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. Today, livebearers are almost all 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
First, let us understand how the majority of livebearers is bred. Livebearers are most commonly bred in warmer climates, even during winter. This is for economic reasons. 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. Place a large number of livebearers into 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. One is inbreeding among livestock. Genetic defects can be unchecked because there is no one to ensure siblings and children don’t cross, so they must be culled before they can be 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 appear acceptable, they could inherit the weak genes of their parents. This is illustrated by the fact that all varieties of “potbellied” platies and mollies have genetic defects that have been commercialized. These deformities were the result of downbreeding.
Parasites are another problem in pond-style 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.
A third problem is the concrete used to build ponds. Concrete can leach chemicals into the water, which can raise pH and Hardness. Brackish water may also be used in place of straight freshwater for cost reasons. Although this isn’t necessarily a problem, it can lead to uninformed hobbyists or stores falling 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.
Livebearers for sale
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. They will be more genetically pure. These will not help you with “Fancy strains” of livebearers. They could still have parasites or go through osmotic shock though. Also, you may want to consider if the species is endangered in the wild and what that may mean to 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
Most people will choose the last option. 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 did not live 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. The mollies were able to do much better, miraculously! We thought we had figured it out, but some people were using Aquarium Salt and others were using marine salt. Later, we discovered that the benefits of marine salt were derived from the minerals.
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. Over the next few months, you can slowly bring them back to the pH of tap water. 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. They can be kept alive for many years once they are stabilized.