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Beginner's Guide

 

Welcome to the world of Fancy Guppies. This portion of the International Fancy Guppy Association (IFGA) site is provided as help to those new to fancy guppies. It is not intended to be a complete guide to the care and propagation of Guppies. It is intended however, to give the beginner a start in the right direction. You are urged to contact either an affiliated club or an experienced breeder if you have any questions or need help. You will find that as you become involved in this hobby, there are no secrets among "Guppy People." So, if you need information, it is always available from fellow hobbyists. Through the "Member Clubs" page of this site, you will find a complete list of affiliated clubs and the point of contact for each club.

CONGRATULATIONS! if you are reading this because you are thinking about breeding FANCY GUPPIES. You are sure to enjoy the hobby and the experience. Hopefully, you have researched the wide variety of color strains that are available and have contacted a reputable breeder for breeding stock. Do not make the mistake that most beginners make. You go to a breeder and see many beautiful strains that you would like to keep. The number of strains that you can keep is determined by your tank space. As explained later, you can maintain a strain in 8 to 10 tanks. Don't take home more strains than you can handle. Disappointment is sure to follow. It is best to start with one good strain. Get experience and if possible, expand and enjoy yourself. The fish you should be looking to purchase should be young and healthy and about 3-4 months of age. Fish at this age ship better and acclimate easier than mature fish. What's more, you will reap the benefit of having them during their peak breeding period, which runs from about three to seven months of age. The next few paragraphs will address your equipment and setup. It is very important that you prepare for the arrival of your new fish. Last minute rushing around and stop gap preparations usually lead to disappointment and failure.
 

TANKS

Beginners in this hobby are many times discouraged when they hear about breeders with very elaborate fish rooms, with numbers approaching 200 tanks. You do not need an elaborate set-up to raise good guppies. Bare 10 gallon tanks are very practical. Five and 20 gallon tanks are also a good choice. It all depends on the room that is available. For example, some breeders use 10 gallon tanks for growing babies and 20's for show fish. Breeding trios are housed in 2 or 5 gallon tanks. In order to achieve success in raising good show guppies, one needs to have a minimum of 8 to 10 tanks per strain. In order to accomplish this you will have to do some serious culling. Just think.. .each female drops 30 to 50 babies every 28 to 30 days. If you kept all of these offspring and the numbers of fish grows geometrically, soon enough 200 tanks would not be enough.


FILTRATION

One should use filters that are inexpensive and easy to clean. The two types that are popular among breeders are box filters and sponge filters. Box filters are better mechanical filters. They should be filled with floss and use dolomite and/or marbles for weight. The sponge filter is the easiest to maintain and is one of the favorites among breeders. It is a simple filter made of sponge with an air lift tube. All you do to clean it is to squeeze the sponge in warm water once a week. The sponge holds millions of bacterial organisms that help clean and purify the water. Either type of filter must be cleaned at least every other week.

 

AIR PUMPS

The amount of air you need will depend on the number of tanks in your set-up. A good vibrator pump will handle 10 to 15 tanks with no problem. The most efficient way to supply air to your tanks is to run PVC piping with branches off to each tank through flexible airline tubing. This type of system is easy to install and you can probably use a smaller pump than if you run all of your air through flexible tubing.

 

LIGHTING

If you have a lot of tanks, it's best to use four foot fluorescent ceiling lights, rather than trying to light each tank individually with more expensive hoods. The lights should be kept on for 10-14 hours per day. Lights should be set to go on one hour before the first feeding and off one hour after the past feeding.

 

WATER

Good, clean water is the most important element for growing large guppies with long, flowing fins. Call your local water company to find out if chloramine (combination of chlorine and ammonia) is being added to the water. If it is, it will have to be treated, because it is lethal to tropical fish. If chloramine is present in your water, it is easy to remedy. Use one of the commercial products with sodium thiosulfate and treat as per directions. This chemical will separate the chlorine from the ammonia and eliminate it leaving the ammonia. The ammonia can then be removed by running a box filter with ammo-chips in your water holding vessel. If you just have chlorine in your water, you can age it for about 24 hours with aeration. A simple test kit is very useful to monitor this procedure. Hardness and pH are not critical as long as they do not suddenly vary over a wide range. Hardness in tap water ranges from 20-400 ppm (total hardness) depending on the origin of the water supply. Guppies seem to do better if the water is on the hard side. With regard to pH, guppies can handle anything from 6.8 - 7.8 (7.0 is ideal). Ammonia, the number one fish killer, is caused by overcrowding, overfeeding, poor water conditions or lack of oxygen in the water. It is especially important to monitor the ammonia level in new setups. The "good" (nitrifying) bacteria that will eliminate ammonia, will take from 2 to 3 weeks to develop. If you find ammonia present, do water changes with your seasoned water as required. Usually about 20 to 30 percent will suffice. Another option is to run a box filter with ammo-chips in the affected tank. Remember, try to avoid sudden changes in pH and hardness. Guppies can acclimate to a wide variety of changes, if they are done slowly. It is very important to acclimate the fish slowly to your water to avoid shock. If you don't, death or disease is certain to follow.

 

WATER CHANGES

Water changes make or break good show fish. The removal of uneaten food and fish waste is an important aspect in the growth cycle. Siphoning can be accomplished with any half inch tubing that is 3-4 feet in length. Success in raising show fish is achieved by changing 30-40 percent of the tank water weekly. Some breeders do daily water changes of 10% that takes less of a toll on the fish. With this method, the fry grow faster and bigger. Daily water changes also tend to level off the ammonia and pH readings avoiding the peaks and valleys.

 

TEMPERATURE

Guppies like their tank water to be between 75-82 degrees F, with 78 degrees an ideal temperature. These temperatures can be maintained with individual tank heaters or by using a room heater. The most efficient and economical method is to use a space heater in your fish room. Individual heaters are expensive and expensive to run. This is also determined by the number of tanks that you are maintaining.
 

UPON ARRIVAL

The first thing to do is to place your newly acquired breeding stock in a clean drum bowl or specimen tank using the water in which they were shipped. Then every 20-30 minutes add a little water from the aged breeding tank that you previously set up. When the container is 3/4 full, remove about 1/2 the water and replace it with water from the seasoned tank. Do this 2 to 3 times over the period of about an hour. At this point, you can release your guppies into their new permanent breeding tank. Do not be alarmed if your fish hide or act frightened. If the fish seem to be panicky, do not feed them for 24 - 48 hours. If the fish do not seem to be eating, don't keep adding food. This will quickly foul the water. This is normal and can take up to a week before they are swimming and acting as guppies should. Just remember to have patience . . .  the first 3-4 days are critical in getting your new stock established in your tanks.

 

THE FIRST BATCH

Within 4-6 weeks the fun should begin. By this time your females should be ready to drop fry. It is better to remove the pregnant female to a smaller tank of her own. You can add spawning grass, or new unrolled plastic pot scrubbers to the tank to give the newly born fry a safe place to hide from the mother. Another method commonly used is to place the female in a large breeder trap in a 10 gallon tank to give the fry more room to grow. Many breeders keep their fry in small tanks for the first few weeks. The theory is that when you feed these young fish they are surrounded by food instead of having to go searching for it. Remember to keep the expectant female well fed during this period. This will reduce the chance of cannibalism. After the fry are born, remove the female and place her back with the male.

 

FEEDING YOUR GUPPIES

Birth- 6 Weeks: Baby guppies should receive a steady diet of newly hatched brine shrimp (hatching instructions in the next section). It is also a good idea to put a tablespoon of non-iodized salt in the tank, for each 5 gallons of water. This acts as a tonic for the fish and will also keep the brine shrimp alive longer. After the first two days you can begin adding some dry food to their diet. Any good quality flake food is acceptable. This should be as fine a consistency as you can get. You can crunch to a fine consistency by putting the flakes into a plastic bag and crushing and squeezing until the food is granulated. There are a number of commercial powdered baby diets on the market from which to choose.


6 Weeks- Adult: Proper feeding and a balanced diet is another key to success in raising good fish. If you feed poorly, you will not achieve your goal of raising good show fish. A balanced diet must be offered in order to meet all the nutritional needs of the fish. The most important time in a show guppy's life is it's first 3 months. Feeding improperly at this time will greatly affect the fish's growth. Feed sparingly, but often. As many as 6-8 times a day. A variety of dry and live foods must be fed in order to provide the essential elements necessary for a good diet. Meat, fish, vegetables and cereal provide vitamins, minerals and high amounts of protein that are needed in a complete and balanced diet. Make sure you look for good foods and don't try to skimp on the price. Foods that contain fish, shrimp, or meat meal are excellent sources of protein. Spirulina, algae or spinach will give your pets the vegetable protein they need. Two of the most valuable foods available to the hobbyist are baby brine shrimp and micro worms. A typical feeding program might have baby brine as the first meal, a variety of dry foods fed during the day and a final meal of baby brine or micro worms before bed time.


Hatching brine shrimp eggs can be accomplished in several ways. You can use gallon jars or inverted two liter plastic soda bottles with the bottom cut out. Both work just fine. . .your choice will depend on the number of fish you have to feed. Or there are several small manufactured hatchers available. As for hatching the eggs, follow the label instructions for each brand, experimenting with different amounts of salt and eggs. One method that works is to use a teaspoon (or amount required) of eggs in a solution of two tablespoons of kosher salt in two liters of water. Keep the hatching solution at 80 degrees with strong aeration, and in 24-36 hours you should have a hatch. Don't use an air stone because the tiny bubbles will throw the eggs out of the water only to dry on the sides of the bottle. At this point, shut off the air and wait about 15 minutes. This causes the empty shells to float to the top of the container, while the live shrimp collects hear the bottom. Placing a light near the bottom will assure that all shrimp collect there. Use a length of rigid plastic tubing attached to air-line tubing to reach down to the bottom of the container where the shrimps collect. From this point you siphon the shrimp through a brine shrimp net, rinse with fresh water and feed to your fish. If you are feeding a number of tanks, put the shrimp into a container of fresh water. You can now feed with an oven baster, ear syringe or spoon.


Micro worms are another good food, but they must be obtained from someone who has a culture or through a mail order fish food company. They breed very easily in a mixture of cooked oatmeal, with a pinch of baker's yeast. You start with plastic shoe boxes with a thick paste oatmeal in the center. Sprinkle a little yeast on top of the oatmeal. Then you inoculate with some worms, and within a few days they should start to crawl up the sides. A spatula can be used to scrape the worms from the side of the box. Remember to start with a new culture every two to three weeks (or sooner, if the culture turns and starts to smell) as a replacement for the old culture.


Try to keep your feeding schedule to a number of small meals each day (two of these meals should be live or frozen foods). Do not overfeed and keep the tank bottom free of uneaten food. Many breeders keep small catfish (Corydoras) in their tanks to clean up uneaten food. Some people think that these catfish eat baby fish. If you are unsure in your own mind, wait until the fry have grown a little (two or three weeks) before introducing the catfish. In the end all the effort will pay off!


BREEDERS AND SHOW FISH

At this point, it is probably a good idea to order the "Judging Rules" (also referred to as the "Blue Book", see the page for ordering) from the IFGA. It describes in detail the requirements for all strains, and is very valuable in allowing you to recognize good show fish.

When you buy a trio of two females and one male, you can establish two parallel lines. Keep the young from each female separated. These young are half brothers and sisters. After a few generations, there will be sufficient difference between the two lines so that you can cross the two lines to keep your strain strong. Every guppy breeder needs to learn how to pick fish in order to breed and raise good fish. Leaving all the fish together to breed causes rapid deterioration of the strain. The smaller, more active males impregnate the females first. At about three to six weeks, the time has come to separate males from the females. At this age you can recognize the females by the appearance of the gravid spot. Males will not show any darkness in the gravid area. If not already done, cull all deformed and weak fish too. Furthermore, do not keep more than 10-20 young in a 10 gallon tank. At two months, the tank should contain no more than one fish per gallon to get maximum growth. Maximum growth also requires you to maintain a proper feeding schedule, and whatever tank maintenance that is necessary. The age for picking breeders or show guppies will depend on the rate of maturity of the particular strain you are working with. Some strains grow quicker than others. For example, reds, greens and blues grow rapidly and can be selected at 3 months. On the other hand, albinos, yellows and pastel colored guppies will require that you wait for 4 to 5 months, since they mature very slowly.


Selecting is easy once you "know your strain." There are four easy steps that you can use to select males:


1) Pick out the largest fish of the drop. Make sure they sport thick caudal peduncles so they can carry large tails.


2) Look for a wide, triangular caudal shape. By now dorsals should show signs of elongation (parallelogram shape with smooth edges).


3) Caudal and dorsal should match in color and pattern.


4) Eliminate any fish with curved spines, flat heads or which does not show a good intense color.

 

By eliminating fish in each of the steps, you will end up with the best fish for breeders or show fish. Remember. . .don't crowd. . .one fish per gallon.


Females should be selected and bred at 2 to 4 months of age. The steps used to pick females are:


1) Pick the largest of the drop with the thickest caudal peduncle. Females of this type tend to throw the best show males.


2) Look for the largest and widest caudals possible with dorsals to match.
 

3) If some show the desired color, use them for breeding.


Pick your best 2 females and your best male and place them in a 2 or 5 gallon tank. Some breeders prefer several males to several females. Using one male allows you to observe the characteristics that this fish will pass on to his sons. If the females do not become pregnant in two months, add an additional male (brother) to the tank. Smaller tanks are typically the choice for breeders in order to allow the male to catch the females.


BREEDING A PURE STRAIN

The best advice is to obtain the best fish you can afford. Get a strain that is already established and does not need much work to begin with. These can be purchased from reputable breeders in the IFGA. Avoid pet shop guppies. They are useless and you will be wasting your time and money. Guppies are normally sold in trios. . .one male and two females. Three techniques are used when breeding guppies:


INBREEDING: Mating close relatives such as brother to sister,
mother to son, father to daughter, etc.


LINE BREEDING: Breeding two separate lines branching from the original trio with eventual backcrossing or the breeding of distant relatives such as half siblings, cousins to cousins, etc.


OUT CROSSING: Mating two different pure strains which are compatible. This could mean fish of the same color that are obtained from two different breeders.

 

KEEPING BREEDING RECORDS

One of the most important disciplines needed when working with any livestock is to keep good records. You should be able to tell where the fish came from and what they produced several generations back. Keeping records now will be useful in future generations. Record keeping is simple and helps to keep track of the progress of a particular strain. For each drop you should keep track of the number of young, the number of males/females, how may culls, etc. This way, you will know which fish throws the show guppies that you want. Accurate records will allow you to trace back through generations to see what steps you took to achieve your ultimate goal.

 

DISEASES

If you keep your water clean and do not overcrowd your fish, disease will not be a problem. The most common ailments and their treatment are listed below.


WHITE SPOT (Ich, ichthyophthirius) is caused by environmental stress and/or cold water. It can also be caused by sudden changes in water temperature. It is a parasite resembling a grain of salt that feeds on the tissue of the fish causing irritation. It spreads through the skin and fins and will eventually kill the fish if left untreated. The mature parasite cannot be killed, nor can its eggs. It can only be destroyed in its free swimming stage after the spot falls off and the eggs hatch. This can take from 1-4 days. This is why it is important to continue to medicate for at least 3-5 days after the spots are gone. Add 1-2 drops of formalin or copper sulfate to the tank water and raise the temperature to 82 degrees (use formalin with great care as it is a cancer causing agent).


VELVET (Oodinium) is similar to ich but it is much smaller and has a golden color to it. As above, the fish will eventually die if untreated. Use the same treatment as for ich.


PROTOZOAN FIN ROT is the reason for death in most imported guppies. It eats away at the fins and in no time causes death. Caudals turn gray and will eventually fall off it not treated. An effective way to quickly combat this problem is to combine formalin (1-2 drops), sulfa (1 capsule per 10 gallons) and salt (one handful per 10 gallons) and treat the fish for at least a whole week, making 10% water changes daily. Remember to replace medications daily. Antibacterials such as nitrofurazone and tetracycline, when used for 7 days, work well also.

 

FUNGUS is grayish white patches on the body or fins. It too, can easily kill a fish. Treat with nitrofurazone (250 mg. per 10 gallons) for 7 days. Any similar antibacterial will also do the job.

As you can see, you don't need a full medicine cabinet to treat the common diseases of the guppy. If you keep formalin, sulfa, nitrofurazone, tetracycline and salt in the fish room, you should be ready for all but the most exotic diseases.

 

CONCLUSION

We hope that this beginners guide will help to get you started on the right foot in our hobby. It is to your advantage to become a member of the IFGA and put into practice all of the techniques that have been mentioned in this section. In addition, try to join one of the sanctioned clubs. You will find that the interaction with other guppy enthusiasts will make this a more rewarding hobby. If you have any further questions or problems, contact one of the IFGA Officers or one of the club contacts of an IFGA Sanctioned Club. All of this info can be found through by following the links at the top left of this page.

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