Livebearers are becoming weaker.
Many older magazines and books will tell you that livebearers such as Endler’s Livebearers or Guppies are excellent for beginners, because they are hardy. Although this was true once upon a time, many of these livebearers have lost their wild stock. Most livebearers today are mass-produced. As we all know, when things go into mass production, the quality will decline. I hope to offer some tips to help you be successful with livebearers in spite of the new challenges.
How Livebearers Are Bred
Let’s first understand how most livebearers were bred. Livebearers are most commonly bred in warmer climates, even during winter. This is for economic reasons. Florida, Thailand, Hawaii are all popular spots for people to have a fish farm. A pond is all that is required to raise the livebearers. You can simply place large numbers of livebearers within a large pond. Then harvest them as they breed. This process makes it very easy to produce a very large amount of livebearers with much less work than aquariums.
There are several unfortunate consequences to these systems though. The first is constant inbreeding between the livestock. With no one to make sure siblings and children don’t breed with one another, genetics defects can run wild, until they are culled before being sold to wholesalers. Each farm will have its own way of breeding the fish. Some use cages to prevent culls from breeding etc) Many fish farms now harvest the fish from the ponds and then select quality specimens from sorting tanks in a warehouse. Even though they appear acceptable, they could inherit the weak genes of their parents. The “potbellied” varieties of platies and mollies, which are all genetic deformities, have been commercialized to illustrate this point. These were an accident from downbreeding.
The introduction of parasites is another issue with pond breeding. While the farmers try their best to set up nets and keep pests out of their farms, the fish are exposed to outside influence such as bird parasites. This can have a devastating effect on populations of fish. Fish farms are quarantining the fish for a few days before shipping them out now to watch for parasites. However, if the fish isn’t stressed, they will be able to keep the parasite dormant. It is when the fish becomes stressed during shipping that the parasite is able to grab hold.
Concrete is another problem. Concrete can leach chemicals into the water, which can raise pH and Hardness. Brackish water may also be used in place of straight freshwater for cost reasons. This isn’t necessarily bad, but uninformed hobbyists and stores are falling for it. The fish are coming from a high pH and hard water to local water tap conditions normally. This can put the fish into osmotic shock. Which can kill the fish in a few days or leave it very weakened for underlying conditions to finish it off.
Livebearers for sale
We now know the breeding methods of the livebearers that we want to keep, but what can we do about it? One option is to buy locally bred fish. Even if their stock came from a fish farm, the fry will at least avoid osmotic shock from the huge change in water parameters.
Another option is to acquire wild livestock. These animals will be genetically more pure. These will not help you with “Fancy strains” of livebearers. You might still find parasites in their blood or they may be subject to osmotic shock. It is worth considering whether or not the species may be endangered in the wild. Some aquarists intentionally breed wild, endangered fish to up the populations while others avoid them in hopes of keeping more in the wild.
Mimic Natural Water Parameters
Most people will choose the last option. Setup your aquarium closer to the breeder’s water parameters.
It was accidental at first. Mollies were one of the first fish to be severely mass produced and hybridized to get all the great colors we have today. As a result, those mollies didn’t live very long. Breeders discovered that mollies could survive in brackish water after quickly researching the subject. Many stores and hobbyists soon added aquarium salt to their tanks to make their tanks brackish. Miraculously, the mollies now did much better! We thought we had figured it out, but some people were using Aquarium Salt and others were using marine salt. We later found out it was the minerals in the marine salt that provided the most benefit.
Keeping Livebearers Healthy
The battle plan to keep healthy livebearers coming from a fish farm starts with setting up your aquarium for the right pH and hardness of water. Then find out what day your local fish store receives fish. Acquire your fish ideally before they go into the store’s tanks (assuming your local fish store are not livebearer nerds who already set up these types of conditions), take them home and quarantine them in your own setup pH and hard water. After they have been acclimated, they should be able to thrive. You can then, every so slowly, bring them down to the pH of your tap water over the course of months. Eventually, you’ll have fry and they’ll have never known anything other than your tap water. You can then supply your fellow hobbyists with a more stable livebearer.
The trick to the common day livebearer is to minimize stress so that our super colored, extra long finned, genetically down bred fish don’t have to test their immune system. Each new strain of livebearer brings its beauty and deformities with it.
I hope that you have a tank and are ready to give livebearers another chance. They are my favorite type of fish to work with. Once they have been stabilized, they can last for many generations.