Guppies are easy to breed, what’s more difficult is to breed them in a way to pass down selective traits onto the next generation, so that they’ll display the physical traits you’ve selected such as particular colors or tail shape.
This is selective guppy breeding, and unlike breeding that occurs spontaneously, selective breeding takes more time and effort to pull through. It also takes methodical planning and investing in aquarium equipment.
To breed guppies selectively, you’ll need to plan carefully, you’ll need to monitor your guppies, put them on a healthy and nutritious diet, and you’ll need to invest in aquariums to house multiple generations of guppies and equipment to maintain excellent conditions.
If you’re ready to embark on a new adventure, I’ll walk you through what you need to know about selective guppy breeding and what hurdles you can expect to encounter along the way.
Guide to Breeding Guppies Selectively
Since the whole point of selective breeding is to eliminate haphazardness, you need to set up a plan to breed guppies.
The endgame here is to create fancy guppy specimens that bear certain traits that you like to see perpetuated for the next generations.
But before you can get into the nitty-gritty of breeding these fish, you first need high-quality guppy pairs that may cost more but display desirable traits that other guppy strains don’t.
These specimens should not be sourced from a run-of-the-mill pet shop (you may not even be able to find them in pet shops anyway). They should come from experienced and reputable breeders.
Selecting a Guppy Pair
The inexpensive guppy pairs you’ll see in pet shops, aren’t the best quality specimens you can get. With these, you may get some interesting results, but nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary.
To produce high-end specimens or show quality guppies, you need prime specimens from the get-go, and the best place to get these from are reputable breeders that have been preserving the purity of strains and perform breeding that accounts for the healthiness of the particular guppy strain.
Reputable breeders can offer you guppy couples that are healthy, whose lineage is known and that fall into the “fancy guppy” or show guppy category.
These specimens may be a little more sensitive than their regular guppy counterparts (and more expensive!), so you may need to be more attentive to their upbringing and care, but they’ll also bring you in more profit.
I recommend buying 3 females and 2 males, however, do not let them breed randomly as harem breeding may not deliver you the best results.
Draw up a plan as to what traits you want to breed your guppy fish for, whether it’s colors, size, tail shapes or other peculiar aspects and select the guppy pair that best showcase those traits.
Next, let’s see the various breeding techniques you can implement to get desirable traits in the next generation of guppy fish.
Guppy Line Breeding
Breeding related guppies to ensure enhanced versions of desirable traits is defined as line breeding. When line breeding is carried out well, it leads to best examples of offspring.
The same cannot be said, however, about unrelated guppies that mate, because line breeding produces a specialist line that preserves or carries through the desirable traits envisioned by the breeder.
In line breeding there are a few things to be mindful of, namely: It is recommended to allow female guppies to breed with the father, but never male guppies to breed with the mother.
In the first case, good results are produced, while in the second case, the chance of results opposite to what you envision are high. Therefore, you should avoid allowing male guppies to breed with the mother.
Guppy Out Crossing
Guppy out crossing is another breeding technique that you can apply, which requires that you breed unrelated guppies of different lineages.
Because with line breeding inbreeding can become a problem, out crossing can help maintain the health of your guppies and reduce the chances of deformities or faults that may arise with line breeding.
Guppy out crossing can also add desirable traits to your guppy line (an interesting color or tail shape), without worrying about the risks of deformities such as a curved spine.
It is recommended that you perform a guppy out crossing every few generations to maintain the genetic healthiness of your fish.
Guppy Back Crossing
Sometimes, when the progression of a line trait does not go as planned (e.g. unplanned or unforeseen traits find their way into the lineage), it’s a good idea to mate your guppy from a line back to its ancestors.
Guppy back crossing is essentially used to reestablish traits that have disappeared even though it wasn’t your intention or to eradicate certain traits.
This process — like many other breeding processes when selectively breeding guppies — takes time and you may only achieve success after a few tries.
Culling Unwanted Guppies
I already mentioned that with line breeding, there’s an increased chance of deformities, which is why you should sometimes perform an out crossing here and there.
Guppy bent spine or other faults can appear and, if your fish become too sick to have a quality of life, you may need to euthanize them. This is a necessary, albeit painful process.
However, you may need to remove certain guppies from breeding if they don’t showcase the traits you’ve been after. You can gift these guppies away or sell them to other breeders or aquarists.
Therefore, the process of culling guppies refers to removing guppies with undesirable traits or with abnormalities or diseases from the genetic pool.
Cost of High-Quality Guppies
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that when you breed guppies selectively, you need to invest in a high-quality pair. I also pointed out that these guppy strains don’t come as cheap, especially that it’s recommended to buy them from a reputable breeder.
But let’s see just how costly fancy guppy strains are?
If you do a quick search for guppy fish on eBay or other marketplaces that sell guppy breeding pairs, you’ll see prices ranging from $10 to $60+ for a breeding pair.
Needless to say, the guppies on the more expensive end of the spectrum are fancier and display more interesting and unique patterns than the cheaper specimens.
Therefore, depending on what your purpose is — breeding show guppies, experimenting with traits, breeding for profit, etc. — you may need to invest more in a breeding pair.
The cost is also influenced by scarcity (rare strains are more expensive), the time it took the breeder to achieve that particular type of guppy fish and the health status of those fish.
How Many Tanks You Need for Selective Guppy Breeding?
Whenever you’re breeding guppy fish, you need extra aquariums, but when breeding show guppies, you’ll need plenty of new aquariums.
In my experience, you will need at least 8 aquariums – 10 gallons each – to conduct successful breeding. Now this may sound like a lot (and I hear you, it is a lot), but here’s the breakdown of it:
You need 1 for the parents, the ancestors of the lineage. You’ll need 2 more aquariums for first generation males and females, because you need to keep females and males separately to avoid harem breeding, which is uncontrolled breeding, and which won’t produce desired results.
Then you need another 2 aquariums for second generation males and females and 2 more tanks for selected males and females.
So far, this is 7 aquariums, but you’ll need an extra tank for backup in case anything goes amiss, or you need to do a backcrossing or whatever. It’s always good to have a backup.
Bear in mind that guppy breeding can be costly, and you’ll need to invest a lot of time and resources before you can make a profit.
Beyond the high number of tanks, you’ll also need all the equipment that’s needed to set up a guppy aquarium including a heater, a filter, air pump, live plants, etc.
Keeping Records of Your Guppies
With so many tank and inhabitants, it can be difficult to keep track of things. This is why I recommend that you not only devise a breeding plan, but also that you document everything you’re doing.
Keeping records helps you assess your progress and know where you’re at with your plan, it also helps avoid confusion and mixing up your fish (not knowing which fish are which).
Here are some useful tips to keep tabs on everything that’s happening during breeding:
- Assign your guppy fish a number or letter. Identify parents, generational offspring with numbers of letters;
- Mark each tank with the corresponding number or letter;
- Make sure you keep track of the relation between fish (e.g. daughter-father, siblings, half-siblings, etc.). This can be important because at breeding certain combinations can produce bad offspring (e.g. male guppies breeding with their mother);
- Make a note of the sex of your fish to identify male and female tanks and jot down distinctive traits such as colors, patters, tail size, etc. to help identify the strain you’ve produced;
- Keep track of your breeding program and breeding techniques that you’ve implemented and the results you’ve gotten;
- Make a note of breeding dates and delivery dates.
You can also take pictures of your fish or make videos that can help you remember what you’re doing, and which tank is which, or record yourself with a voice recorder while you’re setting things up.
Whichever method works best for you to keep track of things and don’t mix up your fish in ways you don’t intend to.
With so many tanks and offspring, things can easily get out of hand and they can become confusing, so take the time to take notes or record the things you do.
Culturing Live Food
You know by now that guppies are omnivorous fish that require a varied diet rich in both vegetable matter and meaty foods.
While they’re still in their growth phase, I like to feed my guppies a variety of foods including live cultured foods, which pack that extra punch of nutrients that will help my guppies grow faster and healthier.
I know breeding can be stressful and difficult as it is, but I do encourage you to go the extra mile and, if your time allows it or you know a trustworthy vendor, feed your guppy fry cultured foods.
If you’re down to culturing your own live food, even better because there are various “delicacies” that you can culture at home including:
- Brine shrimp
- Vinegar eels
Of all these, I consider baby brine shrimp to be the best type of cultured food to feed baby guppies. It’s easy to start a culture at home too.
You can set up your own brine shrimp hatchery at home, but first you need to purchase the eggs and a hatchery kit that you can easily find on Amazon.
The eggs will hatch in about 1-3 days and if you want to have fresh baby brine shrimp, I recommend setting up three different hatcheries.
Daphnia is a bit more difficult to culture, it requires a separate tank, feeding, water movement, plus it produces a strong odor, so if you can source daphnia from someone else, go for it.
Another live food that produces an off-putting smell if cultured at home is vinegar eels, which are otherwise easy to culture. Harvesting them, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult.
Something that’s easier to pull off than daphnia and vinegar eels are microworms, which require a sealed off container, moisture, and a starter culture that should be fed with a bit of bread. They hatch in about two weeks and they’re easy to harvest.
Live foods are important to guppy fish that are still developing, because they offer them a fair amount of protein, fat, and some carbs.
Adults don’t really need to be fed with live foods, because of their high fat and protein content, but they too can benefit from an occasional snack.
Besides cultured food options, there are other foods that you can prepare at home to avoid feeding them only flake foods.
Preparing Home Made Food
If you don’t want to make your own cultured foods, there are other things you can prepare for guppy fry or guppy adults.
Guppy fry can enjoy the high protein content of egg paste, which is prepared by hard-boiling an egg and crushing the yolk into a paste.
But one food that may be even greater for guppy fry is beef heart paste, which is considered somewhat of a superfood for guppy fry.
Apart from the beef heart, the paste can also contain shrimp, vegetables, spirulina powder, etc. all put together and minced by a food processor.
Because of the high fat content neither beef heart paste, nor egg yolk paste is a healthy choice for adult guppies.
For adult guppies, you can cook vegetables at home including zucchini, cucumber, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, peas, broccoli, cabbage and kale.
You can run these through a food processor and put them in the freezer, breaking off small chunks at feeding time, or you can use it to make homemade flake food.
You can add some extra ingredients to the paste like spirulina, shrimp, vitamins, minerals, etc. put the paste on parchment paper and into the oven at 250 °F (120 °C) until it dries out.
There isn’t a single food category that’s best for guppies, instead you should strive for variety. Feed your guppies once or twice a day with an amount they’ll eat in under a minute.
Since you’re dealing with fancy guppy fish, be very careful about overfeeding and leaving uneaten food in the aquarium. Fancy guppy fish may be more sensitive to toxin spikes, so keep a nice and clean aquarium.
So, veggie pellets, blanched vegetables, flake foods (both commercially available ones and homemade ones), freeze-dried foods (brine shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex) are all great options just make sure to vary them and don’t feed them the same food day in and day out.
A healthy diet is required for guppy fish not only because it will help them grow better and stay healthier, but also because it will help them develop their colors more beautifully.
Breeding guppy fish for selected traits can be a challenge even for aquarists that do have some experience under their belt.
Still, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hand at selective guppy breeding but do make sure to follow the advice in this article and document yourself about selective breeding techniques.
As I pointed out, some guppy strains can be difficult to breed, which can result is a bigger scarcity and a higher price tag for them.
If you’re planning on taking up selective guppy fish breeding, be prepared to invest time, money and effort. However, the spectacular stains that you may end up creating will surely be very rewarding.