Also known as the millionfish and rainbow fish, the guppy is one of the world’s most popular freshwater aquarium fish. Found all over the world, in a variety of environmental and ecological conditions, this adaptable fish is a member of the family Poeciliidae.
Even more importantly, the guppy may be one of the most enjoyable fish species that you can choose to keep in your freshwater aquarium. Easy to raise and even easier to watch, these fish should be at the top of every aquarium hobbyist’s lists. If you’re interested in raising guppies but aren’t sure where to start, consider our complete guppy care guide to help you get started.
Guppies were originally discovered in Venezuela in the mid 1800s, and were regaled for their bright colors and vivacious patterns. These fish are native to countries such as Barbados, Brazil, Guyana, Jamaica, the Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, Barbuda, the Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.
That being said, those places aren’t the only ones where you are likely to find guppies. As a result of intentional and accidental introduction – guppies are often released by mistake or on purpose to help combat mosquito populations – these fish are now found in the wild waters of every country except Antarctica. Guppies can tolerate brackish water but prefer smaller streams and pools, particularly those found in the coastal fringes of South America.
In the wild, these fish are not believed to be endangered or threatened in any way. To the contrary, in many of the places where they were introduced out of their native range, they are now viewed as an invasive species, threatening wild natives by competition. They are natural sources of prey to larger fish and birds, and engage in schooling to help survive the pressures of predation.
Guppies come in many different colors, sizes, and patterns. Many even have tails that stand out from the crowd. In the wild, females are usually grey while males have colorful patterns (usually stripes or spots). In captivity, there is no end to the aquarium varieties available, as breeders create new strands with different, more vibrant colors and patterns every single day.
In general, males are smaller than the females, growing between half an inch and an inch and a half in size. Females are usually 1.2 to 2.4 inches in length. These fish are normally paler on top and brighter on the bottom, with some varieties exhibiting a metallic hue. This is because guppies possess iridophores, which are cells that lack color and as a result reflect light, producing an iridescent glow.
Some guppies are solid, while others have a main pattern. Common patterns include cobra, which has vertical bars, and tuxedo, which includes a front and back half with two different colors. Similarly, the tali can be either solid or patterned, with common patterns including lace and leopard.
Tails can also come in a variety of shapes. Some guppies possess fan-shaped tails, while others are triangular or sword shaped. Guppies can also have flag, spear, or rounded tails, too.
Types of Guppies
Because guppies are so common and are bred frequently to select for certain traits, there are hundreds of different varieties you can purchase for your aquarium. However, these are some of the most common.
Albino guppies have recessive albino phenotype traits, and have red eyes as a primary characteristic. Contrary to popular belief, these guppies can be found in colors besides white – there are some with alternative colorations, such as red. These guppies should only be raised in heavily planted tanks, as they have poor vision and are more susceptible to too much sunlight.
Black guppies are completely black with no other colors or variations. These tend to be smaller in size, as breeding for a larger size results in a loss of that jet-black color.
The Green guppy is one of the most highly sought-after color strains, as it is difficult to develop. There are many guppies with blue iridescence or certain greenish tinges, but the truly green guppy is extremely rare.
This unique guppy has a snakeskin genetic that shows a rosette pattern throughout most of its body. It will have vertical bars and can be a number of different colors.
For some reason, swordtail guppies live much longer than other varieties of guppies. These fish can have a single or double swordtail, and usually only a small portion of the tail is colored.
This type of guppy was one of the first types to be bred from the wild type guppies. It has a rounded tail and can come in a variety of colors.
Guppies are very active fish, swimming quickly and moving around the tank almost constantly. They are not inclined to hide frequently, and a fish that is constantly darting behind rocks or plants could be stressed, ill, or threatened by another fish.
Guppies will occasionally nip at each other. This is more common in male guppies, and the only way to prevent it is to reduce the number of male guppies you have living in your tank.
Besides nipping behavior, the best indicators of your guppy’s health is to watch it swimming around the tank and to monitor its overall behavior. A healthy guppy will hang out at the top to middle levels of the tank. Guppies riding near the bottom of the tank could be ill, while those that are swimming slowly or acting lethargic may also be ill – remember, guppies are extremely active fish.
They should also not be hanging out near the top of the tank begging for food. This behavior is not an indicator of a hungry or underfed guppy; rather, it is indicative of a guppy that has adapted to regular feedings by humans and comes to associate them with feeding time.
Guppy Tank Requirements
Guppies should be kept in tanks that are no smaller than ten gallons. Some people keep them in five gallon tanks, but this can be a bit crowded if you plan on owning other fish as well. Since guppies must be kept in groups so that they can school, you need to make sure there is plenty of room for multiple fish.
Depending on how you want to keep and view your guppies, you have a couple of options for tank types. If you are interested in observing and engaging with your guppies, use a show tank. This tank will be filled with lots of live plants, substrate, and rocks. The fish will spend most of their time in the middle or top sections of the tank.
A breeding tank is one that will have a bare bottom, allowing uneaten food to be removed easily. You can use floating plants, like Java Moss, to give your fry a place to hide. The plants will also aid in filtration. This kind of tank will need to be kept cleaner than a show tank,as it will be a site for breeding.
No matter what kind of tank you select, make sure you clean it weekly. At this time, you should also perform a partial water change, removing and replacing about twenty-five percent of the tank’s water.
Decorating A Guppy Tank
Size is the most important aspect of selecting your guppy’s tank, followed closely by filtration. However, once those two factors are settled, you can move on to filling and decorating your guppy’s tank. Add about two inches of gravel to the bottom of the tank, but make sure you rinse it before doing so. This will help remove any bacteria and unwanted debris.
Never use gravel or sand from your yard. This can introduce unwanted bacteria and parasites. Similarly, if you plan on using live plants, make sure you check the label of your gravel (as well as the specifications on the plants) to make sure they can survive in your tank’s particular conditions.
Next, fill the tank about halfway with water before adding plants, rocks, and other decorations. You can use live aquarium plants to provide a nice hiding spot for your guppies, and these will have the added benefit of filtering toxins and adding oxygen to the water. Set all rocks and other decorations firmly in the gravel so that they can’t fall over and injure your guppies.
Guppy Water Requirements
Guppies prefer water that is slightly hard, with an ideal temperature between 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. They can withstand water with high salinity, and are often included in marine tropical tanks as well as in freshwater tanks. For reproduction, they prefer slightly cooler temperatures (about 72 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit).
Because guppies are naturally found in the warm waters of South America, it is imperative that you replicate these conditions as closely as possible so that your guppies have access to the most natural environment possible.
Make sure your tank is set up and cycled correctly. You want to make sure the tank has minimal harmful bacteria and that the water is kept warm, between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your heater at one end of the tank and the thermometer at the other to make sure the water is a consistent temperature throughout the entire tank.
Guppies can tolerate a range of pH values, with the most ideal being between 7.0 and 7.2. That being said, they can survive at pH’s from 5.5 to 8.5. What’s more important than pH is that you maintain excellent water quality. Install a filter ideally one that accommodates the size of your tank and is a hang-on-back model). If you keep your fish in a large tank (larger than thirty gallons or so) consider using a large, external canister filter so that it can keep up with the added size.
What Do Guppies Eat?
In the wild, guppies eat a wide variety of food sources. They will feed on algal remains, invertebrates, plant material, insect larvae, and other foods. Algae tends to be the largest proportion of a guppy’s diet, but it will vary depending on the food sources available in the habitat.
These fish often forage in groups, as it allows them to find food more easily. Thus, they can spend less time on searching for food. In the wild, guppies are omnivores and will eat whatever is available in their natural environment (including mosquito larvae, plant, and animal matter).
In the aquarium tank, guppies should be fed high-quality fish flakes. It needs to be high in protein in particular. When you purchase food for your guppy, check the label. High quality food will have proteins listed first. GOod proteins include fish, shrimp, and other products, while items to steer clear of include fillers like wheat and soy.
Your guppy’s diet can be supplemented with live or frozen foods, as well as small vegetables. You can feed shrimp, bloodworms, lettuce, or even peas. Feed your fish twice a day, and only give them enough food that they can eat in two minutes. If you feed more than this, several problems can arise. FIrst, your fish can become overfed and their health can suffer. Second, leftover food will fall to the bottom of the tank and will begin to rot, contaminating your tank and reducing the quality of the water.
Try to avoid feeding your guppy only one type of food. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a decline in overall health. Instead, alternate between live, frozen, flake, and vegetable-based foods. If you have any leftover food in the tank after feeding, remove it with a net. If too much food begins to be a problem, start feeding them smaller amounts or crush it up. For young juveniles or fry, you can feed four to five times a day, but in smaller portions.
Guppy Tank Mates
In general, guppies are some of the most peaceful aquarium fish you can purchase. They will sometimes nip at other fish. This is particularly common between male guppies or towards other top swimmers, like swordtails and platies as well as fish with prominent fins, like angelfish.
You should never keep guppies by themselves in aquariums, as they are shoaling fish and prefer to be in larger groups. As a result, most aquarium owners will choose to keep their guppies with other guppies. If you’re keeping guppies for their looks only, consider just raising males, as females are not exceptional look at and this will also prevent accidental breeding from cocuring. Guppies can be kept at a ratio of one guppy per two gallons of water – or five in a ten gallon tank, for example. If you keep both males and females, do so at a ratio of 2:1.
Besides keeping guppies with other guppies, you can also raise them with fish like mollies, platies, corydoras, tetras, and gouramis. Do not house guppies with aggressive species, particularly those that are both larger and aggressive, as they will likely becoming a source of prey. Species like barbs and red-tailed sharks are off-limits for guppies, as these larger fish will nip at the guppies’ vulnerable fins. Guppies can also be housed with non-fish animals like ghost shrimp and African dwarf frogs.
Common Guppy Diseases
One of the reasons why guppies are such a popular breed for aquariums is that they are incredibly hardy. They can hold up to a variety of conditions, but it should be noted that their long tails -as well as living in confinement with many other fish – can make them susceptible to certain fungal infections.
A healthy guppy will have clear eyes without a hint of cloudiness. If you notice that your guppy’s eyes are bulging, be wary – this is a sign of popeye, which is caused by an infection behind the eyeballs. Fish should also not be breathing rapidly and flapping their gills more often than once a second.
When you purchase your guppies, watch out for those with sunken bellies or who have a particularly “pinched” look. This is a sign of an ill or malnourished fish. You also need to inspect your fish for white spots, fuzz, or patches, which can be signs of parasites or bacteria.
Ich is one of the most common diseases among aquarium populations. This disease involves the growth of small white dots on your fish’s skin. The fish will rub their bodies against plants and rocks in the tank in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. This can be treated with commercial medication, and prevented by keeping your tank clean. This is a highly contagious disease, so you may need to quarantine infected fish to prevent them from spreading ich to the other fish.
Fin rot is another common disease to which guppies are particularly prone. This disease can be treated with medication, and appears in the form of a torn-looking tail. It can be prevented by only keeping fish who won’t nip at each other’s tails.
While these two diseases are arguably the most common among guppies, they are certainly not the only affiliations your guppies might face. To prevent the likelihood of disease, the are several guidelines you can follow as prophylactic measures. For example, keep the water conditions optimal in terms of temperature and pH, paying attention to the particular needs of the fish in your aquarium. Conduct regular water changes and maintenance checks, and rinse everything before adding it to your tank.
When adding new fish to your tank – particularly those that you purchased at a petstore- put them in quarantine before introducing them to your other species. This will help reduce the likelihood of a disease being introduced. You should attempt to keep your fish’s stress levels low and feed them a varied diet. Prevent overcrowding by adhering to size and spacing requirements, and conduct weekly cleanings and water changes in your tank.
Breeding And Lifespans Of Guppies
Many people wonder whether they can successfully breed guppies and are interested in selectively breeding them for different colors, patterns, fin types, and shapes. While these fish can be bred, it can be challenging to do so in captivity. While guppies have a natural propensity for breeding, it requires some special attention for the inexperienced fishkeeper to be able to do so.
This is because guppies breed prolifically, and without knowledge of what a pregnant guppy looks and acts like, you will easily have hundreds of guppy fry on your hand – which can then be eaten by other fish, causing you to lose all of your new babies.
Guppies have sexual dimorphism, with females being gray in body color while males are more vibrantly hued. Females tend to be twice the size of males, making it easy to tell the difference between the two.
Guppies can produce two or three generations per year in the wild. They are independent from birth, with young guppies schooling together and guarding each other against predators. Females tend to produce many smaller sized offspring, starting at about ten to twenty weeks of age and continuing until twenty to thirty four months of age. Male guppies are sexually mature in about seven weeks.
Guppies are interesting in that one female will reproduce with multiple males. This allows them to produce more offspring in a shorter period of time, with their offspring exhibiting superior qualities upon birth. Females tend to be attracted to brightly colored males, particular ones who sport orange spots on their flanks (an indicator of physical fitness).
These fish are livebearers, with the typical gestation period being about 21 to 30 days. Reproduction is carried out throughout the entire year, with the female ready for conception almost immediately after her last gestation ended. They prefer slightly cooler water temperatures for conception, usually around 72 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
Females are pregnant when they have enlarged and darkened spots near their anal vents. You may be able to see the fry’s eyes through the translucent skin of the female’s body just before they are born, too. Individual offspring are dropped in groups over a period of one to six hours, with each female dropping up to 200 fry at a time. Thirty to sixty fry are more typical, however.
While livebearer birthing tanks are available from most retailers, guppies don’t normally eat their own young. While these tanks are not necessary to protect the young, they are needed to protect the female, who is often attacked by the male while giving birth.
Young guppies prefer well-planted tanks, with plenty of structure to help shelter the young and adult guppies alike. Consider panting guppy grass, water sprite, duckweed, or java mass. You can feed your adult fish live foods such as brine shrimp to help them stay away from the young fry, who take about three months to reach maturity. Fry can be fed live foods as well, such as vinegar eels, infusoria, and brine shrimp, or they can be fed finely ground flake food (though these are sometimes too large for very young fry to eat).
Interestingly, guppy body size varies depending on how stressed they are in their environments. If they are heavily sought after as a food source by predators, they will mature more quickly and start reproducing earlier. Because they will be devoting their energy to reproduction, they are often smaller as well. Similarly, when food is abundant, guppies reproduce more rapidly.
In the wild, guppies can live around two years. This number is usually slightly less when they are kept in captivity, but in some cases can be higher since they aren’t exposed to any predation or external stressors.
Is A Guppy Right For You?
One of the most popular freshwater tropical fish species, a guppy is a great choice for freshwater aquarium fish beginners. This prolific breeder is easy to identify and fun to watch, making it a good choice if you’re interested in trying your hand at selectively breeding your new pet fish.
Guppies add a splash of color to any tank, are peaceful when housed with other fish, and are inexpensive and easy to maintain. If you are interested in raising a low-maintenance fish that will give you plenty of entertainment and will coexist easily with your other fish for months on end, consider raising guppies in your freshwater aquarium.