Breeding Fancy Guppies

Kelly Roper
Male guppies chasing a female in an uncontrolled breeding situation

Breeding fancy guppies can be a fun and fascinating hobby. Many breeders start out on a small scale and eventually progress to a larger operation and showing their strains at International Fancy Guppy Association sanctioned guppy shows. Some breeders' stock is so sought after that they ship fish to buyers around the world. Perhaps someday one of those breeders will be you!

Getting Started Breeding Fancy Guppies

Find a Breeder Mentor and Choose a Strain

Anyone can buy a few guppies at the shop and start breeding. In fact, guppies are one of the easiest fish to breed. However, pet shop fish rarely breed true, so it pays to start with the best fish you possibly can.

You'll find serious, knowledgeable breeders are usually members of at least one guppy club. You can start at the top by contacting the International Fancy Guppy Association (IFGA) to find reputable breeders and affiliate clubs. Once you locate a breeder who a) is willing to mentor you and b) has the strain you want to raise, you'll want to purchase a trio, which consists of one male and two females of the highest quality. You'll spend significantly more, but you won't waste time, effort and more money trying to breed up from inferior fish.

Setting Up Your Tanks

Your tank needs to be set up at least two weeks in advance of the arrival of your trio to allow it time to cycle. Ask the breeder about the water temperature and pH the fish have been kept at, as well as any other particulars about their environment so you can duplicate those conditions. Most breeders have very simple breeder tank set ups that consist of one 5-gallon tank, a sponge filter, a submersible heater and a thermometer for each set up. The more fish they breed, the more tanks they have set up.

Moving fish from one environment to another stresses them and makes them more susceptible to illness, so it's usually a good precaution to treat the tank with an antibiotic when they first arrive.

Breeding Your Fish

Females can become pregnant as early as three weeks old, so the odds are high that the females you receive may already be pregnant. You'll be able to tell they are pregnant if they have a large gravid spot and a swollen abdomen. There may be no way to tell who is the father of such a drop, so some breeders recommend discarding the initial drop and letting your own male breed each female within 24 hours of the birth. This will help insure that neither female has a second drop fertilized by sperm stored from the previous male.

The breeding act happens in a flash. The male chases the female until he's close enough to deliver a shot of sperm to her anal opening at the gravid spot using his gonopodium (anal fin). This act will be repeated numerous times. The video below shows the results of numerous matings - one very pregnant albino guppy. If you look closely, you can see the eyes of some of the fry.

Transferring Females to Birthing Tanks

Guppies are pregnant for approximately 28 days, so each female should be moved to her own birthing tank about one week before she's due to drop. This tank should be no larger than five gallons because once the fry drop, it will require less energy for them to feed in a smaller tank. That energy will instead go into their growth.

Protecting Fry at Birth

Guppies tend to eat their own young at birth. Some breeders use plants in the tank to provide hiding places for the fry. Others prefer to use breeder boxes or traps that hold the female during the birth and allow the tiny fry to escape through a slot or small mesh. If you decide to use a box, don't put the female in it until she shows signs she is ready to drop. Keeping her confined longer than necessary will only stress her.

Once the drop is complete, the female is either returned to the original breeding tank or to an all female tank to rest until it's time to breed her again. The fry will remain in the birthing tank at least until it's time to separate the sexes.

Separating the Fry

You should be able to tell the males from the females around one week of age. The females will have a dark spot on the abdomen called the gravid spot. The males have a pointed anal fin called a gonopodium. You'll want to transfer either the males or the females to their own 5-gallon set up and leave the other gender in the birthing tank. If you need the birthing tank for another drop, transfer all the fry to their own sorority or fraternity tanks.

You'll likely notice that some of the fry are either deformed or fail to thrive as they should. Most breeders recommend culling these fish as soon as possible so there's more room and food available for the top quality fry. The easiest way to cull is to feed the inferior babies to the adult fish.

Feeding the Fry

Guppy fry are literally born hungry, so it's best to begin feeding them shortly after birth. Their food must be small enough for the tiny babies to consume, so many breeders feed freshly hatched or frozen baby brine shrimp (Artemia) or microworms. You can also pulverize flake food to a fine powder and feed it to the fry. However, live foods usually promote the best growth.

The fry should be fed three to five times daily, and only as much as they are able to consume at one time to avoid fouling the tank with leftover food. Start out with a small portion, observe how quickly they finish it off and add a little more if necessary. Soon you'll have a good idea of how much to feed at each meal. At least one daily feeding should consist of the live food to ensure better growth, but some of the top breeders feed only live food to their guppies their entire lives.

Adapt This Breeding System to Your Own Needs

This basic outline for how to breed fancy guppies can be adapted to fit your particular needs. You can keep your operation small, or you can add additional set ups as your breeding program grows - especially if you decide to branch out to more than one strain. The best advice anyone can give you is to avoid keeping more tanks than you can maintain at top quality. Otherwise your breeding program will quickly deteriorate. If caring for your guppies becomes more of a chore than a joy, either hire some help or scale back your set up to a comfortable level. Breeding fancy guppies does require some labor, but it should be a labor of love.

Breeding Fancy Guppies