are also sorted by area.

There are also online firms that do mail order tropical fish. They deliver tropical fish to your door overnight no matter where you live in the country. But sometimes when the weather is particularly cold they might not deliver. Another drawback to this is that you cannot inspect the fish before hand. Home delivery of fish relies on mutual trust from the buyer and seller. The advantages are that you can pick exactly the fish you want with you having a wide choice. Also you do not have to make wasted journeys looking for your fish. The cost of delivery can be reduced by buying several fish at the same time.

In the winter some firms will deliver fish but will include special heat packs that maintain the temperature of the water for 24 hours until they can safely reach you. These are expensive and you the purchaser will have to pay extra for this delivery method.

Always buy healthy livebearers

How do you recognise a healthy livebearer? Once you have picked out the fish you are interested in, take a good long look at it in the aquarium. Also, look at other tankmates that share the same tank as well. Examine the body for any white or grey fuzzy patches. Examine the fins for any splits or frayed edges. Check for any abnormal swelling of the eyes or swelling of the abdomen. Check for any scales that stick out pine cone like. Look at the gills they should not be red in colour. check the belly of the fish. If it is concave or the head of the fish looks too big for the body. This is a sign of a poor upbringing. If any of the previous symptoms are present in the fish you are considering then do not buy the fish.

Your ideal fish should have scales and skin with bright colours and have no white grey,brown spots on the skin. The skin should not have a cloudy mucous or fluffy patch anywhere. The fins should be held proud and erect, held away from the body. Clamped fins are a bad sign. Frayed fins are a sign of ill health.

Examine the mouth of the fish. The fish should not have white/grey patches around the lips. The mouth should be sharp and clear.

Next observe the fish swimming. The fish should be active not skulking in a corner. It should show signs of wanting to feed when you come near the aquarium. The fish should not be stuck to the floor of the aquarium nor should it be stuck floating at the surface. This is a sign of swim bladder problems. If you see any of the fish in the aquarium with their mouths near the surface gasping for air and gills opening and closing then this is a sign of poor water conditions(but don’t confuse this with fish trying to feed).

Can I buy just a single livebearer?

It is best to buy a group of fish together because livebearers are social animals and develop inter-fish relationships such as dominance and recognise familiar individuals. You can buy a single fish to add to an existing aquarium but be careful of bullying of the newcomer. Swordtail males will fight each other so it is best to buy only 1 male for any individual aquarium.

How many male and female livebearers should I buy?

If you are buying young fish then to guarantee a reasonable group of males and females you should buy 6 or more because there is no way of telling the sexes apart at a young age.

If you buy adult fish then you can distinguish the males from the females.

  1. Males are more colourful than females. Females are dull in colour but may have some colours in the fins.
  2. Males are usually smaller than females of the same age.
  3. Males have a stick like ventral fin, where the females have a normal triangular shaped fin. The males use this fin to fertilise the females. This fin is located near the fish’s vent.
  4. The males have larger dorsal fins than the females.
  5. Males are slim built while females are plump in shape.

Once you learn to tell apart males from females then you are ready to buy a breeding group. Try to buy 2 females for every male.

Best time of the year to buy livebearers

There is a greater abundance of fish for sale during the spring, autumn and christmas time. So these are the best times to buy your fish. When you buy your fish make sure you don’t have a holiday or business trip planned in the weeks after purchase. It is best to be there for the first few weeks while your fish settle in to oversee if there are any problems.

How to bring your newly bought livebearers home

Set up your home aquarium before you start looking for fish. It should ideally be cycled with a mature filter. After you have purchased your prized specimens always head straight home. When you arrive home, immediately place the unopened bags in the aquarium water.

Leave the fish in the bag for at least 15 minutes to give a chance for the water temperature to equalise with that in the tank. After that you can slowly top up the bag with some water from the tank. Wait 5 minutes then top up again with some more water. Keep repeating until the bag is full. Then release the fish into the tank.

If you have bought small fish or baby fish less than an inch long then you can bag them together in large bags, 4 to a bag. You should put adult fish or fish an inch or bigger in size, singly into separate bags. The bags should be filled with 3/4 air and 1/4 water by the person selling you the fish. They should use the water from the aquarium the fish came from.

Quarantining your newly bought livebearers

When you become serious at the hobby and have prized specimens at home that would be a great loss if they died then you must use a quarantine tank to keep your new arrivals away from your established fish. This gives you a chance to see if your new fish have any hidden illnesses or not. Keep your new fish in quarantine for at least 2 weeks, but better still for 4 weeks to be absolutely safe. If the new fish appears well after this time then they can be transferred to the main aquarium.

Have the right livebearer aquarium set up

Most livebearers can live quite well in a community tank. Your community tank can consist of a variety of livebearer species, a single livebearer species or even include some other community fish alongside. The choice is yours.

Use a single species tank if you are line breeding pedigree livebearers. Note that some closely related livebearer species can interbreed and you will end up with unwanted mongrel fish.

When having a community tank you should try to make sure all the fish are of a similar size and similar activity level. This will help to reduce bullying of small fish by bigger fish and active fish stressing out more placid fish. Also the more active fish will always get to the fish effectively starving the less active fish.

You should always include more females than males for all species. A ratio of 2 females to every male is a good starting point. This is because most males will be continually trying to mate with the females. Too much male attention stresses the females.

Livebearers generally prefer hard alkaline water of ph higher than 7.5. Some species even benefit with some sea salt added to the water. The main species of livebearers prefer temperatures between 74-80f. However the sunset platy a close relative of the common platy prefers lower temperatures between 70f and 75f. Goodeids also prefer lower temperatures similar to sunset platies.

Compatible fish for a livebearer community tank

Most small tetras are compatible with guppies, mollies and platies or other similar livebearer species.

Small corydoras catfish are ideal for most livebearer tanks because the corys stay along the bottom avoiding the livebearers who mostly live along the top of the aquarium.

Most dwarf cichlids make ideal companions because they also occupy the bottom of the aquarium and are not overly aggressive. The presence of livebearers in a dwarf cichlid tank actually gives the dwarf cichlids more confidence to come out more rather than hiding in plants and caves.

Barbs, rasboras and danios are a little more active and occupy the same space as livebearers but can still make good companions for medium to large livebearers such as swordtails and sailfin mollies.

Even for a livebearer single species tank, the addition of a few corydoras catfish can liven your aquarium by having some activity in the lower half of the tank which is usually deserted in a livebearer aquarium set up.

Setting up a Community tank here

Suggested starter groups here

Essential facts about Livebearers here.

Maintain a healthy Livebearer aquarium here.