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Can Guppy Fish Live Alone in a Small Fish Tank?

Most fish like company, especially if they’re schooling fish, which often become stressed, timid, sick or even aggressive if they’re not kept in the right numbers.

While technically guppies aren’t schooling fish, they do tend to stick around in a group. To answer the question of whether you can keep guppies alone, I’d say no, guppy fish cannot live alone because they’re social fish that require company.

Plus, having only a single fish in an aquarium is a pretty sad sight. Guppies can live with their own kind, but they do just as well in the company of other compatible fish.

In today’s article, I’m going to cover some of the keeping scenarios that don’t work for guppies and some scenarios that are best if you want to raise guppies.

Keeping a Single Guppy Fish

If you’re thinking of keeping a single guppy fish either because you have a small aquarium or because you don’t feel experienced enough to take care of multiple fish, here’s why keeping a guppy fish alone isn’t such a good idea.

I know most guppy breeders will agree that the ideal guppy group has one male to two or three females. This is when these fish will feel most content and happy.

This will make sure they feel comfortable in their aquarium, that there are no incidents like bullying or fighting, and there are no stress factors related to group dynamics.

The reason why you should keep a single male to two or more females is that male guppies can stress out females as they constantly chase females to reproduce.

If you have a guppy fish, it’s probably a male one since male guppies are more colorful and have more interesting patterns, so people tend to pick males instead of female guppies.

Females, unfortunately, don’t display the same range or intensity of colors, plus, once females are added to the mix, there’s bound to be a lot of breeding happening too.

While some aquarists report that their male guppy that is kept singly is perfectly content, you shouldn’t deprive your guppy fish of some company, even if it’s not the company of their own breed.

That said, if you want a single guppy fish, you should consider housing it with compatible tank mates, which brings us to the next scenario:

Keeping a Guppy Fish with Other Community Fish

Adding other community fish to your lonesome guppy may be a compromise that can work if you don’t want to keep multiple guppies, but you’re not against setting up a nice little community tank.

Luckily, guppy fish are peaceful and sociable, which means they’re a good tank mate for many community-friendly fish.

Some fish species that guppies will get along in an aquarium include platies, swordtails, mollies, honey gouramis, cory catfish, cardinal tetras, otocinclus catfish, etc.

Basically, guppies get along with peaceful community fish that aren’t big enough to mistake them for food and aren’t aggressive towards other fish.

It’s crucial to pick compatible fish when putting together a community aquarium, otherwise you’re looking at bullying issues, fighting, fin nipping, and stress, all which can spell serious trouble for your fish, especially those of the receiving end.

Whenever you’re setting up a mixed-breed aquarium, there are some issues to consider. These are:

  • water parameters
  • tank size
  • behavioral triggers
  • diet
  • aquarium stocking
  • breeding

Water parameters should be in the optimal range for all fish involved. If some fish aren’t otherwise adaptable and they’re forced to adapt to different conditions that what they’re used to, things can go south really fast.

Tank size is another crucial matter that you should never dismiss. Just because a fish is small, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have plenty of aquarium space to feel comfortable.

Plus, a small aquarium is less stable and more prone to sudden ammonia spikes. In a larger aquarium, water parameters are easier to keep stable.

If you overstock your aquarium and fill in all the available space, you’re going to cause oxygen deficiency and increased toxin levels, which are a threat to the health and life of your fish.

Some fish are fin-nippers. Don’t keep them with guppies, because the colorful and large tail of guppy fish can end up being injured by nippy fish.

Some fish – guppies included – can breed out of control if both males and females of the same species are kept in the aquarium.

Therefore, if you’re housing fish that can easily overbreed, make sure to control their population by not keeping both genders in the same tank.

Overbreeding can easily lead to overstocking, which brings us back to our earlier point about tank size and unstable or unfavorable water conditions.

The diet of your fish should also match up, it’s makes things easier at feeding time and there won’t be any deficiency issues or food shortage issues happening.

 Keeping Only Male Guppies

Piggybacking on the idea of not keeping a mixed-gender aquarium if you don’t want your fish breeding, keeping only male guppies in an aquarium can be problematic too.

Say you’re setting up a guppy-only aquarium, but you don’t want your guppy fish to become lonely, and you’re thinking of adding a few more males to keep him company.

This isn’t an ideal scenario, because male guppies can bully each other and become territorial and aggressive against each other, even though as a species guppies are known as pretty chill fish.

But keeping them together may trigger behavioral issues that wouldn’t come up under normal circumstances. They may nip at each other’s fins, causing injuries, which can become infected.

Therefore, it’s best to stick to the ideal setting of having one male to 2-3 females than keeping only male guppies.

Other than feeling more at ease if females are around, male guppy fish will also display brighter colors if kept together with females.

Once you add females to the mix, you’re going to have to think about guppy fry too, especially guppy population control.

When guppies breed they can produce up to 200 fry with one pregnancy, but even 50 new lives added to the tank can be problematic if there isn’t a control over them.

If you don’t want to deal with any fry, you can just leave them in with the adult fish as they’ll eat them, which is a natural way to deal with their numbers.

It’s also a good idea to remove any hiding places that fry can use to escape adult guppies. Fry can survive by hiding from adults until they’re large enough not to be considered as food by adults.

I’ve also had success with adding a female betta fish to my guppy tank. Since Betta fish are carnivores, they will feed on guppy fry, decimating their stock.

So, if leaving the fry in with the adults doesn’t solve the problem, make sure to get a female betta to help you out and reduce the number of guppy fry.

Although Betta fish are aggressive, female bettas aren’t known for their aggressiveness, but do keep an eye on your tank for any issues. Do not add male betta fish to the aquarium as they can harm more than help.

Keeping Only Female Guppies

The last guppy keeping scenario I’m going to cover is keeping only female guppies in your tank, if you want to avoid your guppy fish feeling lonesome all by itself.

This could be an ideal solution to avoid bullying issues displayed by males if they’re kept without females in the tank and somewhat avoid any overstocking issues due to fry.

I say somewhat avoid and not 100% avoid because female guppy fish can become pregnant even if males aren’t around.

This only happens if a female has already been inseminated by a male prior to being transferred into your aquarium. If this is not the case, you’re not going to have to deal with any fry issues.

The only drawback of keeping a female only guppy aquarium is that they’re less colorful than males, which some may take issue with. They also a bit larger than males.

If this alternative doesn’t seem too great for you, consider adding other community fish compatible with guppies that will keep your fish company.

This way you’ll have a nice aquarium, where your guppy fish won’t be alone and which won’t be overrun with fry.

Conclusion

If you want what’s best for your guppy fish and want it to have a healthy life, don’t keep it alone. Guppies are social fish that like to be kept together with other fish — whether from their own breed or not — and won’t do as well if they’re kept by themselves.

It’s up to you if you’re going to keep males and females intermixed or keep your guppy fish with other compatible fish, but do be mindful of the things I pointed out in this article that could lead to complications (e.g. bullying, fights, overcrowding, etc.).

I hope you are now better informed about how some of the issues around keeping guppy fish alone or together with other fish, and you’ll take the best decision for your guppies.

4 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the info! I have a question – we had 2 male guppies in our 5 gallon tank, and all of a sudden one of them got stressed. Water tests were all good. There was a weird algal bloom at the same time, so maybe it was an oxygen problem? I don’t know, but the stressed guppy ended up getting poked and pushed around by the other guppy. The stressed guppy ended up dying. I don’t know if we should get another guppy or let the survivor hang on his own. Since I don’t know the cause of the stress, this surviving guppy might pass, too. Anyway, I’m concerned about leaving the survivor alone, but I don’t want to put a new one in there and possibly have him get attacked. Any thoughts?

    • avatar Fabian says:

      Beside water parameters, fish can also be stressed by tank mates. I think that in your case, the stress came from the other guppy. It is normal that male guppies will chase each other. You can add live plants (like a lot of plants) to break up the line of sight. This way the bullied guppy can get away and the aggressor will leave him alone for much longer.
      Keeping only one guppy is not ideal, because guppies like to live in swarm and are very social fish.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Oh, and I don’t want to try to add 2 females because the fry are too much to handle. A 5 gallon tank is already a lot to deal with.

    • avatar Fabian says:

      Adding females will not really solve the aggression problem between males. Maybe you should opt for another fish. For instance a betta fish could be a good choice for a 5 gallon aquarium.

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