Livebearers: The Overlooked Group of Fish
By Brendan Flynn - @flynns.fish.forum
In the fish keeping hobby, common livebearers, such as guppies, mollies, platies, and swordtails, are often looked upon as easy beginner fish. Many people start their fish keeping journey with a 10 gallon tank, some guppies, platies, or mollies, and some plastic plants They keep the setup going for 6 months, and then very quickly grow out of the “beginner" phase and move on, without thinking much about these incredible fish. As a pet store employee and aquarium maintenance company owner, I see this happen often, and personally believe that these fish are some of the most overlooked and fascinating fish in the aquarium hobby.
Livebearers, specifically guppies, are what got me in to the hobby 9 years ago, when I was just 7 years old. I remember my dad taking me to a small local pet store, and buying me a single guppy for my newly set up 10 gallon aquarium. Like any young kid with a new fish tank, I desperately wanted more fish, and painstakingly waited to ensure that the male guppy was doing well, and the tank was stable like my dad said. Finally, the day came to get more fish. I chose another male guppy as well as some female guppies. About a week after adding them, I noticed baby guppies everywhere. This was the moment when I got hooked in to this hobby forever, and quite possibly why I look so fondly at livebearing fish.
Common livebearers are very easy to care for, but there are some things to watch out for. Many are mass bred and raised in large ponds overseas. Often, they are bred in brackish water. Water parameters can also be drastically different. When they arrive in Canadian waters, and are dropped in to fully freshwater, they become stressed, their immune systems weaken, and they waste away and crash. All too often I hear “I’m never trying livebearers again, all they do is die.”
I highly recommend quarantining any fish that enters your aquarium at home, but I find this especially important with common livebearers. It is important to watch the health of the fish carefully for 2-3 weeks to watch for signs of crashing or disease. Once you are satisfied that the fish is happy and healthy, you can add it to a display or main breeding tank. In my experience, most livebearers can be incredibly sensitive to low Ph. I recommend keeping the Ph in the tank at 7.0, minimum. I like to keep all of my livebearer tanks at 7.6. I tend to keep the temperature in the tank around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many common livebearers make fantastic additions to community aquariums, and are quite flexible in terms of tank set up. They prefer live plants, however they will do just fine with plastic plants and decor. Some flow in the tank is nice to have, even if it’s just the return flow from a hang on back or canister filter. Livebearers enjoy a wide range of small foods. I find that they really enjoy frozen or live brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms, as well as a staple food of high quality flakes or pellets.
Working at a local fish store, some of the most common types of fish that I see being traded in are juvenile platies, guppies, mollies, and swordtails. It is known that livebearers are underwater rabbits, and breed prolifically. There are a few things to keep in mind when attempting to breed livebearers with success. First off, it is very important to buy the proper ratio of male to female livebearers. A standard rule is two or three females for every male. Male livebearers often harass females to death, so spreading out the breeding between many different females is a good idea. Once you have males and females in a tank, chances are that fry will follow shortly after if the tank conditions are good.
Adult livebearers tend to eat their fry, so having a plan to save the babies is ideal. Typically, I like to have a lot of cover in the aquarium. Wisteria, vallisneria, java fern, pogostemon, or any other bushy or dense plants provide cover for the newborns. Once you notice the fry gathering in a plant or hiding area, you can use a small net to scoop them up and transfer them to a grow out aquarium or floating fry trap. To feed the fry, pick a high quality flake food, and crush it up finely between your fingers before dropping it in to the grow out aquarium. Frozen or live baby brine shrimp or daphnia are also fantastic feeding options. Once the fry are larger than the largest adults mouth, you can release them back in to the main aquarium. If you plan on breeding these fish for profit, most local fish stores are willing pay a fair amount for colourful juveniles that are at least half an inch big.
(Male & Female)
Depth of the Livebearer Family
When the average hobbyist hears the word “livebearer," they often think of the standard, colourful platies, mollies, guppies, and swordtails that they see in nearly every pet store. For the longest time, I also thought that was all there is to this family of fish. However, when you begin to look in to them in more depth, you realize that the livebearers in pet stores just barely scratch the surface of possibilities. The moment I became interested in wild type livebearers was in 2017.
Cory McElroy, the owner of Aquarium Co-Op, gave me a tour of his fish room, and I left with some Liberty Mollies (Poecilia salvatoris) that I picked out. Liberty Mollies are "wild type" livebearers, which mean they look identical, or similar to their family members living in the wild in El Salvador. I believe that I’m so fascinated with them because of their looks. Most fish in this hobby are altered in some way by humans to create more colour, or add size. These wild livebearers only show their stunning natural colours. There is also something incredibly fun about keeping rare fish in your fishroom.
This started a new addiction for me, and I began to scour the internet looking for more wild type livebearers to keep. I now have Poecilia mexicana, Xiphophorus montezumae (These swordtails have a sword that is double their body length!) and of course, my Poecilia salvatoris. In the future, I plan on trying “Merry Widow” livebearers, and wild type platies. There are so many possibilities when you start to look further in to livebearers.
Hi-Fin Variatus Platy
Passion, Inspiration, and Sharing
Finally, another amazing thing about livebearers is the easy process of sharing them. As I mentioned earlier, they make a fantastic beginner fish. Paired with the fact that they breed easily, they are very fun to grow and sell to other hobbyists.
They were the gateway fish in to the hobby for me, and I hope that they are for other new hobbyists. Especially with rare livebearers, it’s fun being the first in your city to work with them, and slowly see other local hobbyists become intrigued by them. Before you know it, they’ll be in many tanks around the city, making a splash in the local aquarium hobby.
By sharing, trading, and selling these fish, I hope to get as many new hobbyists involved and excited about nature. Livebearers truly are an incredible yet overlooked group of fish in the hobby.