Guppy Fish Care – How to Care for Guppies?
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I know I’m not alone in saying that guppies are one of the most beloved freshwater fish species. All aquarists know them and appreciate them for their lively, adaptable nature.
They’re colorful fish that are easy to keep and they get along with many other freshwater fish, which makes them popular with hobbyists but also with more experienced aquarists.
In this comprehensive guide to guppy fish care, I’m going to discuss all you need to know about the guppy habitat, tank conditions, diet, breeding, and guppies’ compatibility with other fish.
By the end of this article, you’ll know everything about guppy fish care and you’ll be prepared to offer your guppies a tank environment in which they can thrive.
But first, let’s see why guppies are such a great choice for a beginner freshwater aquarium and which are the top reasons to keep guppy fish.
Why Keep Guppies?
My top reasons for encouraging beginner aquarists to keep guppies are the following:
- Sociable Nature
- Low Maintenance
- Undemanding Diet
- Easy to Breed
Guppies can adapt to a variety of water conditions and they’re not as sensitive to water parameter fluctuations as other fish are. They’re considered one of the most beginner-friendly fish for this very reason.
Guppies are also community-friendly fish, getting along with other small, non-aggressive fish. Therefore, if you’re looking to create a community tank, guppies should be your go-to choice.
Because they’re small fish, guppies also have a small bio-load, which means you don’t have to worry about them creating too much waste in the tank.
Selective breeding of guppy fish has created many color and pattern varieties. Males display brighter colors and beautifully long, flowing fins. Female guppies display pale colors and have shorter fins.
Guppy fish are also easy to please when it comes to their diet and, if you’re looking to breed guppies, you should know they’re easy to breed as well.
Because of their appetite for mosquito larvae, this fish has been introduced to warm water basins all over the world as a measure to fight against disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Now that I’ve warmed you up to guppies, let’s get to know these fish a bit more in detail.
Origins & Description
In the wild, guppies can be found in the North of the Amazon river, North of Brazil, Guiana, Trinidad, Barbados island, and Venezuela.
Guppies are exclusively freshwater fish and dwell in clean flowing water, but they can be found in brackish nearshore waters.
As a species, they were first observed in 1886 by English priest and scientist Robert John Lechmere Guppy. The fish were named after him.
Guppies raised and selectively bred in captivity display many more color variations than their counterparts in the wild.
Guppy fish (Poecilia reticulata in latin) are part of the Poeciliidae family, which means they have teeth on their mandible and maxilla.
They’re small fish that grow to be around 1.5-3 cm for males and 3-6 cm for females. Their body is elongated and slightly flattened from the sides, with females having a more pronounced flattening at the back.
Their average lifespan is 2 years, but proper tank conditions can add 1 more year to their lifespan. Water temperature of the tank is closely related to their lifespan with higher water temperatures lowering their lifespan.
Although guppies are recognized for their hardiness, years of selective breeding has resulted in strains with very specific care requirements.
Therefore, if you’re looking to buy guppy fish for your first tank, I recommend going for the simplest multicolored guppy fish.
If you notice that guppy fish sold in a pet store feature the same bright colors and display uniformly colored fins, you can be sure they result from selective breeding and come with health problems.
When it comes to creating the perfect tank conditions for guppies, we’re going to analyze the following parameters:
- Tank Size;
- Water Temperature;
- Water pH;
- Male to Female Ratio;
- Compatible Tank Mates.
Guppies aren’t demanding when it comes to tank conditions, however, there are some things you should do if you’re looking to create an ideal environment for them.
Guppies are small and can be kept in a small tank, however, they’re also very active, so they need enough swimming space.
Most guides to guppy fish care recommend a minimum tank size of 5 gallons (19 l), which is good for about 3 guppy fish. For good measure, I recommend starting with a 10 gallon tank.
If you’re looking to keep more guppy fish, a good way to size your tank accordingly is to follow a 1:1 ratio, that is, one gallon of water for each guppy fish that you’re planning to add.
Another good rule of thumb when it comes to guppies is to keep them in threes if you’re housing both males and females.
If you don’t want them breeding, don’t house both males and females, because in choosing a tank you’ll also have to account for the many offspring that can result from their breeding.
I’ll get back on the best male to female ratio a bit further down in the article.
Guppies survive in a wide range of water temperatures (anywhere from 14 °C to 33 °C) but offering a stable temperature of 22 – 26°С (72–79°F) is the best for them.
Extreme temperatures can affect their growth, lifespan and breeding.
In low water temperatures, guppies tend to live longer averaging about 3 – 3.5 years, with fish growing larger and offspring being born larger.
Warm water tanks shorten their lifespan to a year or so and hinder their growth and results in offspring being born smaller.
As for the effect of water temperature on the gestation period of female guppies, low temperatures lengthen the gestation period, while warm temperatures shorten it.
Very low and very high temperatures can both cause reproduction functions to rest.
Water in the tank should be changed regularly to keep it fresh. Guppies like a light water flow, moderate tank illumination, tank plants (with small leaves and no sharp edges), and enough space for swimming.
Water pH & Hardness
A water pH within a 6.8 – 7.8 range is the most suitable for guppies. Guppies are accustomed to hard water, so the ideal water hardness should be at dGH 8-12.
Abrupt changes in these parameters can affect male fish fins, therefore, it’s recommended to perform small weekly water changes, rather than higher volume changes less frequently.
Avoid adding plants with sharp edges or adding rocks or caves with sharp edges as these may hurt their fins and tails.
The water sprite plant (Ceratopteris thalictroides) can be used as a test plant for monitoring tank conditions.
If tank conditions are optimal the plant will grow next to the bottom of the tank. If things turn for the worse in the tank, the plant will start to rot and floats up to the surface.
Add about 2 inches of small grained gravel to the tank. Choose a dark colored gravel to contrast the beautiful colors displayed by your guppies.
Male to Female Ratio
The reason why I mentioned keeping guppies in threes if you’re going to keep both males and females is because too many males will chase around female guppies and stress them out.
So, for every male guppy that you add, add at least two females and adhere to the rule of keeping them in trios. For example, if you’re going to add 3 males, add 6 or more females.
Remember, guppies breed quite easily and pretty fast, so if you don’t want to deal with offspring, there’s no problem with keeping only male guppies.
Because male guppies are the more impressive when it comes to color and fins, many aquarists prefer to keep them rather than keeping females.
Compatible Tank Mates
I mentioned that guppies are good community fish and that they get along with other sociable fish species.
They’re no troublemakers, so you can house them together with fish that are similar in size and temperament.
You shouldn’t panic if you notice guppies eating their offspring, it’s something that even female guppies tend to do after spawning. It’s just something that they do.
Breeders will separate the fry from the rest of the tank to ensure their safety.
As a rule, you shouldn’t keep guppies with aggressive fish that will attack them or nip at their fins, nor with fish that are large and might mistake your guppies for food.
Larger fish and predatory fish are not a good choice for guppies as they will treat guppies as fish food. So, avoid housing guppies with jack dempsey fish, adult angelfish, and green terror fish.
Also avoid adding red-eye tetras, black skirt tetras, and tiger barbs to your tank because they’re known to nip at the fins of guppies.
Small and peaceful fish that are compatible with guppies include bristlenose plecos, white cloud mountain minnows, mollies, platies, harlequin rasboras, and cherry barbs.
These fish can make great companions for your guppies, so choose these fish to add to a tank if you want a peaceful coexistence in your community tank.
You now know the environment that guppies thrive in and the tank mates that are best for them, next, let’s see which foods they like and what you should know about feeding guppies.
In the wild, guppies feed on water insect larvae and algae. In captivity, they’ll happily accept a variety of foods.
Before I get into the different kinds of fish food that guppies like most, there are some general guidelines that you should keep in mind when feeding guppies:
- Do NOT overfeed your guppies!
Giving your guppies too much food at a time will cause all sorts of gastrointestinal problems and may even block their intestines.
If you notice a trail of feces behind your guppies, it means you’re overfeeding them.
Another reason why you shouldn’t overfeed guppies – or any other aquarium fish, for that matter – is because leftover food will start decaying, release toxins and mess up the water chemistry.
Decaying food is also a leading cause of various algae blooms.
- Feed your guppies no more than 2-3 times a day.
Feed your guppies with a small amount of food that they can eat in 2-3 minutes and don’t feed them more than 3 times a day.
- Ensure that all food is small enough to fit in their mouths.
Pellets are a good example of fish food that may be too large for guppies to feed on. Choose smaller pellets designed for smaller fish like guppies.
Variety is key to ensuring good gastrointestinal health and a strong immunity for your guppies.
If you’re going to feed your guppies with flakes, pellets, and other artificial fish foods, choose food from reputable brands.
Besides these, adding live or freeze-dried food like larvae, bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, or tubifex adds more variety to their diet and may keep them from eating their fry.
Guppies also fancy some veggies in their diet, so look for flake foods with vegetable supplements in them, or add small amounts of lettuce, cucumber or peas to their diet.
If you’re thinking about breeding guppies, the next section deals with the differences between male and female guppies, their breeding habits, and measures you must take during this time.
If you’re planning on breeding your guppies, good news – they’re fast and easy breeders, so you’ll encounter no difficulties with them.
Guppies are a live-bearing species, which means that instead of laying eggs like many other fish, the female will carry the eggs in her belly and spawn live fish.
Guppy offspring will hide immediately after they’re born, but it takes only a couple of hours for them to regroup and start swimming and eating.
Therefore, they’re fully formed and self-sufficient quite fast.
You’ll often see guppy males chasing after females in the courtship period. Because of this behavior, it’s best to limit the number of guppy males you’re adding to the tank.
1 guppy male is usually enough for 3 to 5 female guppy fish. You could add more male fish, because guppy males don’t compete amongst each other, however, too many males can and will stress out your female guppies.
The gestation period takes about 21 to 40 days. When the female guppy is carrying eggs, a dark spot will appear just above her fins. This is where the eggs are kept and it’s called the gravid spot.
As she’s approaching the spawning period, the female guppy will get a little fuller in the stomach area and the dark spot gets even darker.
Even one mating can be enough for several fertilizations and the female guppy can spawn anywhere from 10 to 200 of juveniles.
Now, if you’re just casually breeding guppies, there are no special preparations or requirements to meet. Simply let nature follow its course.
If, however, you’re planning on breeding guppies on a more professional level, you’ll need some preparation and my advice on letting nature follow its course may not be enough.
Breeding Guppies Professionally
So, let’s see what the pros do to successfully breed guppies and prevent females from eating the fry.
Things you’ll need:
- Special breeding tank;
- Small tanks for the fry;
- Breeding trap;
- Good filtration system;
- Good air pump.
You can breed guppies in the community tank you’re keeping them, but for a more controlled breeding, I recommend that you set up a special breeding tank.
It’s up to you which guppies you want to select for breeding, depending on what size, color and other characteristics you think are important.
Thankfully, determining the sex of guppies is easy, because there are some important differences:
- Male guppies are more colorful, they’re smaller and thinner, and have flowy fins;
- The anal fin of male guppies was modified into gonopodium, which is the male reproductive organ;
- Female guppies display pale colors, they have an enlarged abdomen, shorter fins and larger bodies.
In the wild, guppies reproduce much faster than in an aquarium. So fast, that they’re even considered a pest in some areas of the world.
Add 5 or 6 females and a few males to any body of water that meets the temperature conditions for guppies and within six months, you can have thousands of guppies swimming around eating mosquito larvae and eggs.
They sometimes say that guppies are almost born pregnant because in the wild or in an outdoor pond, where there’s virtually unlimited access to food, guppies become sexually mature in as fast as 3-4 weeks.
I mentioned that a single mating can result in multiple sets of fry, and that’s because the male guppy deposits a “packet” of sperm that fertilizes the female guppy again and again.
This can result in up to 6 broods of up to 80 fry from a single insemination.
Breeding Tank & Trap
The breeding tank should be spacious enough to give ample space for breeding. It should have similar parameters to the home tank of the guppies you’re choosing for breeding to avoid stressing them out.
Your breeding tank should also feature a breeding trap, which has the role of preventing the female from eating its fry.
The breeding trap consists of two compartments that are separated by a slotted wall. When the female guppy gives birth, the fry can safely swim to the other compartment.
This mechanism prevents the female guppy from eating its juveniles, which is the very thing you want to avoid when breeding your fish.
Filtration & Aeration
Besides making sure that water parameters match in all tanks (temperature, lighting, etc.), also make sure that the water is clean and that it’s well aerated.
A good filtration system will maintain good water conditions. Despite guppies having a low bio-load, juveniles are sensitive to water pollution, so by adding a water filter, you’re ensuring optimal conditions.
To get oxygen into the water, it’s important to move the water, which you can do with a good air pump.
Adding plenty of foliage to the tank also helps with oxygen and keeping the tank clean, as well as offering the fry plenty of hiding spaces and nutrition.
Caring for Juveniles
As soon as juveniles are born, you can move them to their own tank, in which tank conditions should be monitored closely.
You should keep them in their special tanks until they develop their immune system. While they’re still small, they’re susceptible to diseases.
During this time, make sure you feed them with food that’s suitable for them. Because of their small mouth openings, regular guppy food won’t be good for them.
You can find food specially developed for small fry or you can just as well crush conventional flakes and pellets into smaller bits and feed them those.
To give them all the nutrients they might be needing during their growth phase, add some brine shrimp and bloodworms to their diet as well.
If you see that your guppies are growing and developing well, it’s a good sign. It means you’re doing a good job raising them and they’re getting all they need for a healthy development.
When they reach about 6 to 8 weeks, they’re ready to transition back to the original home tank. In a few more weeks, they’ll be ready for breeding.
These are the measures you must take if you want to breed guppies professionally and if you want to have better control over the breeding process.
Guppies and Mosquito Borne Disease Prevention
One of my favorite things about Guppies is their appetite for mosquito larvae and eggs, which makes them extremely useful in preventing the spread of diseases like Zika and malaria.
Two of the main culprits in spreading the Zika virus are the Aedes aegypti, which is prevalent in tropical areas of the world, but also in Hawaii, Florida and the Gulf Coast, and the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which can also be found in Florida’s Everglades.
Mosquitos lay eggs in ponds and standing water pools, these eggs then turn into larvae, which quickly develop into mosquitos that could spread various diseases through their bite.
Guppies can be used to control mosquito populations and prevent the spread of diseases.
By introducing guppies to bodies of water that mosquitoes lay their eggs in, the fish will eat the eggs and larvae, decimating mosquito populations.
This is a natural and fast way to prevent the spread of diseases that’s been shown to work in various instances.
A recent example of guppy fish being used to prevent diseases was a project in a port city in southwest India that aimed to reduce the occurrence of malaria cases.
Guppy populations were introduced in stagnant waters across the region and it was observed that in areas with guppy fish the incidence of malaria dropped from over 30,000 cases a year to only 3,000-4,000 cases.
Hopefully, the success of this project will encourage other regions with mosquito problems to introduce guppy fish to their waters to reduce dangerous mosquito populations.
In the following FAQ section of this guppy fish care guide, you can learn even more about guppies:
Curious to know more about guppies? The following FAQ will answer all your burning questions about the guppy fish.
Are guppies schooling fish?
Guppies aren’t schooling fish, which means that technically you could keep them by themselves in the tank. Still, I would advise you against keeping only one guppy in your tank.
They’re sociable beings and they like to hang out in a group. If you want a fish that’s happy on its own and it’s not demanding, look into getting a betta fish.
How do guppies breathe?
Like other fish, guppies breathe with oxygen dissolved in water. To get enough oxygen into your aquarium, make sure to get an aerator.
Why do my guppy fish keep dying?
Any number of issues could be causing the death of your guppy fish, but a likely cause is improper keeping. Make sure you’re not overfeeding your fish and that you’re regularly cleaning the tank.
Decaying matter from leftover food can release toxins into the tank or disrupt the chemistry of the aquarium exposing your fish to illnesses.
Guppies that are a result to excessive breeding are more susceptible to diseases and are more sensitive to improper water conditions.
Why is my guppy’s tail torn?
Improper tank maintenance can affect the fins of fish. Tank water in which ammonia and nitrates accumulate becomes poisonous for the fish and destroys their fins.
Perform regular water changes and monitor the health of your fish.
If you notice that some of your guppies are missing their tail, it could be that some of their tank mates are nipping their fins or that they have an infectious disease.
Monitor tank behavior and check for signs of disease in your fish,
Do guppies sleep?
Guppies do sleep, but their sleeping is more like they go into a state of active rest, which means they’ll become less active.
Do guppies need illumination?
No, guppy fish don’t need lighting and the natural light they get during the day is just enough for them.
Do guppies survive in seawater?
Guppies are exclusive to freshwaters and they can live in brackish water too, however, they would not survive in saltwater.
Why are my guppies swimming at the surface of the tank?
Since guppy fish are mid-dwellers, you shouldn’t see them swimming too close to the tank surface. If you spot your guppies swimming close to the tank surface, it may be because there’s not enough oxygen in your tank.
This could be because the tank is too crowded, water is too warm, or you haven’t been performing regular water changes.
Perform a water change, check the temperature of the tank, and turn on aeration and water filtration.
Will my guppies jump out of the tank?
Guppies may accidentally jump out of the tank; however, they’ll also jump when tank conditions are bad (water is old and dirty, there isn’t enough dissolved oxygen in the water).
Should I add plants and substrate to my tank with guppies?
Yes, you should. And not because it’s absolutely necessary, but because it looks better and because it’s better for the fish to swim among the plants.
Plus, plants can prevent algae blooms by competing with them for resources and offer hiding spaces and sustenance for the fry in your tank.
Some of my guppies have a curved spine. Why?
Usually, a curved spine is an inborn defect that’s common across all species. If a curved spine appears in an adult fish, it may be a sign that your tank is too small and crowded.
Is it bad to only keep male guppies in the tank?
No, you can keep only male guppies if you want. They’re not aggressive towards each other and they’re not territorial either. Since they have better colors and nicer fins than female guppies, many prefer keeping males instead.
However, adding too many males and only a few females is bad, because male guppies incessantly haunt females to breed with them, which stresses out female guppies.
If you’re going to keep both males and females, make sure female guppies outnumber male guppies (see Male to Female Ratio section above).
How long does it take for guppy fry to mature?
Guppy fry mature pretty fast if tank conditions are proper. They can be ready for breeding in as fast as 2 to 3 months.
Guppy fish care isn’t difficult, and most aquarists don’t experience any problems with these fish, not even those just starting out with their first aquarium.
Reading care guides like this can really help you ease into fish husbandry. By knowing about the environment and tank parameters guppies prefer, you can monitor your tank and make necessary changes.
So, if you’re looking to create a happy tank community, you can count on guppies to be a peaceful and happy tankmate for your other small freshwater fish.
Featured Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefaanlippens/403405311/