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.

How to show your fish at fish shows

China fish show

About fish shows

Gozo fish show
Gozo fish show

You’ve learned to keep your fish from dying. You have managed to breed your fish. Now what? Entering your fish into a local fish show is a great next step in taking your fishkeeping hobby to the next level.
With experience you can win trophies, ribbons or prizes such as aquarium equipment or money.
You can show off your prized champion fishes and your skill at raising and breeding your fish.
Fish shows are a good place to keep abreast of new products. Many new products and different interesting species are usually on display.
Usually there are door prizes giving the entrants many chances to win fishkeeping equipment such as heaters, filters or lighting.
You will certainly meet fellow aquarists who will be expert in various fields of fishkeeping. You can learn a lot by asking questions. These experts always take great pride in answering questions, so that they show show off their great expertise on their favourite subject.
You can also ask company representatives of manufacturers about any equipment that they have on display and advice on equipment in general.
You may have to attend shows a few times to see what your competition is like before you will be ready to start entering your fish into the show.
It is only when you start showing off your fish that your fishkeeping skills will really improve and you will become a real expert.
Only through research, and putting into practice what you pick up will you be able to consistently high quality show grade fish.

international fish shows for the best fish
international fish shows for the best fish

Different types of fish shows

Most aquatic competitions are organised by aquarium societies. Some are very large such as the International Betta Congress (IBC) or local to large towns or cities.

Small fish shows

Small fish shows are sponsored by local clubs. To enter a fish into one of these shows you do have to be a member of the local club.

Regional fish shows

These are shows where different clubs compete against each other. A regional show forces you to cooperate with other members of your club in a team effort.

Open fish shows

Same as regional shows except that these are open to the general public and not just members of any particular fish club or aquarium society.

Fish exhibitions or Aquatic Conventions

These are the largest shows that you can enter. These types of show are hosted by tropical fish magazines and international societies.
Many aquarium equipment manufacturers will be present. They usually showcase their latest product line in aquarium filters, lighting, aquariums and aquarium equipment. They will try to sell you something if you look like a prospect.

How fish shows work

Understanding classes in fish shows

Here a judge is grading discus at a show
Here a judge is grading discus at a show

Fish shows put fish into classes so that similar fishes will be judge against each other. Fish shows have many rules for a fish class. You will have to make an effort to understand these rules and comply with these rules to have a decent chance of winning.
Fish have to be compared like for like to make it fairer and easier for the judge to make a decision. That is why you have to enter your fish into a specific class. Make sure you put your fish into the correct class. Classes are grouped by similar species. Groups such as livebearers, central american cichlids, dwarf cichlids and the like are examples of classes and should be easy for you to decide which class is best for your fish to be entered into.
Classes can be further divided into sub-classes. For example a livebearer class can be divided into guppy, platy, molly and swordtail classes. Then guppy class can also be further sub divided into tail type classes such as spade tail, round tail, lyretail, etc. Make sure your fish is suitable for the class you intend to enter it into.

Increasing your chances of winning a fish show

Pedigree dragon scale koi betta
Pedigree dragon scale koi betta

Try to prevent or discourage people from looking at your fish before the judges arrive. You don’t want your fish to be unnecessarily stressed before the judges have arrived. Stressed fish may lose their colour.
You can actually train your fish not be be spooked out by strangers coming to inspect them. What you need to do is recreate competition-like conditions for your fish at home.
Place your fish’s holding tank somewhere lots of people will pass to and fro in front of, with the occasional person peering into the tank. Or arrange for several members of your family to pace back and forth near the tank several times a day. And also tell them to peer into the tank, while you observe your fish’s behaviour. When the fish becomes accustomed to this attention then you can train less often. Also you can try shining a torch at the fish occasionally so that when the fish is at the show the fish will not be startled by a judge with poor eyesight flashing a torch at your fish to better see it.

Never present ill fish at shows. Only take fish that are in tip-top to the show. The stress of the show and the travelling to and from the show does put a fish under stress. Such stress can kill or make ill a weak fish. You will not be popular at the show if you bring a sick or weak fish.
A small holding tank can be used to keep your fish safe and well before the show so that your prize fish can avoid getting into a fight or injured with other fish. You can also keep a close eye on your fish’s health. Feed live food and vegetable tidbits in preparation for the show. Make sure you clean the tank with water changes and syphon off any waste matter daily.
Don’t include decorations in the holding tank that may injure your fish. You can however include floating plants and some java moss or java ferns. Have a bare bottom or a thin layer of sand at the bottom of the holding tank.
Your fish needs to be relaxed and stress free in the holding tank. And maintenance and observation will be easier.

Champion grade koi shusui scaleless
Champion grade koi shusui scaleless

Exhibiting your fish in a professional manner

Get hold of a copy of the rules for the class you expect to show your fish in. Study the rules carefully before you fill out an entry form so that you can familiarise yourself with the rules of the contest you want to enter your fish into.
Take your fish to the show early so that your fish has time to settle down. Stressed fish may have washed out colours. Adding a little salt to the holding tank can help your fish regain its colour.
Always take water from home with you to the show. Do not use water from the show, which may be markedly different than the water you have at home. Many owners who ignore this end up with sick fish after the show. Also for a day or two before the show stop feeding. This will not harm your fish, but will reduce any toxins in the water and your fish will become more active.
Always use a show tank that is the appropriate size for the size of fish that you will be showing. A small fish in a large tank will look lost, while a large fish in a small tank will look cramped.
Make sure you read the rules in regards to the set up of the show tank. Some shows don’t allow gravel. Make sure you clean the glass throughly on the outside of the tank and inside.
When your show tank is all set up then stand back and look at the whole set up with the fish inside. Look at it with the eye of a judge. Make adjustments where necessary.

Show guidelines for showing fish

wonderful champion crown pearlscale goldfish
wonderful champion crown pearlscale goldfish

Judging guidelines are usually very strict. Contestants are usually not allowed near their tanks when the fish are being judged. So, be patient.
Each class has a single judge who will judge and score your fish on its own merit and not in comparison to neighbouring fish.
After all the fish in all the classes have been judged, a best of show award is given to the best fish in the show overall.
Aquarium societies have set up benchmarks or standards that each fish can be directly compared to. Obviously the fish that is closest to the benchmark is usually judge to be the winner.
Most fish are judged on a point system. Points are allocated in sections. Some points for size, some for shape, some for colour, finnage and deportment. Some sections are appointed more points than others, so be aware of this. The fish with the most points altogether is the winner.

Size and body weight of show fish

Size is a consistently high scoring factor. Bigger fish score more than smaller fish.
The fish’s body must be fully intact. No bumps or growths or deformities. They are not tolerated well by the judges. The fish’s body must be of the correct shape and correct proportion. The fish should not look bloated or anorexic.

Colour and fins of show fish

A fish’s body colour is determined by various layers of pigmentation that is found in the scales and the flesh underlying the scales of the fish. In the wild, colour is used for camouflage, display, mating and for shoaling purposes.
In shows, the fish must meet the the show standards for colour which might be markedly different than wild colours. Many show fish have colours that have been mutated over many generations away from the original wild colouration. Colour can be a very important factor in scoring for a show and a lot of points out of the total go to good coloration.
Fish do have some chameleon like abilities when it comes to colour. They can adjust their colours to better blend in with their surroundings. In bright tanks they can become washed out while in dark tanks they can darken.
Your fish’s coloration should be even all over the body and fins. The colour should not look washed out or be in patches unless it is a patterned fish.When 2 or more colours appear on a fish the borders where 2 colours meet each other should be well defined without colour bleeding.
Do not be tempted to use artificial colouring methods to improve the colour of your fish. These techniques leave the fish looking artificial and most judges will instantly recognised an artificially coloured fish and disqualify it.
Fins should all be present and well formed. Any missing or deformed fins are severely frowned on by judges. It is better to not enter such fish because you want to build up a good relationship with the judges for future shows. All fins must be in good condition with no tears, splits or frayed edges. The fins should all be held wide open and properly coloured. The fins should all be symmetrical in shape and size.

Overall condition of show fish

There should be no missing or damaged scales. Eyes should be bright and clear and symmetrical. The eyes must not be bulging or look sunken. The fish must be in perfect health and have a healthy and alert appearance.
Transporting fish to and from a show
Transport the fish’s display tank in an insulated wooden box. Darken the tank by covering with a cloth. Cushion the tanks so that vibrations and jolts are not transmitted to the tank and the fish. Make sure you arrive early to set up your show tank and give your fish time to settle after their stressful journey. Relaxed fish always display better and always score better than skitty fish with stressed colours.

 

Selective breeding and wild caught fish

Wild caught Malawi fish - demasoni showing wild colours

A guide to selective breeding and wild-caught fish

Breeding pedigree livebearers

Breeding fancy goldfish

Wild caught Malawi fish - demasoni showing wild colours
Wild caught Malawi fish – demasoni showing wild colours

While you may have already enjoyed some success breeding some species of fish, there is an additional level of skill necessary to ensure that the specimens you breed are of the highest quality. In order to maximise the health of your fish, you must be aware of how to use reproductive biology to your advantage.

Once you understand the basics of breeding, you can begin selectively breeding fish with certain characteristics. Doing this successfully, however, requires some understanding of the genetic makeup of your fish, and the manner in which they will pass on desirable characteristics.

These characteristics can take any number of forms, from specific variations in colouration such as seen in many species of betta splendens or fin variations such as those commonly bred out of goldfish. Different colours, sizes, body shapes and even behavioural attributes can be bred in subsequent generations of your fish, but doing so requires paying attention to your fish pedigree.

Fish domestication designations or generations removed from the wild

Brilliantly coloured wild caught peacock - walteri
Brilliantly coloured wild caught peacock – walteri

Most novice aquarists are not aware of the fact that domesication designations for fish exist. These helpful little tags are often added onto the end of the description used to identify the fish:

  • WC, wild, or F0 – The most evident of the tags, this indicates a fish that was caught from the wild
  • F1 – First generation. This is a fish whose parents were both wild-caught fish
  • F2 – Second generation. This indicates that both parents of the fish in question were F1 fish
  • F3 – third generation and onwards are considered domesticated or tank bred fish

There are some important differences to consider between these options. First, wild fish are generally the most expensive specimens due to the increased costs of catching, importing and transporting them to your tank. However, they generally enjoy the most successful genetic makeup and, if gifted with a special characteristic that you want to breed, often represent the best chance of passing it on to their offspring. These fish are the most vibrant, naturally colourful and hardy specimens found in an aquarium. But they may be harder to keep in an aquarium because they are adapted to a life in the wild.

F1 and F2 fish are also valuable from a genetic point of view, although slightly less so, since the reduced genetic diversity of an aquarium tank will cause the genetic line to gradually degrade over later generations. Most breeders do not bother identifying fish that are past F2, and it is rare to see any fish advertised as such. As opposed to wild caught fish these specimens show a degree of domestication and will be easier to care for in an aquarium.

The longer a bloodline of fish spends in captivity, the more likely it is to fall victim to genetic defects or just a lack of genetic vitality. This is caused by inbreeding of related fish. Some of this may be relatively harmless, but many will lead to greater complications over time. For this reason, it is important to maintain genetic diversity when breeding in order to keep your fish and their offspring healthy. This can be achieved by keeping careful note of the ancestry of your fish to avoid closely related specimens breeding with each other.

Selective breeding of fish and genetic diversity

red green and black butterfly betta with dragon scales and halfmoon tail
red green and black butterfly betta with dragon scales and halfmoon tail

The most subtle skill in selective fish breeding is maintaining the appropriate balance between the genetic traits that you wish to pass on and the undesirable ones that will make your fish weak and susceptible to illness.

The importance of this balance is readily apparent in most fish species: A mass-produced specimen that has been grown on a fish farm with limited genetic diversity will be less vigorous and have duller colouration than a freshly-caught wild fish of the same species. In order to guarantee the best results for your selective breeding attempt, you will need to carefully select your fish and their mates. It is possible to reinvigorate a breeding group of fish with the introduction of 1 or a few wild caught specimens.

In the case of highly developed forms such as guppies that are markedly different in form and colour than wild specimens, the process is a lot more protracted. Breeding a wild caught specimen with a highly developed fish will most certainly invigorate the line with strong and healthy youngsters. But the likelihood of obtaining youngsters that resemble the developed form is almost zero. It will take a lot of breeding back to the original pedigree to regain the original developed form while maintaining some of the new found vigour in the strain.

There are two ways that you can improve the pedigree of fish

• Line breeding—The process of line breeding involves keeping the genetic blood line of your fish within the family in order to bring out the desired characteristic more. It is also often called inbreeding, and is the most successful way to ensure that a desirable physical attribute gets passed on.

• Outbreeding—This is the breeding of a fish with the characteristic you are encouraging to an unrelated fish from an entirely separate bloodline. This can be an important step towards ensuring the health of your fish after several generations of line breeding by ensuring that genetic diversity remains high and your fish are born healthy. One thing that you have to remember is that some feature of pedigree is carried by the male and others by the female. So when outbreeding you will need to outbreed both males and females otherwise important traits may be lost.

Advanced aquarists will often use a technique called parallel line breeding, in which several different bloodlines all featuring the desired characteristics will be bred and raised in parallel. After every 3-4 generations, they will be mixed with one another, offering the benefits of outbreeding with a vastly lower chance of losing their special line bred quality in the process.

A term often used by selective fish breeders is hybrid vigour, which is used to describe the better growth and survival rate of an outbred specimen than those of the inbred parents. Just like any other species, genetic diversity is the key to success, and with the right balance you should be able to raise healthy fish with your desired characteristics.

Choosing between wild-caught fish and later generations

Wild caught active malawi gar showing full colour
Wild caught active malawi gar showing full colour

If you would like to enjoy the greatest chance of success with your selective breeding operation, it is highly recommended that you start with wild-caught fish. This is not always possible, such as in the case of Fancy Goldfish, which do not exist in the wild at all, and many other common species as well, but if you can get wild specimens, you ensure the greatest genetic starting point.

Wild fish will often have the best colouration available for a specific species and produce the healthiest offspring. If you are able to get a hold of two wild-caught fish, you can begin breeding and sell your F1 fish for a reasonable price. This is especially true if you have already marked the beginning of a desirable trait through the union, which you can subsequently line breed for greater emphasis if you choose.

If wild-caught fish are unavailable, you can still gain the benefits of genetic diversity through purchasing two F1 fish from separate sources, as well. However, you will have to mark their offspring as F2 fish, which will diminish your rate of return if you are breeding specifically for profit.

In many domestic species of tropical fish that have been tank bred over many generations, wild fish are just not available either because the cost is prohibited, they may be a protected species, or they may have become almost extinct in the wild. In this case, some aquarists try to recreate the original form and colouration of the wild caught ancestor. They do this by selective breeding, but not to produce a fancy form or colour but to try and get back the original wild form. The wild form is usually stronger, has better finnage and better colouration than the mass produced specimens usually available. This is achievable, but it will not result in fish with the same vigour as wild specimens nor will it create fish with a diversified genetic make up.

A final comment about wild-caught fish should be made: Not all vendors get their fish from sustainable sources, and there are even those willing to sell tank-raised fish as wild-caught ones in order to make a quick buck hoping the average aquarist will not know the difference. Buy your fish from an enthusiast or a trusted vendor that runs a long term operation and your breeding program will benefit as a result.