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Subject: [FAQ] Aquaria: Good (and Bad) First Fish; Breeding
This article was archived around: Thu, 13 Jan 2000 08:08:04 GMT
* This is only a text dump of part of the Aquaria FAQs. *
* The web "original" may be more current, is navigatable hypertext, *
* and contains enhanced content not available in this posted version! *
* http://faq.thekrib.com or http://www.actwin.com/fish/mirror *
FAQ: Good (and Bad) Beginner Fish
contributed by Dean Hougen
This article considers fish choices for the beginning aquarist,
covering good choices for the complete novice (``Good First Fish''),
good choices for the near novice who wishes to expand his or her
options for new fish (``Good Second Fish''), and poor choices for
beginning aquarists (``Bad First Fish'').
The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as
such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria.
Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors.
Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at
no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included.
* Good First Fish:
cyprinids, Corydorus catfish and rainbowfish.
* Good Second Fish:
loaches, dwarf pl*cos, tetras, cichlids, anabantids and
* Bad First Fish:
goldfish, piranhas, knife fishes, hatchet and pencil fishes,
elephant noses and baby whales, Chinese algae eaters, bala sharks,
iridescent sharks, glass cats, pl*cos, long-whiskered catfish,
red-tailed catfish, spiny eels, painted glassfish, dyed fish,
brackish fish and saltwater fish.
Since even a small amount of material can be difficult for a newcomer
in any field to digest and retain, the novice aquarist may wish to
read only the ``Good First Fish'' section to begin with. Then, while
consulting a good beginner's book (the most essential item for any
novice aquarist to own), she or he should choose a small number of
possibilities for the fish with which to start her or his new tank.
If someone familiar with the local fish stores is available, it is
wise to get a recommendation for where to shop for fish. Otherwise the
beginner should try looking for shops that specialize in fish, either
exclusively or as a major part of their business. This is no
guarantee, of course, but it does improve the odds of finding a good
If, upon reaching the store, none of the selected fish can be found,
the novice should refrain from purchasing any fish that he or she is
unfamiliar with, even if recommended by the store's employees. (Some
stores have very knowledgeable staffs but many, alas, do not. It will
take some time before the new fishkeeper can discern a good store from
a bad one, or good advice from poor.) At this point, another store
could be sought out or further reading done to determine alternate
choices for first fish.
Assuming that desirable choices for first fish can be found, the
beginner should carefully inspect the specimens for sunken bellies,
sunken eyes, clamped fins, labored breathing (often with gill covers
quite extended), and any sort of external blemishes that might
indicate parasites or disease. If the fish appear healthy, the novice
should ask to purchase a very small number of fish, depending on the
size of the tank and the fish. A twenty gallon tank is a good size for
a beginner; it is large enough that the water conditions will be
fairly stable, yet small enough that the beginner is not intimidated.
For this size tank a single fish of one to two inches in length, or
three or four smaller fish, is the most the novice should start with.
(If more fish are put into the tank initially, poisonous ammonia will
build up and kill the fish. If the tank population is built up
gradually, however, this will not be a problem. To understand this
gradual introduction of fish, known as `cycling the tank', the novice
should read about the nitrogen cycle in his or her aquarium book, or
the NITROGEN CYCLE section of the BEGINNER FAQ.)
Good First Fish
If we define a good beginner's fish as one that is easy to feed and
care for, hardy, able to live in a variety of water conditions, and
attractive, then there are a number of widely available fish which fit
the bill nicely. Many of these are regularly sold as beginner's fish.
But watch out! Many of the fish sold as beginner's fish really are not
well suited to that role.
Many of the smaller schooling fish make ideal first fish. These
include White Cloud Mountain Minnows, the several commonly available
species of Danios and Rasboras, and most available species of Barbs.
For those with a slightly larger tank, Rainbowfish make a great
schooling fish. Corydoras Catfish are ever popular schooling catfish.
While many beginners are tempted to get just one or two of each of
several different schooling fish, this should be resisted. Schooling
fish do better if there are several of their own species present for
them to interact with. A minimum of six of each of the midwater
schooling fish is recommended, while four is the bare minimum for
Corys. In the long run, a school of a dozen fish showing their natural
behavior will be more pleasing than a mixed group of fishes unhappily
forced to share the same tank. (``Mom, why is that one fish hiding
behind the heater and that other one just hanging in the corner?'')
Of course, as mentioned in the introduction, the population needs to
be built up slowly, two or three fish at a time. The aquarist might,
for instance, build up a school of eight Rasboras of a certain
species, then turn to building up a school of six of a species of Cory
White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are all Asian fish related
to the Carp and the Minnow. All of these fish belong to the family
Cyprinidae. White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are small,
active, hardy, and colorful.
``White Cloud Mountain Minnows'' - Tanichthys albonubes
Found in mountain streams in China, White Clouds can be kept in
unheated tanks (down to 55F). Some people advise against
putting these fish in tropical tanks but I have found that they
do fine in heated aquaria as well, as long as the temperature
is not kept above the mid 70s. They can be fed any small food
and they spawn often but fry will not be seen unless the
parents are removed to another tank. White Clouds are brown
with a red tail and a silvery white line down the side that
shines in the light. They get to be 1 1/2" long.
Several species of Danios are often found in pet stores,
including the Giant Danio - Danio aequipinnatus, the Zebra
Danio - Brachydanio rerio, the Leopard Danio - Brachydanio
frankei, and the Pearl Danio - Brachydanio albolineatus. These
fish are fast swimmers and are always in motion. Different
patterns of blue markings allows one to tell these fish apart.
Most Danios stay under 2 1/2" long, although Giant Danios can
get up to 4".
The most popular Rasbora is the Harlequin Rasbora - Rasbora
heteromorpha. A very similar looking species, Rasbora espei, is
also available, as is the Clown Rasbora - Rasbora kalochroma
and the Scissor-Tail Rasbora - Rasbora trilineata. Orange,
brown, and red are usual colors for Rasboras, and their
stop-and-start swimming makes them interesting to watch as a
school. Scissor-Tails can get up to 6" long and Clown Rasboras
up to 4" while Harlequins stay under 2" long.
By far the most commonly seen and commonly cursed Barb is the
Tiger Barb - Capoeta tetrazona. It nips the fins of other fish
if not kept in a large school of its own species and because it
is over-bred it is susceptible to diseases. Several aquarium
morphs are also available (such as the greenish ``Mossy Barb''
and an albino variety) but these are even more sickly and often
Don't give up on the Barbs too fast though, as many are well
suited as first fish, especially for those with moderate sized
tanks. Capoeta titteya, the Cherry Barb, is a terrific little
barb - up to 2" long and with a wonderful orange-red color.
Mid-sized barbs (up to about 4 1/2" long) include Clown Barbs -
Barbodes everetti, Rosy Barbs - Puntius conchonius, and Black
Ruby Barbs - Puntius nigrofasciatus. The artificial morphs
(long-finned, albino, etc.) of the Rosy Barb should be avoided
though, as these tend to be sickly. Checker Barbs - Capoeta
oligolepis and Spanner or T-Barbs - Barbodes lateristriga are
large, peaceful barbs (Spanner Barbs up to 7" long). Unless you
have a very large aquarium avoid Tinfoil Barbs - Barbodes
schwanefeldi. They grow to be over a foot long!
Note that many barbs don't school as ``nicely'' as do Danios or
Rasboras, but most should be kept in schools nonetheless. Also
note that many authors may put all of the above mentioned
species in the genus Barbus.
Cory Cats are members of the family Callichthyidae, a family of
armored catfish from South America. Corys are small (generally 2 1/2"
long or less), schooling fish that are always searching the bottom of
the tank for food. There are at least 140 species of catfish in the
genus Corydoras. Some of these are quite delicate and die quickly even
in the hands of experts. The fragile ones, however, are rarely seen in
pet stores and are high priced when they can be found. The Corys you
will see for reasonable prices are hardy and can even survive in a
tank with low oxygen as they can swallow air from the surface and
absorb it through their intestines. Some Corys you may encounter are
the Bronze Cory - C. aeneus, the Spotted Cory - C. ambiacus, the
Leopard Cory - C. julii, the Skunk Cory - C. arcuatus, the Bandit Cory
- C. metae, and the Panda Cory - C. panda.
Corys generally feed at the bottom of the tank and special sinking
foods should be fed. These include sinking pellets like Tabi-Min and
frozen blood- worms. Care should be taken to insure that all frozen
foods are eaten quickly as they decay rapidly and can foul the tank.
Rainbows are extremely colorful fishes native to Australia, New
Guinea, and Madagascar. Like the Cyprinids described above, Rainbows
are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of six or more.
Larger, somewhat more expensive, and harder to find than many of the
schooling fishes already discussed, Rainbows are easily cared for,
active, and make good first fish for those who want to try something a
little less common. Look in your dealer's tanks for the Australian
Rainbow - Melanotaenia splendida, Boeseman's Rainbowfish - M.
boesemani, Turquoise Rainbows - M. lacustris, and the Celebes Rainbow
- Telmatherina ladigesi.
Good Second Fish
The previous section talked about good fish for the complete novice
aquarist. This section will discuss good fish for beginning aquarists
who have had some experience or who are willing to do more careful
research and shopping before buying their fish.
Many of the fish recommended here are every bit as hardy, adaptable,
and easy to care for as those in the first section. However, in the
first section I was able to recommend whole groups of fish or at least
say to watch out for only a species or two in each group as bad
choices. Here, however, the groups will be quite mixed with many good
choices and many poor ones. Also, some of the fish in this section are
hardy only if some special needs are cared for. If you wish to
successfully keep fish from these groups you need to be sure you know
which species you are getting and what their needs are.
Why bother? If you are a complete novice, perhaps you shouldn't. The
great choices from the ``First Fish'' list should allow you to get
your feet wet (as it were) with minimum risk. However, as you gain
experience you may decide to give some of these fish a try. Many are
quite beautiful and/or have interesting behaviors and some aquarists
become so taken with them that they join specialist clubs just to
learn about and trade one group or another of these fish.
Loaches are long-bodied Asian fishes distantly related to the
Cyprinids (Barbs, Danios, etc.) described above. Like Cory Cats,
loaches have a down-turned mouth equipped with barbels - an adaptation
for living and feeding at the bottom of ponds and streams. They will
scavenge the tank bottom eating the food missed by other fishes, but
you should take care to see that they get enough to eat. Special
sinking foods are a must.
Some loaches are sensitive to poor nitrogen cycle management, which is
why they are included here, rather than in the Good First Fish
section. Once the tank is established and the beginner seems to have
gotten the hang of maintaining a tank, however, loaches make great
additions to most community fish populations.
The most commonly seen loaches are the Kuhli Loaches -
Acanthophthalmus species. These are long, ribbon-like fishes which
grow to be 4" long. Brown with yellow stripes and bands, Kuhli Loaches
are shy and spend a lot of time buried in the gravel.
Another popular group of loaches are the members of the genus Botia.
Clown Loaches - B. macracantha, Yo-Yo Loaches - B. lohachata, Skunk
Loaches - B. horae, Blue Loaches - B. modesta, and Striated Loaches -
B. striata are all seen in the hobby. Some of these (notably Clown and
Blue Loaches) can get big, but they grow extremely slowly and can live
in a small aquarium for several years. Loaches will often be happier
if kept with a few of their own species.
Weather Loaches - Misgurnus fossilis and Spotted Weather Loaches -
Cobitis taenia should be avoided. They are cold water species and have
the unfortunate habit of jumping out of aquaria, especially at the
approach of a storm.
``Pleco'' (a shortening of the now-unused genus name Plecostomus) is
the common term used for suckermouth catfish of the family
Loricariidae. As mentioned below in the Bad First Fish section, common
Plecos (Hypostomus species) are often sold to beginners as algae
cleaners. Unfortunately, these fish get too large for the relatively
small tanks of most beginners.
Some species of suckermouth catfish, however, do stay small enough for
most beginners to keep. The Clown Plecos of the genus Peckoltia have
alternating transverse bands of darker and lighter brown, tan, or
yellow and generally stay under 4" long. The Bristlenose or Bushynose
Plecos of the genus Ancistrus possess, as their common names imply,
numerous projections from the area between their eyes and mouth.
Within each species the bristles are larger on the male, especially
near breeding. In fact, Bristlenose Plecos are among the few
Loricariids to be successfully spawned in the home aquarium.
Otocinclus Cats, often just called Otos, are the smallest Loricariids
and will clean algae from live plants without hurting any but the most
delicate of them. Otos sometimes die shortly after purchase for no
apparent reason, but if they make it past this critical time they make
very good community tank residents.
While the various suckermouth catfish will indeed help to keep the
aquarium free from many common algae types, the beginner should not
make the mistake of thinking of these fish as simply algae eaters or
scavengers. They should be given foods intended just for them, such as
zucchini which can be blanched or weighted down to sink it to the
Pleco's level. Some fish food manufacturers have recently realized
that there is a market for specialized Pleco foods and now sell
products such as sinking algae wafers which fit this bill nicely.
These foods should be fed in the evening when the light reaching the
tank is low, as most Plecos are more active at this time and most
other fish which might compete for the food are less active. Pieces of
(uncoated) driftwood in the tank are also important for many Pleco
species, which rasp at the wood and ingest the scrapings. By the same
token, Plecos should *not* be kept in wooden tanks, or even acrylic
ones for that matter, as they may chew into the tank material damaging
it and/or themselves (by ingesting toxins or undigestible matter).
Pleco species can be quarrelsome amongst themselves and may be picked
on by other fish due to their generally slow-moving nature. Provide a
hiding cave for each Pleco and give them territories proportional to
their size (e.g. 10 gallons for a 3" fish.)
Like many of the fish in the first section, Tetras are schooling fish
and should be kept in groups of six or more of the same species.
Tetras are native to Central and South America and Africa. In some
regions of South America the water is quite soft (very little rock is
dissolved in it) and acidic. (Another way of saying ``acidic'' is to
say that it has a low pH - one below 7, which is considered
``neutral''. A strong acid has a very low pH. Liquids above pH 7 are
said to be ``basic''.)
Unless you know that your tank water is also soft and acidic, the
Tetras that need that water should be avoided. Before you buy a Tetra
that you are not sure about, look it up in your book. If it says that
it needs a pH below 6.5 you should probably avoid it. While many
beginning aquarists are tempted to simply adjust the pH of their water
by buying little containers of chemicals in the pet store, do not give
in to this temptation! Water chemistry is very complex and you can
easily kill all your fish by trying it.
On the other hand, if your tap water is naturally soft and achieves a
consistent acidic pH, there is no reason that you can't try your hand
at some of these fish.
Two very popular Tetras which need soft, acidic water are the Neon
Tetra - Paracheirodon innesi and the Cardinal Tetra - Cheirodon
axelrodi. These are quite attractive red and blue fish. The red line
on the Cardinal runs from the head on back, while in the Neon it
starts only in the belly region. But their attractiveness is their
only advantage. Besides its water requirements the Neon has the added
drawback that almost all of them are bred in the Far East in huge
numbers with no regard to quality. Further, the raising ponds for the
young fish are filled with medicines. The medicines keep diseases in
check but as soon as the fish are shipped they begin to get sick. They
die in huge numbers in the stores and in buyer's home tanks. Probably
less than 1 in 10 Neons lives for more than one month after being
removed from the pond it was raised in. Further, those two or three
tiny neons for a dollar at the local store can easily introduce a
disease that kills all the fish in your tank.
Cardinals will have a greater chance of not dying immediately after
purchase but even they will probably not live long in your home tank.
They are wild caught in Brazil as adults so they may have lived most
of their naturally short life span before you buy them.
Other Tetras which need acidic water include the Blue Neon Tetra -
Hyphessobrycon simulans, the Flag Tetra - H. heterorhabdus, H. metae,
the Loreto Tetra - H. loretoensis, the Black Phantom Tetra -
Megalamphodus megalopterus, and the Red Phantom Tetra - M. sweglesi.
So what about those aquarists without acid water? There are plenty of
hardy Tetras out there for beginners without special water. These
include the distinctive Black or Black Skirt Tetra - Gymnocorymbus
ternetzi, the brightly colored Glow Light Tetra - Hemigrammus
erythrozonus, the radiant orange Jewel Tetra - Hyphessobrycon
callistus, the Flame Tetra - H. flammeus, and the red-tailed Pristella
- Pristella maxillaris, all of which grow to less than two inches
long. Slightly larger Tetras include the Penguin Tetra - Thayeria
obliqua and the closely related Hockey-stick Tetra - Th. boehlkei,
both of which are easily recognized by the black lines originating in
the lower half of their caudal (tail) fins and running forward, the
shiny Diamond Tetra - Moenkhausia pittieri, and the beautiful,
trident-tailed Emperor Tetra - N. palmeri. Finally, the only African
Tetra frequently seen, the Congo Tetra - Phenacogrammus interruptus is
a gorgeous fish which grows up to four inches long.
Cichlids, members of the family Cichlidae, come from Central and South
America and Africa, with a few species found in Madagascar, the Middle
East and into Asia. Cichlids are quite unlike any of the fish
discussed so far. They are related to and resemble the Perch and
Sunfish of US waters. For aquarists, cichlids pose four major
problems: (1) Some need special water conditions, (2) some have
specialized diets, (3) some get quite large (the largest up to 3'
long), and (4) all are territorial.
Again, why bother? Because for those willing to take the challenge,
the rewards can be great. If any fish can be said to be intelligent,
Cichlids can. They display this in their everyday activities as well
as in their specialized mating, breeding, and fry-raising activities.
The fish mentioned in the previous sections all lay eggs and then
ignore or even eat them! Cichlids, on the other hand, care for their
eggs and young. It is said that one of the most rewarding sights an
aquarist can see is parental Cichlids herding their fry around the
tank and protecting them from all dangers. And, even if your Cichlids
never breed, they will be more responsive to you than perhaps any
other fish. Cichlids can be much more ``pet-like'' than you might
think a fish could be.
If you do decide to take the Cichlid challenge, choosing your Cichlids
can be difficult. Some can be added to your community tank and will do
fine with the schooling fish talked about above. These include
Curviceps - Aequidens (really Laetacara) curviceps, Dorsigers -
Aequidens (again, really Laetacara) dorsiger, and the less frequently
seen Nannacara anomala, all from South America, and Thomas' Dwarf
Cichlid - Anomalochromis thomasi from western Africa. Unlike the
monster Cichlids, these fish stay small (3 1/2'' is a good sized
adult) and are relatively peaceful. Two or three may be placed in a 10
gallon tank and they should still all find places to live if there are
rocks and other decorations in the tank.
Other Dwarf Cichlids you may see are the Ram - Papiliochromis (some
books use Microgeophagus or Apistogramma) ramirezi, Apistos -
Apistogramma species, and the Checkerboard Cichlid - Dicrossus
filamentosus (referred to as Crenicara filamentosa in the books).
These fish vary in their difficulty for keeping as aquarium fish, but
all of them should be avoided by beginners.
Keyhole Cichlids - Aequidens (really Cleithracara) maronii, Festivums
- Cichlasoma (really Mesonauta) festivus, and Angelfish - Pterophyllum
scalare can be good fish for the relative novice, but only if healthy
specimens can be found and this is often not easy. For this reason,
small Keyholes and Festivums should not be purchased. Adults of these
two species are generally better choices; still, one should look the
fish over carefully and not buy them until they have been in the store
tanks for at least a week. Similarly, for the very popular Angelfish,
one needs to be very careful when buying them. Before you buy, ask the
salesperson to tell you where the store gets its Angels. If the
salesperson doesn't know, won't tell you, or says that they come from
``the wholesaler'' (and who knows where before that?) don't buy them.
If you are told that they come from a local breeder then you have at
least a chance of getting healthy fish. Also, Angels should be kept in
tanks both taller and longer than a 10 gallon aquarium. Keyholes,
Festivums, and Angels are all shy fish and should be provided with
cover -- preferably a planted tank.
Discus, like Angels, need tanks higher and longer than 10 gallon
tanks. Their specialized needs do not stop there, however, and
beginners should shy away from these difficult and demanding fish.
At the other end of the difficultly scale, a very good choice,
especially for those with a 20 gallon or larger aquarium, is the
``Jurupari'' - Satanoperca leucosticta (formerly referred to in the
hobby as Geophagus jurupari). It does get large (up to a foot), but it
grows very slowly and may still be less than six inches long when
several years old. It is a very peaceful Cichlid which will help to
clean your tank by sifting through the gravel for uneaten food. A
similar fish, Geophagus surinamensis, is also a good choice.
Kribs or ``Kribensis'' - Pelvicachromis pulcher are a widely seen West
African Cichlid that will do well with the larger schooling fish and
should be kept in a twenty gallon or larger tank. Male Kribs grow to
be 4" long and females stay a bit smaller.
Most of the remaining cichlids which are commonly available are too
aggressive and/or grow too large for the beginning aquarist to
effectively deal with. This includes the very popular Oscar -
Astronotus ocellatus which grows rapidly to over a foot, is
opportunistically piscivorous, and is a very messy species. If the
aquarist is truly interested in keeping more cichlids than those
recommended above, she or he should be prepared to set up special,
separate (and probably larger) tanks for these fish and to read more
extensively on cichlids before buying them.
Anabantids are another group of fishes that are quite different from
those already discussed. Distantly related to Cichlids and Perch,
Anabantids are found in Africa and Asia. Members of the families
Anabantidae, Belontiidae, Helostomatidae, and Osphronemidae,
Anabantids are also referred to as the ``labyrinth fishes''. This is
due to a special breathing organ referred to as the labyrinth organ
which is essentially a maze of tunnels near the fish's gills.
Labyrinth fish gulp air at the surface of the water and absorb it
through the labyrinth organ, allowing them to live in water with too
little oxygen to support fish which only breath through their gills.
Some Anabantids can survive out of water for several hours breathing
only through their labyrinths, as long as they stay moist. Anabas
testudineus, known as the Climbing Perch, is said to be able to climb
trees and to live out of water for up to two days.
As well as giving aquarists some additional choices for community-tank
fish, Anabantids offer some unique options to fish keepers as well as
presenting a few problems. Because some Anabantids are able to
withstand cooler temperatures, and because of their ability to survive
in water with very low oxygen, these fishes can be kept in tanks or
bowls without heaters or filtration. On the other hand, some
Anabantids (particularly males of some species) are very territorial
and some grow quite large.
Breeding Anabantids can be quite rewarding. Some species build nests
out of bubbles into which they place their eggs while others, like
some Cichlids, are mouthbrooders.
The most commonly seen Anabantid is probably the Betta or Siamese
Fighting Fish (which is generally said to be Betta splendens but is
probably a crossbreed). Artificial color varieties with red, blue,
green, purple, and many other colors in various combinations are
widely available. Males are bred to have very large fins and both
sexes are seen with double tails. Siamese Fighting Fish generally make
poor choices for the community tank for two reasons. First, as their
name would imply, they are very territorial. The aggression is
greatest between two males, but can be directed towards any fish that
looks to the Betta too much like another Betta. Second, their long
fins make easy targets for many fish such as Barbs. Siamese Fighting
Fish can be kept alone in bowls (the larger the better) or tanks
without filtration as long as frequent partial water changes are done.
They do need warm temperatures, however, and are sensitive to
temperature changes, so a constant heat supply is needed if the room
is less than about 75F. Also, due to poor breeding, many Siamese
Fighting Fish are not very healthy. A 3" male would be a large adult;
females stay smaller.
A better choice for keeping alone in a bowl or small tank is the
Paradise Fish - Macropodus opercularis. These are much hardier fish
than the Fighters and can withstand temperatures down to 60F. They may
jump, however, so the tank should be covered to be safe. Also, like
Siamese Fighting Fish, male Paradise Fish can be extremely territorial
towards one another. Paradise Fish may get up to 4" long.
Another very commonly seen Anabantid is the Blue or Three-Spot Gourami
- Trichogaster trichopterus. Gold, Silver, and Cosby Gouramies are
also widely available and are simply artificial color varieties of the
Blue Gourami. Blue Gouramies can get up to 6" long. They are not as
aggressive as Fighters or Paradise Fish, but more than one in a small
tank may lead to constant (if not overly deadly) chasing. They will do
well in a tank with larger schooling fishes. Similar, though slightly
smaller species include the Banded or Giant Gourami - Colisa fasciata
(which is only a giant compared to the similarly colored Dwarf Gourami
described below), the Thick-lipped Gourami - Colisa labiosa and the
somewhat less aggressive Pearl Gourami - Trichogaster leeri and
Moonlight Gourami - T. microlepis. The Kissing Gourami - Helostoma
temmincki grows larger (up to 12") but makes a good fish for beginners
with larger tanks. It is peaceful, though males will contest with one
another by pressing their lips together and pushing - the so-called
``kissing'' from which the common name derives. Most Kissing Gouramies
seen will be of the Pink variety.
Small Gouramies, only growing to 2" or so in length, are also
available. These include the Dwarf Gourami - Colisa lalia, the Honey
Gourami - C. chuna, and the Sunset Dwarf Gourami (probably a cross
between C. lalia and C. chuna). In theory, these would all be good
fish for the community aquarium. In practice, these fish are often the
victims of poor breeding practices in the Far East (like so many
others described before) and many are even treated with hormones
before they are shipped to make them appear brighter in the store
tanks. A good rule of thumb is, ``If it looks too good to be true, it
Although harder to find, Anabantids which have had less human
interference with their reproduction are generally better choices.
Look for the Mouthbrooding Betta - Betta pugnax, the Licorice Gourami
- Parosphromenus deissneri, the Spike-Tailed Paradise Fish -
Pseudosphromenus cupanus, the Croaking Gourami - Trichopsis vittatus,
and the Dwarf Croaking Gourami - T. pumilus, which range in size from
1" to 4". Do not buy Chocolate Gouramies - Sphaerichthys
osphromenoides which are quite delicate, or the true Giant Gouramies -
Osphronemus spp. which grow quickly to well over two feet long.
The family Poeciliidae contains Guppies, Mollies, Platies, and many
other fishes. While these fish are often thought of as beginners' fish
they have been intentionally left off the list until now in order to
make a point. The reasons these fish are often sold to beginners are
that they are cheap, brightly colored, and have a general reputation
among non-aquarists as easy fish. Notably absent from this list is any
real suitability for keeping by beginners. For one thing, many
livebearers need high level of salt in their water to be healthy -
making them incompatible with many other aquarium fish. Many common
livebearers also are overbred, resulting in fish not nearly as healthy
as those kept by aquarists of previous generations (or by the authors
of most books). Some are not even able to reproduce without human
intervention. Finally, due to their low market price, they are
generally not well cared for and may carry diseases.
Poeciliids, as they are also called, come from the Americas, primarily
Central America. They are called ``livebearers'' (as opposed to
``egg-layers'', as all the previously discussed fish have been)
because the eggs are fertilized within the female and the fry do not
appear until the eggs have hatched. There are also livebearers from
other families in which the details of reproduction vary.
The well-known Guppy can be found in a number of colors and with as
many as 12 different artificial tail varieties. Also available is the
closest thing that you may find to the wild Guppy - Poecilia
reticulata: ``feeder Guppies'' which are not bred for color. The fancy
strains tend to be fragile while common Guppies often carry diseases.
Guppies should be kept in water with at least one teaspoon of salt per
five gallons of water.
Common Mollies are the Black Molly (which was derived from the Marled
Molly - Poecilia sphenops) and the Sail-Fin Molly - Poecilia velifera
(of which there are also several color varieties available). Black
Mollies need at least one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water
to keep them healthy and prevent the outbreak of ``ich''
(Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, a parasite commonly seen in aquaria)
while Sail-Fin Mollies need at least three times this amount.
Sail-Fins grow to 6" while Black Mollies stay less than 3".
Closely related, Swordtails - Xiphophorus helleri and Platies -
Xiphophorus maculatus are also popular fish. A number of color and
finnage varieties are available of each with some of the Platies also
referred to as ``Moons''. These fish need at least a teaspoon of salt
per 5 gallons of water to be healthy. Some varieties are susceptible
to various maladies (Tuxedo Swords often get tumors, for instance) and
as with so many other fish the naturally colored fish are probably
your best bets. ``Green Swords'' (which are really multi-colored) are
naturally colored X. helleri, but unfortunately wild morphs of Platies
are not often seen. The Variegated Platy - Xiphophorus variatus is
sometimes seen, however, and fills this role nicely.
Bad First Fish
We have already discussed several poor choice for beginners' fish
alongside their more desirable cousins. Here are more fishes that are
seen in the stores that beginners should be warned about. Many of
these fish make good fish for advanced hobbyists while others never
make good aquarium fish. Some are even suitable for a well-informed
beginner; you just need to know what you are getting yourself into
before you buy the fishes on impulse and drop them into your community
Goldfish are one of the most common fish sold to beginners, but are
particularly poorly suited to this role. The common Goldfish sold as
feeders are generally full of diseases and parasites which may kill
them and other fish they are housed with. Fancy varieties, which have
been selectively bred for centuries to achieve their unnatural
appearances, are subject to a host of problems associated with their
All Goldfish are cold water fish which do not do well in the lower
oxygen levels found in tropical aquaria, and therefore should not be
housed with tropical species.
Piranhas are among the most abused of all aquarium fish. They are
often purchased in order to watch their legendary feeding habits. As
mentioned above, feeder fish often bring diseases and parasites with
them and these can infect Piranhas. A regular diet of feeder fish can
also be quite expensive.
Piranhas are schooling fish and are generally shy and stressed when
kept as single specimens. Unfortunately, they also get big (many
species well over a foot long), so most beginning aquarists don't have
room to house more than a single Piranha. If enough tank space is
available to keep several Piranhas together, they must be kept well
fed or they will turn on each other, killing and cannibalizing one
fish after another.
There are several families of fish from South America, Africa, and
Asia, referred to as Knife Fishes. Many species of Knives get large,
some over 3' long although some of the less attractive species stay as
small as 8". All of them are nocturnal predators, a fact that many a
beginner could have used before all of his or her small fish
``mysteriously'' disappeared a few at a time.
Hatchet and Pencil Fishes
Somewhat related to Tetras, Hatchets (family Gasteropelecidae) and
Pencils (genus Nannostomus) are Characins from South America. Many of
them need soft and acid water and all of them are delicate. Hatchets
have the added disadvantage that they tend to launch themselves out of
the aquarium to an untimely death.
Elephant Nose and Baby Whale
More fragile fish include Elephant Noses - Gnathonemus petersi and
Baby Whales - Petrocephalus bovei. African fishes from the family
Mormyridae, these are night feeders and are hard to provide for in the
Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese Algae Eaters - Gyrinocheilus aymonieri are often introduced
into the aquarium to do what their common (sales) name implies - eat
algae. They are usually seen at a small size and many die within a
short time of purchase. If they live, however, they get big (up to a
foot long) and tend to prefer to rasp at the sides of slow moving fish
(making them susceptible to infections) to eating algae.
Not a shark at all but a Cyprinid (related to the Carp), Bala Sharks -
Balantiocheilus melanopterus quickly outgrow most home aquaria. They
get to be over one foot long.
Unrelated to the Bala Shark or to true sharks, the Iridescent Shark -
Pangasius sutchi is a catfish. It grows to over 3' and tends to injure
its nose against the aquarium glass.
Another catfish to avoid is the Glass Catfish - Kryptopterus
bicirrhis. While it stays small enough to be an aquarium fish (up to
6"), it is very delicate and should not be purchased by beginners.
The suckermouth catfish of the genus Hypostomus are often sold in the
stores as algae cleaners. Most of these species get in excess of 12".
Some of the slender suckermouth catfish, such as the Whiptail -
Dasyloricaria filamentosa and the Farlowella - Farlowella gracilis,
are quite delicate species.
Catfish don't have long whiskers for looks. They are there to help
them hunt for their food - other fish! In addition to eating all fish
of less than half their size in the tank, many of the piscivorous
(fish-eating) Cats will outgrow most tanks. One common species of
long-whiskered catfish, the Pictus Cat - Pimelodus pictus grows to 10"
while the Channel Cat (a pink form is often seen) grows over 2 feet
long. Shovelnose Cats are usually only seen at six inches or greater,
so the beginner does have some warning with these. Still, one might
not expect them to get 2 or 3' long.
Red-Tailed Catfish - Phractocephalus hemiliopterus are particularly
large-growing predatory catfish. A dark body with a horizontal white
stripe and red tail gives them an attractive appearance at a small
size that has unfortunately made them a popular aquarium fish with
those who fail to appreciate the enormity of adults. Adults may grow
to well over 4' in length and have mouths that more than match their
lengths. As such, they are more than many public aquaria can house,
not to mention private aquarists.
Spiny Eels (family Mastacembelidae) are aggressive fish, some of which
grow quite large (over 3'). Some do stay small (less than 4" for one
species), but all are likely to have internal parasites.
Painted Glassfish are Glassfish - Chanda ranga which have been
``painted'' with chemical dyes. This procedure adds a temporary bit of
unnatural color (which disappears with time) and stresses the fish,
causing them to be prone to diseases and parasites. This fish needs at
least 1 teaspoon of salt per gallon of aquarium water.
While Painted Glassfish were for a long time the only fish commonly
seen that had been ``colorized'' by unscrupulous marketers, the last
few years have seen several other fishes subjected to this abuse. One
of these is the White Skirt Tetra (an albino version of the Black
Skirt Tetra - Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) which are sold as Blueberry
Tetras, Strawberry Tetras, Rainbow Tetras, etc. depending on the dyes
used to color the individuals. Similarly, Blueberry and Strawberry
Loaches have also been seen. If you are unsure if a fish has been
Brackish Water Fish
I have already mentioned some fish, such as Mollies and Glassfish,
which come from brackish waters - I simply have not called it that
before. Brackish water is intermediate between the fresh water of most
rivers and lakes and the salt water of the Oceans. Brackish water is
found in gulfs, deltas, and lagoons, as well as a some lakes and
rivers. Because brackish water fish need so much salt in their water
they are not compatible with most aquarium fish. Further, brackish
water fish generally need more room per fish to stay healthy than
freshwater fish. Some commonly seen brackish water fish include Monos
- Monodactylus species, Archers - Toxotes species, Scats - Scatophagus
species, and many species of Puffers (family Tetraodontidae).
Salt Water Fish
If brackish water fish are to be avoided by beginners, then beginners
should stay well away from salt water fish. Their bright colors are
attractive, but they are generally much more difficult for beginners
to keep alive than are fresh water fish.
There are thousands of species of aquarium-suitable fish from a host
of families that are not covered above; this article is far from
comprehensive. Killifish (fish of the family Cyprinodontidae) for
example, are widely kept by many advanced hobbyists, but not often by
beginners. This is not because they are all unsuitable as beginner's
fish. In fact, some of them would make very good first or second fish.
They are simply not widely available in pet stores.
For choices of good beginners' fish beyond those listed here, and for
expanding once one has moved beyond the beginner level, local aquarium
clubs and friends who are aquarists can be very good sources of
information. So can many of the available fishkeeping books and
magazines. At every level of experience, the aquarist will find that
good information is well worth the time and/or money it takes to get
FAQ: Fish Breeding
Contributed by Elaine Thompson
Disclaimer: This document is intended to familiarize the reader with
different methods that fish use to breed and introduce terminology.
Anyone who wants to breed a given species of fish should check
specific internet resources or books to find out about the particular
species that they want to raise.
The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as
such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria.
Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors.
Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at
no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included.
* Breeding Strategies
* Breeding and Agression
* Breeding Tanks
* Breeding Requirements
* Raising Fry
``How do fish make babies...and can I watch?''
Fish breed in many ways, and yes you can watch. In fact, watching fish
breed is one of the great fascinations in the hobby because there are
so many interesting breeding strageties among fish.
There are two main strategies that fish use: egglaying and
Livebearing fish do what the name suggests. The female gives birth to
fully formed, free-swimming young. The female fish is internally
fertilized by the male fish, and carries the fry for about a month
before delivering them. Upon delivery, the babies swim off, hide, and
begin searching for food.
Livebearers include the popular mollies, platies, swordtails, and
guppies. Other livebearers are halfbeaks, anableps, and fish in the
Goodeid family. They are easy to sex, as the female is larger, and the
male has a rod-like anal fin called a gonopodium that he uses to
internally fertilize the female. After fertilization, the female can
produce multiple batches of babies without a male present.
Egglaying is also what the name suggests: the fish lay eggs instead of
giving birth to little fish. As the fish grow, they hatch into fry
with an attached yolk sac, and then mature into fish. The process
usually takes around a week to 10 days, although it can vary widely.
Egglayers have many methods of laying their eggs
Egg scatters usually scatter eggs around weeds, or onto gravel. The
male chases the female during spawning, and the eggs are fertilized as
they fall. Spawning runs can be spectacular to watch since the fish
race around the tank and ignore anything else, including food.
Examples of egg scatterers are tetras, barbs, rasboras, and danios.
Substrate spawners are a little choosier about where they put the
eggs. They lay eggs that attatch to some sort of substrate. Plants,
rocks, wood, and even the aquarium glass may be chosen as a spawning
site. Both fish participate in the egg laying, with the male
fertilizing the eggs as the female lays them. Examples of substrate
spawners are many catfish, some cichlids, and killifish.
Bubblenest builders lay their eggs in a nest of bubbles blown by the
male fish. The bubbles are held together with saliva and look like
foam. They tend to attract infusoria that the babies can eat, and keep
the eggs at the surface of the water, where they are well-oxygenated.
The eggs are laid a few at a time, and carefully placed in the nest
where they hatch. Examples of bubblenest builders are bettas and
Mouthbrooders actually keep their eggs in their mouths until the eggs
hatch. The eggs are again laid a few at a time, and once the male
fertilizes them, the parent doing the mouthbrooding gathers them up in
his/her mouth. That parent eats sparingly, if at all, until the baby
fish are released. Examples of mouthbrooders are male arrowanas and
Marine fish also lay eggs. Some are substrate spawners, but many lay
pelagic eggs that float in the plankton. There the eggs hatch into a
larval stage, and the larvae float freely and eat tiny plankton until
they grow into fish. See the Moe reference for a more complete
Breeding and Agression
``Help! Why have my angelfish (or kribs or African cichlids) started killing
everything in my tank?''
``Why did my female platy just turn around and eat her babies?''
``I think my tetras spawned. Where are the eggs?''
Parental care in the fish world varies widely. Parents can be anywhere
on a continuum from eating all their eggs or fry, to both parents
fiercely guarding their eggs and fry.
Many fish parents show some common behaviors, so I will discuss them
Most fish consider any and all fish eggs and young to be a tasty
treat. Therefore most fish will not hesitate to snack on any they
find, including their own. This means that egg scatters and many
substrate spawners really cannot be bred in a community tank, as the
eggs will quickly be eaten by the parents and other fish. Marine fish
and invertebrates also eat eggs. Livebearers are especially notorious
for eating their young.
A few fish ignore their eggs or fry, and so can be bred in a species
tank. White cloud minnows can breed this way, and many killifish will
at least ignore the eggs. Baby killies are fair game, though. Guppies
will also often ignore babies.
Other fish have one parent that guards the eggs and fry. Most
bubblenest builders and mouthbrooders operate this way, as do some
substrate spawners. The responsible male or female stays with the eggs
and young, until they are free swimming. With bubblenest builders, the
male tends the nest, blows bubbles as they pop, and keeps any falling
eggs or fry in it. He will also defend the nest against other fish.
Mouthbrooders simply hide their eggs in their mouths, and some
substrate spawning catfish will hide the eggs underneath them. Certain
substrate spawning cichlids also have one parent care for the eggs and
A more common setup among cichlids is to have both fish guard and care
for the young. This setup can be really fascinating to watch. The
parents will take turns fanning or blowing fresh water onto the eggs,
and removing any fungused eggs. They will also fiercely defend the
spawning site, which can often cause injury or even death to other
tankmates. Once the eggs have hatched, the parents will also guard the
fry. Some fish will even move the fry to a different place each day.
Once the babies are free swimming, some fish continue to guard them,
while others end their parental duties. Many African cichlids guard
their babies until they spawn again. Discus even feed their babies off
of their slimecoats.
A more extreme version of guarding is practiced by some Tanganyikan
cichlids. There, older siblings will stay around the nest and help the
parents defend subsequent spawns. The babies are allowed to stay until
breeding age, when they are driven off.
``My fish just laid eggs. How do I keep the eggs or babies from being
The most common way to keep eggs from being eaten is to use a separate
breeding tank. There the parents can spawn or give birth to their
young, and be removed once they are done. Egg scatterers can be placed
over a piece of netting, a grate, or a bed of marbles to protect the
eggs as the fish spawn. Bubblenest breeders and mouthbrooders can be
left in the tank until they stop caring for the young. Livebearers can
be allowed to give birth in a dense thicket of plants or plastic
spawning grass, so the babies can hide until the mother is done giving
birth and is removed.
A breeding tank also is good because it can be kept clean. Eggs and
fry need very clean water to hatch and grow. There are also no adults
around to compete with the babies for food. Many breeders use a bare
tank with only a sponge filter as filtration. Debris and extra food
are easily seen and siphoned off daily. Frequent water changes can be
done on the tank, as there are no other fish around to stress.
Another solution is to allow fish to breed on yarn mops, a plant, or a
piece of slate or glass in the community tank. The eggs can then be
moved to the breeding tank to grow. This works well for angelfish,
catfish, and Australian rainbowfish. Killifish eggs can be collected
from peat or yarn mops and set in a separate container or dried to
incubate. Livebearers can be bred in a commercial breeding trap or
breeding net within a community tank. The trap separates the babies
from the mothers and then gives the babies a safe place to grow.
Some cichlids protect their babies well enough to just be left in a
community setup, although this can stress the other fish in the tank.
In fact, there are species of cichlids that will turn on each other if
there are no other fish in the breeding tank for them to threaten.
``I have fish in a breeding setup, but they just won't breed.''
``Why do my fishes' eggs keep fungusing and the fry dying?''
Many fish will not breed successfully without specific requirements.
A mix of male and female fish.
I know this sounds obvious, but some fish are not easy to sex.
In species that are difficult to sex, is best to start out with
at least six young fish so that you are certain of getting both
males and females. Starting with many fish also gives
monogamous fish a chance to pick compatible mates. Sometimes if
a single male and female are introduced, they will not breed.
Other fish, like livebearers, killifish, and polygamous
cichlids need more females that males so that females are not
harassed by amorous males.
Extremely clean water.
Most fish will not breed if there is any ammonia or nitrite
present, and large amounts of nitrate are toxic to baby fish.
Some fish, especially tetras, must be bred in a breeding tank
that is bare and sterile so that their eggs do not fungus. For
more information about clean water, see the beginner FAQ.
A varied diet.
Fish that are producing eggs need better food that fish that
are just living in a community. Breeders call the process of
specially feeding parents conditioning. Conditioning foods
include live foods, fresh frozen foods, or spirulina based
foods. Find out the specific requirements of the fish you
intend to breed. If you need information about live foods, see
the live food FAQ.
The correct environment.
Fish that breed on substrates need proper substrates to breed
on, like peat, rocks, shells, or plants. Some fish are shy and
require a lot of cover, caves, or dim light. There are also
fish that require a particular water chemistry to breed.
Examples are discus, which require very soft, acid water or
African cichlids which require very hard, alkaline water.
Many tropical fish breed in the rainy season. When it rains,
streams flood, the water hardness drops, and there is thunder
and lightning. Adventuresome breeders with rainy season fish
may try large water changes with distilled water, watering cans
to simulate rain, strong currents, and even flashing lights and
loud noises. Temperature changes may also stimulate spawning,
as may changes in the light/dark cycle.
``My fish bred, but I cannot raise the fry to adulthood.''
Rearing fish can take some work. Baby fish require clean water, and
some require special foods.
Baby livebearers are usually the easiest to raise. Some will take
finely crushed flake foods from the start, and only require frequent
water changes to keep up with their growth. They also need algae or
Baby egglayers are often more difficult to raise. Most are too small
to eat adult fish foods, and so require special foods. Live baby brine
shrimp are the food of choice for most baby fish, although some
require even smaller infusoria. Sifted daphnia also work. Baby algae
eating catfish require algae or blanched vegetables. There are also
commercial fry foods that work or, in desperate situations, cooked egg
yolk. Be careful, though, because non-living foods pollute the tank
water terribly -- especially egg yolk.
Actually, keeping the tank water clean is probably the biggest
challenge in raising fish. The growing fish require lots of food, and
they are not very good at finding it which means even more must be
added to the tank. As in any fishtank, adding lots of food must be
balanced with keeping the water quality extremely high. In fact, fry
require cleaner water than adult fish. Frequent water changes are a
must, as is efficient biological filtration. Baby tanks often require
daily water changes of up to half the tank. Sponge filters are the
preferred method of filtration because they are great biological
filters but cannot suck up baby fish.
Marine fish larvae have the strictest requirements of all. They must
be fed extremely small plankton or rotifers in a tank with
near-perfect water. For more discussion of marine fish rearing, see
Finally, as the baby fish grow, they must be transferred to larger
quarters. Clearly the 10 gallon tank that housed 100 fry cannot house
those 100 fish for long. Betta breeders have even more work on their
hands, since the little male bettas will fight and have to be put into
separate jars or a partitioned tank.
``I have a ton of baby fish. What do I do with them?''
``Can I make any money breeding fish?''
Finding homes for baby fish can be almost as much of a challenge as
breeding them. Young fish can be given away, auctioned at aquarium
society auctions, traded for other species, or sold. Pet stores will
sometimes take African cichlids, guppies, and bettas, but many only
give store credit rather than cash.
As for turning breeding into a commercial venture, remember the laws
of supply and demand. For most common community fish, pet stores can
order whatever they want whenever they want it from importers, fish
farms, and wholesalers. The hobbyist, on the other hand, has
occasional batches of fish that the store may not need or want at that
time. The only thing on your side when you walk into a store with a
batch of unrequested fish is that locally bred fish are often
healthier and less stressed that fish that have been shipped and must
be acclimated to local water conditions.
If you insist on breeding saleable fish, try rare catfish, rare
rainbows, African cichlids, show quality fancy guppies, or marine
fish. Those are all difficult for stores to obtain. To make money
selling more common fish like angels, barbs, tetras, cory cats or
livebearers (other than guppies), you need many breeding tanks and
breeding pairs of fish to assure a constant supply. You must also have
fish of consistent quality.
Personally, I would recommend that you breed fish for the sheer
pleasure of it, rather than turning your fun hobby into a business
venture. There is nothing like seeing a pair of ciclids court,
disappear into a cave, and emerge in a few days with a swarm of