Guppy Fish: Species Profile, Diet, Tank Setup & More

Poecilia reticulata in a freshwater aquarium
Poecilia reticulata in a freshwater aquarium

Tired of sitting in your office with nothing to look at? What if we told you there’s a fish with high activity levels, colorful fins, and a great personality that would fit in an aquarium at your desk? It’s true! In this article we’ll go over some basic guppy guidelines and start you well on your way to being a guppy expert.

Species Overview 

Scientific namePoecilia reticulata
Common namesMillionfish and rainbow fish
DistributionNative to South America
SizeMales 1.5-3.5 cm Females 3-6 cm
ColorBlue, purple, black, green, orange, and red
DietFish flakes, vegetable, meat, live food (shrimp), insect larvae
TemperamentPeaceful
Minimum tank size5 gallons for 3
Place in the tankUpper portion
Care levelBeginner
BreedingEasy
Life expectancy2-3 years

Guppy Fish History and Background

It’s often taken for granted that this little fish has a rich and diverse background hailing all the way from South America and distributed all over the world aquarium trade.

Origin

Guppies are a freshwater fish that live in the tropical waters of South America. There are over 300 varieties of guppies, all originally found in the rivers of Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Venezuela, and the Amazon. The first record of guppies in captivity was in 1859 when explorers brought them to the British museum for study.

What is a guppy fish?

This tropical fish is a popular tank mate and is commonly found in beginner and experienced fish keepers tanks alike. Sometimes guppies are used as feeder fish and can be found in many communal tanks.

Recognizable by the quick drop from narrow tail to round abdomen, you’re likely to see these fish darting around the tank from one hiding spot to the next.

What is special about guppy fish?

Guppies get their name the “millions fish” because of their extremely fast reproduction rate. They are also referred to as being rainbow colored because of the many color variations they can come in.

Guppies are known for preventing malaria due to their affinity for mosquito larvae and eggs.

Guppies are one of the only fish to give live birth instead of laying eggs.

Guppy Fish Appearance

fish guppy pet isolated on black background
Colorful Male Guppy Isolated on Black Background

With close to 300 guppy fish species it’s hard to give a generalization of guppy appearance. However there are a few key traits that make them easy to identify like their small size, rounded abdomen, and narrow tail.

What does a guppy fish look like

Depending on the variety, guppies vary in their appearance. Selective breeding has led to guppies having a larger fish tail, brighter and vibrant colors but wild guppies tend to have a grayish body with differently colored spots along their body.

Differences between male and female guppies

Males tend to be smaller than females and their anal fin has been modified to be a reproductive apparatus called the gonopodium. Male coloring is usually bright green, blue, or red.

The female’s anal fin is more rounded and she displays coloration that is olive green with some variation only in the caudal and dorsal fins.

How big do guppy fish get?

Adult males average around 2 centimeters though they can grow to a maximum of 4 centimeters. A female guppy on the other hand is larger and average 3 to 5 centimeters.

Color Variety

There are 300 guppy species all with their own color variation, to name them all would take a longer article but here are a few of the most common.

Fancy Guppies

The most common type of guppy and widely accepted as the original species (Poecilia reticulata) , they are well known for their silver-gray scale and brightly colored tails.

Swamp Guppies

The swamp guppy (Micropoecilia Picta) has bright red and orange coloring and looks like they could be distantly related to a goldfish. They prefer slightly alkaline and brackish water.

Endler guppy (Poecilia Wingei)

With a metallic coloring they were recently rediscovered in Venezuela after thought to be nearly extinct.

Fantail Guppy

A variation of Poecilia reticulata selectively bred for its large speckled tail. It ranges in color from pale blue to purple and red.

Veiltail Guppy

A veiltail guppy is similar to a fantail guppy, except its tail is longer and more flowing.

Flag Tail Guppy

Slightly shorter and narrower with flowing tail shapes that gives the appearance of a flag. Another variation of Poecilia reticulata.

Spear Tail Guppy

This variation of Poecilia reticulata has a tail with rounded edges that comes to a point like the head of a spear at the end.

FUN FACT

When trying to determine what kind of pet fish you have, look at the latin name. If it includes “Poecilia” you know that it is related to the guppy.

Guppy Fish Temperament and Tankmates

Guppy and Neon Tetra
Guppy and Neon Tetra

Guppies are known to be friendly fish and are quite often kept in a community tank. As a tropical fish they require tank conditions with warmer temperatures and need good water quality like all other fish.

While guppies are not an aggressive fish you might notice that they often nip at tank mates fins. Males are highly territorial and there should only be one male guppy for every three females.

How many guppies should be kept together?

Whether you plan to have a guppy only tank or add them into a large community tank you should have a minimum of three guppies. In their natural habitat guppies are shoaling fish but they don’t necessarily need companions in captivity. A trio of guppies should be housed in a minimum of a 5 gallon tank. With an additional 5 gallons for every trio.

Best Tankmates for Guppy Fish

Cardinal Tetras

Cardinal tetras make excellent tank mates for guppies, not only will they compliment guppy coloring, they are both small fish (cardinal tetras grow to a maximum of 5 centimeters) and also love a planted tank. One of the most important things to consider is that cardinal tetras are shoaling species, so you need a minimum of 6, and at least 20 gallons to house them.

Cory Catfish

Different cory catfish types can be found at your local pet store and are a popular fish for beginners. Adult fish are 2.5-10 centimeters but are peaceful and mind their own business as they swim along the bottom of the tank.

Female Betta Fish

While male bettas are aggressive the females are compatible with guppies and easily housed in the same tank. You will need to adjust your tank size to a 10 gallon tank or larger, but both species have similar water parameters. Be aware that if your betta fish has large fins the guppy might nibble on it thinking they are food.

Endlers Livebearers

A relative of guppies Endler Livebearers are excellent tank mates and adults reach a size of 5 centimeters. It is important to note that they are closely related and will produce offspring with guppies.

White Cloud Mountain Minnow

Depending on what water temperature your guppies are used to, the White Cloud Mountain minnows can make excellent tank mates. These fish are easily found at pet stores and grow to a size of 4 centimeters. While guppies thrive in a wide range of temperatures white cloud mountain minnows like temperatures a little cooler than normal. If your guppies are adapted to this it shouldn’t pose a problem.

Other fish companions include harlequin raspboras, kuhli loach, mollies, and nerite snails.

Guppy Tankmates to avoid

Tiger Barbs

Barbs are very active fish which is the opposite of guppies’ peaceful nature. They can also grow up to three times the size as a male guppy leading to possible predator-prey interactions.

Bala Sharks

Bala’s will eat anything they can fit in their mouth, leading to a constant stressful environment for your guppies. No matter how large your guppy tank is they will not be able to escape.

African Cichlids

African cichlids are generally considered to be aggressive, territorial, and require at least a 30 gallon tank. The biggest problem is that African cichlids grow much larger than a guppy.

Goldfish

Goldfish tend to grow quite large when compared to the small guppy thus requiring a large amount of space. They can also be aggressive and carry diseases that can wipe out your whole guppy population.

Oscar Fish

It is well known that oscar’s are not a good tank mate to small fish like guppies and will often eat anything they can get their fins on. Temperature requirements also don’t completely match between the two species potentially leading to some less than ideal tank conditions.

Guppy Fish Tank Requirements

Planted Aquarium
Planted Aquarium

Guppies are not very picky when it comes to their tank setup, as long as they have a good filtration system, and the temperature range is within range they generally will do well.

Tank Requirements

Tank Size5 gallon tank per trio, +1 gallon for every adult guppy
Water TypeFreshwater, though some can withstand brackish conditions
Water Temperature76-78 ideal, 72-82 acceptable
Water pH7.0-7.8
Water Hardness8-12 dGH

Tank Setup

The trickiest part of setting up your own tank for guppies is finding tank decorations that they won’t be tempted to nibble on.

What substrate to use?

Many aquarists like to add sand to their tank to replicate the natural environment of a guppy. Most substrate is fine to use as long as it’s larger than the head of a guppy or small enough to pass through its stomach without causing problems. A mixture of sand with large river stones would be a suitable substrate.

Do guppies need a filter?

Even though guppies are small and don’t create much waste you should have a filtration system installed in your aquarium, especially if you have a 10 gallon tank or smaller. Small tanks get dirtier faster.

Filter outputs also provide a moderate flow, oxygenating the tank and replicating the natural habitat of a guppy.

TIP

Appropriately sized filters can help establish beneficial bacteria in your aquarium that are necessary for the nitrogen cycle to take place.

Should I have a water heater?

While guppies can tolerate a wide temperature range they are considered to be tropical fish and do best at warmer temperatures. It is suggested to keep a heater in your tank as well as the breeding tank.

What kind of lighting to use?

You should use a LED aquarium light for 6 to 8 hours a day to help the growth and development of guppies as well as normalize their circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Try to avoid placing the tank in direct sunlight as it can affect the temperature and algal growth.

Plants in a guppy tank

Guppies enjoy a heavily planted tank to hide and play with throughout the day. Some live plants that they might enjoy include java moss, water wisteria, and Christmas moss.

Guppy Fish Diet and Health

Fish Food
Fish Food

The diet and health of your guppies is important whether you’re breeding guppies, keeping them as feeder fish, or as companions.

Diet

In the wild guppies mostly eat mosquito larvae, soft algae, and plant leaves.

What do guppy fish eat?

Guppies are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of food including commercial fish food, worms, veggie pellets, flake food, freeze dried food, and sometimes live food. 

What to feed guppy fish?

A balanced and good diet should include a majority of brine shrimp with supplemented veggies pellets or flakes and other freeze dried or frozen food like bloodworms, vinegar eels, and tubifex worms. Some fish keepers will even feed adult guppies homemade beef hearts, egg yolks, and chicken breast. 

You can also feed guppies vegetables such as shelled peas, spirulina, lettuce, and zucchini.

TIP

When feeding guppies make sure that food is chopped to an appropriate size. While small pieces are easily ingestible, guppies have tiny mouths and large food items can cause them to choke or have blocked intestines.

When to feed guppy fish?

Feed your adult guppies once daily. Guppy fry and juveniles should be fed more often to assist in their rapid development.

How much do you feed guppy fish?

When feeding guppies it is best to stick to the three minute rule. Allow your guppies to eat as much as they want within a three minute span. Afterwards remove any uneaten or excess food to help keep your tank clean. When feeding many fish be sure to distribute the food throughout the water column to ensure all fish are being fed.

Top 5 Guppy Diseases

1. Ich

One of the deadliest diseases in any aquarium is a common ectoparasite that affects many fish. Symptoms include white spots and the fish rubbing their skin against tank decor. Treatment includes raising the temperature, adding medication or aquarium salt and maintaining this routine for 4-7 days before returning to normal temperature and performing a large water change.

2. Velvet

Similar to ich but rare in the aquarium hobby velvet causes fish to look like they are covered in gold dust followed by the skin of the fish beginning to peel off. Treatment includes copper medication and turning aquarium lights off. Be sure to perform a large water change after symptoms are resolved.

TIP

Copper medications are deadly to snails and shrimp. Be sure to remove them from the aquarium before treatment. They can not be added back into the aquarium as the copper element will linger and is still deadly to them.

3. Fin Rot

A bacterial or fungus infection that can be caused by poor water quality, ammonia burns, or open wounds. Depending on the cause (fungal or bacterial) the appropriate medication (antifungal or antibacterial). Be sure to place the infected fish into a quarantine tank. 

4. Guppy Disease

Also called protozoan, this is a parasitic disease that is common in guppies. It is generally caused by poor water quality and develops in cold tanks. Treatment includes adding a heater to your tank to raise the temperature, in early stages medication can include Malachite green or Formalin. In later stages copper medicine can be used.

5. Dropsy

Often mistaken for constipation or swim bladder disease, dropsy in fish is often caught too late to be treated. Aquarium salts and anti-bacterial can be used as well as quarantining and water changes.

How long do guppy fish live? 

On average guppies live 2-5 years in captivity and 2-3 years in the wild. 

Guppy Fish Breeding

Colorful Guppies
Colorful Guppies

Breeding guppies is easy and doesn’t require much work on your part. It is more difficult to find the space for babies than it is to induce breeding.

Can you breed guppy fish?

Guppies breed on their own, the only way to prevent them from reproducing is by keeping female and male guppies in separate tanks. If you are looking to selectively breed your guppies for traits such as a colorful tail fin or flowing fins you can do that by choosing the parents.

How to breed a guppy fish? 

When preparing to breed guppies you should increase the temperature 2 to 3 degrees in a separate breeding tank. Females tend to have a clutch of 20-40 fry, and can have consecutive clutches without male fertilization occurring each time by storing sperm. The spawning process can occur once every 30 days from the time the female is 6 months until she’s 2.5 years old.

To determine whether female guppies are pregnant keep a close eye on their body shape. A pregnant female’s body will be much larger and have a gravid spot on their abdomen that will darken as birth approaches.

If you are selectively breeding for certain colors or qualities you should group guppies by those characteristics. Choose males and females that come from the same line to ensure that they have the same traits that the male fish displays. Breeding guppies in this way can often lead to inbreeding, however most inbred guppies don’t seem to suffer from any weaknesses or proneness to disease.

Guppy fry can be fed a diet of baby brine shrimp, infusoria, and spirulina and should be kept in a separate tank from other community fish.

Watch the video below if you need more help and tips on breeding guppies.

HOW TO BREED GUPPIES

How many babies do guppy fish have?

There will generally be 20-40 guppy fry per brood but it depends on genetics, availability of food, temperature, health, and age. 

TIP

Younger guppies tend to have less fry and they are often small and weak. Older fish tend to have a productive yield.

To increase the amount of offspring ensure optimal guppy fish care including an increase in high-quality food, raising the temperature, and excellent water parameters.

Is the Guppy Fish for you?

If you’re looking for a peaceful, easy to care for fish that’s perfect for small tanks you might have just hit the jackpot. With their alluring colors and high activity levels you’re sure to be entertained by guppies!

Conclusion

In conclusion, while we can’t cover every aspect of care for all 300 varieties of guppies, we hope that this article proves to you that guppies will make an excellent addition to your community aquarium.

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