Breeding guppies is the rewarding aspect of the hobby. However, guppies are definitely “polymorphic perverse” (sex with anybody everybody and any thing any way) and can prove to be exceedingly difficult to breed to specific goals.
- Learn your strain. Each strain of guppies is as unique as a thumbprint. Learn the genetic characteristics of your strain by close observation, through breeding logs, and exchange of information with fellow hobbyists. Is the half-black pattern carried on the Y-chromosome or the X-chromosome? A little bit of genetic research can save you months or years of experimentation. Also find out if your strain breeds at a young age. Always acquire young fish for breeding. Some short-lived strains are fertile for only a brief three or four month window.
- Set breeding goals. Decide exactly what you are trying to do with your strain before selecting breeders or attempting crosses. Giving your entire fish room a breeding goal (e.g. a winner in a certain class) allows you to be more organized in your fish selection.
- Practice good guppy sex. Selective breeding is often practiced as inbreeding, leading to a decline in the fertility, vitality and genetic diversity of your strain. If you really like a strain, and you want to keep it pure, plan to devote a lot of tanks to it (minimum six) and learn proper line breeding and cross breeding methodologies.
- “Back up” your breeders. Disease or an accident can wipe entire tanks out. Maintaining several tanks of a strain, or sharing a strain with other breeders could save you years of work.
- Buy genes not strains. Find out what the genetic make-up of your favorite strain. Plan on maintaining several different lines. Each line will have strengths and weaknesses complementary to the other lines.
- Buyer beware. Some breeders create hybrids of distantly related strains especially for competition. They never sell the founding strains. Ask about this. Guppies sold at auctions are sometimes infertile. Caveat Emptor (buyer beware).
The above points are good guiding principles to raising a quality strain of guppies. However many hobbyists just want to raise pretty guppies; can I do that without following the above? Yes, to a degree you can, but if your definition of pretty is that they are consistent in fin shape and color then you must practice one or more of the standard breeding practices. To just let your guppies mate haphazardly without any controlled intervention really removes you from the intermediate classification of a guppy hobbyist. If you at least intervene in the retention and selection of your breeders you can practice harem breeding and achieve moderate success as to having pretty fish though they will be a mixed lot in appearance.
The standard practices for raising a quality strain of guppies is well documented by the individual breeders and on the Internet guppy sites. We will present here a somewhat simplistic approach to maintaining a strain of quality for those with limited resources.
- You will need one 20 gallon and two 10 gallon tanks. One of the 10 gallon tanks is used for a drop/early grow out tank. The other 10 is for housing the breeders. The 20 gallon is the main grow out tank. A box filter and a sponge filter for each tank and of course an air pump able to drive 6 devices. By using two filters you can increase the tank capacities for additional guppies.
- Purchase the best pair of quality fish you can obtain and put them in the breeder tank.
- When the female is ready to drop place her in the drop 10 gallon tank to drop her young. This tank needs to be full of real or plastic plants for the fry to hide in. After she drops remove her to the breeder tank. Allow the fry to live in this tank until they are 6 to 8 weeks old. At this point sex the fry and move as many of the best females that you have up to 12 to the breeder tank. The remainder of the fry put in the 20 gallon grow out tank. Cull any subsequent drops up to this point. Now this fry drop tank is ready for another drop.
- At 3 to 4 months select 3 of the best young males from the grow out tank and put them into the breeders tank. If the young females are filling with fry then your foundation male is still good if they aren’t then cull him. Now pick the best 4 females to keep in the breeder tank and cull the remainder to the grow out tank. So now you have 3 or 4 males and 4 to 6 females in the breeder tank.
- You most probably have another drop from your original female breeder growing in the 10 gallon fry drop tank. These need to be moved so that the next generation fry can be accommodated in the 10 gallon fry drop tank. Also the young 3 to 4 month olds need to be moved from the 20 gallon to the LPS or a display tank when the tank space is needed by the second generation.
- Save about 10 fry from each of the young females to raise in the 10 gallon fry drop tank. This is your second generation F2. Then repeat the whole scenario. In these limited tanks a lot of the drops must be culled, more tanks and/or bigger tanks can change that.
This was an example of a minimum configuration setup to illustrate the mechanics involved in a less than optimum situation. You can raise a single strain in just three tanks but you must be disciplined in its management.