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 .

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.