The guppy is a longstanding favorite among aquarium hobbyists. Beginning hobbyists tend to choose them for their vibrant color and showy fins, while the more experienced hobbyists choose them for their great breeding potential.
The guppy gives the hobbyist a chance to make a lasting mark on the tropical fish hobby like few other fish can. Through selective breeding, a hobbyist can quite literally develop his or her own strain of guppy complete with his own chosen colors, patterns, and fin shapes. Bright reds, yellows, blues, and greens are just the beginning. Guppies also have an iridescent sparkle that few fish can compete with. Guppies have evolved this elaborate coloration to attract females. In the wild this also makes them a prime target for predators, decreasing the probability of finding in the wild any of the beautiful strains we're used to seeing in our pet stores. When the guppy is brought to the home aquarium where it is sheltered from predators, the guppy's natural beauty can be enhanced through selective breeding. The guppy is truly an artist's palette of possibilities.
The Guppy Advantage
Unlike many of the cichlids that grow slowly and take many months to reach sexual maturity, the guppy has a very short life-span. Because they reach sexual maturity so quickly, it takes a relatively short amount of time to see the results of your labors. It may only take a couple of years to create your own strain. Though this may seem long, it is a remarkably short amount of time in which to create a distinctive strain of fish. If your selections for color and shape are well thought out, in just two years you could create something that will still be in pet stores long after you're gone.
Where to start
Perhaps one of the best things about this undertaking is the ease of getting started. The requirements for keeping and breeding guppies are few. Unlike many commonly bred fish, such as cichlids, spacious tanks are not needed for guppy breeding.
The fish themselves are perhaps the least expensive part of the project. For the truly ambitious, feeder guppies are often available at pet shops for mere pennies. These feeder guppies look much like their wild counterparts, and provide the hobbyist with a tremendous challenge. Still, for someone with a good eye and a little determination, creating a new fancy strain from feeder guppies is a very rewarding project. Whether you choose to start with feeders or with one of the fancier strains at the pet shop, breeding guppies to create a new strain is a challenge that will require time and effort, but which promises great rewards.
What to look for
To begin, you need to know what you want. Picking a guppy with only a little bit of red on it might eventually lead to a red strain, but it could take years. Knowing what you ultimately want in your guppy before you purchase the first fish will make the process much simpler. I recommend you sit down and draw out what you want to see in your final product, or at least try to do so.
A serious breeding project will require more than one tank. My ideal set-up would include three 20-gallon tanks and one 55-gallon tank. You can use smaller tanks and dividers if you wish, but you will need four separated areas. I suggest the following:
Buy some guppies! If you're running a large set-up, I would recommend getting a few nice looking males and choosing four or five females for each. Spend some time at various pet stores looking at guppies. From what you see there, decide what you want in your own guppy, and then begin to create it. Choose which traits you want to breed for, such as color, pattern, size, and/or dorsal and tail fin shape.
Wild and feeder guppies tend to be small. If you want to end up with a smaller fish, I would stick with these. Commercial breeders have greatly improved on the guppy's size so if you want a fish with a larger body, but still want the challenge of working from a feeder strain, I would begin with the largest male feeder guppy that you can find and match him up with larger females from the fancy tanks. Taking advantage of the work that has already been done will quickly increase the size of your strain and allow you to focus your efforts on the more eye-catching traits of coloration and tail shape.
Once you've found some sizable specimens, look at the color. This is truly the most exciting part of the breeding process. You get to design your own fish. Guppies have been bred to display nearly fluorescent shades of yellow and red, but the blues, greens, and purples are still underdeveloped.
These colors could easily be exploited to develop brilliant new guppy strains.
Once you've figured out the color you want, consider tail shape and size. I prefer the flag tail but the veil tail is still the most popular and by far the easiest of the tail shapes to find. There are many possibilities, so decide what you want and go for it. If you happen to find a male with the tail shape you're looking for or something that is similar, buy it. Don't feel guilty for taking a couple of short cuts, you still have a lot of work ahead of you to develop a strain that breeds true.
Week Two On:
Once you have selected your breeders and situated them in the breeding tank, you will want to watch for females who are ready to deliver. After they deliver, record the date. Since gestation is generally about 4 weeks, you should keep track of your females so that you can accurately determine who will deliver next and when. Doing this will increase the number of fry that survive. (Keeping a notebook is always beneficial in the aquarium hobbyö ) As an additional note, be aware that female guppies can store the male spermatozoa. It will probably take three deliveries after buying the guppies before the young delivered are related to the male you have chosen.
Some common Guppy tailshapes. From Top to Bottom, Lyretail, Flag, Veiltail, Bottom Sword, Top Sword, Round.
Wait a couple of weeks after the birth of the fry before moving them to the raising tank (You can move them before this, but the survival rate will be higher, if you wait.)
Feeding the fry is serious business. The better food you feed them, the quicker they'll grow, and the better colors they'll show (which will help you decide who to keep for breeders, and who to feed to your Oscar!). I suggest a high protein diet including as much live food as possible. Micro worms, water fleas or brine shrimp naupuli will work well for this, and are not too difficult to culture. Micro worms are especially handy and easy (not to mention cheap) as a food source.
As the fry develop, look for males on a daily basis and quickly move them to the male holding tank. This serves a dual purpose. First it gives you control over the breeding population. Second, it speeds up growth because females tend to grow faster if there aren't any males around.
As the males age you may note some characteristic you hadn't seen before. Don't be afraid to change your vision of your final product if you see something special. I suggest waiting until the males are at 3/4" long before you start breeding. Take the time to wait for males to grow. You don't want to miss the best breeder because you couldn't wait to get started! Once you find suitable males, use them to replace your old breeding stock. Replace the females at the same time. It would also be wise to bring in outside females every few generations to increase genetic diversity.
You should see some exciting developments within a few generations, and within a couple of short years, you'll have a beautiful new strain of your very own.