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. Unfortunately, most livebearers are now 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
First, let us understand how the majority of livebearers is bred. For economic reasons, most livebearers are bred in climates where it stays warm even through the winter. 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. You can then harvest the livebearers as they reproduce. 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. First, there is inbreeding within the livestock. There is no way to control the breeding of siblings or children, and genetic defects can spread unchecked until they are 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 may look good, their genes can be affected. The “potbellied” varieties of platies and mollies, which are all genetic deformities, have been commercialized to illustrate this point. These were an accidental result of downbreeding.
The second problem with the pond style breeding is the introduction of parasites. 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. This leaches chemicals into the water that raise the pH and Hardness. Brackish water may also be used in place of straight freshwater for cost reasons. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, uninformed stores and hobbyists are walking into a trap. 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.
Now that we know how the livebearers we wish to keep are bred, what can we do to combat this? 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.
You can also purchase wild animals. These will be much more genetically pure. This won’t work for “Fancy” 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
This is the option most people choose. 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. These mollies didn’t live for very long. Breeders quickly found out that mollies can live in brackish waters after searching for the information. 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. It was the marine salt minerals that gave us the greatest 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. Then you can provide your hobbyists with a 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 you will get your tank set up and give livebearers another chance. They are my favorite type of fish to work with. They can be kept alive for many years once they are stabilized.