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. While this used to be true, it is no longer true. Some of the wild stock have become weaker over time. Unfortunately, most livebearers are now mass produced. We all know that quality suffers when things are mass produced. I’m hoping to share some tips with you to make livebearers a success despite all the challenges.
How Livebearers Are Bred
Let’s first understand how most livebearers were 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. The next step is to have a pond where the livebearers can be bred. Simply place a significant quantity of livebearers in a very large pond. Then harvest them as they breed. This process makes it very easy to produce a very large amount of livebearers with much less work than aquariums.
However, these systems have several negative consequences. The first is constant inbreeding between 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. Unfortunately, even though they look acceptable, they can carry the weakened genes of their parents. 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 introduction of parasites is another issue with pond breeding. 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.
The third problem is that many of the ponds are constructed out of concrete. This leaches chemicals into the water that raise the pH and Hardness. Brackish water may be used instead of freshwater because it is cheaper. This isn’t necessarily bad, but uninformed hobbyists and stores are falling for it. 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.
Wild livestock is another option. These will be much more genetically pure. These will not help you with “Fancy strains” of livebearers. However, they could still be susceptible to parasites and/or experience osmotic stress. You might also want to think about whether the species is threatened in the wild, and what this may mean for you. 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
The last option is what most people will eventually choose. Setup your aquarium closer to the breeder’s water parameters.
This was actually done by accident 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 did not live long. Breeders discovered that mollies could survive in brackish water after quickly researching the subject. 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. They should thrive once they’re done acclimating. Then, slowly but surely, you can bring them to the pH level of your tap water over a period of several months. You’ll eventually have fry, and they will have never seen anything else than 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 that you have a tank and are ready to give livebearers another chance. They are my favorite type of fish to work with. Once they have been stabilized, they can last for many generations.